Tuesday, 10 October 2017

Tai Po Kau - Woodpeckers and More

Bay Woodpecker - star bird of the day

I received a very sudden request for a guided tour for a birder from the US around Hong Kong last Saturday. The most obvious place to start the day off and as an introduction to the forest birds of Hong Kong was at Tai Po Kau. I always explain to visitors that this is our prime forest site, but historically this forest is still very new while we are only starting to get a few more forest dependant species back in the last few decades or so. One of those species that we always aim for but by no means a guarantee species is no doubt the Bay Woodpecker, where we will most often hear but not see, even when we do see them it will likely be a fly by view at most. We were in for a treat that day, more of that later.

We started our morning at Tai Po Kau Park, always good to get some key species here early on. First bird seen was a leucogenis Ashy Drongo perched on the tree top. A small bird wave with Silver-eared Mesias, Scarlet Minivets, Grey-chinned Minivets, Black-winged Cuckooshrikes and Yellow-cheeked Tits were good appetisers. The best bird found there was a single Dollarbird that perched on a tree in the distant, first for me this autumn.

Ashy Drongo - leucogenis

Black-winged Cuckooshrike - male

Yellow-cheeked Tit - male


We headed up towards the reserve once it got brighter. A Crested Serpent Eagle perched by the roadside was more then welcoming, it allowed us to get pretty close and seemed quite at ease by ours and other hikers presence. Not every day do we get to observe this magnificent raptor for as long as we wanted.

Crested Serpent Eagle

A bit of "Action"...

There weren't that many birds once we got to the trails, though we still managed some commoner species such as Fork-tailed Sunbirds, Mountain Tailorbirds, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers, Chestnut Bulbuls and a Pygmy Wren Babbler which showed only very briefly. We got to Picnic Area 2 and I investigated some movements at the far end, yielding a small bird wave with mainly common species, although there were a pair of White-bellied Epornis which showed extremely well.

Mountain Tailorbird

White-bellied Epornis

Suddenly, I heard the call of the Bay Woodpecker. THAT would be a nice bird to see, I said to myself. I quickly played a burst of playback and waited and received a minute of silence. Just as I thought it wouldn't really come to us, a pair of large reddish brown woodpeckers flew over our heads and landed on a nearby tree! The pair circled around us a few more times, gave me the best look of this species in Hong Kong as I ever had! Despite their numbers increasing in recent years, they are still not an easy bird to see and remains to be a scarce resident. I have not seen them in Hong Kong for a long while, and it's nice to get a reminder that this great looking Woodpecker is now part of our native avifauna. Awesome!

Bay Woodpecker - male

Bay Woodpecker - female without the red nape patch

Finally, while on the way back down we got a great looking male Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker feeding on a low tree, again showing as well as any flowerpecker could! A great little bird to end the morning at Tai Po Kau. Sometimes even seeing a common bird well can be a high note.

Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker - male


  1. I was in Hong Kong with a non-birding friend from 10/3-10/6 and managed to do ok for really not spending anytime actually birding, but I did manage to get to Tai Po Kau with about 3 and a half hours to bird. I spent way too much time on the approach and even went up the nature trail briefly, so I only had an hour or so to actually seriously work the red trail. There were some noisy families walking and it made it difficult to hear or see birds at times. The sounds were incredible, but I needed more time to be able to sit and wait and move slowly to catch everything. I was super happy to get to see my target native birds Chestnut Bulbul, and both minivets, but other interesting native and introduced species I was hoping to find eluded me. Other than seeing the beautiful local commoners the highlight was listening to the amazingly tuneful vocalizations of the Mountain Tailorbirds, truly something I won't forget. I ran into someone heading in( was that you?) and they alerted me to the presence of an Ashy Drongo and an Asian Paradise-Flycatcher, which would have been a holy grail bird...oh well. I love reading your posts and wondered if you had any helpful feedback, I really want to go back someday with a better camera and not broken binocs. Cheers.

  2. Hi! Thanks for reading my blog. Good to know you ventured out to the more rural side of HK, it has much to offer. Sound like you had a pretty good time at Tai Po Kau, very glad to hear. Seeing all the "common" forest species there nowadays itself is a challenge, even on a good day there will be resident species I will often miss, this could be due to the fact that good habitat is now more widespread and birds are much less confined to one patch of forest. It sounds like that you got there quite late in the morning, it can get quite busy up there with hikers especially the weekends, so early morning before 8pm is always the best time, hikers usually start going up after 9pm. Forest birding in HK is really just about persistent and a lot of luck, I hope you will find more birds next time you visit. Cheers!