Friday 22 March 2019

A Wild Ibis Chase - Glossy Ibis in Hong Kong

Glossy Ibis - a mega rarity in Hong Kong!

A late afternoon report from Whatsapp group about a pair of Glossy Ibis seen at Mai Po on the 20th of March alerted all the birders in Hong Kong. It was stated that the pair only stayed 5 minutes and were not seen since. There are only two previous records of Glossy Ibis in Hong Kong, one in April 1978 and another in May 1994, with a time gap of 16 years in between. 25 years had gone past since the last record, and I do not want to wait another 20 years for the next! So, Kenneth and I set off the next morning hoping to relocate the bird somewhere in Mai Po.

Quite a few other birders also joined in on the search, but everyone came up empty handed. The Ibises were nowhere to be found, even in some very promising habitats! The predicted tide also looked quite promising, so we decided to give up on the Ibis and look for other birds. Out on the mud flats, quite a few Saunder's Gulls were still present, they were all young individuals that are not in a hurry to head back to the breeding grounds.

Saunder's Gull

A flock of large gulls remained fairly far, half of them were gone by the time the tide got to 1.8m. Most of those large gulls were either Heuglin's or Mongolian Gulls. A single Pallas's Gull was also spotted, although it flew off with the main flock and never returned.

Various Larus species with Black-headed Gulls

Pallas's Gull

Both Caspian and Gull-billed Terns were seen, roosting with the other waders on the shallow water. Caspian Terns are especially charismatic and always worth taking a look with their colourful bills.

Caspian Tern

Gull-billed Tern

One great thing about waiting for the tide to come in at the bird hide is that you get to see many birds up close, including the endangered Black-faced Spoonbills. It is especially rewarding during spring when some of them have moulted into their breeding plumage, transforming them into such flamboyant creatures.

Black-faced Spoonbill - breeding plumage

We retreated to the old bird hide as the tide came up even higher. On the boardwalk Fai Jai managed to locate a Styan's Grasshopper Warbler, we heard two in song and managed to grab a record shot of one of them. They are not particularly rare during passage, but being a 'Gropper' you can imagine how secretive they usually are. 

Styan's Grasshopper Warbler - a regular but difficult passage migrant

Deep Bay

Retreating to the old hide was a good call, as we were treated with great views of various highly sought after species, including a Far Eastern Curlew, a good count of Great Knots as well as a single Red Knot. 

Far Eastern Curlew

Great Knot

Red Knot - only one in amongst the Great Knots

Best bird for me though was no doubt a Long-billed Dowitcher resting fairly close to the bird hide. I've never had much luck with getting a good photo of them, so I was very pleased that this particular one showed so well. Many people get the wrong impression that Dowitchers must be fairly large, this is simply not the case for Long-billed Dowitchers, as they are fairly compact and not that much bigger than a Marsh Sandpiper. Therefore, they never perch with Godwits or Dowitchers in Hong Kong, instead they most often mix in with the Common Redshanks and Marsh Sandpipers.

Long-billed Dowitcher - size comparison with Marsh Sandpiper

I was suppose to help Hoiling with her research work in the afternoon, however half way through I received a text message that the Ibises had been relocated at Long Valley! With Hoiling's approval I rushed back home, got my camera and drove straight to Long Valley. It was most unfortunate that the pair flew away ten minutes before I arrived. Me along with a few others drove around to look for them. We finally struck luck when the pair took to the air and we got a distant flight view. They were later relocated perched on top of a tree, where we were able to get prolonged views of this mega rarity. The pair flew off before I left, was not relocated by other birders until after 6 O'clock.

Glossy Ibis

My dad however got to Long Valley a bit too late and was unable to locate them in the dark! Therefore, I went with him again to Long Valley the next morning, hoping to find them again. The pair proved to be elusive at first, not seen in any of the locations from the previous day. Just as I was getting worried, two dark birds came in out of nowhere and circled around the fields in the air.

Glossy Ibis - pair inflight

The pair landed on the blood worm pond and started feeding, where we were able to get up close to them. Glossy Ibises are well known for their ability to disperse and wander long distances from their breeding colony, being extremely widespread throughout much of Asia, Australasia, Africa, Europe and America. Unlike many species within it's family, Glossy Ibis's population seems to be spreading out. Whereas the population of the Black-headed Ibis in the region is close to extinction, if not already.

Glossy Ibis - feeding on the blood worm pond

For the next hour or so, we just enjoyed brilliant views of the pair wandering various fields around Long Valley. They were very active and gorged themselves on snails and worms. After feeding they flew back to the field they were originally found on the day before and rested. By that time it was 8:15am and my dad and I both left Long Valley a happy birder. This is the second mega rarity we've had in 2018 after the Fire-capped Tit, I am ready for more!

Glossy Ibis - happy ending for everyone!

