Thursday 30 November 2017

Grand Finale - November

Rosy Pipit - non-breeding bird, my final surprise of the month!

I can barely recall a month in recent personal birding history that I got more then three new birds for my Hong Kong list, so to think that I got three times that in less then a month is simply mind boggling! I totaled 7 new birds for my Hong Kong list before this week, including two which I did not manage any photo records. Starting with the Siberian Blue Robin, Styan's Grasshopper Warbler, Rook, Black Redstart, Pallas's Reed Bunting, House Sparrow, Oriental Scops Owl...I was already very chuff about this list, little did I know I was in for even more surprises.

One of my better find (although not a new one on the list) was a Red-breasted Flycatcher at Shek Kong Airfield, I've never had much luck with them despite my efforts to look for them. They are considered rare, but we do get them annually. It was nice that one materialised in a small garden by the roadside, just as I was heading for the public toilet! They look similar to the closely related Taiga Flycatchers, but with a few obvious differences, such as the orange lower mandible, as well as lighter upper tail coverts, they also make a different call to the Taiga Flycatcher. This individual was rather well behaved and allowed some close views.

Red-breasted Flycatcher - wonderfully confiding individual

With a drop of temperature, my local patch that is Wonderland Villas is coming to life once again. Most notably more thrushes up at the jogging trail. Eye-browed Thrush were in good numbers, I think I had up to 5 individuals on one day. Although they were all pretty camera shy...Japanese Thrush were also increasing in numbers, they were just if not even shyer then the Eye-browed. The only thrush that was not shy was the resident Blue Whistling Thrush.

Eye-browed Thrush

Japanese Thrush - male

Blue Whistling Thrush

I had up to 3 Mugimaki Flycatchers recorded this autumn, one female and two males. They were all pretty difficult to photograph, being rather skittish and stayed high up the tree tops, although still very nice to see them at my local patch. Other bird activities had also increase, including more Silver-eared Mesias and Greater-necklaced Laughingthrushes, the latter I manage to grab a photo. The gully had also been a stable haven for Eurasian Woodcocks, I flushed them nearly every time I went down there, although I wouldn't know if they are the same birds or not, but I had at least two on a single day. Two Grey Treepies that passed through was also most unexpected and is a new addition to my Wonderland Villas list, which now stands at 104.

Mugimaki Flycatcher - male

Greater-necklaced Laughingthrush

Long Valley continues to be quite good for buntings, with Rustic reported on Saturday 25th, I went there on the 26th and successfully found the Rustic with relative ease. Although I must say I was hoping to get a few more photographic opportunities for this species...the last photo attached here is one from 27th November 2010, it just shows how bang on time these migrants can be!

Rustic Bunting - 2017 bird

Rustic Bunting - 2010 bird

The Yellow-breasted Buntings were still showing well, with quite a few feeding on the harvested rice paddies. There were evidently much less Chestnut-eared Buntings around. While the two Black-headed Buntings had been very stable and showing well, although having taken quite enough photos of them this season I didn't quite bother to get closer for a better shot.

Yellow-breasted Bunting

Chestnut-eared Bunting

Black-headed Bunting

With this amount of birds around, it will sure attracts some raptors. A Peregrine Falcon had been regularly flying over, the darker face indicates this as a resident peregrinator. An adult male Japanese Sparrowhawk had also been giving regular flyovers at great speed, probably trying to catch the munias or buntings off guard. Although the most unexpected "raptor" of all was a Chinese Pond Heron that was seen preying on Sparrows! I've seen them take munias before, with birds in such numerous numbers I am sure they would not pass on an easy meal. I think even the Sparrow didn't saw this coming...It's a pretty horrific death as the Heron does not kill it's prey as quickly as a hawk does...this poor bird struggled for over fifteen minutes before the Heron managed to swallow it whole.

