Friday 29 June 2018

Summer Wildlife

While birding is at it's slowest right now, it's a great time to explore the wildlife in Hong Kong. Spend just a little bit of time outdoor and you will find yourself surrounded by various insects (also a lot of mosquitoes), I sat on a rock by the stream and marvelled at half dozens of Common Blue Jewels elegantly dancing around, males are electric blue while females are greenish yellow.

Common Blue Jewel (Rhinocypha perforata) - male

Common Blue Jewel (Rhinocypha perforata) - female

The beautiful Yellow Bush Dart are also quite common, their bright yellow legs certainly pops out by the stream. I also encountered a huge Robber Fly likely of the genus Microstylum, although I am not sure what species exactly.

Yellow Bush Dart (Copera marginipes)

Microstylum sp.

Most of Hong Kong's frogs are nocturnal, but occasionally you will see a few during the day, I spotted a Brown Wood Frog hidden away in a rock crevice by the stream, while a Paddy Frog decided to hop right out to the middle of the road for some reason.

Brown Wood Frog

Paddy Frog

Hot sunny days are perfect for reptiles which like basking in the sun, we have a lot of different skinks species in Hong Kong, and I saw a few of these on the day, including Brown Forest Skink, Indian Forest Skink, Reeve's Smooth Skink and Long-tailed Skink. Brown Forest Skinks and Indian Forest Skinks are quite similar in appearance, having very subtle and different patterns on their sides and back, although one saying is that Brown Forest Skinks are usually found near water while Indian Forest Skinks are found further in the forest, I saw both of these near the stream, so it surely cannot be an accurate way to tell these two apart.

Brown Forest Skink

Indian Forest Skink

Reeve's Smooth Skink

Long-tailed Skink

I also saw a Chinese Forest Skink but it was too quick for me to photograph. A Changeable Lizard though made a great photographic subject, posed for as long as I wanted.

Changeable Lizard

This is also a good season for butterflies, I myself is not a huge butterfly person, but the variety you can find in Hong Kong can be quite staggering. I saw mainly common species such as the Dark-band Bush Brown (Mycalesis mineus), Staff Sergeant (Athyma selenophora) and the White-edged Blue Baron (Euthalia phemius), I saw one butterfly that I did not recognised, as it turns out it was quite a nice find, a female Common Archduke (Lexias pardalis), which is quite a new addition to the Hong Kong butterfly list, only first recorded in 2008, but apparently had been breeding in Hong Kong and now spreading.

Dark-band Bush Brown (Mycalesis mineus)

Staff Sergeant (Athyma selenophora)

White-edged Blue Baron (Euthalia phemius)

Common Archduke (Lexias pardalis)

Although all my Lepidoptera findings were rather down sized by one of Hoiling's encounter, with the amazing Atlas Moth. How envious it made me...although I have seen them before elsewhere, I've never seen one in Hong Kong. They are simply one of the most stunning and majestic looking moth in existence.

Atlas Moth (Attacus atlas) - photo credit to Hoiling

Last but not least, more Hainan Blue Flycatchers! They provide birders in Hong Kong great comfort when there are no birds around...

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - male

Friday 22 June 2018

Tai Po Kau - Fledging Time

Although June is quiet, I still enjoy going out for walks, you are unlikely to spot anything rare, but there are plenty of resident species to go around, plus it's only this time of the year that you get to see some of the breeding behaviours of various species. At Tai Po Kau the other day, I encountered a family of Yellow-cheeked Tits, the two adults attending to two fledglings. The curious fledglings were obviously not very skilled at catching their own food yet.

It also seems that their parents were not providing them with bite size food items anymore, but big chunky caterpillars with a lot of prickly hairs...So, the young bird got to learn to flick all the hairs off before enjoying the juicy worm. After delivering a large caterpillar, the male seems to be too tired to bother and just perched there to preen for up to ten minutes...avian parenting is no easy task.

It was overall quiet, even most of the common species did not make it easy for photographs. I could not relocate the Brown-breasted Flycatchers, perhaps they decided to move somewhere else to nest? There were still a few Hainan Blue Flycatchers in song, a handsome male made an appearance. A small flock of Greater Necklaced Laughingthrushes showed briefly, while I encountered a few small bird waves including a lot of Velvet-fronted Nuthatches and plenty of Chestnut Bulbuls. I heard the Bay Woodpecker in the distance, but it was way too far away that I didn't even bother trying.

Although summer is quiet for birds, there are plenty of other wildlife around to see. Giant Golden Orb Weaver Spiders Nephila pilipes are fairly easy to find at this time of the year, females can grow as big as your hand. Their webs are so strong that I've actually seen them trapping Japanese White-eyes for lunch!

Insects numbers are also near it's peak in the summer months, there were also plenty of interesting looking beetles around of various sizes. I am not sure of some of the ID, but the Neolucanus sinicus; a stag beetle was probably my personal favourite of the day.

Melanotus sp.

Languriidae sp.

Idgia oculata

Cantao ocellatus - I didn't even know they are carnivorous!

Neolucanus sinicus - brilliant looking stag beetle

Finally, a nesting pair of Blue Whistling Thrush near where I live is rearing their second brood this season! They found a spot near roof top park that is out of reach from people or cats. I took a closer look the other day and saw three chicks in the nest. This is one of the 3 known nest sites of Blue Whistling Thrushes near where I live, and probably the newest nest of all.

