Sunday 30 December 2018

Yellow-streaked Warbler - a 'Year Ender'

This late autumn and early winter period was far less impressive than last year, with a lot less rarities available, admittedly I was also more occupied with other things which meant less time for birds. A previously recorded Yellow-streaked Warbler at Mount Davis had been tempting me for a week or two, so I finally made the effort to go over there to check it out. It wasn't a difficult bird to locate, it was however an extremely difficult bird to identify correctly. As Yellow-streaked Warbler is notoriously similar to Radde's Warbler. I was attracted by it's 'tzic' like call which is reminiscence of a Bunting, it is most unlike the 'quip' calls that Radde's Warblers usually make.

Yellow-streaked Warbler - bird of the month for me

I observed the bird for a few hours, other than call, other features that is said to be the main criteria for identifying Yellow-streaked includes : darker breast band that is brownish, pale throat more demarcated, slightly pointier bill shape, browner upperparts, supercilium whitish behind eye and more distinct in the front. Comparing with photos of a Radde's Warbler I saw last year, all criteria seemed to be fit for this individual. I even managed a photo which shows the faint yellow-streaks on it's belly which give this species it's name.

Yellow-streaked Warbler

Radde's Warbler from 2017

Yellow-streaked Warbler - showing it's least prominent feature the 'yellow streaks'!

Despite all this, there's still been some uncertainty of this bird's identification, while it sounded nothing like Radde's Warbler, it's call was not exactly typical of Yellow-streaked either. Yellow-streaked Warbler have a call that begin at around 5.5kHz, while Radde's Warbler typically at 2kHz or lower. This bird however made a call that began at around 4.5kHz, as shown in this sonogram from my recording. Arguably it is far closer to Yellow-streaked than Radde's, but this variation had us baffled, although it could simply be a variation within the Yellow-streaked spectrum, just that nobody had recorded it so far.

The second remotely interesting bird that I encountered of late was a single Common Starling in Long Valley while leading a group of primary school students from Kau Yan School. I've not photographed one in Hong Kong for years, while a common sight in the UK and many parts of the world, it is far from being common in Hong Kong, being a scarce winter visitor.

Common Starling - a rare sight in Hong Kong

Chung Mei and Brides Pool produced far less interesting species than I expected. the annual Plumbeous Redstarts had returned, although I only caught sight of a female this time. A female Daurian Redstart proclaimed the car park it's territory. The only other note worthy species was a large flock of Indochinese Yuhinas.

Plumbeous Redstart - female

Daurian Redstart - female

Indochinese Yuhina

Tai Po Kau had been productive for most birders, with several highly sought after warblers being seen regularly, I however had not been so lucky on my previous visit, ended up with none! A few large groups of Rhesus Macaques had been actively feeding in the open, I am personally not a huge fan of these primates, as quite often they just scare the birds away.

Rhesus Macaque

Flock of Red-billed Leiothrix was very actively near picnic area 3, a species that is not encountered on every visit. Unlike the closely related Silver-eared Mesia, they quite often move in a flock of their own.

Red-billed Leiothrix

I ended up with a Two-barred Warbler which was too high up for photos and an Eastern Crowned Warbler which showed well, this species used to be just a passage migrant but had started wintering in Hong Kong in recent years. The bird that showed the best however was none other than a Rufous-tailed Robin.

Eastern Crowned Warbler

Rufous-tailed Robin

My year list stands at 304 at the moment, two less than last year's. Although a few birding trips had bumped my life list up to 1,470 species, I haven't scheduled as many trips next year but I expect it to surpass 1,500 on my next trip to Thailand in February 2019! I don't expect to add anymore species in the last two days of 2018, but I certainly look forward to more birds in 2019!

Monday 17 December 2018

Sniping Those Snipes...

Snipes, a family of long-billed and cryptic looking wader that is both fascinating and annoying at times...They are often shy and difficult to spot amongst the vegetation, the fact that most species looks superficially similar doesn't help. Long Valley is probably the best place in Hong Kong to go 'sniping' (if that's ever a thing), three regular species of Snipes can be found here (Common, Pin-tailed & Swinhoe's), although picking up all three can be a tricky task. There's been a slight influx of 'Swintail' Snipes of late, a name us birders use to call unidentified Pin-tailed or Swinhoe's Snipe, as the two are notoriously difficult to identify in the field, even with a good photo of a perched individual it is still near impossible, your only real chance will be to catch it or take a photo of the bird with it's tail completely fanned out during landing...Like with this individual...which I managed such a photo, you can just about make out the pin-like tail feathers on the outer edge if you zoom in.