Peregrine Falcon - peregrinator

Japanese Sparrowhawk - male

Chinese Pond Heron - with Tree Sparrow...wasn't a pretty sight

I've learnt that by scanning the huge flocks of sparrows, you may occasionally find a surprise or two. I was not disappointed, when I noticed a female Russet Sparrow amongst the Tree Sparrows. Although I have seen this species before numerous times, I've never connected with them in Hong Kong, so it was yet another new addition to my Hong Kong list! It was not shy at all either, allowing some pretty good views.

Russet Sparrow - female

There were plenty of Red-throated Pipits around, I flushed a pipit that made a different call, which caught my attention. The bird looked overall very greenish, back patterns not as well defined as you would expect on a Red-throated, it's tertiaries and primaries also had olive green edges which to me was a bit strange. My initial thought was a young Buff-bellied Pipit? However that felt kind of wrong...Other pipits also went through my mind such as Tree and Meadow...but this bird looked nothing like them, I simply couldn't connect the dots. I observed it for a few minutes before it flew off and was not able to relocate it. I left it IDed as a strange looking Buff-bellied just so that my mind won't be so occupied (I still had to find the Rustic Bunting then!), it wasn't until I got home and uploaded the photos onto my computer did my brain suddenly worked again...Rosy Pipit! I searched for some non-breeding birds photos and surely it matches! I felt terribly dumb that I did not manage to connect the clues earlier in the field, but was still extremely glad that I managed to get such a good view and grab a few good photos.

How did I not recognise this as a Rosy Pipit you may ask? My previous experience with this species had been on Wuyishan in Jiangxi China, and all those birds up there were in breeding plumage, so in my mind they had always been a lovely pink bellied pipit (I know I am terrible)...This is yet another species I've missed the last few times round, my dad had already seen the first bird in 2006. This will be the 4th record in Hong Kong, and only the 2nd autumn record. As far as I am aware of, no one else managed to relocate the bird, so it does show how birding is sometimes just a matter of being in the right place at the right time. So there you are, 9 new additions to my Hong Kong list in one month, I am pretty ready for the wintering birds!

Rosy Pipit - got to be find of the month!

Monday 27 November 2017

Here & There of November

Nearing the end of November, which started really great, things slowed down slightly soon after. Here's a bit of a roundup of things I've seen during this month at different places. Earlier in the month I visited Kowloon Hills Fitness Trail, an area that my dad and I used to visit a lot. We've had some great birds there in the past, including a wintering Forest Wagtail many years ago, but somehow we slowly stopped visiting, perhaps due to the high numbers of monkeys...I went there with Hoiling one afternoon and turned out to be quite productive. Other then a more then friendly Dark-sided Flycatcher which we managed to get as close as 3m, a bird wave with many Rufous-capped Babblers, Blue-winged Minlas, Velvet-fronted Nuthatches and Two-barred Warbler kept us entertained. I even managed a male Mugimaki Flycatcher in the end, although it was just a brief view.

Dark-sided Flycatcher - friendliest little guy ever

Rufous-capped Babbler

A pair of friendly Wild Boars were fun to watch, they foraged next to the road and one of them obviously used to free handouts from humans. The best find of the day though was a near 2m long King Cobra which Hoiling found basking in the afternoon sun! I've never seen an adult King Cobra before, and to see the largest venomous snake in the world was more then exciting enough! The snake was composed and unbothered by our presence (it was safely on the other side of the catchment), it only slithered away slowly when it had enough of our talking.

Wild Boar

King Cobra

At Ho Man Tin, while other people had some exciting birds such as our third Slaty-backed Flycatcher for Hong Kong, I only managed the friendly Rufous-tailed Robin. A species usually very shy, this particular one was more then happy to perch right out in the open to feast the eyes!

Rufous-tailed Robin

While at Tai Po Kau, a pair of Bay Woodpeckers gave very good views, although not quite enough for good photos. Other birds were active, a few Yellow-cheeked Tits were very photogenic. I also managed a male Blue-and-White Flycatcher plus an Eastern Crowned Warbler. A possible Small Niltava was spotted very briefly, although the view was way too short for any substantial conclusion to be made.

