Tuesday 31 October 2017

Pat Heung - Shek Kong & Kam Tin

Speckled Piculet - star bird of the morning

The area known as Pat Heung which includes one of my favourite birding spot Shek Kong Catchment actually includes a wide range of habitat, from forested areas on the northern slope of Tai Mo Shan, scrubland further down before you get to some agricultural land along the base of the mountain, further away you have Shek Kong Airfield Road which includes some open woods and grass, while Kam Tin there are some fishponds as well as Kam Tin River which holds a fair amount of water birds. So, it is a pretty good area for birds.

That morning I once again decided to visit Shek Kong Catchment for the first time in October. I actually got there pretty late, I didn't actually start walking until well past 8am. Around the public toilet I flushed a large bird which I suspected to be a Crested Serpent Eagle, I followed it's direction and managed to relocate the bird perched at eye-levels! I've had quite a lot of luck with them perched lately, I am certainly not complaining.

Crested Serpent Eagle

Things seemed pretty quiet, there weren't that many bird waves around, and even when there were it didn't contain much. A few Scarlet Minivets as well as Black-winged Cuckooshrike were pretty much all the action I got. Lesser Shortwings were singing constantly although none showed.

Scarlet Minivet

Black-winged Cuckooshrike

I bumped into John Clough, THE birder of Shek Kong Catchment, he lives nearby so naturally this is his local patch. We were just in time and saw a Ashy Drongo, the darker race hopwoodi is the least common subspecies in Hong Kong, they also look very different to the other two lighter race. I decided to tag along with John and he suggested we walk down to the agricultural land where he had seen some buntings, so I followed. I never been in that area so it's quite an eye-opener, although we didn't manage too many species down there except a few Black-faced Buntings, Richard's Pipits and Siberian Stonechats etc. We also managed a Pale-legged Leaf Warbler and Asian Brown Flycatcher along the more wooded area. John led me through the village of Lin Fa Tei and told me to walk back up the stairs towards the catchment to complete a loop, while he walked back home.

Ashy Drongo - hopwoodi

Asian Brown Flycatcher

It was already near noon when I got back up to the catchment, I picked up a few Fire-breasted Flowerpeckers, the male showed well although staying quite high up, the female came much lower down. They are mainly winter visitors to Hong Kong, although we do have some that over summer. Further along I spotted another Ashy Drongo, this time a leucogenis, being much paler and having a very white face.

Fire-breasted Flowerpecker - male (above) & female (below)

Ashy Drongo - leucogenis

As I was walking past the eco garden, I heard the high pitched 'sit-sit-sit-sit-sit' call of the Speckled Piculet, I quickly scanned the surrounding trees, finally found the tiny bird feeding very high up above my head. I waited around and the bird decided to come down and gave better views, as it busily pecked at the branches. John Clough had seen the Piculet at Shek Kong Catchment on a regular basis, this was however the first time I've ever seen them here. Although they are increasing in the last few years, they are still not what you call common, and I am happy to get some decent photos at last.

Speckled Piculet

After the Piculet I headed towards Ko Po Road by Kam Tin River, hopefully to take some photos of the Grey-headed Lapwings. I was not disappointed, as I saw a few at the usual roosting site along with a flock of Black-winged Stilts. Along the road I spotted a Chinese Skink, a fairly common skink species in Hong Kong, although a lot of the time they are so quick that I never had much chance to get a photo, this one was a little more cooperative and stayed long enough for me to get a decent photo. A little over 60 species of birds one morning in such a compact area is not bad.

Grey-headed Lapwing

Chinese Skink

Monday 30 October 2017

Open Country Wednesday

Plaintive Cuckoo - rufous morph

Decided to head to Long Valley Wednesday morning to look for some Buntings, reports of more Yellow-breasted Buntings as well as a few other species returning certainly was an attraction. Turns out my visit coincided with HKBWS's bird ringing, their main target was obviously the increasingly rare Yellow-breasted Buntings. I was just in time to witness the first one hitting the net, they caught two that morning. Setting a mist net up at the paddies sure will get you some 'bycatches', including this Oriental Reed Warbler.

