Friday 22 September 2017

The Curse Of Ho Man Tin

Arctic Warbler - the only notable migrant that I managed a good shot of...

The key to becoming a successful birdwatcher have much to do with being hard working and having patience, but sometimes without a stroke of luck and good fortune even the more experienced birders have to endure dipping on target birds. I would consider myself quite a lucky guy most of the time, but sometimes your luck simply runs out and nothing goes your way.

Ho Man Tin had been a migrant hotspot the last couple of years, and people have had tons of interesting records there with some ludicrous rarities, Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher and Brown-breasted Flycatcher this season are some of the more interesting records. An influx of Tiger Shrikes and Siberian Blue Robins certainly had raised my expectations, and seeing that many friends had success in finding the Shrike at Ho Man Tin got me off my ass. I have very mixed feelings about the site at Ho Man Tin, first off it is an incredible magnet for migrants in the middle of the city, anything can turn up there at any given day and time. BUT, I never seem to have much luck in uncovering the small hill's secrets, and half of my visits have me leaving empty handed. It got to a point where I don't quite bother going there anymore, as in Chinese we have a saying "you're only scared of the dark if you've seen a ghost", and Ho Man Tin had definitely been my "ghost".

Reports of the Tiger Shrike showing on Monday morning up till noon was encouraging, and I thought an afternoon there will be sufficient for me to nail this rarity. I was so wrong. I got there by 2pm and walked up and down the hill, only to get a single female Black-naped Monarch, an Asian Brown Flycatcher, a few rather tamed Arctic Warblers plus a tamed male Oriental Magpie Robin...I managed to spot a Shrike which should be a juvenile Brown Shrike, but nothing that resembled a Tiger Shrike even gave me a glimpse...Siberian Blue Robin seen previous afternoon by my friend was again nowhere to be seen.

Black-naped Monarch - female

Arctic Warbler

Oriental Magpie Robin - male

As I had other business to attend to, I left at 4:45pm, feeling completely defeated. At around 5pm, a text from my friend told me that someone had just seen the Tiger Shrike just before 5pm.

So, there I was again the next morning, arriving early hoping that the Shrike will finally show itself. Walked around various hotspots with little luck. I even missed an Orange-headed Thrush seen by three other birders by a half a minute! I managed a newly arrived Black-winged Cuckooshrike, a single female Hainan Blue Flycatcher and an Asian Brown Flycatcher, nothing to be excited about. I once again came back empty handed, and left the site at 10:15am. I later heard some other birders might have spotted the Tiger Shrike again, no surprise there.

Black-winged Cuckooshrike

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - female

Asian Brown Flycatcher - such a poser

Despite all this, I have to admit that Ho Man Tin is an incredible urban birding site. Easy to get to and having one of the most incredible track records in the past few years, no wonder it had gained so much in popularity in amongst birders. I only wish that I would have slightly better luck there in the future, for now I would say my curse of Ho Man Tin is yet to be broken.

Thursday 14 September 2017

The Easy Route - Shek Kong Catchment

One of the main reason why I love to visit Shek Kong Catchment (Also known as Pat Heung Catchwater on ebird) is it's accessibility, as well as how easy going the path is compare to other forest sites such as Tai Po Kau, the forest is also much more open which is good for photography. September through to May is a good time to visit, as the site is known to attracts all sorts of migrants. I decided to try my luck there this morning. Encountered a small feeding flock right where I parked my car, immediately locking onto a handsome Yellow-cheeked Tit and a few Velvet-fronted Nuthatches feeding along the tree trunks.

Yellow-cheeked Tit - as entertaining as always

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

A good supply of Scarlet Minivets is always welcoming. Both males and females showed well, occasionally coming down low to feed. Grey-chinned Minivets were also present but seemed to prefer the higher branches this morning. While I saw a single female Orange-bellied Leafbird chasing away a flock of Blue-winged Minlas and Silver-eared Mesia near a fruiting tree aggressively.

