Sunday 22 December 2019

Forest Wagtail - A Close Encounter

I haven't visited Tai Po Kau as often lately, mainly due to the fact that Tai Lam Country Park had been getting more attention. I visited last week and was very lucky to encounter an extremely confiding Forest Wagtail, a species I've not had much luck encountering in recent years. It was so confiding that many joggers and hikers walked right past it and it hardly flinched! Forest Wagtails are regular but scarce passage migrant and rare winter visitor, this one being still present in December likely means it will overwinter in Hong Kong.

Forest Wagtail - Certainly one of the most intriguing Wagtail species on earth

Except for a calling Collared Owlet I saw nothing worthy of note at Tai Po Kau, other people had been getting good waves of warblers, but I somehow have missed. An Ashy Drongo during early morning and many flocks of Indochinese Yuhinas were about the only birds I managed to photograph.

Ashy Drongo - race leucogensis

Indochinese Yuhina

On 12th I guided Keoni Chong from Canada on a full day tour, we first visited Tai Lam where we saw one Brown Wood Owl at first light. Along the trail we added several Tristram's Buntings, as well as other common forest species.

Brown Wood Owl

Tristram's Bunting

Best species there were again Japanese Robins, which we saw up to two males at different locations! This had been an incredible year for this rare winter visitor. We enjoyed fairly good views of one of the male, at one point it perched out on an open log where it was feeding on termites! We also added a few Black Bulbuls on our way back.

Japanese Robin - male

Black Bulbul

Tai Sang Wai was not particularly interesting, but we did get good views of a few Black-faced Spoonbill feeding with a Eurasian Spoonbill.

Eurasian Spoonbill & Black-faced Spoonbill

There were still plenty of Little Buntings at Long Valley, some of which can be quite approachable. The biggest surprise was perhaps a single Yellow-browed Bunting, a rarer Bunting species that I haven't caught up with this year yet, so I was very pleased to tick this off my year list.

Little Bunting

Yellow-browed Bunting - a pleasant surprise

Siberian Stonechats are now everywhere, there must have been at least ten dotted around Long Valley. Red-throated Pipits are also very common at this time of the year. I scanned for Buff-bellied Pipits but found none.

Siberian Stonechat

Red-throated Pipit

The Eastern Water Rail continues to perform well, we had prolonged views of this usually shy species. It was busily feeding along the bank, including some water snails which it devoured whole. Finally to end our day, we caught up with one of the Chinese Penduline Tit, which is always a nice bird to see.

Eastern Water Rail

Chinese Penduline Tit

Tuesday 10 December 2019

Hong Kong Three Days Adventure - Birds & Friends

Back track two week before in Osaka, I was texting my good friend John Hansford, complaining about the lack of 'Japanese' birds during the trip, the supposedly common Japanese Wagtail was nowhere to be seen, while I didn't get a single call of my top target the Japenese Green Woodpecker...Japanese Robin, Japanese Waxwings...anything 'Japanese' will be nice! John on the other hand was getting excited about his visit to Hong Kong a week away. I was updating him on all the local birding news, and he was really hoping to see the long staying Japanese Night Heron.

John was in town as a stopover for his business trip, which allowed us a few days to meet up and get some birding done around Hong Kong. We have birded together in Hong Kong on two previous occasions, with Siberian Crane being the highlight of his last visit in 2016. That set a tough bar to beat, but I had planned a few locations where John had yet to visit in Hong Kong, hopefully to expand his Hong Kong bird list slightly...

Day 1:

I met him outside his hotel at 6am, having just landed the day before he was not in his best form, but I was hoping the birds and adrenaline will be enough to keep him awake for the next 18 hours or so! We also met up Kenneth who was able to join us for the first two days. Our first target species was the Japanese Night Heron that had stuck around! It was a cold but clear morning, we walked around the barbecue site looking for the heron and other birds. Both Red-flanked Bluetail and Blue Whistling Thrush showed pretty well, I soon caught sight of the heron but as soon as we found it the bird walked back into the thick undergrowth and out of sight!

