Friday 28 February 2020

Late Winter Cyornis - Hill Blue Flycatcher

Despite the presence of both Bianchi's and White-spectacled Warblers at Tai Po Kau, I haven't had much luck with them (as usual). However, a reported male Hill Blue Flycatcher caught my attention, and I successfully connected with this rarity. We get the odd Hill Blue Flycatcher during winter every so often, my last encounter was the tamed one at King's Park in 2016, this one was very much 'wild', as it flew around actively and was quite shy. It often announce its presence with the 'tack-tack' call and a short song phrase. I managed a decent record in the end after trying the whole morning.

Hill Blue Flycatcher - male

The continued presence of the numerous Mrs. Gould's Sunbirds at Tai Po Kau is such a welcoming sight, the single adult male is the main attraction here as always, where it continues to attract dozens of photographers on a daily basis. Along with the females and juvenile males I counted no less than six birds on my last visit.

Mrs. Gould's Sunbird - male

Mrs. Gould's Sunbird - female

It is also nice to catchup with some common resident species at Tai Po Kau, including Scarlet Minivets and Grey-chinned Minivets, which came very close in a bird wave on my visit.

Scarlet Minivet - male

Grey-chinned Minivet - female

A pair of Crested Serpent Eagle drifted past as I made my way back to the car park, it was an adult closely followed by a young bird, breeding habits of Crested Serpent Eagles are surprisingly not well known in Hong Kong despite their abundance, nests are rarely found. In a Taiwan study, nesting usually starts around late winter, where juveniles can stay in nest for up to two months. This young bird is likely to be of last year's brood.

Crested Serpent Eagle - adult

Crested Serpent Eagle - juvenile

I also visited Long Valley recently, as a Red-headed Bunting was reported. I saw a probable female earlier in the month along with a male Black-headed Bunting, and this female somehow confirmed my suspicion, it was nice to get a good look at this confirmed bird. There was also a female Rustic Bunting present, either a wintering individual or a very early migrant.

Red-headed Bunting - female

Rustic Bunting - female

Monday 17 February 2020

2019 Birding Review - Top 10

This annual birding review was late due to our Australia trip, but it is one that must be done! Especially that 2019 was a very very good year for birds. There were a lot of really memorable species and some long awaited rarities. Here are ten of the best species I saw in 2019. My year list was 320 species, my highest year count in the last couple of years. I do look forward to more exciting new and rare birds in 2020.

1. Glossy Ibis

No Ibis had been recorded in Hong Kong since late 90s, since the Oriental White Ibis is now practically extinct in the region, the chances for another ibis in Hong Kong seemed slimmer than ever. Unexpectedly, a pair of these beautiful Glossy Ibis paid us a visit and decided to stay in town for a while for everyone to enjoy! The duo first landed at Mai Po briefly but later relocated at Long Valley, finally settling at Tai Sang Wai. This was no doubt the most exciting and most twitched bird in Hong Kong this year.

2. Fire-capped Tit

Always expect the unexpected in birding, and a Fire-capped Tit which turned up at Kadorie Farm in January last year was probably one of the least expected vagrant in Hong Kong. This little guy found a nice plum blossom and fed on the buds for a few days, allowing most birders to tick this incredible bird off their Hong Kong list. Let's hope we get a male next time!

3. Wood Warbler

This dainty warbler was found on Po Toi island during spring migration, a mega rarity that is way out of its usual range, with very few records from southern China, this Wood Warbler somehow found itself on the most southerly island in Hong Kong!

4. Japanese Night Heron

Around the end of November a Japanese Night Heron was found feeding on the lawns at a barbecue site at Sai Kung. They are not only rare in Hong Kong, but is a rare and elusive species throughout its range, including Japan where they breed. We are very blessed to be one of the very few places where this species do passage through. This young bird showed exceedingly well for prolonged period of time throughout December.

5. Sooty Tern

A very long awaited bird on my Hong Kong list, this rare tern turned up at the tern colony and stayed there just long enough for interested birders to check this off their list. We had wonderful views of this bird up close as well as a cast of various terns around the colony which made it an especially great day out!

6. Black Stork

One of those birding stories that you will remember for the rest of your life, especially great I got to share this great bird with good friend John Hansford from the UK who visited in December. We knew a Black Stork had been spotted the day before, but we saw no bird on site when we arrived, waited a while and nothing happened, just as we were about to leave I suddenly saw this bird just standing there in front of us, turns out it was just hiding in the tall grass!

7. Japanese Robin

Tai Lam Country Park became one of my favourite birding spot late last year, and this was one of those species that totally blew my mind! A very very long awaited lifer and one of my boogie bird, seeing a male in full view for over a minute was not an everyday thing! Having not seen any for many years, I saw over three individuals within a month!

8. Red-backed Shrike

Another one of those really long awaited lifers, having missed the last few records in Hong Kong, I have been waiting for one to turn up somewhere. In late September one finally dropped into Long Valley! It showed exceedingly well and wasn't shy at all.

9. Collared Owlet

We have anticipated this species to spread to Hong Kong, and I was lucky enough to find this very vocal individual at Tai Po Kau being mobbed by other birds. This newest addition to our local owls was exciting news that our forest continues to mature and more welcoming for these long lost species.