Bay Woodpecker

Yellow-cheeked Tit

While on the same day at Tai Sang Wai, some fairly good birds were seen despite the heavy showers. Including a Eurasian Spoonbill at one of the drained fishponds. Although the Black-faced Spoonbill is the rarer species globally, we get far fewer Eurasian Spoonbills wintering. It was also great to be able to view them side by side for a comparison.

Black-faced & Eurasian Spoonbills

I returned to Tai Sang Wai a few days later when the weather had cleared up. The Rook which attracted a slight twitch was still present, the crowd had gone so I was able to enjoy the bird all by myself, at close range too! As it seems to be quite happy with where it was, getting a steady supply of expired bread used as fish feed. The local Collared Crows were in good numbers here, a species that new studies shows could be far rarer then once thought, new global estimation of this species maybe as low as 2,000 individuals left in the wild. They have experienced a huge drop in numbers especially in mainland China in the last decade. Hong Kong is the only place in the world where we still get roosting numbers over a hundred birds. I certainly hope they hang on, as they've really grown on me and became one of my favourite birds to watch.

Rook - revisited

Collared Crow

Over to Long Valley, Buntings are still the main attraction, although nothing new had turned up. Greater Painted Snipes are slightly easier to find now the vegetation had thinned. A congregation of hirundines over the fields consists of mainly Red-rumped Swallows, with a lonesome Northern House Martin mixed in there. Other then the Buntings and Munias which certainly benefitted from the extra food source of the harvested fields, a pair of Eurasian Magpies were also seen there feeding on the dropped grains. Although a common species, I don't usually get to see them up close in Hong Kong, people often think Magpies are black and white birds when in fact they have very beautiful iridescent blue wings. 

Greater Painted Snipe

Red-rumped Swallow

Northern House Martin

Eurasian Magpie

Monday 20 November 2017

Nonggang, Guangxi - November 2017

Blue-rumped Pitta - our main target species for the trip

Nonggang, Guangxi. A mere 25km from the Vietnamese border and set within Longzhou county. My first visit to this location in 2016 was most memorable, with some species not easy to find anywhere in China plus the endemic and highly sought after Nonggang Babbler that was only described in 2008. News of Blue-rumped Pittas showing well at Nonggang travelled fast (Wechat in China is now extremely popular, it had became the main source of communication between birding guides and clients), therefore when Captain suggested a re-visit I was more then happy to tag along, a group of eight were gathered and we set off once again for Guangxi. Yuen had work, so along with the original crew from 2016, we have the addition of Peter and Michelle Wong, as well as Kwok Jai and his girlfriend Kyomi.

We met at Lok Ma Chau on Friday morning and crossed the border, where we changed to the ever growing metro system of Shenzhen. From there we took the metro to Shenzhen north station where we were to board the high speed railway to Nanning Guangxi. The good thing about using the high speed railway is that there are much less chance of delays then planes, which is notoriously horrid in does take longer to get to our destination, but it was also the cheaper option, return tickets only set us back around 600RMB each.

Typical karst landscape view of Nonggang

We boarded the 12:20pm train and arrived at Nanning around 4:30pm. Our host Xiao Peng met us at the station, after a quick dinner we were off to another long drive towards Nonggang. It wasn’t until 9:45pm that we arrived at the lodge. Xiao Peng went over some details about what our target birds were and we decided to split into two groups, as we had already seen the Nonggang Babbler, the other group will try for the babblers first thing in the morning, our group which had already seen the babbler will look for the Blue-rumped Pitta first.

I had a rough night of sleep but woke up at 6:00am sharp. A quick breakfast of congee and noodles and we were off to the Pitta stakeout. Blue-rumped Pitta had always been an extremely elusive species, and is the only resident Pitta species in South China (excluding Yunnan which is South West China, they have a few more species of Pittas there), so having heard a pair had been coming to a waterhole regularly was exciting news.