Yellow-breasted Bunting successfully netted

Oriental Reed Warbler - the unfortunate 'bycatch'

Outside the mist nets I saw quite a few Yellow-breasted Buntings, a few allowed quite good views while perched on a tree next to the paddies. This species is under a lot of pressure from trapping in China, where they are seen as a delicacy in some places. They are currently an endangered species but could be uplisted to critically endangered in the near future. The demand for these small birds had only grown with people earning more money, being able to pay high prices for these small birds. It is ridiculous to think that to present day eating wildlife is still a huge problem which threatens the very existence of a species, you would think humans had learnt from past mistakes from species like the Passenger Pigeons or Great Auks...I only managed a few Chestnut-eared Buntings as well as Little Buntings, although the later did not allow any close views.

Yellow-breasted Bunting - female

Chestnut-eared Bunting

Other then Buntings, there were a few Eurasian Skylarks around, they are uncommon migrants that passes through every year. Dusky Warblers were now everywhere.

Eurasian Skylark

Dusky Warbler

Kenneth Lam and two his friends joined me mid morning, although things slowed down slightly. A pair of rufous morph Plaintive Cuckoos were around, allowing quite good views. They were extremely conspicuous and quite confiding, although I have found the general behaviour of this species may vary between individuals. One of the better bird was a Japanese Sparrowhawk which drifted past, it never came towards us for a better view though. We were greeted by a confiding Black Drongo as we exited Long Valley towards Ho Sheung Heung, it reminded me of the one I rescued not long ago, I wonder how that one is doing.

Plaintive Cuckoo - rufous morph

Japanese Sparrowhawk

Black Drongo

After lunch, Kenneth and I decided to head into San Tin to look for the Daurian Starling that Captain saw the day before. We got to the supposed location and waited, although there weren't that many Starlings around, but sitting on the ledge of the car boot revealed to be quite effective, as we continued to add different species onto our day list. A lot of Whiskered Terns drifted past us, feeding along the fish ponds.

Whiskered Tern

We started scanning the sky for Amur Falcons as Kenneth had yet to get them on his Hong Kong list, and falcons we got! Although the first was a Kestrel which gave us a scare, but it was going the wrong direction, and the shape was completely wrong once you get a better look. We also got a Eurasian Hobby, it was drifting quite high up but the lack of darker secondaries and primaries ruled out Amur. Finally, a proper Amur Falcon drifted past, although quite distant we could pick out all the diagnostic details. We counted a few more Amur Falcons after this.

Eurasian Kestrel

Eurasian Hobby

Amur Falcon

Starlings started appearing much later, we had over a hundred, both on the wire and on a fruiting tree near by, we kept scanning for any Daurian Starlings, but all we had were Silky Starlings, White-shouldered Starlings, White-cheeked Starlings and Black-collared Starlings. Suddenly, Kenneth spotted a bird in flight and asked what that was, I managed to pick it up with my bins and recognised it as a Lark, although it felt wrong for a Eurasian Skylark which I only saw in the morning. Kenneth was quick enough to get a few shots off and we examined the photo and quickly suspected it for rarer species of Larks. After some consultation with other birders, we came to a conclusion that this was a Mongolian Lark. Problem with these Lark species is that they are such popular cage birds in Hong Kong, that although there had been Mongolian Larks recorded in the past, all of them had been rejected...The general reaction for this bird was also the same. The final decision shall be made by the record committee, although one thing that birding had taught me is to expect anything and everything. It's difficult to proof it as a wild bird, but actually it's equally difficult to proof that it's not, I think only the bird knows whether it came to Hong Kong unassisted.

Starlings...but no Daurian!

Mongolian Lark (photo by Kenneth Lam)

Finally, a pair of Red Turtle Dove which allowed quite good views as we exit San Tin to round up the day nicely.

Red Turtle Dove - male (above) & female (below)

Thursday 26 October 2017

Shing Mun Reservoir and Slightly Off Grid

Radde's Warbler

I seldom visited Shing Mun Reservoir these days, and thinking about that I couldn't really think of a reason why that is, it is close to where I live, trail there is easy to walk, it is connected to the same patch of forest to Tai Mo Shan and Tai Po Kau...

Arriving at the start of the reservoir trail kind of reminded me why I have slowly neglected this site; monkeys! In small numbers they are fun to watch and kind of cute, but once you get hundreds of them in one place they really starts to get on your nerves. The Rhesus Macaques we get in Hong Kong are not a native species, they were likely introduced many years ago. To be fair they never really done anything to me, although past experiences had told me usually the more monkeys the less birds. Or is it?

