Sunday 29 September 2019

Autumn Rarity - Red-backed Shrike

Red-backed Shrike - healthy looking juvenile

Since I said that no major rarities had turned up in my last blog post, a Red-backed Shrike was reported at Long Valley on Saturday morning. This mega rarity had turned up six times in Hong Kong, first recorded in 2008. I've missed all the previous records for whatever reason and have been awaiting my turn. So, as soon as I saw the news I made a quick dash to Long Valley. Luckily, the bird was very stable, and I found the bird soon after I arrived at the reported site. The juvenile showed well and was not at all shy, it even flew towards me at one point and landed just 3 metres from me, where it caught itself a juicy Mole Cricket. I was able to get some good shots before it flew back up to it's favourite perch.

Red-backed Shrike - Mole Crickets buffet!

I observed the bird for a good two hours, all the while it went back and forth, collecting various prety items, over half of which were Mole Crickets, but it also caught two fairly good sized centipedes on two occasions. Red-backed Shrike have a very westerly distribution, ranging from Europe to western Asia, they over winter in tropical Africa, these vagrants that turn up in Hong Kong are most likely from western Asia which headed south the wrong way.

Red-backed Shrike - on it's favourite perch of the day

My luck improved slightly at Ho Man Tin, with a very shy juvenile Siberian Blue Robin, not exactly the male that I was hoping for, but nice to see them once again. The Tiger Shrike had eluded me once again, it never seizes to amaze me how well it can hide in such a small area.

Siberian Blue Robin - a very shy juvenile

Other than the uncooperative Pale-legged Leaf Warbler that skulked around without stopping for a good photograph, the many Arctic Warblers were by comparison extremely friendly. Such as this individual, which literally landed right in front of me! It is incredible to think that this tiny bird breeds in the arctic and winter all the way down to tropical South East Asia, what an epic journey that they take each year! Here you see this individual eating a stink bug, trying to fatten itself up before it's southward journey towards Borneo or the Philippines.

Arctic Warbler - friendly individual

Thursday 26 September 2019

Mid-Autumn Birds

September had not been the best birding month so far, with very little rarities turning up other than the regular annual migrants. That being said, it is still interesting to see different migrants moving through, and getting different set of birds on a daily basis. The best bird for me this month so far was probably a Von Schrenk's Bittern Hoiling and I stumbled across while we were walking at Shing Mun Reservoir, it was sitting by the forested stream when I flushed it, luckily it didn't go very far and I relocated it hiding behind a tree trunk. Funnily enough I was actually looking for the Slaty-backed Forktail while I was there, but they never showed for me that day. There weren't that many forest birds around, although a few Yellow-cheeked Tits gave quite good views.

Von Schrenk's Bittern

Yellow-cheeked Tit - male

Another interesting species was the Bright-capped Cisticola, I found a few by a hill side near Tsim Bei Tsui, they were in-between their breeding and wintering plumage, while it doesn't have that bright yellow head no more, it doesn't look as dark or have the long tail yet. For such a skulking species I was surprise to found this one perched high up on a wire singing loudly.

Bright-capped Cisticola

Ho Man Tin had not been particularly kind to me this autumn, although I saw yet another Yellow-rumped Flycatcher it never stopped for a photo, I was however greeted by a whole bunch of Asian Brown Flycatchers. Other birders had been more lucky with Siberian Blue Robins and Tiger Shrikes. Arctic Warblers are extremely common during this time of year, you can hardly go anywhere without seeing one.

Asian Brown Flycatcher

Arctic Warbler

San Tin had been quite productive, on my two visits I yielded a few Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers (no photo) and a fly over Daurian Starling (no photo). A drained fish pond became a gathering point for various birds, including egrets and herons. One of the better bird there was a very showy Pin-tailed / Swinhoe's Snipe, I was hoping it may fan out it's tail for me to see, unfortunately it didn't, so I have to leave the ID at that. There were also plenty of Black-winged Stilts around.

Assorted egrets...

'Swintail' Snipe

Black-winged Stilt

Whiskered Terns had returned, most were either juveniles or already moulted into their winter plumage. Kingfishers are always nice to see, and at San Tin you often see up to three species, the Common Kingfisher being the most colourful but smallest of the trio, the White-throated Kingfisher with it's impressive red bill, and finally the hovering specialist Pied Kingfisher.

