Thursday, 2 May 2019

Collared Owlet - New Coloniser

Collared Owlet - new coloniser at Tai Po Kau

Many forest species in Hong Kong have only colonised Hong Kong in last two decades, species such as Pygmy Wren Babblers and Lesser Shortwings were only first recorded in year 2000. Things had changed since then, and many forest species once scarce are now fairly widespread. With Chinese Barbet spreading to Hong Kong a few years back, it is clear that Hong Kong's forest is finally good enough to hold some mature forest species. I've predicted Collared Owlet will soon follow, and sure enough someone reported hearing one at Tai Po Kau last week.

The location was somewhere along the infamous brown walk, where most birders are put off by the long trek usually. I walked up slowly, call of Chinese Barbet echoed through the forest. Soon as I arrived at the supposed location, I heard a very distant but distinctive 'Hu hu-hu hu' call of the Collared Owlet. It is a familiar call for anyone birded in China and South East Asia, as you often hear them throughout the day. I followed the call along the trail and arrived at a location where I thought was closest to the Owlet.

For the next hour I looked extremely hard, but could not locate the bird! I soon noticed a large flock of birds gathering and they started making all sorts of harsh alarm calls. A sign that a raptor is nearby, and Collared Owlets are well known to be hated by ALL birds in the forest. I followed the flock and sure enough they guided me right to where the owl was perched! The owlet was calling while other birds mobbed it from all sides. For the next few hours I was able to observe the owlet closely and counted up to 11 species of birds mobbing the poor thing. Blue-winged Minlas, Cinereous Tit, Mountain Bulbuls, Silver-eared Mesia, Red-billed Leiotrix...

Collared Owlet - calling

Mobbed by various species, Blue-winged Minla, Cinereous Tit, Mountain Bulbuls...

The owlet was so well behaved that a few of my friends were able to get to Tai Po Kau, walk up and see it as well. It was chased off by the birds once and relocated itself on another tree, this time much closer where everyone got top views of this tiny owl. Collared Owlets are known to utilise old woodpecker holes for nest, with woodpeckers increasing in numbers it seems only natural that they will take advantage and move in. Let's hope they stay and make Hong Kong their permanent home!

Collared Owlet - looking normal

Playing rock...

Paper...where are the scissors?

Good view of the 'false eyes' behind it's head

Breeding season is in full swing, and many birds are either building nest or already caring for their young. A pair of Little Grebe had decided to nest next to the footpath at Mai Po, allowing great views at their floating nest. I saw up to three eggs there and during my most recent visit they already hatched.

Little Grebe

I noticed a pair of Blue Whistling Thrush breeding at Tai Po Kau, at Kowloon Park I also saw an adult feeding it's chick, the fledgling is already as big as it's parent, but still requires much care.

Blue Whistling Thrush with chick

The most interesting nesting observation though belongs to a pair of Common Tailorbird, despite being such a common bird in Hong Kong, their nests are never easy to locate. I was very happy to found this nest coming together nicely, thanks to these two skilled tailors.

Common Tailorbird - at nest

Last week I also birded with two visiting birders Arjan Brenkman and Jan van der Laan from the Netherlands. They were on their way to East Pupua and dropped by Hong Kong for a transit, we made good use of the 9 hours and did some birding. They gave me a fairly challenging target list with Chinese Grassbird, Russet Bush Warbler, Styan's Grasshopper Warbler, Chinese Penduline Tit, Asiatic Dowitcher, Chinese Hwamei and Yellow-breasted Bunting. We connected with 6 our of 7 on the day, with an incredibly efficient morning on Tai Mo Shan! First with a singing Hwamei the moment we got off the car, Russet Bush Warbler was not behaving very well but we managed fairly good views in the end. The Chinese Grassbird showed beautifully in the mist in classic Grassbird fashion.

Chinese Hwamei

Russet Bush Warbler

Chinese Grassbird - star bird of Tai Mo Shan

Chinese Penduline Tits were pretty straight forward at Mai Po, you can always pick them out from their call within the reedbed. While out at Deep Bay the usual waders were present, Arjan and Jan got their Asiatic Dowitcher while I added Grey-tailed Tattler to my list of recent waders.

Chinese Penduline Tit - female

Over looking towards north hide

Grey-tailed Tattler

On our way out from the Deep Bay hide I picked up the song of a Styan's Grasshopper Warbler, this was probably the most difficult out of Arjan's target list, since they are incredibly skulking...We waited and sure enough we caught sight of it walking along the water edge along the mangroves! I had a fairly obscured view but Arjan and Jan got the best viewing angle. Before we got to the warden's post we even picked up a Himalayan Swiftlet, a fairly rare passage migrant in Hong Kong.

Styan's Grasshopper Warbler

Himalayan Swiftlet

Other interesting migrants of late includes a single Pale Sand Martin at Long Valley, mixed in amongst the Red-rumped and Barn Swallows. A fairly late female Narcissus Flycatcher was also present at Ho Man Tin, it gave brief but fairly good views.

Pale Sand Martin

Narcissus Flycatcher - female

The best bird at Ho Man Tin of late was a male Siberian Thrush of race davisoni. I was unable to get a clear shot of the shy bird, but I got a record shot of the most important feature, which is the daker lower belly. race sibirica have a paler underside compare with davisoni which are also known as the Sakhalin Thrush. Here's a shot of a subadult male at Shing Mun a few years ago for comparison.

Siberian Thrush - race davisoni

Siberian Thrush - old photo of race sibirica


  1. Great pictures! Always a pleasure to read your blog. Is it just me or does that Collared Owlet seem to have a weird eye? The left and right pupils don't seem to be the same size or looking in the same direction.

    1. Yes, this particular one seems to have Iris colomboma, although it doesn't seem to affect it's ability to hunt, someone photographed it eating a skink, the bird seems pretty healthy overall.

  2. Congratulations on the Collared Owlet, Matt. It is good to hear that HK's forests are maturing to the point where new species are taking up residency. I was impressed with the amount of green space when I visited a couple of years ago. Fond memories indeed!

    1. Thanks David! It was such a wonderful bird to see in HK, next possible species that may take up residency could be Red-headed Trogon, we'll see!