Red-flanked Bluetail - certainly a very good year for them!

Blue Whistling Thrush - beautiful as always...

Luckily, after over 45 minutes of waiting in the cold, the heron reappeared slowly and started feeding out in the open once more! We spent quite some time marvelling this rarity up close. This is the longest staying individual that I know of, and I am glad John managed to get this usually elusive species onto his Hong Kong list.

Japanese Night Heron - long staying rarity putting on a show

We walked over to another barbecue site nearby hoping for other birds, other than a very confiding female Daurian Redstart, John spotted a female White-rumped Shama sitting in the open (somehow both Kenneth and I did not see it!). We also added Greater-necklaced Laughingthrush, which was a new bird for John.

Daurian Redstart - female

White-rumped Shama - a bird that completely caught me off guard!

Greater-necklaced Laughingthrush

Next we drove towards Mui Shui Hang Park. Plumbeous Redstart had always been on the wish list for John, but I've never been able to show him one during his previous visits. I kept a lookout of this species before his visit. Before we actually got around to our target bird, I spotted a juvenile male Grey Bushchat! A complete surprise and always a great bird to see, it was quite confiding and allowed us to get some good photos before it was chased away by a male Daurian Redstart. The female Plumbeous Redstart was at the usual location, and we were able to enjoy good views of it darting up and down the river.

Grey Bush Chat - another surprising find!

Plumbeous Redstart - female showed exceptionally well, but where's the male?

Other birds around the park includes numerous Yellow-browed and Pallas's Leaf Warblers. Kenneth saw two Grey Treepies which flew past but both John and I missed. A flock of extremely confiding Olive-backed Pipits provided a lot of fun, while a relatively showy Manchurian Bush Warbler gave good views in amongst the bushes.

Olive-backed Pipit - silly how confiding they were...

Manchurian Bush Warbler - a good view of this skulker

Wu Kau Tang was up next, here we saw the male Small Niltava which had been in the area for over a week! It was not particularly cooperative but we managed to get a good look before it disappeared back into the forest. Chestnut Bulbuls were everywhere, while John out of pure luck saw an Indochinese Green Magpie which flew across the footpath! All the while Kenneth and I were looking the other way! On our way out we only added a confiding male Daurian Redstart.

Small Niltava - not at all friendly...

Chestnut Bulbul

Daurian Redstart - extremely confiding individual

After that extremely productive morning, we stopped for a spot of lunch at Luk Keng. Birding in the area after lunch was not particularly productive, a flock of confiding Sooty-headed Bulbuls were about the only species of interest.

Sooty-headed Bulbul

For the afternoon we spent some time at Hok Tau and Lau Shui Heung. We added a good range of species at these two sites, including three White-bellied Epornis, Grey-chinned and Scarlet Minivets, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch etc. I saw a single Eastern Crowned Warbler but could not relocate it for the other guys.

White-bellied Epornis

Scarlet Minivet - female

The best bird at Hok Tau in my opinion was no doubt a Russet Bush Warbler which showed exceptionally well! While over at Lau Shui Heung we had a fly-by Japanese Sparrowhawk and one of the best bird in the afternoon being a Speckled Piculet! We were able to see it very well despite it being fairly high up.

Russet Bush Warbler - incredible views of this skulker

Speckled Piculet - A very fun bird to watch as always

After dropping off Kenneth, we rested back at my place before a lovely dinner at the Indian Restaurant nearby. Hoiling was free in the evening and we decided to get the moth trap going, of which we yielded a very good range of species, highlights includes two Eligma narcissus and a Stermorrhages species. The moth of the night was a moth we didn't recognise, turns out it was a Oruza glaucotorna! Quite likely a first record for Hong Kong!

Corgatha tornalis

Comostola meritaria

Genus Stemorrhages

Problepsis vulgaris

Eligma narcissus

Oruza glaucotorna - Moth of the night!