Rhesus Macaque - the baby ones sure looks cute...

For the first half hour or so I got very little birds, slowly picking up pace I managed to get great views of a Pygmy Wren Babbler which is always a treat. Further along I even got an eye-level view of a Mountain Tailorbird which perched long enough for me to get a good photo. Getting such good views of these two major skulkers requires a lot of luck, so I consider myself quite lucky. I spotted a Dark-sided Flycatcher above the trail, so views weren't great but was still happy to get this passage migrant.

Pygmy Wren Babbler

Mountain Tailorbird

Dark-sided Flylcatcher

Things really picked up when I got to picnic area no.5, where I encountered a bird wave. All the common birds showed well, including Grey-chinned Minivets, Blue-winged Minlas, Yellow-cheeked Tits and Velvet-fronted Nuthatches. I also spotted an Eastern Crowned Warbler and a female Verditer Flycatcher, although both were too quick for any photos.

Grey-chinned Minivet - male (above) & female (below)

Blue-winged Minla

Yellow-cheeked Tit - female

The best bird in the flock was a female Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, this species is scarcer in autumn. It's the first for me this autumn and certainly an exciting species to see at all times! There was also a male recorded at Ho Man Tin earlier this month, the males lack the long tails that is the trade mark for all Paradise Flycatchers after the breeding season.

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher - female

I ran into another bird wave just before the public toilet, this time there were a few White-bellied Epornis actively feeding. I even managed yet another Japanese Paradise Flycatcher! This time it seems to be a juvenile due to the lack of eye-rings. A few Ashy Drongos were around but only one leucogensis showed reasonably well.

White-bellied Epornis

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher - immature

Ashy Drongo - leucogenis

I saw a warbler feeding quite low down, olive brown with no wing bars, thick eye brows that is yellowish to the front, pale legs and pale lower mendible...surely a Radde's Warbler! This is a scarce autumn migrant, with a few recorded every year. They look slightly similar to a Dusky Warbler, but you can easily tell them apart from the eye brows, where the dusky is paler to the front and buffish to the back, the Radde's is the other way round. Their overall structure and bill shape is also very different. The most different thing with those two are behaviour, whereas most Duskies are quick and skittish, the Radde's are usually much more friendly, it was the case for this bird, which gave excellent views for as long as I wanted.

Radde's Warbler - very friendly

I continued on, adding a few commoner species here and there including the Asian Brown Flycatcher and a single Taiga Flycatcher. I later saw a Dusky Warbler plus a Goodson's Leaf Warbler as well. At picnic area no.12 I saw two warblers on the trees, first a Yellow-browed Warbler, but there was another that had much darker legs and paler lower mendible. A closer look revealed faint first and thicker second wing bars, yellowish wash to the underside surely make this a good candidate for a Two-barred Warbler, and soon it gave a pipit like "tiss-yip" call, which confirms it's identity.

Two-barred Warbler

In the afternoon, Hoiling said she wanted to visit the Dragon Trail at Cape Collinson, a place I have never visited before. This location is fairly "off the grid", being very under birded. A quick change of bus from Hung Hom cross harbour tunnel and we were there. The trail walking up the hill seemed like a popular hiking spot and we saw plenty of hikers. We soon encountered what seems to be one of the local speciality there, a family of Wild Boars, they certainly did not fear men, my 500mm was WAY too close to fit the whole animal in frame. Boar numbers certainly had been on the rise in recent years, and without the South China Tigers that once preyed on these animals, their numbers will surely continue to grow.

Wild Boar

The second specialty here seems to be Chinese Hwamei, a species that is common but usually extremely shy. Here, they were foraging in broad daylight and out in the open, certainly quite a nice experience to be able to view this species so well.

Chinese Hwamei

The other species that was also oblivious to men here was the Blue Whistling Thrush, we saw a few here, one of them was so bold that it actually jumped towards me as I was trying to photograph it, and I ended up having to walk backwards to the other side of the road. A magnificent bird to look at as always. Further along the trail Hoiling spotted a snake inside a water outlet pipe, which turned out to be a Red-necked Keelback, a common diurnal snake in Hong Kong.

Blue Whistling Thrush

Red-necked Keelback

Finally, I spotted a juvenile male Blue Rock Thrush on the way down, which I felt was a great bird to end the day with. Certainly an afternoon well spent!

Blue Rock Thrush - philippensis