Friday 31 March 2017

Spring Rhapsody - More Night Adventures

Romer's Tree Frog - True Hong Kong endemic

I haven't had much time during the day lately, a lot of work and things had been very busy in general. My weekends are also now pretty much occupied, leading two art in nature workshops on Saturday for HKBWS. Plus side is that they are held in Long Valley and San Tin respectively, so I do get to see some birds, but not many. Last week at Long Valley things were pretty quiet except for three Oriental Pratincoles and a few fly-by Painted Snipes.

Oriental Pratincole - catching a fly

So, with day time gone, I had to turn to night time! Went up to Tai Po Kau yet again with Hoi Ling, David and Bee Yu for a night walk on Thursday night. Things started off well and we were seeing quite a lot of fireflies, including this juvenile by the road side. Things were pretty good on the insect department, with plenty of beetles to see.

Firefly sp.

Mimela testaceoviridis

Chlaenius bioculatus

Paracalais larvatus

There were also a lot stick-insects, including these Neohirasea stick-insects, I am not very good with their species though...Also an unknown Moth that look quite nice. Plenty of spiders around, including this Heteropoda venatoria.

Neohirasea sp.

Unknown Moth

Heteropoda venatoria

We spotted two species of Geckos, including the Bowring's Gecko which is suppose to be the most common species in Hong Kong (although I disagree and think Chinese Gecko is way more common), and also the Chinese Gecko which can be found in good numbers around the public toilet.

Bowring's Gecko

Chinese Gecko

We did OK on the reptiles department, first Hoi Ling spotted a juvenile Mock Viper sitting on some leafs just beside the footpath. This one was pretty small, it's colours are still quite dark, whereas adults usually have quite washed out colours. Hoi Ling didn't take any chance with this little fella this time....Even further ahead, David found us a beautiful Many-banded Krait! This highly venomous snake are usually quite slow moving and not very aggressive, but being related to the cobras they have one of the deadliest bites in Hong Kong, their neurotoxins can cause death if left untreated...Not a snake you want to cuddle with.

Mock Viper - a juvenile with a lot of character

Many-banded Krait -
 it was very timid and tried to hide

These were all dandily, but our main objective of the night were not snakes nor insects, but a tiny amphibian species known as the Romer's Tree Frog. This is a species of great interest, in that it is our only true Hong Kong endemic amphibian to date! (Hong Kong Newts, Hong Kong Cascade Frogs and the Short-legged Toads are all just near endemics) Spotting these frogs that are just as big as my thumbnails weren't easy on the forest floor, but luckily their breeding season had just begun, and we found them at suitable spawning sites with no trouble at all! 

This species was discovered on Lamma Island back in 1952 near a cave by John D. Romer, but when the cave collapsed in 1953 the only known population at the time disappeared, leading some to fear that the only population might have died out. It wasn't until 1984 that these tiny frogs were rediscovered again on Lamma Island, and later on Lantau and Po Toi Island.

Romer's Tree Frog - diagnostic back patterns

They gained a lot of attention back in 1990 when the new airport at Chek Lap Kok was going to destroy part of a known site for this rare amphibian, actions were taken and the population were reintroduced to various sites thought suitable for them in New Territories. It was extremely fortunate that the reintroduction were successful and these amazing frogs can live on! Here at Tai Po Kau we counted at least 10 frogs in a small area, with more calling males heard around us, we even got the chance to witness a pair spawning in a small pool! An absolutely amazing encounter!

A calling male

Spawning pair, notice how much bigger the female is compare to the male!

We went back down to the car park feeling contented and happy, and what better way to end this with a good old Brown Tree Frog?

Brown Tree Frog

Thursday 23 March 2017

Taste of Migrants - Mallard?

Mallard - uncommon winter visitor and migrant in Hong Kong

Spring marks a much larger turnover of birds, with new birds coming and going everyday. Things changes quickly and a day could make all the difference! Interesting birds can be found anywhere at anytime, at Shek Kong Catchment late last week I found a large flock of around sixty Silver-backed Needletails, a species scarce in Hong Kong but passes through on a regular basis during migration. They provided some interesting views despite being a bit far, there were enough of these quick birds for me to capture a shot with seven birds in one frame!

Silver-backed Needletail - seven out of the sixty odd birds

Hirundines numbers had also increased, many of them congregated at fish ponds in northern New Territories, most of them being Barn Swallows with the odd Red-rumped Swallows or Pale Martins. The below shots taken from the fishpond while on an outing for work.

Barn Swallow - good target practice

Also at the fishponds were the increasingly common Eurasian Collared Dove, they are now everywhere in the Deep Bay area, mainly at fish ponds and surrounding areas. There was again a Bombax tree near the fishpond I was at which attracted a lot of birds, including numerous White-shouldered Starlings and Azure-winged Magpies.