Scarlet Minivet - one of the main staple of bird waves (male above & female below)

Orange-bellied Leafbird - female

A dark shadow swooped in from my left towards a flock of Silver-eared Mesias, the Mesias sounded the alarm quickly and seemed to dispersed quickly enough to avoid becoming lunch for a juvenile Crested Goshawk. The Goshawk flew back up to a perch close to me after it's failed attempt, as if to catch a breather, it's hunting skills better improve if it wants to grow bigger!

Crested Goshawk - juvenile

I wasn't doing very well with the migrants until I saw a pair of Arctic Warblers. A common autumn migrant, we are now getting a large influx of them, where they will literally turn up everywhere. I was expecting Flycatchers, and Flycatcher I got! First off a single male Blue-and-White Flycatcher that showed only briefly and not to be seen again. Then, I flushed a female Yellow-rumped Flycatcher from a water hole, I was just about to raise my camera up to photograph it when it was spooked by a also did not reappear. The only Flycatcher that went slightly easy on me was a male Hainan Blue Flycatcher, which could be a remaining individual or a newly arrived migrant, either way they are nice birds to see in September.

Arctic Warbler

Hainan Blue Flycatcher

However, the species that really stood out today was Grey Treepie. I encountered a total of three flocks, a few individuals decided to let me take a good and close look. Interesting thing about this species is that outside Hong Kong they seem to be very common and not as difficult to see, but those in Hong Kong are certainly far shyer, making them a "heard only" species half the time. So, I consider myself very lucky to get a good look at them today.

Grey Treepie - a "good" look, note the uniform tail 
feather different from the Taiwan subspecies.

I walked all the way to Tsing Tam Reservoir and back, deciding to take in the scenery on this fine morning. It certainly weren't a bad morning considering I total 37 species just on a single stretch of concrete road. Taking it easy sometimes is not a bad thing at all.

Tsing Tam Reservoir in glorious morning sun

Wednesday 13 September 2017

Brown Fish Owl Revisited

Brown Fish Owl - Ketupa zeylonensis

Since Hoiling didn't get to see the Brown Fish Owl the other night, I went with her again two nights later. Kennth Lam joined us as well, and the three of us made our way once again to the supposed location. Another local Cheung Chau resident birder was already there and pointed out the Owl on top of a ship far away, it's eye-shine clearly visible when it look towards the bright lights from the seafood restaurants. I soon noticed a large shadow flying in towards a closer boat, and once again the Brown Fish Owl perched on it's favourite perch to look for fishes below.

We were given some wonderful views of the Owl before we noticed that there were actually another individual perched further away on another ship! Two Brown Fish Owls at the same location was simply amazing! Soon, they settled on a boat further away and didn't move for a while, so we decided to have dinner.

Perched on top of a fishing boat.

When we returned from dinner, Fai along with Wing Tung were still observing the pair. Soon enough a large fishing vessel came into the harbour to dock, which got closer and closer to the owls until they were finally spooked! The two flew towards the shore and I thought it might have landed on a tree, so we all rushed to that direction to relocate it. I was on the right track but way off target...luckily Wing Tung was there to point us all to the right direction and we were able to observe one of the owl much closer. Thanks to her's and Hoiling's expertise with the hand torches, we were able to get some good shots of the owl.

Naturally our setup attracted a crowd of local residents asking us what exactly we were photographing. Many of them had never seen an owl before, and many children were able to get good looks of the owl. Sharing is still the ultimate joy of birdwatching, and there's nothing like being able to share this magical moment with nature with all these locals. There were of course a few residents which seems also familiar with the owls here, and stated that they had regularly seen them around the harbour before. A man also stated he had seen an large owl near the football field before, with wingspan near 6ft! While it is possible that he over exaggerated, I also wondered if it could have been an Eagle Owl...

And that wrapped up for a wonderful night out. As I heard, a lot more photographers had flocked into Cheung Chau to seek for the owl, so good thing we went early, I am sure the harbour front is packed.
Relocated on a tree on the waterfront.

Brown Fish Owl - simply a majestic creature to behold!

I was asked another question the other day about the identification of larger owls in Hong Kong, this usually consists of the Eurasian Eagle Owl and Brown Fish Owl (Although we also now have the Brown Wood Owl, but it looks very much different). One key feature is their eye colour, BFO being yellow and EEO being orange. BFO also lack any prominent "face-disk" while the EEO is much paler around the bill. EEO have much thicker dark striation along it's breast and belly compare to the thin striations on BFO.

