Sunday, 8 January 2017

A Duck, a Crane and a Duck!

Mandarin Duck - my best bird in far!

Nathan Goldberg, a student studying at Cornell University contacted me months ago about visiting Hong Kong, this Saturday we finally got together for a day of birding. It was still dark when I picked him up from Kowloon and we drove straight to Tai Po Kau Park. This had became one of my favourite spot to start off a day's birding, especially with the ficus tree in fruit at the moment. We waited around the tree and Nathan got acclimated to the sounds of the forest in Hong Kong, we were of course also there for the Great Barbet; which showed very well, evidently the Barbets had became a local twitch for local birders and photographers alike, there were about 30 people below the tree by the time we leave.

Great Barbet - still plenty of food to go around

We started Tai Po Kau pretty well, connecting with a Pygmy Wren Babbler on the way up after 10 minutes of trying, the skulker gave fairly good views before melting back into the undergrowth. As Nathan managed to get a Mai Po permit for the day, we thought we would plough through Tai Po Kau quickly so we get enough time for the ramsar site in the afternoon. Things went pretty good for the short amount of time we were there, we hit our first mixed flock even before we got to the trail, White-bellied Epornis came close for a good look. The beautiful Silver-eared Mesias were as eye-catching as ever, a flock of these gave very good views.

White-bellied Epornis

Silver-eared Mesia

We encountered a few more feeding flocks when we got to the trail, connecting with nearly all of the "usual suspects" in Tai Po Kau. This itself is in fact not an easy task nowadays, as flocks are now much further apart and birds more disperse due to improvement of habitats elsewhere. Huet's Fulvettas showed well, along with Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers, a male Yellow-cheeked Tits at close range stole the show, a few Mountain Bulbuls gave fairly good views as we cleaned up on the local Bulbuls! Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers were again quite active and showed extremely well.

Huet's Fulvetta

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

Yellow-cheeked Tit - male

Mountain Bulbul - one of the more "difficult" local bulbul species

Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher

On our way out I checked the Rhodoleia tree which had just started flowering, surely enough a pair of Orange-bellied Leafbirds were there. They perched motionlessly which made them difficult to detect at first, but you simply cannot take your eyes off once you locked onto them. This being one of Nathan's target bird here ended our Tai Po Kau visit perfectly.

Orange-bellied Leafbird - male

We decided to go for an early lunch before heading into Mai Po, before that we drove to Siu Lek Yuen close-by to check for a Mandarin Duck that was spotted the day before. Although I have seen them before I never seems to have much luck with this Hong Kong rarity in recent years. We arrived at the spot where a group of photographers were already there, but they didn't have the bird in view. So, we decided to walk along the river to see if we can spot the duck somewhere down stream. As we were walking Nathan suddenly exclaimed that he found the bird sitting along the bank! Mean while I was looking at the completely wrong distance, as Nathan spotted the duck nearly 300 meters away from where we were standing! Credits to him, and I probably need to get my eyes checked pretty soon...

Mandarin Duck - it's far, but definitely recognisable!

We arrived at Mai Po just past noon and Nathan got his permit without much trouble. Things started off slowly, but a few Plain Prinias were welcoming sight, a bit of pishing got a group very excited. Strangely enough they seems to be the very few birds in Hong Kong that reacts well to pishing.

Plain Prinia - pisssshhhh

We tried locating any Yellow Bitterns from the Education Centre but came up empty handed, although a flock of confiding Chinese Grosbeaks just outside were more then enough to make up for that.

Chinese Grosbeak - male top, female bottom

We reached pond 16/17 soon, hoping to find the Siberian Crane that had been around there lately, sure enough that was pretty much the first bird we saw as we sat down! Views were not great to begin with as the large bird stayed behind the reeds, but it later came out to the open for us to indulge spectacular views of this rare crane. It was awesome to be able to connect with this bird, and no doubt one of Nathan's target bird of this trip, good to have this species on my 2017 list as well!

Siberian Crane - the crown jewel of Mai Po right now

Another globally rare species at the scrape was of course Black-faced Spoonbills. They are in fact quite common in Hong Kong during winter, and it's easy for us to forget just how endangered they are still. Their numbers dropped below a thousand individuals back in 1980s, fortunately their numbers seems to be increasing again and the global population now estimated at around 3,000 individuals world wide. Good views of a few close to the bird hide was another highlight.

Black-faced Spoonbill

Other more common birds around...A few Garganeys were nice addition to our day list, White Wagtails showed well next to the hide, and an Eastern Buzzard flushed many of the ducks but failed to grab any. A Peregrine Falcon also tried for a few avocets at the far end of the scrape but seems to have failed.


White Wagtail - leucopsis

Eastern Buzzard

We headed out to the boardwalk just in time before the tide came in. Good timing as well as the Black-capped Kingfisher came out and perched on one of the "kingfisher pole" for a good fifteen minutes or so for us to enjoy. (Sorry Jeff...if you're reading this!)

Black-capped Kingfisher - our most "elusive" of the four local Kingfishers

The tide came in a little bit earlier then anticipated, but in a rather disappointing fashion as most of the waders were either not in range or just not there! I scanned hard for any Nordmann's Greenshanks within a flock of Common Greenshanks without much success. Same went with Far-eastern Curlew which kind of broke my "there's always one in there" rule...A female Eastern Marsh Harrier came and flushed the waders a few times, but despite shifting positions we got very few new waders. A few Black-faced Spoonbills were feeding very close to the hide though. Matters were made worst by a large group of WWF tour filling every window space within the hide...Locating a few Saunder's Gull at the far end of the bay kind of made up for the lack of waders.

The disappointing flock of Greenshanks...

Eastern Marsh Harrier - flushing all the ducks

Black-faced Spoonbill

But, with Siberian Crane on our day list, we couldn't really complain about anything. On our way out we stopped by a few fish ponds to enjoy a flyby Black Kite and a perched White-breasted Kingfisher, which sums up our day perfectly as that completes our local kingfisher collection of the day!

Black Kite

White-throated Kingfisher

Since I only managed a crappy photo of the Mandarin Duck the day before, I decided to try for the duck again Sunday morning with my Dad. We got to Siu Lek Yuen just past 8:30am and didn't have much luck. The bird was not seen by anyone, everyone was looking for the bird along the river.

By 9:30am we thought that it was gone and headed back towards the car park, as I got to the bridge next to the car park I noticed a bird lurking beneath it in the shadows. Surely that's a Mandarin Duck! We quickly called a few birders back as they were about to leave and everyone got a pretty good look at the duck resting just below the bridge. It later started venturing out into the open and we ended up with a stunning view of the bird in great lighting! It's a shame this male is in moult...we can only hope that it sticks around a few more weeks and moult into the glorious drake that it can be!

Mandarin Duck - eclipse drake, and hopefully in full plumage soon!

1 comment:

  1. I always think that Silver-eared Mesia looks like it was painted by a child, filling in the outlines in a colouring book! It is by any standards a stunning species.