Tuesday 31 July 2018

Hok Tau - Brown-breasted Flycatcher and More

Brown-breasted Flycatcher - a pleasant surprise

It's actually been quite a good summer in the birding department, with a few interesting birds to see here and there, I haven't even have time to visit the breeding terns yet! But hot weather doesn't usually help with outdoor excursions, you can only be outside for so long before feeling exhausted and just want to sit at home with fan pointing straight at you. So, I can only stick to early morning to escape the intense mid-day heat.

I gave Hok Tau another go this week, hoping to find a Piculet or two which had been elusive for me but showed for a few other birders. Things started off rather slow, a large flock of Scarlet Minivets were noted, lower down were Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers and Rufous-capped Babblers, of which I only managed a shot of the latter. I noticed two flycatchers, which turned out to be juvenile Hainan Blue Flycatchers.

Rufous-capped Babbler

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - juvenile

I walked around the camp site with little success, but things improved immensely when I walked down to the stream, where I was greeted by the beautiful song of a Lesser Shortwing across the stream, as I went and investigate, I noticed a bird perched silently on a low branch, a flycatcher for sure, I first thought it was another Hainan Blue Flycatcher. On closer inspection however, it was clear that it was in fact a Brown-breasted Flycatcher! A bit scruffy looking, but a very nice bird to see! It was quite approachable and allowed fairly close views. This is the second bird I encountered in Hong Kong this summer, and the first time I've seen one at Hok Tau, so it's clearly a good sign.

Brown-breasted Flycatcher

I returned to the car park and heard the now familiar whistles of the Indochinese Green Magpie, this is now somewhat of a specialty at Pat Sin Leng Country Park, not exactly common but certainly becoming more widespread. I walked up the stairs and the calls got louder, there were quite a lot of movements, it was clear that it was a flock with more than just Magpies. A few Greater-necklaced Laughingthrushes were present, as well as Grey Treepies, but curiously I saw what I believe to be a Koel following the Laughingthrushes, as far as I know they are not known to parasitise Laughingthrushes, especially such a forested species such as Greater-necklaced!

I soon got glimpses of a few birds with Chestnut wings, the whistles got even louder. I stood there and wait, surely enough a brilliantly green bird with bright red bill hopped up right in front of me! I just managed a few photos through a gap between the branches. The Indochinese Green Magpies moved on soon after. Whether this species will impact the natural avifauna in Hong Kong is unclear, but it does seems that they have found a niche in the ecosystem and is here to stay. One thing is clear though, they are great looking birds!

Indochinese Green Magpie

During summer I probably spend more time outdoors at night than I do by day, and for good reasons...It's certainly not as hot, plus it's a good time to observe other creatures. I was at Lung Fu Shan with Hoiling earlier in the month, and we were fortunate enough to come across a Masked Palm Civet feeding on a Ficus variegata. Wild Boars were also very common around Lung Fu Shan, we saw plenty that night. Last but not least, a very confiding Short-legged Toad, a near endemic species that is quite common around the hill sides of Hong Kong Island, they are quite charismatic!

Masked Palm Civet

Wild Boar

Short-legged Toad

I will be off to West Java tomorrow for a few days of birding at Gunung Gede, hopefully the good weather we are having will be carried over to Indonesia.

Thursday 26 July 2018

Breeding Hobbies

Eurasian Hobby

Eurasian Hobbies are usually considered a passage migrant in Hong Kong, but in recent years someone found a nesting pair in northern New Territories. The pair successfully bred two years ago and they have since returned to the same spot to breed. The metal pillar is quite sturdy and obviously a safe place to nest. The adults patrol the area for prey, I saw them bringing in prey items on two occasions, once a Tree Sparrow and the other a White-rumped Munia.

Eurasian Hobby - the two adults, top bird is likely to be female as it was larger

By the time I paid them a visit the juveniles had already fledged, but they were hanging around the area. They are not particularly good fliers yet, but they do "exercise" their wings by flying around or simply just flapping their wings while perched. The adults eyed them nearby, making sure they are not in trouble...