10. Brown Wood Owl

Last but not least, one of the most heart stopping moment in 2019, when I came face to face with this Brown Wood Owl at close range at Tai Lam Country Park. It turns out there were more than one bird there and other birders soon found another one, making them a likely breeding pair! I hope they continue to do well there in years to come.

Monday 10 February 2020

Winter Regulars & Rarities

Winter is a time for our regular wintering species, but occasionally we do get a surprise or two. A Blue-fronted Redstart was reported at Ngong Ping on the local birders whatsapp group, apparently someone first saw this bird sometime in January but didn't say anything about it until now. Either way this handsome male attracted attention of twitchers, birders and photographers during the weekend. It was not a shy bird, regularly perched very close to people. This is potentially a first for Hong Kong, and any first record will no doubt be scrutinised for possibilities as an ex-captive bird. Although this bird look to be in pretty good shape at first glance, some photos had shown unusual moulting pattern on the tertiaries and primaries...

Blue-fronted Redstart - male

That being said, I saw a female Daurian Redstart in much worst shape than the male Blue-fronted Redstart. Either way, the Blue-fronted Redstart was sure a fun bird to see even if this doesn't become a first for Hong Kong.

Daurian Redstart - female that was very scruffy...

Blue-fronted Redstart - male

Tai Po Kau had also been under the spotlight recently with at least five Mrs. Gould's Sunbirds coming to the flowering coral trees. This species is becoming more and more regular during winter, and this year there was a clear eruption of records throughout Hong Kong, with several more reported elsewhere. The adult male was the star of the show, on the day I visited there were no less than a hundred photographers all around the coral tree, trying to get a photo of this magnificent looking bird.

Mrs. Gould's Sunbird - adult male

It's impossible for the adult male to not be flashy...There were also a few immature males which shows a variable degree of moulting, including this bird with long blue tail feathers and patches of red on its shoulder.

Mrs. Gould's Sunbird - immature male

There was at least one female around, their greyish heads and lack of eye-rings are good features to tell them apart from female Fork-tailed Sunbirds. With all the Mrs. Gould's Sunbird around, I am sure the male Fork-tailed Sunbirds feels slightly left-out, so here's my take on a beautiful male.

Mrs. Gould's Sunbird - female

Fork-tailed Sunbird - male

The male Blue-winged Leafbird is surprisingly doing pretty well and still around. I started seeing this individual around 2014, it usually disappear throughout the year and reemerge when the coral tree is flowering.

Blue-winged Leafbird - male

I also visited Shing Mun Reservoir which yielded a female Small Niltava, it showed fairly well with a little patience. This scarce winter visitor is also becoming more and more regular in recent years and this year had also been quite a good year for them, I do hope that one day they will become a breeding species in Hong Kong.

Small Niltava - female

Red-flanked Bluetail is also having an exceptional year, whereas some years we hardly see any, this year you can hardly go anywhere without seeing at least one or two.

Red-flanked Bluetail - female

Another regular late winter visitor to Hong Kong is the Common Rosefinch, you are almost guarantee to see a few at Shek Kong Airfield from January to February. I saw two small flocks on the day I visited, with several nice looking males.

Common Rosefinch - male

Lau Shui Heung had been quite good of late, Hoiling and I visited during the week and had a very active Speckled Piculet which drummed very loudly next to the campsite. We later found it pecking and I think feeding on ants along a branch. It still amazes me how this species had took off in Hong Kong and now becoming quite common throughout New Territories.

Speckled Piculet - increasingly common in forests of Hong Kong

One of the most sought after wintering species in Hong Kong is the very colourful Fujian Niltava, we get small numbers wintering in Hong Kong every year, but seeing them is not always easy. There was a very nice looking first winter male at Lau Shui Heung which showed very well.

Fujian Niltava - a lovely looking bird

There were plenty of warblers at Lau Shui Heung, including a lot of Pallas's Leaf Warblers, this very common winter visitor are always fun to watch as they hover over plants to pick off insects on the leafs. Eastern Crowned Warbler used to be more of a passage migrant in Hong Kong, but in recent years had been wintering more and more regularly, at Lau Shui Heung I had a very cooperative individual which showed extremely well as it devoured a spider on an open branch. A more regular wintering warbler is the Two-barred Warbler, which I saw one at Lau Shui Heung as well.

Pallas's Leaf Warbler

Two-barred Warbler

Amongst the big flocks of warbler we saw a single Chestnut-crowned Warbler, a rare but regular winter visitor that is always a delight to see. There were also quite a few Rufous-faced Warbler around, of which we've been having an influx this year. These two species are perhaps amongst the prettiest warblers in Hong Kong.

Chestnut-crowned Warbler - a pretty warbler that will put a smile on any birder's face

Rufous-faced Warbler - a good year for this rarity

Thanks to Roman who brought to light a Kloss's Leaf Warbler in amongst the flock. This species looks superficially similar to fukiensis Hartert's Leaf Warblers, also quite pale underneath, but it forages in a completely different way, whereas Hartert's are known for their nuthatch-like behaviour, Kloss's doesn't seem to do that and forages in a more traditional warbler manner. Despite all these, it's still safer to distinguish these similar species by song or call. On the three separate visits I made I only got one decent photo, but had a pretty good look and heard the diagnostic song and call.

Kloss's Leaf Warbler - rarest of the bunch...