Pitta stakeout and waterhole

Light at the waterhole early morning was extremely poor, thick cloud cover did not help. The owner of the waterhole placed some mealworms around various rocks and we waited...a male White-rumped Shama was one of the first bird to arrive, a species we did not see at Nonggang last time. A male Small Niltava also frequented the waterhole, another species that I suspect is a winter visitor here, they turn out to be pretty common here in November. A few Spot-necked Babbler also appeared, a species I’ve only seen at Hainan Island previously.

White-rumped Shama - male

Small Niltava - male

Spot-necked Babbler

Suddenly, a largish bird hopped out from the shadow, a male Blue-rumped Pitta came right into view! I must say that it looked nothing like the sketches and paintings in the field guides that I’ve seen, where they’re often depicted as dull looking birds. They were far more colourful in real life, a greenish back with bright blue rump, as well as a deep rusty orange face and breast, it was a subtle beauty. Light was extremely poor...with the aid of modern day technology I was able to crank the ISO up to 3200, noise is inevitable but it's better then a blurry photo!

Blue-rumped Pitta - absolute stunner!

A sudden change in weather had us hurrying back to the lodge, a cold front heading south usually means rain and windy conditions. When we returned, the other group was still at the lodge waiting it out. They were obviously envious of the Pitta while they haven’t got the Nonggang Babbler yet.

After it cleared up slightly we all headed out once again. We arrived back to the waterhole but this time the Pitta took a lot longer to come out again. a few flocks of Puff-throated Bulbuls and Red-whiskered Bulbuls took turn pecking at the bananas left out for the birds. We also heard the Blue-bearded Bee-eater outside but it never revealed itself. A few Asian Red-cheeked Squirrel were also drawn to the free handout.

Puff-throated Bulbul

Red-whiskered Bulbul

Asian Red-cheeked Squirrel

At lunch we exchanged some news, other then Nonggang Babblers, the other group had Large Scimitar Babblers and Indochinese Green Magpies at another waterhole, we swapped places to try for the other birds. The waterhole started off pretty quietly, with a Common Tailorbird coming out to feed on the mealworms, things improved when a wide range of babblers arrived including Rufous-capped Babblers, David’s Fulvettas and Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers. Streaked Wren Babblers as well as Grey-throated Babblers both appeared on numerous occasions. Buff-breasted Babblers were particularly numerous.

Waterhole for Large Scimitar Babbler and Indochinese Green Magpie

Common Tailorbird

Rufous-capped Babbler

David's Fulvetta

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

Streaked Wren Babbler

Grey-throated Babblers

Buff-breasted Babbler

A female Small Niltava as well as White-rumped Shama also visited a few times. A single Lesser Shortwing came by briefly. A few Black-throated Laughingthrushes also came along, Guangxi is well within it’s natural range, unlike those in Hong Kong that originated from captive birds. White-throated Fantail came to bath in the waterhole, putting on quite a show. A Northern Tree Shrew came and entertained us while we waited for our target birds...

Small Niltava - female

White-rumped Shama - female

Lesser Shortwing

Black-throated Laughingthrush

White-throated Fantail

Northern Tree Shrew

It was a long wait, but finally a pair of Large Scimitar Babblers came in. This is a species I’ve heard on various occasion but never seen, they are notoriously skulky, so without these waterholes the chances of seeing one is really quite slim.

Large Scimitar Babbler - Our second target species

It took even longer before the Indochinese Green Magpie came in, the lone bird was extremely skittish and was being very careful before coming down to feed. It wasn’t until Captain accidentally clicked the memory card slot too loud while changing his CF card that the bird was spooked. Having seen most of the birds we wanted we decided to call it a day.

Indochinese Green Magpie - a species with the wow factor every time

Having missed the White-winged Magpie, this was our main target the next morning. We set off around 8:00am to the stakeout.  The stakeout looks promising, being in a good patch of forest, we anticipated some good turned out to be one of the worst and most boring morning of birding. For the next three hours we barely saw a single bird. We kept hearing a Red-headed Trogon which responded to our playback but never revealed itself. It was then that the great company really comes into play, where we an laugh it off together in the bird hide. As we had to leave Nonggang before 1:00pm, we didn’t want to leave too late, so we took off at 11:30pm. As our cars were driving away, the car in front came to an abrupt halt. Turns out Peter heard the White-winged Magpies, soon we located a small flock up the steep slope, with some distance flight views.

