Friday, 14 April 2017

Migrants, migrants, migrants!

Nordmann's Greenshank - also Grey Plover, Whimbrel, Terek and Curlew Sandpiper

Been extremely busy at work and had spent most of April's saturdays working, hence I have gathered up a handsome amount of OT leave that requires me to use them up before it pile up too much. So, I took the opportunity to go for a day out at Mai Po, April being one of the best time to visit the reserve as we are getting most of the migrating shorebirds heading north.

I had to drop my Dad off to work before I head to Mai Po, I was evidently a tiny bit late for the tide when I arrived as all the birds had flown off...when in fact it was the tide that was early; one and a half hour early in fact! I was greeted by a good looking Black Kite perched nearby.

Black Kite - lineatus

I headed back towards the old hide hoping to catch the birds coming in, I just about made it but the tide was rising extremely quickly, not allowing a lot of time to scan through the waders, plus the birds were on the move constantly. Bar-tailed Godwits, Great Knots, Terek Sandpipers, Curlew Sandpipers, Marsh Sandpipers, Greenshanks, Grey Plovers, Gull-billed Terns...all sort of birds were scrambling for places to feed or perch.

Flock of waders at Deep Bay - How many species can you spot?

In amongst the waders I picked up quite a few Nordmann's Greenshanks. They are very easy to pick out from the rest at this time of the year, their backs are now very spotted with quite thick white edges to their feathers, I counted a total of seven at the broad walk. We often forget how rare they are, with an estimated global population of just under 1,500 birds! They are now endangered and is under continued threats from hunting, habitat lost and degradation. I hope we can still see them this easily in ten years time.

Nordmann's Greenshank - three of them with two Grey Plovers and a Great Knot

After the tide came in I headed out to the scrape to catch the resting birds. Large flocks of waders congregated, a large portion of them being Black-tailed Godwits. In amongst the resting birds I found a few Asian Dowitchers feeding actively. They are quite easy to pick out as their thick dark bill really stands out from the rest, they also have a very distinctive feeding motion that differentiate from the Godwits, they will plunge their head into the water and submerging their heads with less frequency, whereas the Godwits will jolt their heads up and down like a jackhammer!

Asian Dowitcher - odd one out

Asian Dowitcher - easily recognisable with their thick bill

Other waders were in good numbers as well, Redshanks now assuming their breeding plumage. Curlew Sandpipers are also turning a lovely reddish brown, looking extremely good! There were plenty of Great Knots at the scrape, they have now been up listed to endangered with a decreasing population, but that's the case for many waders worldwide.

Common Redshank

Curlew Sandpiper

Great Knot - assuming breeding plumage

Large numbers of Gull-billed Terns were present, as were a few smaller Whiskered Terns, A found a few Sharp-tailed Sandpipers amongst them. Scanning through the terns I even found a single Little Tern! Whereas a few Caspian Terns were also present but in fewer numbers, these large graceful terns gliding past the bird hide always produces great photographic opportunities!

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper - also with Gull-billed Terns and Whiskered Terns

Little Tern - they really are little compare to the Gull-billed Terns

Caspian Tern

Everything on the scrape flushed when a dark bird darted through, a Peregrine trying to find it's next meal. It was panic for all birds and pretty much chaos in the sky as the waders try to scramble to safety. The Peregrine Falcon was obviously hungry and kept going for a long while.

Peregrine Falcon - at work...

The Peregrine dived many times, I managed to grabbed a few decent inflight shots of this majestic falcon. A juvenile male Eastern Marsh Harrier also joined in the hunting party.

Peregrine Falcon entering a dive

Eastern Marsh Harrier - immature male

After a few dives the Peregrine finally separated a single Black-tailed Godwit from the flock, the Godwit fell into the water out of panic and the Peregrine dived in the for the kill, it managed to grab onto the Godwit for two seconds only to have it's prey robbed by the Harrier! The poor Peregrine will have to go hungry after all this wasted effort.

Peregrine Falcon and Eastern Marsh Harrier fighting over the Godwit

Eastern Marsh Harrier - victorious...

The scrape was completely emptied after the dramatic event, so I decided to move onto pond 11 where the birds were all resting quietly and peacefully. There weren't that many species present, but there were again a few Nordmann's Greenshanks amongst the Common Greenshanks. Here's a comparison photo of the two with pretty much the same pose, notice the smaller size of the Nordmann's, also looking much rounder and shorter, bill slightly upturned with a yellowish tint to near the gape, white edges to the mantle and wing feathers.

Nordmann's Greenshank (bottom) & Common Greenshank (top)

I met Yuen at Mai Po as he was in the area, we decided to pay a visit to Ho Man Tin hoping to find a few migrating Flycatchers. The Narcissus Flycatcher present in the morning was nowhere to be seen, we did however got the immature male Mugimaki Flycatcher. There were also two Asian Brown Flycatchers in the same tree. We waited a little longer and glimpsed a male Blue-and-White Flycatcher but it never showed itself again after just a brief look.

Mugimaki Flycatcher - immature male

Asian Brown Flycatcher

We are already half way through spring migration in a blink of the eye! And it's starting to feel like I might miss a lot of the "usual" spring migrants...


  1. I'm hoping we can maintain migrant excitement until Mid-May at least ....

  2. Such a great series of birds, Matt. Mai Po truly is a very special place.

    1. Thanks David, it is indeed, we are so lucky to have MP as our back garden!