On a very different note, I picked up a baby Pallas's Squirrel last week. I couldn't see any obvious injuries on it, but it certainly weren't behaving as a squirrel should be, wandering around on the ground slowly. I managed to put it into a wooden box and called KFBG (Kadorie Farm & Botanical Garden) whether I could send it over to them, but it was already 5pm by then and they are closing. So, I had to call up RSPCA to pick up the poor fella, and they should help transfer it to KFBG the next day...I was hoping to hear from KFBG about it, but turned out it never made it to KFBG...

Pallas's Squirrel

Thursday 7 September 2017

Night Life & Early Mornings

Brown Fish Owl - patrolling Cheung Chau Harbour

Autumn is well underway, early mornings and night time are getting much cooler which means outdoor excursions are once again not a dreadful task. We have had a few typhoons in the past two weeks, with typhoon Hato hitting us pretty badly, it gave Macau an even worst time, leaving around ten dead and many injured. But nature seems to cope with these natural disasters pretty well, and me and Hoiling were out mothing the next day and found plenty of interesting moths. We recorded a lot of species the past two weeks, and one moth we found on 4th of September was especially special. Arthroschista hilaralis, a beautiful species that as it turns out is a first for Hong Kong, in fact likely for this region. It is supposedly a more tropical species, but as Dr. Kendrick suggested we are likely to see more tropical species as global warming continues.

Arthroschista hilaralis - Hong Kong First!

The other nocturnal creature that I went looking for is a Brown Fish Owl that had been frequenting Chueng Chau harbour lately. This species is a resident at Cheung Chau, but is not always easy to observe due to their nocturnal nature. I was informed last week that one had been spotted again at the harbour and decided to try my luck along with David and Tom (My Dad joined late). Within ten minutes of our arrival to it's supposed location I spotted the large owl perched on top of a boat nearby, opposite a busy bustling harbour front of Cheung Chau. For the next two hours we enjoyed pretty decent views of this majestic owl feeding, as it actively dived down to catch fish attracted to the sewage outlet from the seafood restaurants. It's amazing to think that such an incredible creature can be living so close to humans without most of them ever noticing

Brown Fish Owl

Having successful night outings are always great. My daytime birding had been rather mediocre however, until one early morning I came upon a strange bird perched on the opposite side of the slope at Tai Po Kau, too far even for my binoculars to pick out the details, I took a photo with my camera and confirmed that it's a Tiger Shrike! A new species for my HK list of this rare migrant. It's a fairly compact Shrike species and heavily marked on both it's back and belly.

Tiger Shrike - my terrible attempt for a record shot...

Otherwise Tai Po Kau produced mainly common species, with plenty of Silver-eared Mesias, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers, Pygmy Wren Babblers and a few Hainan Blue Flycatchers. The increase in bird waves had made birding in Tai Po Kau a bit more pleasant and entertaining.

Silver-eared Mesia

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

Pygmy Wren Babbler

Hainan Blue Flycatcher

Other small animals at Tai Po Kau are also rather active, I saw plenty of Brown Forest Skinks, one of which was basking on a rock and allowed me to get a good photo of these usually quick lizards. A close encounter with a cute Indochinese Forest Rat was also nice, this is also usually a nocturnal species, but every so often we get one that comes out during the day like this one. They prefer forested areas and rarely will venture into people's home, making them the "good" rats.

Brown Forest Skink

Indochinese Forest Rat

A quick visit to Long Valley this week yielded not much birds, highlight being a Brown Shrike at distance. Greater Painted Snipes are now quite active again and much more visible, I even saw a male trying to mount a female, although it looks to be an unsuccessful attempt...A single Numenius on a field caught my eye in the beginning, Little Curlew came to the top of my head, but a second glance confirms that it was indeed just a plain old Whimbrel. The Short-nosed Fruit Bats colony under a Chinese Fan-palm near Ho Sheung Heung is as always a good place to end a little trip to Long Valley and rarely disappoints.

Greater Painted Snipe - getting a bit frisky...


Short-nosed Fruit Bat