With mothing done, we drove to Ping Yeung to look for Savanna Nightjars before dropping John back at his hotel. We were in luck and had a single Nightjar, sitting quietly in front of the car. A little rest was needed after such a long day, so we decided to meet at 8am the next morning.

Savanna Nightjar - a great ending to our long day

Day 2:

Since John was booked in for Mai Po, we decided to bird in that general direction. After we bought some food from 7-Eleven at San Tin, we headed into San Tin fishponds. A cold front pushing through meant there was a bit of drizzle and strong winds, it didn't affect us and I was hoping this will bring in some interesting birds. A male Daurian Redstart was delightful to see up close, but three Common Starlings were way more interesting for me than for John! This winter visitor is by no means common in Hong Kong, I usually see single birds, so it was quite special to see three together.

Daurian Redstart - male

Common Starling & Silky Starling - a sight not at all common in Hong Kong

The long staying Black-necked Grebe was not where it was last reported, we however got good views of a few Black-faced Spoonbills and up to three Common Kestrels. Three Common Pochard including a good looking male was a nice addition to our day's list. We ended up with 70 species just at San Tin!

Black-faced Spoonbill

Common Kestrel - male

Common Pochard - male & female

Mai Po started off good with a very confiding Dusky Warbler which gave great views for John, a small flock of Chinese Grosbeak added a little bit of excitement! John only saw a single female at Shek Kong Airfield last time, so it was nice to see a male for change.

Dusky Warbler - it froze on the spot for over a minute!

Chinese Grosbeak - male

Kenneth found us the only Purple Heron of the day, and a few Chinese Penduline Tits showed well despite being a little far. A Yellow Bittern flew out of the reedbed but gave great views.

Purple Heron

Chinese Penduline Tit - female

Yellow Bittern - juvenile

Not much of note at pond 16/17, a very photogenic Common Kingfisher perched right in front of the bird hide, a single Eastern Marsh Harrier also flew by. We only added a few more waders before heading out again towards pond 23, here we had good but distant scope views of up to three Eastern Imperial Eagles and a single Greater Spotted Eagle.

Common Kingfisher

Eastern Marsh Harrier

Eastern Imperial Eagle - a very distant pair

A Black Stork was reported the day before, but since we haven't heard any news from other birders whole morning we thought it had gone. We arrived at pond 23 where the bird was last reported but only saw a flock of Black-faced Spoonbill. I was about to pack my stuff but decided the pond was worth one last scan, and as if out of nowhere I spotted a large dark bird standing at the far corner of the pond! How did we not see it before that moment I do not know, but we enjoyed excellent views of it before it flew off with a flock of Eastern Spot-billed Duck.

Black-faced Spoonbill

Black Stork - just when we were giving up!

Black Stork & Chinese Spot-billed Duck

After the success at Mai Po, we gave Tai Sang Wai a try in the dimming lights. Here we found a single Eurasian Spoonbill, the drizzle also brought in a large numbers of swallow and swifts, there were actually more Red-rumped Swallows than Barn Swallows! We were also able to pick out a few Himalayan Swiftlets in amongst the House Swifts, we enjoyed excellent views of this rare bird in Hong Kong. A Peregrine even came in and snatched a swallow out of the sky in the dimming lights! An odd looking Pipit gave an impression of a Blyth's Pipit with very well marked mantle and crown, it also looked smaller than usual Richard's Pipit, although in the end we decided it was more likely to be a Richard's Pipit of the smaller south China race sinensis.

Eurasian Spoonbill

Red-rumped Swallow

Himalayan Swiftlet

Richard's Pipit - an odd looking individual which might be race sinensis?