Whiskered Tern

Common Kingfisher

White-throated Kingfisher

Pied Kingfisher

At Mai Po, there were plenty of bird movement, including an increase in Black Drongos. Another bird returning back for winter is the Black-winged Cuckooshrike, a species that is always delightful to see.

Black Drongo

Black-winged Cuckooshrike - female

A few Garganeys had returned, as well as the first of the wintering Great Cormorants, returning to their wintering roost once again. I also spotted a distant Eastern Marsh Harrier, I was hoping it may fly closer to the bird hide, but it only drifted past and never returned.

Great Cormorant

Eastern Marsh Harrier - junvenile

I saw a juvenile Purple Heron at close range, a species that does breed in Mai Po, although in fairly small numbers, I certainly hope they had a successful breeding season this year. Once species that I know have had a good breeding season was the Little Grebe, I saw plenty of juveniles this year, so this adult can finally get a good rest over winter.

Purple Heron - juvenile

Little Grebe

Tuesday 3 September 2019

Properly Autumn - Yellow-rumped Flycatcher

If Narcissus Flycatcher represents one of the best of the migrating flycatchers in spring, Yellow-rumped Flycatcher surely is it's autumn counterpart. Due to the different migration route taken by these two similar species, we seldom see them together. Except for a few exceptional records, most records of Narcissus Flycatcher in Hong Kong are from spring, while most Hong Kong records of Yellow-rumped Flycatcher are from autumn. Therefore, Yellow-rumped is probably one of the most iconic autumn migrant we have in Hong Kong. A few of these had been spotted at Ho Man Tin of late, I decided to give them a try. I saw no less than two individuals there, one had a peculiar spike growing out of it's knee, although it did not seem to affect the bird's mobility. I've never really encountered any photogenic Yellow-rumped Flycatcher before, so I was happy that finally changed!

Yellow-rumped Flycathcer - the friendliest individual I've encountered so far

The other individual was a bit more shy and kept it's distance from me, but still gave fairly good views overall. Sexing juveniles can be slightly tricky, as they look very similar to adult females, although I suspect the first individual as a juvenile male due to it's slightly more contrasting wing-bars.

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher - 2nd individual at Ho Man Tin

Other than the Yellow-rumped Flycatchers, I saw very little else of particular interest at Ho Man Tin. Most birds are going through moult after a long breeding season, not looking their best, this scruffy looking Blue Whistling Thrush for example was missing most of it's tail feathers.

Blue Whistling Thrush - extremely scruffy

Tai Po Kau had not been particularly productive, with most highly sought after species well hidden. A few common species does provide some photo opportunity, including Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler.

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

One of my better encounter along the red walk was perhaps a few Great Barbet at close range, they were feeding in a fruiting tree along the trail, I flushed them at first, but with patience they cautiously returned. For this relatively common species, good views are surprisingly hard to come by, one individual perched in the open, showing off it's colourful plumage.

Great Barbet - a species I hear much more often than I see

Rhesus Macaques are often seen at Tai Po Kau, unlike those bold and mischievous macaques near Shing Mun, these were actually quite shy and did not like my presence, they will constantly scold at me until I leave their sight.

Rhesus Macaque

Wader numbers at Mai Po had picked up significantly, with a good range of species on display at Deep Bay, including Asian Dowitcher and Long-billed Dowitcher. I only had my 100-400mm lens with me and most birds were too far for any photos, many Grey-tailed Tattlers were amongst some of the closest waders to the bird hide. Juvenile Common Redshank is not something we often see outside of early autumn, at first glance they can look slightly similar to Greater Yellowlegs...

Grey-tailed Tattler

Common Redshank - juvenile

Other than birds, mudskippers can also be quite good fun to watch. The largest species at Mai Po being Boleophthalmus pectinirostris, also known as the Blue-spotted Mudskippers, they are probably the most entertaining of the three species, males engage in epic battles as they raise their sails and wrestle with each other to show their dominance. The much smaller Periophthalmus modestus are far less physical, males with raise their sails and jump into the air to attract mates. While the least common of the three species of Mudskippers found at Mai Po, the Periophthalmus magnuspinnatus can often be found sitting on trunks of mangroves during high tide.

 Boleophthalmus pectinirostris

Periophthalmus modestus

Periophthalmus magnuspinnatus