Wednesday 30 January 2019

Late January Mega Rarity - Fire-capped Tit

The first 'twitchable' bird of the year came in form of a Fire-capped Tit seen at Kadorie Farm and Botanical Garden. News came from the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society forum, where a photo was uploaded to the 'Bird Identification' section, it was later confirmed to be a female Fire-capped Tit. I've seen this species before in Sichuan Emeishan, but this species had never been recorded in Guangdong, let alone Hong Kong! According to Richard Lewthwaite, the closest record for this species is one trapped in West Guangxi in 2013. This species is known for their seasonal migration from high to lower altitude during winter, where birds breeding at the foothills of the Himalayas can migrate all the way to North-Central India and northern Thailand. Therefore, for vagrants to turn up in Hong Kong is not impossible. Also, a dull looking female or juvenile is less likely to be a target of bird trade. Whether this bird gets accepted remains to be seen...If it does it will be a 1st for Hong Kong!

Fire-capped Tit : First Mega Rarity in 2019

Kenneth and I decided to go for the bird after another group of birders relocated it on a plum blossom tree along the main road of Kadorie Farm on the 28th. We met up and arrived at the gate at 9am to find a long queue of hikers and birders. There is a shuttle bus service that goes all the way to the top of the hill, but seats are limited, therefore people try to get there early to get a seat. We were obviously not early enough...So, we took the option to walk 20 minutes uphill. We were joined by James Kwok, Eric and Dephne Wong on our ascend. All the birders were standing around when we arrived, a clear sign that the target had yet to arrive. We waited for 10 minutes and all of a sudden a small bird appeared in the plum tree, pecking at the flower buds, the sound of camera shutters filled the valley...

'Twitchers' in Action

Fire-capped Tit - feeding in the blossoming plum tree

The Fire-capped Tit showed exceptionally well for the next hour or so, feeding constantly. This bird was just as how I remembered it from Sichuan, being quite bold and active. It was seemingly oblivious to the huge crowed congregating below the tree. This species was previously assigned to the family of Penduline Tits, but it's nesting habit in tree holes was most untypical, therefore it is now placed in with the Tits, but under a monotypic genus of Cephalopyrus.

Fire-capped Tit

While we waited around for the Fire-capped Tit, a few birds of prey drifted past, including a pair of very vocal Crested Serpent Eagles. I was hoping for an Oriental Honey Buzzard but only yielded an Eastern Buzzard.

Crested Serpent Eagle

Eastern Buzzard

The blossoming plum and cherry trees also attracted hundreds of Redbase Jezebels, they are probably one of the commonest butterflies in Hong Kong, but it's still a wonderful sight to see so many.

Redbase Jezebel

After we've had satisfactory views of the Fire-capped Tit, we ventured up to the T.S Woo Memorial Pavilion to look for a recently reported Mrs. Gould's Sunbird that's been feeding in the blossoming cherry trees. We were greeted by a lot of Japanese White-eyes also enjoying the abundance of nectar.

Cherry Blossoms

Japanese White-eye - active and everywhere!

It wasn't long until the rather scruffy looking immature male came into view, light was very harsh and and terrible for photography, but it was still nice to catch up with this rare winter visitor. The bird only showed briefly and never returned for another look.

Mrs. Gould's Sunbird - immature male

Elsewhere this January, many expected species had returned to known locations, including a few Common Rosefinches returning to Shek Kong Airfield, I managed to get a few record shot of this rather shy male feeding in the thick vegetation. Chinese Grosbeaks are however much more friendly and gave eye-level views.

Common Rosefinch - male

Chinese Grosbeak - female

A Rook had been reported at Lut Chau yet again, I finally took the time to have a look at it and confirmed it to be a different bird to the one I saw at Long Valley, this was a juvenile while the bird I found was an adult. This is the 3rd bird in two years, really quite incredible when you think that we only had our first ever one last year.

Rook and Collared Crow

At Wa Shan Tsuen in Sheung Shui, some birders had found a rather tamed Red-breasted Flycatcher and a male Grey Bush Chat. The flycatcher was very obliging, not surprising as it was receiving a generous amount of meal worms offered by the photographers. The Grey Bush Chat was however minding it's own business, foraging in the nearby fields. Two female Daurian Redstarts were also present, quite often chasing away the Red-breasted Flycatcher.

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Grey Bush Chat - male

Daurian Redstart - female

Finally, Kenneth and I were putting in the effort of finding a photographable Bright-capped Cisticola near Ma Tso Lung, the Cisticolas were not very cooperative, only showed briefly from afar, but this male Plaintive Cuckoo was more than happy to show, allowing a fairly decent shot.

Plaintive Cuckoo - male

It's really warming up, I heard the first Koel calling just the other day, spring seems to be just around the corner now.