Day 3:

We started early again, hoping to start with the Brown Wood Owl at Tai Lam Country Park. It was very windy and still drizzling when we arrived. When we arrived at the location there were a few birders waiting for the owl, after waiting for a little while and looking hard into all the possible roosting spots, we concluded that it just didn't want to show. The weather may have something to do with it, as I imagine the owls probably had a rough night hunting in that strong wind. After that disappointing start we pushed on, a few Red-billed Leiothrix and many Indochinese Yuhinas were nice additions.

Red-billed Leiothrix - also known as 'Pekin Robin'

Indochinese Yuhina

A few Tristram's Bunting gave us a hard time, but we finally managed to get a good look at them after a bit of effort. Same had to be said of the Asian Stubtail, which we heard throughout the trail but only one decided to let us see properly.

Tristram's Bunting

Asian Stubtail

A few Black Bulbuls were seen, making their signature goat like call. We encountered a larger bird wave along the trail, although mostly consisting of common species, we did have good views of Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Blue-winged Minla and Yellow-cheeked Tit, a single Verditer Flycatcher made a quick appearance, but it was gone before I could get a record shot.

Black Bulbul - a fairly good year for them

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Blue-winged Minla

Yellow-cheeked Tit - male

Since we saw the Japanese Night Heron on our first day, I was saying to John how nice it will be to get a few more birds with names that starts with 'Japanese', namely Japanese Robin and Japanese Waxwings...On our way back to the car I heard a song of a robin, it was similar to the Rufous-tailed Robin but slightly different. I dug up the call of Japanese Robin from my phone just to check, to my surprise two birds flew up from the undergrowth, seemingly interested in the call! Before we knew it, an adult male Japanese Robin perched on an open branch in full view! Another one was perched higher up in the tree, it was there for over a minute before the male decided to chase after the other bird and out of sight! Japanese Robin had been on my most wanted list in Hong Kong for years, how marvellous it was that I got to share this lifer with a good friend!

Japanese Robin - a long awaited lifer for 20 years!

After that incredible run at Tai Lam, we had a quick lunch near Shek Kong and headed to Shek Kong Airfield Road. There weren't a lot of birds around, Chinese Blackbirds showed quite well but there were no Grosbeaks or Common Rosefinches to be seen!

Chinese Blackbird

John had always stated Long Valley to be his favourite birding spot in Hong Kong, therefore I made this our final stop of our three day journey, hoping we will end on a high note there. A White-throated Kingfisher along the river was a welcoming sign, although I could not locate any Citrine Wagtail amongst a large flock of Eastern Yellow Wagtails.

White-throated Kingfisher

There were still plenty of Buntings around the paddies, including at least a dozen Little Buntings, some of which were extremely confiding! Black-faced Buntings were in no short supply, and we had one perched on a wire right before us in perfect light. There were a few Chestnut-eared Buntings, although none of which were particularly friendly. I only saw a single Yellow-breasted Bunting which didn't show very well.

Little Bunting - one of many at Long Valley

Black-faced Bunting

Chestnut-eared Bunting - male

A pair of Plaintive Cuckoos feeding in an Okra field were more than happy to show off, both the hepatic morph female and the male were extremely confiding and allowed excellent views.

Plaintive Cuckoo - male & female

Greater Painted Snipes at Long Valley had been slightly elusive of late, but I was extremely pleased to found three coming out to the edge to feed on a well vegetated pond, they showed exceptionally well, allowing us to observe the plumage difference in male and female. John even found an Eastern Water Rail skulking around, which eventually came right out in the open for us to get a good view!

Greater Painted Snipe - excellent views of the trio

Eastern Water Rail - another great find by John

One final look around the paddy fields before sunset gave us the best Bunting of the day in form of a female Rustic Bunting, a rare Bunting normally but this had been an exceptionally good year for them! And this was perhaps the most perfect end to our three days adventure we could have ever hoped for.

