Thursday 24 October 2019

Brown Wood Owl - An Unexpected Encounter

Brown Wood Owl - a magnificent creature

I think it is safe to say that ALL birders like owls, I personally love owls and to see one while out birding; even the commonest species will brighten up any birder's day. My day started off with a Collared Scops Owl at home just past mid-night, I've heard it calling for a few nights. They've bred here in the past but in recent years seem to have abandoned the site, therefore it was lovely to see one taking up residence at my local patch.

Collared Scops Owl - hello neighbour!

After working all morning, reports of White-throated Rock Thrush near Kap Lung Forest Trail tempted me to go for a few hours. This is an area I seldom explore, and it certainly seemed I've been missing out, as not long after I hit the trail I encountered a huge bird wave, immediately I spotted an immature Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, which posed nicely for a nice photograph.

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher - immature

I scanned through the smaller birds, yielding a good range of warblers, including Yellow-browed Warblers, Eastern Crowned Warblers, Goodson's Leaf Warbler and Two-barred Warblers which I couldn't get a photo of. The best warbler was no doubt a single Sulphur-breasted Warbler which showed well.

Yellow-browed Warbler - a rather dark billed individual...

Eastern Crowned Warbler

Sulphur-breasted Warbler - best of the bunch

Other birds within the bird wave includes numerous Scarlet and Grey-chinned Minivet, Blue-winged Minla, Swinhoe's White-eye, Yellow-cheeked Tit, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Silver-eared Mesia, Mountain Tailorbird, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler and Black-throated Laughingthrush...A single Speckled Piculet was heard but stayed high up and out of sight.

Grey-chinned Minivet - male & female

Up to three Verditer Flycatchers were within the flock, including one great looking male. A male Fire-breasted Flowerpecker also made an appearance.

Verditer Flycatcher - male

Fire-breasted Flowerpecker - male

I got to the supposed location for White-throated Rock Thrush but came up empty handed, this species had eluded me since my first sighting at Tai Po Kau many years ago, therefore I am still without a photo for this handsome looking species. On my way back I was rewarded with a confiding female Orange-headed Thrush, and soon followed by a White's Thrush on the footpath!

Orange-headed Thrush - female

White's Thrush

It was getting darker by that time, loud rustling in the bushes revealed two Red Muntjacs, a beautiful species that is usually very shy, one stayed long enough for me to grab a few photos before running downhill out of sight. 

Red Muntjac

While I was watching the Mutjac, a Brown Wood Owl gave a call. It was still quite bright but it is not unusual for them to call before dark. The owl didn't sound particularly close-by, so I thought I could try and call it in. I played a burst of playback and all of a sudden a massive bird flew out from literally 4m from my feet! I guess it must have been roosting somewhere below the footpath. Before I knew it, I was staring straight into the face of a magnificent Brown Wood Owl. 

Brown Wood Owl is a relatively new coloniser in Hong Kong, but they have since found a niche within the ecosystem and is now a scarce but widespread species in Hong Kong. They require mature woodland with large tree cavity for nesting, therefore their recolonisation indicates the secondary forest is regenerating well and is capable of supporting a healthy population. Nowadays they are commonly heard at places like Tai Po Kau and Lam Tsuen, but seeing them is usually extremely difficult.

The owl perched there for a few minutes before flying a little higher up and started calling, the low 'hoo hoo-hoo-Hoo' call resonated throughout the valley. Such close encounter with a large wild owl is awl-inspiring, and no doubt will remain one of my most memorable birding experience in Hong Kong. I left the owl to continue with it's usual routine and walked back to the car, all the while shaking from all the adrenaline pumping through my body! I even encountered a Eurasian Woodcock on the way which was the cherry on top. In birding it is always the unexpected that makes everything more special.

Brown Wood Owl - Heart stopping moment!

Friday 18 October 2019

Bay Woodpecker - Local Patch Surprise

I woke up in the morning and heard the unmistakable 'maniac laugh' of the Bay Woodpecker, I have previously heard this species at home but never seen it here. I got dressed quickly and with my camera ready I went out to try look for it. It wasn't long before I heard the call again, I followed the sound and played a burst of playback. The bird got slightly closer, but just out of view. I waited for another fifteen minutes before it finally came into full view! Despite being fairly widespread, Bay Woodpeckers are still fairly scarce in Hong Kong, even at Tai Po Kau where they are most reliable can sometimes be tricky. To see one right at my local patch was quite the treat. This lone male continued to call for another thirty minutes or so before moving on.

Bay Woodpecker - male

Birds elsewhere had not been as kind to me as this woodpecker, as I dipped several birds I wished to see, including the Little Curlew which had been reported at Mai Po one day before my visit. I was compensated with an Eastern Water Rail and close views of Eastern Marsh Harriers.

