Thursday 24 December 2020

Christmas Rarity - Eurasian Oystercatcher

This year had been exceptional for rarities, and one of the most long awaited rarity that turned up is an Eurasian Oystercatcher, this is only the 3rd record in Hong Kong that I am aware of, of which I missed both previous times. This bird was actively feeding along the mudflat looking for razor clams. Despite being quite common in Europe, Eurasian Oystercatcher is not that common along the coast of Southern China, naturally limiting to the coast of Fujian, they very rarely venture as far south as South East Asia. All previous records in Hong Kong had been from Deep Bay area, and this one was no exception.

Eurasian Oystercatcher

Nobody really knows why this species is not recorded in Hong Kong more often, as they are unlikely to be overlooked, their large size and conspicuous plumage means they don't really blend in well with other waders. Either way, this was a very special bird that is certainly one of my favourite Hong Kong ticks this year.

Eurasian Oystercatcher - inflight

Around the same area Western Ospreys can often be seen, patrolling the coast for fish, occasionally flying quite close to the shore. Despite being quite common, they are by no means boring birds to look at.

Western Osprey

I haven't been birding that much of late, but other notable bird sightings were a male Siberian Rubythroat near Tai Lam Ecological Garden, like any other Rubythroats I have seen it was quite shy, but showed long enough for a record photo. At Lam Tsuen I was greeted by a flock of Asian House Martins, I haven't seen much of them this year, so I am glad to get them on my year list.

Siberian Rubythroat - male

Asian House Martin

Hoiling and I finally got around to visit a wintering butterfly roost at Tai Lam, and it was quite the spectacle, with over thousands of butterflies clinging onto trees and flying around. The exact reason for this spectacular congregation is still not known, but it is likely that by staying together they are safe from predation (although many butterfly species of Danainae are poisonous anyway). It is also incredible to think that these butterflies goes through 4 - 5 generations per year, how they find their way back to the exact location each year is mystifying to me.

Wintering butterfly roost

Most of the wintering species are Blue Spotted Crow (Euploea midamus) and Common Indian Crow (Euploea core), but there were other butterfly species present at the site, including numerous Grey Pansy (Junonia atlites) and Mottled Emigrant (Catopsilia pyranthe). 

Grey Pansy - Junonia atlites

Mottled Emigrant - Catopsilia pyranthe

Other Danainae species includes Plain Tiger (Danaus chrysippus), Glassy Tiger (Parantica aglea) and Blue Tiger (Tirumala limniance), none of these species rare, but seeing them in good numbers was still pleasing.

Glassy Tiger - Parantica aglea

Blue Tiger - Tirumala limniance

Plain Tiger - danaus chrysippus

The species that out numbered everything else was no doubt Blue Spotted Crow (Euploea midamus), although a common species in Hong Kong, you are unlikely to see so many in one place as you will at a wintering roost, they are not bad looking butterflies either, although they may look dark brown from afar, in the right lighting they are iridescent blue!

Blue Spotted Crow - Euploea midamus

Nature never seize to amaze us, and mimicry in nature is always something that fascinated me. How can one species evolve to look so much like another? Here is a butterfly that at first glance you may think look very much like another Blue Spotted Crow, when in fact it is a Great Egg Fly (Hypolimnas bolina), which actually belongs to a whole different family altogether!

Great Egg Fly - Hypolimnas bolina

Thursday 17 December 2020

Shrike Three! - 3rd Grey-backed Shrike in Hong Kong

Grey-backed Shrike is quite the rarity in Hong Kong, having only been recorded once in 2015. News of another adult Grey-backed Shrike surfaced not too long ago, unfortunately the bird was within the compound of Kadorie Farm, which is closed off to visitors at the moment. This was only the 2nd record for Hong Kong and one that many birders would love to see. To our delight, John Allcock found another 1st winter bird in Lam Tsuen, where the bird was stable and showed fairly well. Most birders were able to enjoy prolonged views of this wonderful vagrant.

