Wednesday, 31 January 2018

January Summary

Oriental Stork

Since I was away for a whole week at the beginning of the month, I felt that I had quite a lot of catching up to do. A few birds turned up while I was away or when I was too busy preparing for the trip that I hadn't gotten around to see them, including a Black-backed Swamphen, a Chiffchaff and a Smew at Mai Po...News of an Oriental Stork at Mai Po was also attractive, so on 16th I decided to head out to Mai Po. I was greeted by a pair of Chinese Grosbeaks as I got off my car at the carpark, the handsome male showed particularly well.

Chinese Grosbeak

The stork was last seen at pond 20 the day before, when I didn't see it I went over to pond 22 and came up empty as well, so I decided to head towards pond 6 to try for the Smew first...Just as I got to pond 6 I received news that the stork was actually at pond 23! So, I had to walk all the way back to the far side of Mai Po...My legs were getting a bit tired when I got there, but quite a few fellow birders were already there watching the bird. Being one of the largest waterbird species in Hong Kong, Oriental Storks are usually easy to spot even from afar. Their numbers had however greatly decreased in recent years, with an estimated global population of no more than 3,000 birds, making them an endangered species. They used to be more regular winter visitors to Hong Kong, but had became rarer in recent years. The stork along with a lot of egrets and herons were enjoying the lowered water levels in pond 23, where they could fish much more easily, Black Kites were taking advantage to that and were harassing any birds that managed to catch a fish.

Oriental Stork

Little Egret

The Rook that was first seen in November 2017 was still present near Lut Chau at Mai Po. It seems to be doing exceptionally well and showing no sign of leaving anytime soon...Another long staying rarity was a Greater White-fronted Goose, separated with it's two other mates, this single goose had stayed behind at Mai Po, other than being a bit lonely it looked to be in good shape.

Rook - long staying rarity and settling in well

Greater White-fronted Goose - the lonesome stray...

Northern Lapwings had been fairly regular this winter at pond 16/17, making regular appearances (could be different birds of course) on several occasions. January is probably one of the best time to see Black-faced Spoonbills in Hong Kong, you are guarantee great views inside Mai Po, but you may also see small flocks feeding in fishponds at nearby Tai Sang Wai or San Tin with relative ease.

Northern Lapwing

Black-faced Spoonbill

Walking along the border fence at Mai Po I came across a Peregrine and a Collared Crow engaging in an intense aerial battle. Collared Crows are known to be quite aggressive towards other birds of prey and will actively chase away any intruder. This particular individual seems to dislike Peregrines the most and would not leave this young Peregrine alone. The Peregrine Falcon being the fastest flying bird in the world is not a bird you would want to mess with, it constantly out manoeuvred the Collared Crow...but, where the Collared Crow lacked in speed it made up with wit! The chase went on for nearly 10 whole minutes before they eventually got too tired and gave up!

Intense fight between Peregrine Falcon and Collared Crow

Peregrine Falcon

January is also quite a good time for ducks. A flock of 7 Falcated Duck had been regularly seen at pond 12, just like many other species we have been seeing continued decrease in wintering numbers, the Falcated Duck is now a near threatened species. I regularly see females but have not seen males in Hong Kong for a long time, so I was delighted to see two drakes in their beautiful plumage.

Falcated Ducks

I managed to caught up with the female Smew just before the month ended, it had been slightly elusive for me and evaded my sight a few times. I finally saw it swimming amongst a few Tufted Ducks, it really stands out from the rest of the ducks when it's in view.

Smew - female

A Black-backed Swamphen had been seen at Mai Po of late, so Hoiling and I went to check it out. At the supposed location I spotted a Great Bittern in the distance, a species that is a regular winter visitor in Hong Kong, but not always easy to spot as they usually stay well hidden in thick reed beds. It was rumoured that the Swamphen prefer to come out late in the afternoon, so we waited until 5pm and just like clockwork this colourful bird appeared from the midst of the reed bed, it foraged for new shoots along the edge of the reed bed. I've missed several chances on ticking this bird off my Hong Kong list the last few years (the escapee at Long Valley doesn't count!), so I am so happy to finally catch up with this one.

Great Bittern

Black-backed Swamphen - my first HK tick for 2018

As for land birds things had been pretty quiet at Mai Po, at the nearby Tai Sang Wai I managed a fairly friendly Dusky Long-tailed Shrike, this colour morph is less common and it's my first better photo of this species as far as I am aware of. Good numbers of Starlings got me scanning for possible Rosies...although I came up empty handed, I did managed a single Common Starling but it took off before I got a chance for a photo. The only starling that didn't take flight at the sight of me were a few White-cheeked Starlings...

Long-tailed Shrike - dusky morph

White-cheeked Starling

There had been a report of a Japanese Waxwing at Shek Kong Airfield, although I tried for the bird the next morning it never showed. There were however a pair of Asian Barred Owlet which showed well on a bare tree early morning. Also present was a single male Common Rosefinch, they had not been particularly friendly this year and had been making it slightly difficult for good photographs.

Asian Barred Owlet

Common Rosefinch - male

Temperature saw a huge drop near the end of the month, it dropped to just 7°C in the city and a few degrees lower in New Territories. This kind of temperature usually will affects the birds behaviours, as many birds gets "grounded". One such examples are flycatchers, both Taiga Flycatchers and Asian Brown Flycatchers were seen feeding on the ground, looking for any insects. One of the Taiga Flycatcher was particularly interesting in that it's red throat is showing in the midst of winter.

Taiga Flycatcher - male

Asian Brown Flycatcher

Warblers are usually some of the most hard hit birds during cold spells, Yellow-browed Warblers and Pallas's Leaf Warblers both in good numbers and many were observed feeding on the ground as well, many of them will allow very close views. Here's a Yellow-browed Warbler hovering, hoping to pick off small insects on the leafs.

Yellow-browed Warbler

Thrushes were also in good numbers at Shek Kong Airfield, a Blue Whistling Thrush was slightly surprising, as I seldom see them there. Chinese Blackbirds were abundant and showed better than usual. There were also a few Grey-backed Thrushes around, a species that had not seen huge influx this year.

Blue Whistling Thrush

Chinese Blackbird

Grey-backed Thrush

The cold spell should continue for at least a week...I am hoping this may bring down some interesting birds, we shall see!

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