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

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