Walking up to the White-winged Magpie Stakeout

White-winged Magpie - distance views...better then none!

We thought they may actually head to the feeding station so we hurried back to wait in the hide, but the birds never least we all saw the birds in the end. The journey back to Hong Kong was long, but to think that we got some usually extremely difficult birds on a weekend trip, it was all worth it. Nonggang is an extremely special location, interesting karst landscape and great birds still make it one of my favourite short stop for birding, although the lack of trails and closed off reserve means walking around on your own is near impossible, hence our extremely low bird count for this trip. This is a huge shame, as I am sure there are a lot more discoverable if we could explore the area on foot. But before the reserve is open to public again, this will likely be our only mean of effective birding at Nonggang.

1Little GrebeGuangzhou to NanningViews from train
2Grey HeronGuangzhou to NanningViews from train
3Chinese Pond HeronGuangzhou to NanningViews from train
4Cattle EgretGuangzhou to NanningViews from train
5Black-winged KiteGuangzhou to NanningViews from train
6Eurasian KestrelNonggangKwok Jai
7Eurasian HobbyGuangzhou to NanningViews from train
8Spotted DoveGuangzhou to NanningViews from train
9Greater CoucalNonggangOther Group
10Blue-bearded Bee-eaterNonggangHeard
11Blue-rumped PittaNonggangPair seen at waterhole
12Red-headed TrogonNonggangHeard at White-winged Magpie stakeout
13Long-tailed BroadbillNonggangHeard at White-winged Magpie stakeout
14Collared Scops OwlNonggangOther Group
15Barn SwallowNonggangOther Group
16Asian House MartinNanningSeen from car
17White Wagtail (leucopsis)NonggangCommon around village
18Black BulbulNonggangA flock of bulbul early morning most possibly this species
19Red-whiskered BulbulNonggangA few at waterholes
20Chinese BulbulNanningAround train station
21Sooty-headed BulbulNonggangsingle seen from car
22Puff-throated BulbulNonggangCommon at waterholes
23Oriental Magpie RobinNonggangAround Longheng village
24Lesser ShortwingNonggangA few at waterholes
25Turdus sp.Nonggangheard
26Yellow-bellied WarblerNonggangA few heard, one seen following bird wave
27Mountain TailorbirdNonggangheard
28Small NiltavaNonggangCommon at waterholes
29Black-naped MonarchNonggangOne heard with bird wave
30White-throated FantailNonggangCommon at waterholes
31Large Scimitar BabblerNonggangA pair at stakeout and a few heard elsewhere
32Streak-breasted Scimitar BabblerNonggangCommon at waterholes
33Black-throated LaughingthrushNonggangA few at waterholes
34Spot-necked BabblerNonggangA few at waterholes
35Rufous-capped BabblerNonggangA few at waterholes
36David's FulvettaNonggangCommon at waterholes
37Buff-breasted BabblerNonggangCommon at waterholes
38Pin-striped Tit-babblerNonggangA few at waterholes and bird wave
39Streaked Wren BabblerNonggangA few at waterholes
40White-bellied EpornisNonggangA few at waterholes and bird wave
41Cinerous TitNonggangA few near lodge
42Fork-tailed SunbirdNonggangA few heard, one seen
43Japanese White-eyeNanningHeard at Nanning Station
44Long-tailed ShrikeNonggangA few seen from car
45Indochinese Green MagpieNonggangOne at waterhole
46White-winged MagpieNonggangFlock of seven seen near stakeout
47Collared CrowGuangzhou to NanningOne observed from train, Guangxi
48Large-billed CrowNonggangKwok Jai
49Black-collared StarlingNonggangA few seen from car
50Crested MynaGuangzhou to NanningFrom train
51White-rumped MuniaNonggangHeard near village