Rustic Bunting - the most perfect ending at Long Valley

Over dinner we were still savouring all the incredible birds we saw together, the bird list we had sounded like something from a fairy tale! This was easily the best three days of birding I've had in Hong Kong in recent memories. We ended up with 166 species on our combined list, but it was not just the quantity but the quality of birds we had! With incredible species such as Japanese Night Heron, Small Niltava, Black Stork, Japanese Robin...and a supporting cast of Indochinese Green Magpie, Speckled Piculet, Grey Bush Chat, Russet Bush Warbler, Chinese Grosbeak, Himalayan Swiftlet, Rustic Buntings and so much more! Most of all to be able to meet a good friend from the other side of the world and to be able to share so much good memories together is priceless. I am sure we will meet again quite soon, hopefully next time it will be my turn to be the visitor!

Full Bird List:

  1. Garganey
  2. Northern Shoveler
  3. Eurasian Wigeon
  4. Chinese Spot-billed Duck
  5. Northern Pintail
  6. Eurasian Teal
  7. Common Pochard - 3 birds at San Tin
  8. Tufted Duck
  9. Little Grebe
  10. Great Crested Grebe - 1 bird at San Tin
  11. Feral Pigeon
  12. Oriental Turtle Dove
  13. Eurasian Collared Dove
  14. Spotted Dove
  15. Greater Coucal
  16. Asian Koel
  17. Plaintive Cuckoo - male and female at Long Valley
  18. Savanna Nightjar - 1 seen well at Ping Yeung
  19. Himalayan Swiftlet - 1 seen at San Tin, another 2 seen at Tai Sang Wai
  20. House Swift
  21. Brown-cheeked Rail - Good views at Long Valley
  22. Common Moorhen
  23. Eurasian Coot
  24. White-breasted Waterhen
  25. Black-winged Stilt
  26. Pied Avocet
  27. Grey Plover
  28. Grey-headed Lapwing - 2 birds at Nam Sang Wai
  29. Little Ringed Plover
  30. Greater Painted-Snipe - Incredibly good views of 3 birds at Long Valley
  31. Far Eastern Curlew - single bird in amongst Eurasian Curlews
  32. Eurasian Curlew
  33. Black-tailed Godwit 
  34. Common Snipe
  35. Common Sandpiper
  36. Green Sandpiper
  37. Spotted Redshank
  38. Common Greenshank
  39. Marsh Sandpiper
  40. Wood Sandpiper 
  41. Common Redshank
  42. Black-headed Gull 
  43. Whiskered Tern - a juvenile and an adult at San Tin
  44. Black Stork - one at Mai Po pond 23!
  45. Great Cormorant 
  46. Yellow Bittern - one at Mai Po
  47. Grey Heron 
  48. Great White Egret
  49. Intermediate Egret
  50. Little Egret
  51. Eastern Cattle Egret
  52. Chinese Pond Heron 
  53. Black-crowned Night-Heron 
  54. Japanese Night-Heron - long staying rarity at Sai Kung
  55. Eurasian Spoonbill - one bird at Mai Po, another at Tai Sang Wai
  56. Black-faced Spoonbill
  57. Osprey
  58. Greater Spotted Eagle - 1 adult perched at Mai Po
  59. Eastern Imperial Eagle - 2 adults and a juvenile seen at Mai Po
  60. Eastern Marsh Harrier - 2 birds at Mai Po
  61. Crested Goshawk
  62. Japanese Sparrowhawk - 1 seen at Lau Shui Heung
  63. Black Kite (Black-eared)
  64. Eastern Buzzard
  65. Common Kingfisher
  66. White-throated Kingfisher
  67. Pied Kingfisher
  68. Speckled Piculet - 1 seen at Lau Shui Heung
  69. Common Kestrel
  70. Peregrine Falcon
  71. Grey-chinned Minivet
  72. Scarlet Minivet
  73. Black-winged Cuckooshrike
  74. White-bellied Erpornis
  75. Black Drongo
  76. Ashy Drongo