Tuesday 22 January 2019

Returning to Tai Po Kau

After over a month of absent from one of my favourite forest site, I was finally feeling well enough to visit again. It is that time of the year again as Rhodoleia begins to bloom,  the tree just outside the public toilet was again filled with different birds feeding on the nectar, the most dominant bird being a male Orange-bellied Leafbird that chases away other Japanese White-eyes and tries to claim the tree as his own.

Despite the Leafbird's efforts, many birds were still visiting the tree for the nectar, including numerous Blue-winged Minlas. Fork-tailed Sunbirds were also one of the species which visits regularly, here a beautiful male posing at eye-levels, always a treat...Cinereous Tits are also quite active near the Rhodoleia trees, this one was particularly photogenic.

Mountain Bulbuls are known to feed on the nectar of the Rhodoleia tree as well, but they also feed on fruits of Red Psychotria, also known as Wild Coffee. This individual was feeding on the red berries before I disturbed it, it flew up and perched for a good photo before flying off.

Having been away from Tai Po Kau for a while, even the more regular residents were worth stopping for. A very confiding Pygmy Wren Babbler sang by the footpath, not at all bothered by my presence. Huet's Fulvettas were no doubt the staple of all the bird waves, often appearing in large numbers. While Grey-chinned Minivets are often a good sign, as they follow large bird waves, here a female eating a caterpillar.

Speckled Piculet numbers had increased dramatically last few years, they are now quite regular in bird waves at Tai Po Kau. I saw two individuals and heard another one somewhere near the car park. Although getting a good photo of this tiny woodpecker is still a challenge...

I was of course there for the warblers, there were plenty of interesting phylloscopus around other than the common Yellow-browed Warblers and Pallas's Leaf Warblers, including Two-barred Leaf Warblers and Eastern Crowned Warblers, both of which I did not manage a photo. Goodson's Leaf Warblers were in good numbers, some very pale ones are likely to be of race fokiensis. Their nuthatch like behaviour are often quite distinctive when scanning through a bird wave.

The slightly similar Sulphur-breasted Warbler is a rare species that sometimes winters in Hong Kong. Unlike Goodson's Leaf Warblers they don't climb tree trunks like nuthatches. They have completely yellow underparts and throat, with a very thick black brow.

A Chestnut-crowned Warbler was also amongst the bird waves, it was quite vocal as well. This is a scarce winter visitor to Hong Kong. Their greyish throat and breast are often distinct enough as diagnostic features when seen from below.

Last but not least, the White-spectacled Warbler. I saw up to two individuals, one with greyish crown which I managed a terrible record shot. The other with greenish crown which managed to dodged my camera...I've yet to get a good photo of this species, which is slightly annoying but a record shot is better than none. A Rufous-faced Warbler had also been reported lately, but it eluded me completely.

Monday 14 January 2019

A Warm January

January is usually the coldest month of the year, but this year it had been relatively warm, temperature rarely dropped below 10°C. Due to health reasons my birding activities had been kept to a minimal, as I could not venture too far, I've been itching to get up to Tai Po Kau with extremely good birds reported up there on a regular basis, but unfortunately it is out of the question for the time being...There are a few birds around which requires minimal walking distance to get to, one of them being a White-tailed Robin on 'show' at Lung Fu Shan, it was spotted by birders late December, but had since been fed meal worms by photographers. Most of the photographers had already been and gone by the time I went to investigate. The young bird was perched on the designated perch created by the photographers when I arrived, these types of setups make it so easy to get 'good' photographs, but certainly take the fun out of it...I was only there for 5 minutes before I got completely bored and left. This species is still a fairly rare winter visitor in Hong Kong, so by all means it's worth a look.

White-tailed Robin - a very obliging subject...

Red-flanked Bluetails and Daurian Redstarts are fairly common in winter, although Red-flanked Bluetail numbers certainly had seen a major decrease in recent winters, I am not sure why that is but perhaps milder winter is changing their migratory patterns.

Red-flanked Bluetail - female

Daurian Redstart - female

The Tristram's Buntings at Wonderland Villas had returned yet again, this time there were only two, but they're still absolute joy to see especially at your local patch. They are not shy either, often allowing quite close views.

Tristram's Bunting - a great bird to see as always

A naturalist never let anything stop them from going outside...Although I could not walk long distance for the time being, I still regularly venture outside to look for birds and other critters, spiders being one of my new favourites. There are always some spiders around us if you look closely, and you will be surprise at the variety you get in a small area.

Carrhotus sp.

Chrysilla acerosa - female

Cyclosa confusa

Parasteatoda songi

Lycosidae sp.

Castianeira hongkong

Thanatus hongkong

Finally, the best bird of the month for me so far, an Ashy Minivet at Mt. Davis. I was there to look for the Yellow-streaked Warbler with my dad, as he haven't seen it. We somehow dipped on that, but got a very surprising Ashy Minivet mixed in with a few Scarlet Minivets. Although this is a fairly common spring migrant, there are very few winter records of this species as far as I know.

Ashy Minivet - a fairly decent surprise

Hopefully I will recover by next month for more birding, not exactly the best start of 2019...