Eastern Water Rail

Eastern Marsh Harrier

Plenty of ducks had returned, including Garganies, Northern Pintails and Northern Shovelers, here a flock of Eurasian Wigeons swam in front of the bird hide.

Eurasian Wigeon

There is almost never a shortage of waders at Mai Po, the only problem is that you have to pick the interesting ones out of the hundreds of congregating waders. I scanned the Eurasian Curlews and sure enough found at least one Far Eastern Curlew.

Eurasian Curlew and Far Eastern Curlew (far right)

Far Eastern Curlew

The Little Curlew was replaced by numerous Pacific Golden Plovers and a few Bar-tailed Godwits. Despite the disappointment of the Curlew I did managed a nice Pheasant-tailed Jacana at the lily pond outside education centre.

Pacific Golden Plover & Bar-tailed Godwit

Pheasant-tailed Jacana

It is almost the end of herping season, Hoiling and I spent an evening at Lau Shui Heung, where numerous Reeves's Tokay Geckos made an appearance, including a few juveniles and a massive individual. The large one was at least a foot long and easily one of the largest I have ever seen. Smaller Garnot's Geckos were plentiful.

Reeves's Tokay Gecko - real giant!

Garnot's Gecko

I spotted a rather pissy Bamboo Pit Viper, it was certainly not in a good mood and gave us a warning strike even as we approached, although they are really beautiful snakes that I can never get bored of. Hoiling found a beautiful Greater Green Snake, although it slithered away quickly and out of sight.

Bamboo Pit Viper

Finally, one of my favourite frogs in Hong Kong, the beautiful Marbled Pygmy Frog. Each have a unique pattern like no other, the top one was the one I saw at Lau Shui Heung, the other two were older photos of individuals I saw at Tai Po and Lam Tsuen respectively.

Marbled Pygmy Frog - 3 different individuals with unique patterning

Wednesday 9 October 2019

Northern New Territories - Quail and More

I spared a little time at San Tin the other day, and as my car drove along the track, I noticed a brownish bird walking along the side, coming in and out of the vegetation. I suspected it to be one of the two species of Buttonquails (Turnix) that we often get on passage in Hong Kong. I stopped my car and waited for the bird to come into view, and a few minutes later it instead revealed itself to be a Japanese Quail.

Japanese Quail - a close encounter

This is a species I see almost annually, although most of the time I only catch a fleeting view of this usually shy species. This individual however was not as shy as most I've encountered before, and ventured out into the open for excellent views. The car didn't seem to bother it that much, therefore I stayed inside the car to take these photographs.

Japanese Quail - walking tall...

Although an overall common species with a fairly wide distribution, the Japanese Quail is now listed as Near Threatened, as is suspected to be undergoing population decline due to habitat loss and hunting. They are a great bird to see in the wild and an absolute joy to get good photographs of, I enjoyed good views of this individual until it got darker and I left it to continue feeding along the track.

Japanese Quail - a hungry migrant busy feeding

Zitting Cisticolas are common winter visitor in Hong Kong, many have been arriving and I saw up to five or six on a single track at San Tin. While Black-browed Reed Warblers are also becoming more common, they are not difficult to see at San Tin. There were also plenty of Oriental Reed Warblers around, although none of them were particularly photogenic.

Zitting Cisticola

Black-browed Reed Warbler

Oriental Reed Warbler

Siberian Stonechats can now be seen everywhere at San Tin, being a common winter visitor in Hong Kong, they will remain here until spring next year. Some movement of Red-collared Doves was also noted, with numbers increasing from previous month.

Siberian Stonechat

Red-collared Dove

Hundreds of Whiskered Terns had turned up at San Tin, amongst them were a few White-winged Terns, they were not in their smart summer plumage, but you can still pick them out with their 'headphone' like head pattern. They are usually more common in spring, and a scarce autumn migrant.

Whiskered Tern & White-winged Tern

White-winged Tern - juvenile

Whiskered Tern - juvenile inflight

The Red-backed Shrike was still present but became more shy. I saw little else of interest except for this White-headed Munia feeding amongst a flock of White-rumped and Scaly-breasted Munias. This is obviously an ex-captive individual, they are fairly popular caged birds and often seen in the bird market, we often get a few of them mixed in the Munias each year. A few Yellow-breasted Buntings had also arrived at the paddies, although remained pretty shy, I could only managed photos of one perched up in the tree after being flushed.

White-headed Munia - ex-captive

Yellow-breasted Bunting

Finally, a Black-winged Kite at Tai Sang Wai provided excellent views and photo opportunity. In Hong Kong we only get them as scarce passage migrant and winter visitor, therefore it is a real treat to see one up close. It only stayed briefly before flying off into the distant. With all the crazy stuff happening in Hong Kong, it is a real breather and luxury to be able to do some birding in the countryside.

Black-winged Kite