Saturday 27 October 2018

Wryneck, Sparrows and Swiftlets

Eurasian Wryneck - an attraction at Long Valley at the moment

An afternoon stroll at Long Valley proved to be quite productive, it is not surprising given the time of the year. Other than the usual suspects you would expect at this time of the year, a Eurasian Wryneck had very kindly been active near Ho Sheung Heung side. As always, Wryneck is a huge draw for photographers, I understand why as they are truly charismatic birds to look at.

Photographers lining up to get a shot at the Wryneck

It wasn't long before the Wryneck hopped into view, it had been active around an ant nest that it found under a small tree. The ants had made a nest out of an old wood board, the Wryneck feasted on those ants using it's specialised long tongue. The bird looked pretty contented with this 'restaurant' and seemed completely oblivious to the few dozens of photographers surrounding it...

Eurasian Wryneck - a very entertaining bird

Other goodies at Long Valley included up to nine Russet Sparrows feeding at the paddies! This is however not the highest ever count, the honour goes to fourteen birds in October 2012. This is still my personal high count by a long way, we usually just get single birds, pairs at most. There was one young looking male within the flock, with reddish brown cap and back.

Russet Sparrow - female

Russet Sparrow - male

Russet Sparrow - two of the nine birds at Long Valley

I was later joined by John Holmes while watching the Russet Sparrows, we later saw another single Russet Sparrow perched on a wire, incidentally it was the exact same spot that I saw the female House Sparrow. Here's a good comparison between the two species, of which there have been occasional mis-identification of. The main difference is size, as House Sparrows are much chunkier and longer, while Russets are only slightly larger than Munias even in flight, you also get more of a reddish tone to the nape and back area.

Russet Sparrow - female

House Sparrow - female from November 2017

We visited the Wryneck again and was delighted to find it perched on a low branch. This Wyrneck is easily the most photogenic I've seen. Eurasian Wrynecks are extremely widespread globally, ranging from Europe all the way East Asia. There are six recognised subspecies, and the one we get in Hong Kong is most likely race chinensis which breeds in Eastern Siberia and Central China.

Eurasian Wryneck

A pair of Himalayan Swiftlet zoomed past before I left, this is the second time I've seen them at Long Valley. This species is a scarce passage migrant in Hong Kong, and is at the moment the only swiflet species we get here, although it is not impossible for other swiftlet species such as the Germain's Swiftlet to turn up...we will just have to keep looking.

Himalayan Swiftlet

Monday 22 October 2018

Returning Buntings & Ferruginous Duck

Yellow-breasted Bunting - feeding in the rice paddies

It's that time of the year again when the paddies at Long Valley are ripening, and Buntings return to these fields to feed on the grains. On the day I visited, I counted around twenty Yellow-breasted Buntings feeding around the paddies, males were especially eye-catching with their bright yellow bellies and white shoulder patch. This critically endangered species is fortunately still an annual visitor to this part of the world, hopefully this will still be the case in years to come. There were reports of mass trapping still happening in mainland China, and the Yellow-breasted Bunting is somewhat of a main target for these poachers, as they can be sold for very good money...

Yellow-breasted Bunting - male

Yellow-breasted Bunting - female

I also saw two Chestnut-eared Buntings, this species used to be scarcer, but since the planting of rice they have became much more regular at long Valley. Both birds showed quite well and I managed some fairly decent shots.

Chestnut-eared Bunting

Other than the Buntings, I was also very pleased with a Citrine Wagtail I found in amongst a flock of Eastern Yellow Wagtails. They were somewhat difficult last year, hopefully we will see more of them this year. Little Ringed Plovers were in good numbers, and a few good looking males were especially photogenic.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail

Citrine Wagtail

Little Ringed Plover - male

Over at San Tin, there were reports of a Ferruginous Duck and Mandarin Duck. Since I've not seen the Ferruginous Duck for quite some time, I thought it was a good idea to go take a look. An Eastern Marsh Harrier greeted me when I first got there.

Eastern Marsh Harrier

The Ferruginous Duck was located without too much trouble, although it was quite shy, always swimming as far away from me as possible! It was accompanied by a local Eurasian Coot half of the time, perhaps this made it felt safer.

Ferruginous Duck - along with the Eurasian Coot

On the next pond was the long staying Common Pochard, which was far more friendly than it's newly arrived relative. It was far more generous, swimming out in the open and at a fairly close range, preening itself under the glorious weather. It was accompanied by a Little Grebe, which seems to be it's favourite go-to birds during it's stay here in Hong Kong, perhaps their reddish heads reminds it of it's own kind?

Common Pochard - friendly long staying duck

Black Drongos were everywhere at the moment, it was nice to spare a minute observing this friendly juvenile perched at eye-levels. I've always found photographing them slightly tricky, as they often perch higher up, and their colours never show up nicely with the white sky as background, only when they perch at eye-levels can you appreciate their subtle beauty.

Black Drongo - juvenile

Other than birds, this autumn had been quite good for wildlife in general. An Orleander Hawk Moth found at the carpark near home was certainly one of the highlight. My last encounter with this species was also at the same carpark years ago!

Orleander Hawk Moth - an absolute stunner

Also near home, I got a call from my neighbour about a snake in their garden, I was delighted to find that the snake in question was a small Mock Viper. I removed it from the garden but took some photos before I let it go. Mock Vipers are usually quite well tempered, and one this small rarely bite.