Grey-backed Shrike - 1st winter

Being a 1st winter shrike, you can imagine identification to be tricky and not straight forward. This was absolutely the case for this bird, as most birders including me could have easily put it down as a Brown Shrike and moved on. There are a few differences to look out for, 1st winter Grey-backed Shrike should show the following features:

1. Heavier bill
2. Longer tail
3. Greyer mantle
4. Ear patch browner
5. Heavily marked breast

Grey-backed Shrike - 1st winter

For comparison, here is a photo I took of a 1st winter Brown Shrike a few days prior at Long Valley, although the tail length is blocked by the branch, features you can see here are:

1. Very warm toned mantle
2. Ear patch darker
3. Breast lightly marked

Brown Shrike - 1st winter

Other interesting observations at Long Valley includes a Javan Mongoose strolling along the river, I have not seen one of these for a while, it is always a thrill to see a mammal in Hong Kong. Most Buntings have left by now, leaving mainly Sparrows and Munias behind, the White-headed Munias are still in good numbers, I have a feeling they are here to stay...

Javan Mongoose

White-headed Munia

Shek Kong area had been fairly productive for some, I didn't really encounter anything too interesting, although a very large flock of Minivets was an absolutely joy to behold, most of them were feeding at eye-levels at extremely close range. Velvet-fronted Nuthatches were in no short supply, while Crested Goshawk is always a thrill to see up close.

Grey-chinned Minivet - female

Grey-chinned Minivet - male

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Crested Goshawk

I was expecting to find Common Rosefinch or Yellow-billed Grosbeaks at Shek Kong Airport Road, despite the cooler weather they seem to be missing. I did however managed a very confiding Asian Brown Flycatcher and a lot of Hair-crested Drongos,

Asian Brown Flycatcher

Hair-crested Drongo

Things at Mai Po were slightly better, the best bird of late being a male Baikal Teal in full plumage, although it was only seen on one day and not relocated, an eclipse male was found in the scrapes and remained there for quite a few days. I have not seen this species for many years now, so it was nice to catch up with them again. The pair of Greater White-fronted Geese were exactly where I last left them, still grazing along the buffalo field.

Baikal Teal - eclipse male

Greater White-fronted Geese

You often see Eastern Imperial and Greater Spotted Eagles in Mai Po during winter months, although you are unlikely going to get good photos of them every single time. Eastern Buzzards were in very good numbers, saw no less than four around the reserve.

Greater Spotted Eagle

Eastern Buzzard

Other notable birds includes a fairly confiding Yellow Bittern, which showed very well. Black-faced Buntings were in good numbers and many were feeding along the access road. I also saw what I believe to be a Common Reed Bunting briefly along the reed bed at 8a, but views were rather brief, but it did look much warmer toned than Pallas's Reed Bunting.

Yellow Bittern
Black-faced Bunting

Tai Po Kau had been excellent for warblers, despite the fact that I missed the White-spectacled Warblers seen there by other birders, a good range of warblers have been consistently showing well. The numbers of Hartert's Leaf Warblers seems to be an all time high, with both goodsoni and fokiensis. Sulphur-breasted Warblers are in no short supply lately, at least three were seen in the bird wave.

Hartert's Leaf Warbler - goosoni

Sulphur-breasted Warbler

At least two Kloss's Leaf Warblers had been spotted amongst the warblers in the bird waves, good thing they were calling, or else I think it would have been difficult to determine their identity, as they look superficially similar to fokiensis Hartert's Leaf Warblers. Although another good indication is a good look at their undertail pattern, where Kloss's shows a much thicker pale inner edge of their tail feather, and Hartert's inner edge are often much thinner, as demonstrated by the photos below.
Kloss's Leaf Warbler

Kloss's Leaf Warbler - undertail pattern

Hartert's Leaf Warbler - undertail pattern

It felt as though there were more Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers than usual, there were at least five individuals around Tai Po Kau, and I have seen a few elsewhere as well.

Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher

The best thing I found on Tai Po Kau however was not a bird, but a beautiful Red Mountain Racer! This absolute stunner is my dream snake of Hong Kong and a rare species that is not that often seen. Unlike most snakes, this species tends to be active in cooler weather. Having been looking for one of these for many years, this was a dream come true! It was a very gentle and cooperative snake, although gutted by the fact that I did not have the proper camera gear to take good photos, the photos I took with my phone was sufficient to demonstrate just how beautiful it was.

Red Mountain Racer