  77. Long-tailed Shrike (schach)
  78. Azure-winged Magpie
  79. Red-billed Blue-Magpie
  80. Indochinese Green-Magpie - John got great views at Wu Kau Tang!
  81. Grey Treepie - Kenneth saw 2 birds at Mui Shui Hang Park
  82. Oriental Magpie
  83. Large-billed Crow
  84. Collared Crow
  85. Cinereous Tit
  86. Yellow-cheeked Tit
  87. Chinese Penduline Tit - quite a few at Mai Po reed beds
  88. Common Tailorbird
  89. Yellow-bellied Prinia
  90. Plain Prinia
  91. Zitting Cisticola
  92. Black-browed Reed Warbler
  93. Russet Bush Warbler - incredible views at Hok Tau
  94. Barn Swallow
  95. Red-rumped Swallow 
  96. Red-whiskered Bulbul 
  97. Chinese Bulbul 
  98. Sooty-headed Bulbul 
  99. Black Bulbul - a few at Tai Lam Country Park
  100. Chestnut Bulbul
  101. Mountain Bulbul 
  102. Yellow-browed Warbler 
  103. Pallas's Warbler 
  104. Radde's Warbler - 1 bird seen briefly at Tai Lam Country Park
  105. Dusky Warbler 
  106. Eastern Crowned Warbler - 1 bird seen at Hok Tau
  107. Asian Stubtail
  108. Mountain Tailorbird 
  109. Manchurian Bush Warbler - 1 bird at Mui Shui Hang Park.
  110. Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler
  111. Indochinese Yuhina 
  112. Swinhoe's White-eye 
  113. Rufous-capped Babbler 
  114. Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler 
  115. Masked Laughingthrush 
  116. Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush
  117. Black-throated Laughingthrush 
  118. Silver-eared Mesia 
  119. Red-billed Leiothrix 
  120. Blue-winged Minla 
  121. Velvet-fronted Nuthatch 
  122. Common Starling - up to 3 birds at San Tin
  123. Black-collared Starling 
  124. White-shouldered Starling 
  125. Red-billed Starling 
  126. White-cheeked Starling 
  127. Common Myna 
  128. Crested Myna 
  129. White's Thrush - single bird fly by at Tai Lam Country Park
  130. Chinese Blackbird 
  131. Japanese Thrush 
  132. Grey-backed Thrush 
  133. Asian Brown Flycatcher 
  134. Oriental Magpie-Robin 
  135. White-rumped Shama - female at Sai Kung
  136. Small Niltava - male at Wu Kau Tang
  137. Verditer Flycatcher - male at Tai Lam Country Park
  138. Lesser Shortwing 
  139. Japanese Robin - 2 birds! One incredibly beautiful male!
  140. Blue Whistling-Thrush
  141. Red-flanked Bluetail - very numerous this year
  142. Mugimaki Flycatcher - seen briefly by me and Kenneth at Lau Shui Heung
  143. Taiga Flycatcher
  144. Plumbeous Redstart - female showed very well at Mui Shui Hang Park
  145. Daurian Redstart 
  146. Siberian Stonechat (Stejneger's) 
  147. Grey Bushchat - a juvenile male surprised us at Mui Shui Hang Park!
  148. Fire-breasted Flowerpecker 
  149. Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker 
  150. Fork-tailed Sunbird
  151. White-rumped Munia 
  152. Scaly-breasted Munia
  153. Eurasian Tree Sparrow
  154. Grey Wagtail
  155. Eastern Yellow Wagtail (taivana & macronyx) 
  156. White Wagtail (leucopsis & ocularis) 
  157. Richard's Pipit 
  158. Olive-backed Pipit 
  159. Red-throated Pipit 
  160. Yellow-billed Grosbeak - a small flock at Mai Po
  161. Chestnut-eared Bunting 
  162. Yellow-breasted Bunting - only one female seen at Long Valley
  163. Little Bunting 
  164. Rustic Bunting - 1 female at Long Valley
  165. Black-faced Bunting 
  166. Tristram's Bunting - a few at Tai Lam Country Park