Eurasian Collared Dove

White-shouldered Starling

Azure-winged Magpie

Eastern Yellow Wagtails are still very common around fishponds, this one was found in Tai Sang Wai, kind of at the "in-between" stage of moulting.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail - taivana

The most interesting find at Tai Sang Wai though was a single drake Mallard. This is a species that is not particularly rare in Hong Kong, but very uncommon throughout, even in Deep Bay area. I don't see them very often, a handsome drake even more so! Who would have thought my most interesting spring migrant this week came in form of a dabbling duck?

Mallard - this guy proved to me it was a wild bird by taking to the sky...

Out at Deep Bay a large numbers of Large Gulls were present, including a few rarer varieties, other then our common Heuglin's, Mongolian and Vegas, a single 1st winter Slaty-backed Gull was present on the day I visited. A very handsome Pallas's Gull in breeding plumage was also there, easily picked out from the rest of the gulls with it's conspicuous black head.

Slaty-backed Gull - 1st winter

Pallas's Gull - adult breeding plumage

I visited Tai Mo Shan the other day, hoping to find the Chinese Grassbird as they should now be quite vocal and active. I heard two birds but none of them showed. Chinese Francolins were again very shy and I simply could not locate it despite immense effort. I did however connected with a nice Lesser Shortwing which showed very well by Shortwing standard, but that little bit of twig that blocked it's throat 'ruined' this photo for me...Rufous-capped Babblers called constantly and a few showed well for me. Richard's Pipits were in song near the summit, strangely this one does not look like the local sinensis subspecies, I wonder if they breed up here as well?

Lesser Shortwing - if only the twig wasn't there...

Rufous-capped Babbler

Richard's Pipit

Finally, more night walks with Hoi Ling produced quite a lot of interesting creatures. We were leading a group from CUHK for a night outing on Monday and yielded many emerging frogs, many of them were absent just two weeks ago! We found two Hong Kong Newts, both juveniles strolling along the roadside. Brown Tree Frogs are now active and calling, as are Gunther's Frogs. We found a nice Silver Leucauge (a spider) which have two emerald green stripes on it's lower abdomen. Finally, we found two Mock Vipers on the night, which we were able to show the students closely! Too close perhaps as Hoi Ling was trying to point out it's head shape but mis-judged the snake's movement and got a nice little nibble from the snake...Glad this little guy was non-venomous!

Hong Kong Newt

Brown Tree Frog

Gunther's Frog

Silver Leucauge

Mock Viper - the very same snake that bit Hoi Ling...

Monday 6 March 2017

Springing to Life!

Hill Blue Flycatcher - the star bird recently

It's spring, you can just feel it in the air, Koels singing constantly now and air is getting quite humid again. These few days had also been considerably warmer. Bombax ceiba trees are all in full bloom, a beautiful sight to behold, they are also attracting plenty of birds. This tree at Shek Kong attracted numerous Hair-crested Drongos.

Hair-crested Drongo - feeding on a blooming bombax tree

Also at Shek Kong Catchment I saw a few Grey-chinned Minivets the other day, both males and females gave pretty good views. They should start their breeding season pretty soon.

Grey-chinned Minivet - they always come in two colours

The Crested Serpent Eagles are also quite vocal lately, I found a pair circling above me the other day. Probably not quite a display yet, but things coming in pairs do stir up some 'springy' feeling.

Crested Serpent Eagles

We still have plenty of winter migrants with us, but many of them should be getting ready to head north for their breeding grounds. Daurian Redstarts are still very much present and regularly seen. Dusky Warblers are still in very good numbers. Great Cormorants are starting to assume their breeding plumage and it feels like they will be going away very soon, leaving their roosting trees empty. Black-faced Spoonbills are still very abundant around Deep Bay area, regularly seen flying to fish ponds to feed.

Daurian Redstart - female

Dusky Warbler

Great Cormorants

Black-faced Spoonbills

Other wildlife had also been much more active. Me and Hoiling came across a Red Muntjac at Tai Po Kau the other night! A great surprise for us which gave prolonged views of this magical creature. Not too many amphibians are out yet, but Brown Wood Frogs were certainly very active and calling constantly at Tai Po Kau. Moths numbers and species had also increased dramatically, here are two of the most beautiful moths which are common lately, first a Barsine striata which have this amazing grid pattern of red and yellow, the second being Milionia basalis which in my humble opinon is likely one of the most colourful and beautiful moths! You can't help but to become mesmerised by their amazing colours.

Red Muntjac - our only deer in Hong Kong

Brown Wood Frog

Barsine striata - stunning...

Milionia basalis - stunningly gorgeous...

Talking about colourful creatures, a 1st winter male Hill Blue Flycatcher had been spotted lately at King's Park; an urban park in the heart of Kowloon. So, I woke up early to head over there before work. The bird was already in song when I arrived, and it didn't take long before it showed itself in all it's glory right before my very eyes. All cyronis flycatchers are beautiful to look at, and this one was no exception. They are quite similar looking to the Chinese Blue Flycatcher I recently saw at SK Catchment, but Hill Blues have a much broader throat 'wedge' and shows more orange in front, equally handsome in my opinion!

Hill Blue Flycatcher - the many faces of this handsome guy