Mock Viper

Bee Yu and I also visited Shing Mun the other night, hoping for various reptiles. It was however a mammal that we saw first, in form of a Masked Palm Civet. They are always a joy to see in the wild!

Masked Palm Civet

The stream at Shing Mun hosts a range of species at night, Green Cascade Frogs were quite numerous. While many native fish species were seen, including this very impressive looking Channa asiatica, a snakehead species that inhabits mountain streams.

Green Cascade Frog

Channa asiatica

We also managed a Diamond-backed Water Snake, a species I've never seen before, it's got some of the most beautiful markings I've seen on any snake in Hong Kong. It was however quite shy and slithered away fairly quickly after we found it.

Diamond-backed Water Snake

And of course, you can't go walking along the stream without finding a Stream Snake! Here's the ever so friendly Anderson's Stream Snake, an extremely docile species that never attempts to bite, probably the perfect snake to get anyone off ophidiophobia!

Anderson's Stream Snake

Tuesday 16 October 2018

Quality Autumn Birding

Birding had been nothing short of excellent in the last week or so, with interesting birds coming in on a daily basis. There was a clear influx of Blue-tailed Bee-eaters last week, and I was very fortunate to be caught right in the middle of it. Early morning I found six very confiding individuals at Tai Sang Wai, allowing very close views which is not often in Hong Kong. At one point two birds even perched at eye-levels, allowing an epic photo opportunity! Although they are a fairly common species throughout most of South East Asia, they remain a scarce passage migrant in Hong Kong. I later saw a larger flock at Mai Po on the same day, but at a much greater distance.

Blue-tailed Bee-eater - absolute stunners...

Also at Tai Sang Wai were a few Great Mynas, a species which is most certainly of ex-captive origin, they have been around Deep Bay area for a few years now, whether they will successfully breed and colonise Hong Kong remains to be seen, but at the moment they are still relatively scarce.

Great Myna

Kingfishers are always a joy to look at, no matter how many times you have seen them, I got some fairly decent photos of White-throated Kingfisher and Common Kingfisher recently, always pleasing to the eyes...

White-throated Kingfisher

Common Kingfisher

While over at Mai Po, a species which topped the Manchurian Reed Warbler turned up earlier this week in form of a European Golden Plover. This is the 2nd Hong Kong record and my personal new Hong Kong tick, the last record in Hong Kong was in 2015, so I am glad I caught up with this rarity. It remained very far the whole time, but it's clear diagnostic feature was clearly visible during flight.

European Golden Plover - first mega rarity for me this autumn..

Other great birds at Mai Po includes the three Yellow-browed Buntings which I found earlier last week, they had remained and I got a second chance for a better photo. A few Sakhalin Leaf Warblers had been seen around Mai Po, they were all confirmed by their lower pitched calls, if my recent observations are correct, it seems that we get more Sakhalins from early October onwards, while before that we get more Pale-legged Leafs, whether this is true remains to be tested in the coming years...

Yellow-browed Bunting - female

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler - confirmed by call!

A skulking warbler which gave me a second chance for a better photo were a pair of Lanceolated Warblers, found in the tall grass along the footpath. There could have been more birds, but there were at least two individuals which showed fairly well by Lancy standard...It took almost three hours to get just a few clear photos of this world-class skulker.

1st individual

2nd individual, just ten meters from the other...

Lanceolated Warbler - world-class skulker at it's finest!

Wintering Harriers had arrived at Mai Po, I caught up with one of the juvenile Pied Harrier, despite it being quite distant, it's white rumps were clearly visible, they also have quite a distinct face markings which differs from the more common Eastern Marsh Harriers. It was also considerably smaller in size, especially when you can get a side by side comparison of the two species.

Pied Harrier - juvenile

There's been quite a few different Eastern Marsh Harriers around, most of which were juveniles. They will no doubt be in charge of harassment of thousands of waterbirds this winter, and truly a pain in the backside when you're scanning for a rarity in massive flocks...

Eastern Marsh Harrier

While others are getting plenty of Amur Falcons, I've only been able to connect with Eurasian Hobbies, I have seen up to three individuals now and still no sign of any Amur Falcons! They are still nice birds to see however.

Eurasian Hobby - adult above, juvenile below

Out at Deep Bay there were not too much on the mudflats, mainly Greater Sand Plovers and Kentish Plovers. On a drained pond there were plenty of Temminck's Stints. Autumn is a slightly more 'boring' time for waders, as they are all in their plain looking non-breeding plumage.

Greater Sand Plover

Kentish Plover

Temminck's Stint

Over at San Tin, the long staying Common Pochard was still around, I wonder whether it will decide to over winter in Hong Kong! Black-browed Reed Warblers are plentiful at the moment, and San Tin is a good place to find them. Although common they are by no means easy to photograph, so I was glad when this one decided to pop out of cover for a good look before disappearing into the thick bushes again.

Common Pochard - it's third month in HK I believe...

Black-browed Reed Warbler

Yellow-breasted Bunting numbers had decreased so dramatically in recent years, it is now listed as critically endangered. A few seen at San Tin were encouraging, a very beautiful male was particularly exciting to look at. While a Bluethroat was found along the fishpond tracks, it was quite shy and stayed at a very safe distance from me.

Yellow-breasted Bunting - good looking male


Finally, another falcon which raised my hopes up for a split second...turned out to be a Peregrine Falcon, not a bad sighting, but I would very much prefer to get my first Amur Falcon this year!

Peregrine Falcon - not quite the one I was hoping for...