Friday 15 March 2019

Handover of Seasons - Winter to Spring

Early March is when you really starts to feel spring in the air in Hong Kong, with more frequent rain and temperature getting warmer, flowers are blooming and Koels are calling everywhere. But, you still get a hint of winter clinging on, you still see plenty of wintering birds around, as they are getting ready to depart for their breeding grounds once again. 

The coral trees at Tai Po Kau had been popular for both birds and photographers alike, as a adult male Mrs. Gould's Sunbird had been visiting the trees fairly regularly. As one of the most colourful bird species to be found in Hong Kong, it is no surprise to find over 80 photographers and birders surrounding the tree, hoping to catch a glimpse of this rare winter visitor.

Mrs. Gould's Sunbird - star of Tai Po Kau

At least over 80 photographers and birders while I was there

The coral tree created a very nice background to try out various compositions, it's a constant challenge to try and get the sunbird at the right angle where their reflective iridescent plumage are at their best, all the while trying to get a nice background of the coral tree flowers. I managed a few photos I was happy with during the morning I was there, not using a tripod allowed me to move around to look for the best angle available.

Mrs. Gould's Sunbird - male

Other than the Mrs. Gould's Sunbird, there were plenty of other birds that shared the tree. Including many Fork-tailed Sunbirds, both males and females were coming in and out of the tree constantly.

Fork-tailed Sunbird - female

Fork-tailed Sunbird - male

Orange-bellied Leafbirds were also taking advantage in the abundance of nectar, a female was there all the time and tried to claim the tree as her own, chasing off the Fork-tailed Sunbirds and mimicking the call of a Besra in hope to deter it's competitors. A male came in slightly later on and was of course another centre of attention for photographers. A Crested Goshawk also made an appearance while everyone waited for the sunbird.

Orange-bellied Leafbird - female

Orange-bellied Leafbird - male

Crested Goshawk

At Mai Po, many of the wintering species are now in song, including a few Manchurian Bush Warblers. They are usually very difficult to see during winter months but becomes slightly easier in spring, their warbling song often reveals their location.

Manchurian Bush Warbler

There were still many Daurian Redstarts around, they will be departing very soon and it won't return until autumn. Their friendly demeanour is always delightful for birders and non-birders alike.

Daurian Redstart - male

Daurian Redstart - female

The long staying juvenile Rook was still present, often hanging out with the Collared Crows. Being the second consecutive year that Rooks had returned to Hong Kong, I do wonder if they will become a regular visitor in the future.

Rook - juvenile with a Collared Crow

Purple Herons in Hong Kong are considered a passage migrant and winter visitor in general, but it is also a rare breeding resident, where they utilises the reedbeds in Mai Po for breeding. They are a common sight at Mai Po, although good views are not always easy to come by.

Purple Heron

I was expecting a bit more spring migrants out at Deep Bay, but it seems most have yet to arrive. A few Temminck's Stints were feeding close to the bird hide. Up to four Caspian Terns were counted, no doubt their numbers will increase in the coming month. I scanned for Nordmann's Greenshanks but failed to locate any amongst the Common Greenshanks, Marsh Sandpipers and Common Redshanks.

Temminck's Stint

Caspian Tern

Assorted waders - Common Greenshanks, Marsh Sandpipers and Common Redshanks

A few large gulls remains, mainly Mongolian Gulls, there were also plenty of Black-headed and Saunder's Gulls around. Many Black-faced Spoonbills moulted into their breeding plumage, sporting a yellow breasts and elaborate crests.

Mongolian Gull

Black-faced Spoonbill

Black-tailed Godwits were in good numbers, I always love observing them inflight, it is mesmerising to see hundreds of them in the air. They were flushed by a Western Osprey, although it was obviously not interested in the birds, as it dived in for a fish, unfortunate came up empty handed.

Black-tailed Godwit

Western Osprey

At San Tin, the long staying female Common Pochard was still around, this is no doubt the longest staying individual I've ever seen. Also amongst the Tufted Ducks was a female Smew, which had also been present all winter long, glad I was able to catch up with it before it departs. Two Little Buntings were also spotted around the fish ponds.

Common Pochard - female

Smew - female with Tufted Ducks

Little Bunting

Now is also a great time for butterfly watching, many species are emerging after winter. Here's a collection of butterflies I've seen around so far this month.

Pale Awlet - Bibasis gomata

Long-banded Silverline - Spindasis lohita

Great Mormon - Papilio memnon

White Dragontail - Lamproptera curius

Tailed Jay - Graphium agamemnon

Common Bluebottle - Graphium sarpedon

Finally, you know spring is here when snakes are starting to emerge! I saw two Red-necked Keelback this month, both beautiful adults. This is one of the commonest Hong Kong's snake species, although it is venomous, it is a rear fanged species, meaning bites; which is rare, are usually dry bites. They are quite a docile species by nature, and always a delight to see.

Red-necked Keelback - Rhabdophis subminiatus