Thursday 14 June 2018

Dragonflies, Damselflies and Indochinese Green Magpies

It rained for a solid whole week and it seems the draught was finally over, amphibians can finally rejoice! June marks the start of the quiet summer months, where bird movement is at it's minimum. The rain certainly helped brought down the temperature, although the high humidity still make you sweat like crazy. I visited Hok Tau near Fanling for a brief morning session, I was hoping to recreate my luck with the Speckled Piculet last year, however I was disappointed to find that the patch of bamboo near where I saw one last year had been chopped down. I kept my ears out for them but heard nothing. I was however greeted by the loud and piercing calls of the Indochinese Green Magpies, I followed the calls and soon saw up to three birds moving through the forest. They were quite shy, and kept their distance with me, but one bird perched just long enough for me to grab a record shot. This beautiful species had only been recorded in Hong Kong in recent years, and seems to have rooted around north eastern New Territories, where small flocks can often be observed also at Brides Pool. I would say it's highly unlikely that they derived from genuine wild birds, although not impossible, it would seems wild birds will need to get through a lot of habitat barriers to reach Hong Kong naturally, as closest wild population is near Hainan and Guangxi.

Indochinese Green Magpie - so shy and uncooperative!

A Plaintive Cuckoo called nearby, while a few Chestnut-winged Cuckoos sang constantly, but only gave me a brief flight views. A few Velvet-fronted Nuthatch caught my attention, not that they are rare, but because a pair were attending to a few young birds. Juvenile Velvet-fronted Nuthatch lacks the bright red bill that is iconic of this species, but it's certainly cute...

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch - adult

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch - juvenile

I spotted a single female Hainan Blue Flycatcher, I wonder whether this one is single or not, but I've yet to come across a nesting pair this year. I heard Lesser Coucals but none showed, Greater Coucals were more cooperative, one perched out in the open drying off it's wings after the morning shower.

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - female

Greater Coucal

The recent rain had certainly boosted insect numbers, and there were a lot more Damselflies and Dragonflies flying around streams that are once again flowing. At a small stretch of mountain stream near Lam Tsuen I spotted some of our very colourful Damselflies, including the beautiful Common Blue Jewel Rhinocypha perforata and the metallic green Stream Glory Neurobasis chinensis (I really love their common names, why can't birds have more common names like these?). While the more humble looking Black-banded Gossamerwing Euphaea decorata also frequented the stream.

Common Blue Jewel - Rhinocypha perforata

Stream Glory - Neurobasis chinensis

Black-banded Gossamerwing -  Euphaea decorata

I also saw quite a few Dragonflies, although I probably missed quite a few, there were a lot of Black Stream Glider Trithemis festiva around, the Blue Marsh Hawk Orthetrum glaucum and the bright and colourful Crimson Marsh Glider Trithemis aurora.

Black Stream Glider - Trithemis festiva

Blue Marsh Hawk - Orthetrum glaucum

Crimson Marsh Glider - Trithemis aurora

Tuesday 5 June 2018

Summer Birding & Herping

Brown-breasted Flycatcher

Finally able to get back on the field for some birding. We have been experiencing a draught throughout spring and some of the reservoirs had already gone dry, the Hong Kong Observatory predicted rain this week, and sure enough we started getting some rain on Monday. I visited Tai Po Kau on Monday morning, hoping to catch up with the Brown-breasted Flycatcher that had been seen there by other birders. Things started extremely quietly, the sound of cicadas drowned out most bird calls and I saw very little on the way up. Surprisingly, a Dollarbird was perched on top of a dead tree, I have never seen one in June before, so this one must be quite late.

Dollarbird - a very late record

Little else showed up, I heard a Lesser Cuckoo calling in the distance, while Great Barbets called constantly. A Pygmy Wren Babbler sang loudly right next to the footpath revealed itself quickly and I had brilliant views for up to five minutes. I crossed the stream on the red walk and saw plenty of Damselflies there, including this beautiful male Indochinese Copperwing.

Pygmy Wren Babbler

Indochinese Copperwing - Mnais mneme 

It wasn't long until i spotted the bird I was looking for, a rather large headed and billed flycatcher with pale legs. Brown-breasted Flycatcher was only first recorded in Hong Kong in 2001, but had since became a regular migrant and in recent years a summer breeder. They are still rather scarce in Hong Kong, so it's always nice to see.

Brown-breasted Flycatcher

The rest of the way remained pretty quiet, two large groups of Rhesus Macaques were spotted foraging.

Rhesus Macaque

Kenneth, Bee and I gave Tai Mo Shan a try in the evening. We were hoping for Coral Snake, and the long awaited rain should help with the wildlife. Things were pretty active, we saw plenty of Hong Kong Warty Newts strolling about, Lesser Spiny Frogs were in good numbers, while there were quite a few Hong Kong Cascade Frogs at the waterfall.

Hong Kong Warty Newt

Lesser Spiny Frog

Hong Kong Cascade Frog

A Nanhaipotamon hongkongense was spotted by the road, a female carrying eggs on her underside. I guess it was trying to find a safe place to put them? This peculiar looking species is endemic to Hong Kong, often found around mountain streams.

Nanhaipotamon hongkongense

Another interesting find was a Lau's Leaf Litter Toad, a small toad species that is only found in Hong Kong and Shenzhen. Kenneth so nearly stepped onto it without knowing as it was so well camouflaged! It's a funny looking little toad and you can compare it to Bee's fingertips.

Lau's Leaf Litter Toad

Although we didn't find any Coral Snakes, we found a total of three Anderson's Stream Snake. This is the most widespread Opisthotropis species in Hong Kong, where they can be found in mountain streams with leaf litter. Outside of Hong Kong they are also recorded in Vietnam. They are very docile and gentle, never attempting to bite when handled.

Anderson's Stream Snake