Tuesday 12 November 2019

Double Rarities - Chinese Grey Shrike & Water Pipit

After a really busy week, I was finally able to catchup on a few rarities that had appeared last week. Including a very handsome Chinese Grey Shrike at Tam Kon Chau Road, if accepted this will be the 1st record for Hong Kong. This species had been recorded in the past, however all of them had been treated as escaped caged birds. This individual was in very good condition and overall behaved very naturally, keeping a good distance away from people.

Chinese Grey Shrike - possibly 1st record for Hong Kong

The main diagnostic feature of Chinese Grey Shrike with Great Grey is more white on the wing and having no white rump. Both features can be seen when the bird is in flight.

Chinese Grey Shrike - showing large white wing patch in flight

A female Ferruginous Duck was also present in a fish pond nearby, it stayed with a female Tufted Duck. I caught only a glimpse of the male Ferruginous Duck last month, so it was nice to be able to get good views of this one early morning. While at the drained pond next to Tam Kon Chau Road I spotted a few Temmink's Stints.

Ferruginous Duck (right) with Tufted Duck (left)

Temmink's Stint

Rice fields at Long Valley have ripened, attracting dozens of Buntings. The most numerous were Yellow-breasted Buntings, which in one day I counted over 15 individuals! A brilliant count for this critically endangered species.

Yellow-breasted Bunting - male

Yellow-breasted Bunting - female

Another bunting species we used to get as a rarity and now regularly visiting Long Valley is the Black-headed Bunting, it's large size usually give it away in amongst the smaller Yellow-breasted Buntings. I managed to photograph it while it rested on the banana trees nearby.

Black-headed Bunting

Other buntings includes the common Black-faced Bunting, which prefers low scrubs to the paddy fields. There were plenty of Little Buntings feeding around the fields. I also found a single Chestnut-eared Bunting which showed briefly.

Black-faced Bunting

Little Bunting

Chestnut-eared Bunting

Common Snipe numbers had increased steadily, here is one preening, showing off the diagnostic tail. A fly-over Grey-headed Lapwing is a good record for Long Valley. Dusky Warblers are now everywhere, it's impossible not to hear one calling nearby. There are also more ocularis White Wagtails around at this time of the year. Other than the eye-stripe, I also find them to be slightly larger than our local leucopsis White Wagtails.

Common Snipe

Grey-headed Lapwing

Dusky Warbler

White Wagtail - ocularis

I received news of a Water Pipit at Long Valley on Sunday morning (the weird angle of the photos on the whatsapp group nearly had me thinking it was a Richard's Pipit, oops!). I didn't have time on Sunday so I waited till Monday and visited with Hoiling, the bird showed exceedingly well at the same location, in the field there was little question of it's identity, a long-billed, quite small, faintly marked breast and faint eye-brows were all good features, dark legs is also a good feature to look for when identifying Water Pipit. The call was also very different from all the other pipit we usually get in Hong Kong, a very sharp and short flight call that even resembles that of a Bunting!

Water Pipit - second rarity within one week!

Other than the Water Pipit, there were plenty of other pipits in the area for comparison. The most similar looking pipit was the Buff-bellied Pipit, it was overall slightly darker with more heavily marked breast and darker malar stripe. I couldn't manage a better photo before it flew off.

Buff-bellied Pipit

Red-throated Pipits were everywhere, a few retained some red on the throat. While the largest of the pipits are Richard's Pipit, a very long-legged species that usually prefers drier fields.

Red-throated Pipit

Richard's Pipit

Birding elsewhere, having now moved to Tai Po area, it opens up a good selection of sites near home for exploring. We visited Robin's Nest at night in hope to see Oriental Scops Owl, unfortunately the owl was not found, but we did have a single Eurasian Woodcock on the road. While Brides Pool area is likely to get better in the upcoming winter months, I only managed a few birds late in the afternoon, but a beautiful male Fire-breasted Flowerpecker at close range can brighten up any birders day no matter how many years you have been birding!

Eurasian Woodcock

Fire-breasted Flowerpecker - brilliant looking male

Friday 1 November 2019

Tai Lam Revisited

The area of Tai Lam Country Park had received much attention since the Brown Wood Owl sightings, I returned again to try for other birds with fairly good results. I had at least three Eurasian Woodcocks along the trail in the morning, one of which stayed still long enough for a record shot. I see them often every winter but never seem to be able to grab a photo, this is actually my first photo ever!

Eurasian Woodcock - record shot

Speckled Piculets are now heard fairly regularly in more mature forests in Hong Kong, but due to their small size they can be tricky to track down in a bird wave. I was fortunate enough to get this bird coming low down for some photos. They are brilliant little birds and a very good addition to our Hong Kong forest!

Speckled Piculet - a wonderful encounter

The Sulphur-breasted Warbler was still present, along with Eastern Crowned Warbler, Goodson's Leaf Warblers, numerous Yellow-browed and a few Pallas's Leaf Warblers. Getting good photos of the Sulphur-breasted Warbler is extremely tricky, I had a few respectable record shots...

Sulphur-breasted Warbler

A single White-bellied Epornis made an appearance. We used to call them White-bellied Yuhina, but it was an obvious mistake, as their solitary behaviour itself is very un-yuhina like. They are now rightfully placed in the family Vireonidae, alongside with the Shrike-babblers they make up the interesting group of old world Vireos.

White-bellied Epornis

There were at least two Japanese Paradise Flycatchers in the bird wave, one an adult female with a complete tail, the other I am guessing a juvenile, with a very short tail that is still growing out. This species is currently in decline, likely due to habitat loss in it's wintering range, including the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Sumatra.

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher

A very shy female Black-naped Monarch also made an appearance briefly, they often fan their tail out like Fantails. There were also no short supply of Grey-chinned Minivets, many were feeding low down and provided excellent views.

Black-naped Monarch - female

Grey-chinned Minivet - male

My dad haven't seen the Brown Wood Owls, so I went back with him in early morning. We got there just before dawn, and managed to see the owl before it roosted. It is truly a magnificent bird and I hope their population will continue to grow in Hong Kong. The subspecies ticehursti in Hong Kong might soon become part of Mountain Wood Owl, a proposed split with Brown Wood Owl leptogrammica described in Borneo, they differs in vocalisation, size and preferred habitat.

Brown Wood Owl - as majestic as always

Birds elsewhere, I was leading a HKBWS group at Wetland Park, it was a fairly productive outing with numerous Black-faced Spoonbills, Red-necked Phalarope, Pied Kingfisher, Red Collared Dove and numerous ducks and waders...There was also an interesting looking Snipe which caught my eye. It was much larger than the Common Snipe feeding next to it and looked fairly big-headed. It was also quite pale of the face, which had Latham's crossed my mind...although after careful look when I got home it is revealed that it's tail is too short and bill probably not long enough for Latham's. In the end it is most likely to be a Swinhoe's Snipe due to it's much larger size, although field identification remains inconclusive. It is certainly a good thing to look out for any Latham's Snipes heading the wrong way during migration though.

"Swinhoe's" Snipe - most likely