Eurasian Hobby - the two juveniles

One of the juvenile was a bit more adventurous and took to the wing, trying to catch flying dragonflies and cicadas, although with little success. It was however entertaining to watch. It is very nice that we now have Eurasian Hobbies breeding, hopefully they will continue to do so for many years to come!

Eurasian Hobby - the juvenile practicing it's flying

It is National Moth Week, and we have been busy mothing! Hoiling and I found a few new species for our local patch this week, including an impressive looking Ischyja ferrifracta, it was in fact our first moth of the night on Monday! We also later added a Eucyclodes albisparsa which is also new for Wonderland Villas. While Wednesday night we added a Thyas coronata which we mistaken as a common Guava Moth to begin with, we also added a Pseudodavara haemaphoralis with beautiful side markings. A tiny Tortricidae species was also seen, not quite sure what species it is exactly but certainly new for Wonderland Villas.

Ischyja ferrifracta

Eucyclodes albisparsa (photo credit to Hoiling)

Thyas coronata

Pseudodavara haemaphoralis

Tortricidae sp.

Other than the exciting new findings, there were plenty of other good looking moths to look at. At this moment, our moth list in Wonderland Villas is close to 450 species, I am sure this will continue to grow in years to come!

Lyclene alikangiae

Arctioblepsis rubida

Acosmeryx anceus

Glyphodes onychinalis

Earias flavida (photo credit to Hoiling)

Bocchoris inspersalis

Endotricha olivacealis

Enispa elataria

Monday 16 July 2018

Day Trip Surprises - Lianghua National Forest Park, Huidong

Some of our assorted surprises of the day

I visited Lianghua National Forest Park near Gutian with Captain in October last year, this forested site is near Huidong, a mere two hours drive from the Futian border crossing in Shenzhen. After our discovery that Red-headed Trogons are present at this site, Captain and the gang had returned a few more times, although I was unable to join them on those trips. So, when Captain suggested we visit again, I was more than happy to tag along. He also invited Mr. Kwok and his son James, along with brother Kei, the five of us met over the border early morning for a quick breakfast before the drive towards Lianghua.

We hit a little bit of traffic outside of Shenzhen but made up in good time, arriving at the park gate at just around 11:00am. Since it was a bit early for lunch we decided to do some birding first. We drove along the country road 008 and made a slight detour on foot just after the warden's dorms to explore a stretch of road we never birded before. A few Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers caught our attention, but Captain saw a bluish bird, to our surprise it turned out to be a juvenile Verditer Flycatcher, clearly this species breeds here. Further along the track we added a pair of Crested Goshawks which circled fairly low. Another interesting find was a rather large orchid that should be Robiquetia succisa, it was flowering which certainly caught my attention! It wasn't until it started pouring down that we had to turn around to head back to the car.

Verditer Flycatcher - juvenile

Crested Goshawk

Robiquetia succisa

It cleared up after the brief shower, although things were pretty quiet during mid-day, so we decided to head for lunch. At the restaurant there were plenty of butterflies to keep me entertained before the food was served. An Asian Comma landed on brother Kei and came in and out of the restaurant, this is a rather rare species in Hong Kong. There were other species such as Common Jestor, Angled Castor and the Common Rose which I am more familiar with.

Friendly Asian Comma with brother Kei

Asian Comma

Common Jestor

Angled Castor

Common Rose

A Dragonfly species I don't recognised circled outside the window. There were also a lot of Brown Forest Skinks basking in the sun after the rain. The only bird I found outside the restaurant was a single juvenile Hainan Blue Flycatcher.

Dragonfly sp.

Brown Forest Skink

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - juvenile

After lunch and a little rest we headed towards the upper plum plantations, Chinese Barbets called constantly although none wanted to show. I also heard a Speckled Piculet here, but again it did not make an appearance. The only bird that gave us some excitement were up to three Hill Prinias which hopped out briefly after a burst of playback. This species was unrecorded here until Captain and the guys saw one singing during spring, it seems that there's a fairly healthy population here. Lianghua's birds are now the closest known population to Hong Kong.