Pin-tailed Snipe - one in a million photo...

A few flight shots of various 'Swintail' type snipes remains inconclusive, although leg projection was suggested as an diagnostic feature in the past, there is some overlapping between the two species. This one with quite a clear toe projection behind the tail would have been labeled as a Pin-tailed in the past, although I wouldn't be so sure now...All my photos of other landing 'Swintail' snipes came out blurry. Close views of Common Snipes is a common sight at this time of the year, when they seem to be out a lot more. While a few male Greater Painted Snipes had been playing hide and seek with me, but I got a good view in the end.

'Swintail' Snipe

Common Snipe

Greater Painted Snipe - male

A few Black-browed Reed Warblers had been frequenting the reeds at Long Valley, one of which was particularly responsive to my pishing and came out into the open briefly for a photo, they are very handsome looking when seen well.

Black-browed Reed Warbler

Citrine Wagtails had been slightly elusive of late, not always sticking to their favourite patch or just disappearing to somewhere else entirely. I spotted one in amongst a flock of Eastern Yellow Wagtails the other day, it was ringed and skittish, whether these two features are related I am not sure.

Citrine Wagtail

Bunting numbers had dropped significantly, only a few Yellow-breasted Buntings remains, while a Little Bunting had been playing it tough, hopping out into the open only for brief seconds before jumping back into the paddyfield.

Yellow-breasted Bunting - very few that's still around Long Valley

Little Bunting

A pair of Oriental Magpies frequents the harvested paddies, probably looking for worms or insects. This recently split corvid is not exactly what you call exciting, but for those living in Europe or America this is a very likely 'armchair' tick.

Oriental Magpie - Pica sericea

A female Kestrel had been coming to Long Valley regularly of late. It's been fed grasshoppers by photographers and had habituated herself as a regular visitor. Although I do have doubts on the origins of this bird, as it suffered from what seems like bumblefoot, a disease that is common in caged birds. So, my theory is that this individual was probably released or escaped from someone's private collection sometime ago. It's talons seems to have improved and was seen flying off into the distance. Eastern Buzzards are pretty regular at Long Valley in winter.

Eurasian Kestrel - female

Eastern Buzzard - Buteo japonicus

A pair of Black-faced Spoonbills had became regular visitors to a pond near Ho Sheung Heung, this is the first time I've ever seen BFS at Long Valley.

Black-faced Spoonbill - a first for me at Long Valley!

Elsewhere at Tai Sang Wai, drained fish pondd had attracted quite a lot of birds. Egrets were in good numbers, as were Black-faced Spoonbills. I counted up to two Eurasian Spoonbills amongst the Black-faced in two separate flocks.

Little Egret

Black-faced Spoonbill

Eurasian Spoonbill

I scanned for Common Starlings amongst the Silky and White-cheeked but with little luck. While it's hard to resist a good photo opportunity of a confiding Eastern Yellow Wagtails from the car, a male Eurasian Kestrel is no reason to complain either!

White-cheeked & Silky Starlings

Eastern Yellow Wagtail - race taivana

Eurasian Kestrel - male

Fish ponds near San Tin had became an unwelcoming site for birders for some reason, as fishermen now chase off any birders 'trespassing' into their ponds. Therefore I visited Tam Kon Chau Road instead, yielding a large flock of Tufted Ducks and a Yellow Bittern, both at close range.

Tufted Duck - male

Yellow Bittern

Finally, two nights of venturing up Robin's Nest ended in vain with no Oriental Scops Owls...confiding Savanna Nightjars on both nights provided some consolation, you can see the difference of plumage between the two birds, but both incredibly camouflaged.

Savanna Nightjar - master of camouflage

Wednesday 5 December 2018

Lianghua National Forest Park - December 2018

Lianghua National Forest Park located near Huidong had became one of my favourite weekend birding destination in southern Guangdong ever since I first visited in October last year. The site forms a large patch of forested area east of Huidong along with the better known Gutian Natural Reserves. This site is just shy of 90km from HK, making it a perfect weekend getaway. Over the last few visits good birds such as Red-headed Trogon, Collared Owlet, Silver Pheasant, Small Niltava, Hill Prinia and Brown-breasted Flycatchers had kept our interest high.