Hill Prinia

Other butterflies found here includes the Yellow Coster which is quite rare in Hong Kong, Common Evening Brown and a Magpie Flat. A huge robber fly of the genus Microstylum was found perched in the middle of the road, perhaps to dry itself from the rain. An Indian Forest Skink was also spotted, although it got some rather unusual side markings which I have never seen in any individuals in Hong Kong.

Yellow Coster

Common Evening Brown

Magpie Flat

Microstylum sp.

Indian Forest Skink

We caught sight of a Collared Finchbill further up, although it was too quick for a photo. A wet patch next to the road had a lot of butterflies puddling, including a very nice looking Glassy Bluebottle, which is rare in Hong Kong, a beautiful Chinese Peacock was also present, while a White Dragontail made quick stops each time which made photographing it a real challenge, a common yet beautiful Purple Sapphire allowed very close views.

Glassy Bluebottle

Chinese Peacock

White Dragontail

Purple Sapphire

I was very surprised when the high-pitched song of the Small Niltava was heard through the trees, we soon saw up to three individuals; two males and one female. They were lightning quick, darting around in the shades of the trees, luckily the male perched long enough for me to grab a record shot. This is a new record for this site and certainly an interesting summer record, Small Niltava is often considered a winter visitor this far south, so perhaps it is possible that this species may breed in Hong Kong in the near future.

Small Niltava - male

We also heard a Red-headed Trogon calling nearby, however it never showed itself. A Mandarinia regalis was spotted, it had not been recorded in Hong Kong before, a butterfly species that have a high potential to make it onto our list in the future. A Leucauge sp. with beautiful green belly as well as a Chiasmia monticolaria provided a great macro opportunities.

Mandarinia regalis

Leucauge sp.

Chiasmia monticolaria

We got to the barracks which was as far as we could get to the summit, the view overlooking the valley was quite spectacular, it really gives you a sense how vast this mountain system actually is. On the way down Captain suggested we try the stretch of road that branch out from the temple, it is quite well paved but obviously not as often used as plants were evidently slightly overgrown. Here, we spotted two Brown-breasted Flycatchers, one of which was a juvenile, this was our forth Flycatcher species of the day! A few Orange-headed Thrushes made an appearance, at least one of which was a  recently fledged juvenile.

Brown-breasted Flycatcher - juvenile

Orange-headed Thrush - juvenile

Late afternoon is a good time for pheasants or partridges, as they are often active before dusk. Sure enough, I spotted a Silver Pheasant on the right side of the road! Brother Kei stopped the car just in time as the nice looking male stopped briefly to look at us before disappearing down the slope. Silver Pheasants are known to occur at Luo Fu Shan as well as many other forest reserves, although seeing them well is another matter. It is almost certain that this beautiful species once roamed the forests of Hong Kong before the extensive deforestation. It is certainly a very charismatic species of Guangdong's forests!

Silver Pheasant - male

After dinner we stayed on a little longer hoping to find some owls, we got none calling, although Brown Wood Owls, Collared Owlets as well as Mountain Scops Owls had all been heard here before. We were also hoping for some herps, disappointingly we only spotted a Many-banded Krait which slithered away before I can even get a proper look, as well as a Brown Wood Frog, a more interesting find is a single Hong Kong Cascade Frog, which was previously thought to be endemic to Hong Kong, although herpetologists later found a population here at Gutian.

Brown Wood Frog

Hong Kong Cascade Frog

As Mr. Kwok and James decided to stay on for the night, brother Kei, Captain and I dropped them off at in town and drove back to Hong Kong. It was already 11:30pm when we got to the border, but we managed to pull off a true day trip. Overall I would say it was a day pretty well spent, considering the half day birding itinerary, we picked up quite a few local specialities plus a few unexpected species in July including the Verditer Flycatcher and Small Niltava. Lianghua Gutian had continued to deliver great birds and surprised us every time, who knows, perhaps we will get a Silver Oriole here next time!