The site is a popular tourist attraction during plum blossom season, otherwise it is fairly undisturbed throughout the year. Captain initially wanted to visit Dinghu Shan, but news of the site being closed off had us changing plans, and the thought of visiting Lianghua before the touristy season begin was tempting. So, Captain, Kei and I decided to give the site another try. We met on Friday evening and drove up to Huidong where we stayed a night before driving to the forest park early in the morning.

We woke up at 5:45am, bought breakfast at a 24 hours KFC next door and off we went. We arrived at the forest park before 7am. Cool morning breeze felt very 'autumny', and the red leaves looked the part as well. A flock of Black Bulbuls made an appearance near the main entrance, a few of them had handsome white heads, while a few were still in transition.

Views of Lianghua National Forest Park

Black Bulbul

A large bird wave went past, with Huet's Fulvetta being the predominant species, Scarlet Minivets were also frequently encountered throughout the day. Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers were also found amongst the flock, although in much lower density.

Huet's Fulvetta

Scarlet Minivet - male

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

A single Verditer Flycatcher was seen, this seems to be quite a regular species here, we saw a juvenile during our summer visit which indicates the possibility of breeding at this site. A Speckled Piculet was seen in the bird wave, we encountered up to 7 birds throughout the day, a clear demonstration of how common it is at Lianghua.

Verditer Flycatcher - male

Speckled Piculet

A few Buntings along the roadside made it tough for us, with a bit of patience we were able to get good views of one bird which turned out to be a Black-faced Bunting. Not quite what we were hoping for, but still not a bad record.

Black-faced Bunting - female

Things quietened down around mid-morning, but a flock of Black-throated Tits certainly kept it entertaining for us. We've not recorded this species at this site before, making this a nice addition to our site list. Orange-bellied Leafbirds were quite active throughout the day, making weird calls that confused us time after time...

Black-throated Tit - a new species to this site

Orange-bellied Leafbird - male

Small Niltava was recorded on our previous visit, so it wasn't a surprise when I heard several along the forest track. A male showed particularly well, posing front and back. This species is currently a rare winter visitor to Hong Kong, but seeing that it's status here at Lianghua is likely to be a fairly common resident, it seems logical that this species may colonise Hong Kong in the near future.

Small Niltava - male

We had an early lunch at a nearby restaurant and rested. After lunch, I suggested that we visit the area where we first saw a pair of Red-headed Trogons last year. Everything was quiet, but I noticed a previously hidden trail that goes up the river valley which looked promising. The trail went through some good habitat along the stream, looking like perfect Trogon territory!

Trogon territory...

Sure enough, Captain noticed a Trogon like bird in the distance. The bird later called which confirmed his suspicion, however it remained out of view. A burst of playback brought it closer, and with a little patience the bird finally showed! A female Red-headed Trogon gave nice perched views, although it was very shy, fluttering off in the slightest movements. We've recorded this species on nearly every trip, which indicates a healthy population at this site.

Red-headed Trogon - female

We drove further uphill, but things were generally quiet. Kei was feeling slightly drowsy so Captain and I strolled along the main road as he napped. As we were walking along I noticed two white birds upslope, it was pretty clear what they were, Silver Pheasants! I grabbed my camera and began taking photographs, Captain soon realised what I was looking at and soon joined in. There were at least 3 males and 4 females in that flock, all obscured by branches. Suddenly, an adult male hopped up onto a rock and looked at us! It's silvery white tail cascade down the rock, we were both in awe. The flock soon scuttered upslope. Just as they disappeared behind the thick foliages, Kei appeared in the car, as Captain and I laughed our heads off...Kei was not at all pleased that he dipped on this encounter.

Silver Pheasant - one of the stunning looking male

The drive back to Shenzhen was not particularly eventful, it took longer than expected as we hit some weekend traffic. With a list of some high quality birds, Lianghua always seems to deliver. There was some construction works being done along the lower sections of the park, whether that quiet status of this park will change in the near future remains to be seen. At the mean time, I can't wait until I return again!