Sunday 29 March 2020

Local Patching : Spring Migration in Action

In the midst of this covid-19 mess (which I usually stick to the name Wuhan Virus), I have been trying to avoid crowds or going into the city as much as possible. Hong Kong had so far been saved from the worst of the virus, but its better to be vigilant...Hong Kong being Hong Kong, even birding hotspots can get crowded on weekdays nowadays, so it seems going out birding at my local patch is a much safer option. With proper spring migration underway, now is the perfect time to catch migrants in action. At Tai Mei Tuk Catchment where I previously rarely ventured, I got a good mix of birds, the best was a brilliant looking male Narcissus Flycatcher, which showed fairly well for me, busily looking for food.

Narcissus Flycatcher - male

Another new arrival was a very vocal Hainan Blue Flycatcher, I am not sure whether this one is just passing through or it will stay on to breed in Hong Kong, but they are certainly a welcoming sight. A pair of Black-winged Cuckooshrikes were also seen in a flock of bulbuls.

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - male

Black-winged Cuckooshrike

A female Black-naped Monarch was also seen, at first nearly had me mistaken it for an Amur Paradise Flycatcher in the terrible light, it finally came into good view and revealed its true identity. The monarch was seen together with White-bellied Epornis.

Black-naped Monarch - female

White-bellied Epornis

Its that time of the year where you have check the sky often for migrating raptors, and I successfully connected with two Grey-faced Buzzards in two consecutive days, a Besra was also seen among the many Black Kites.

Grey-faced Buzzard


I also had a delightful encounter with a Speckled Piculet at close range, this species is usually associated with bird waves, but this little guy was found on its own, perhaps also practicing social distancing...

Speckled Piculet - it was just 2m away!

Even closer to home, I found a Pale-legged type warbler, luckily for me it called a few times, confirming its identity as Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, no doubt on its way northwards to its breeding grounds.

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler - a hungry migrant

A visit up Plover Cove Dam yielded very little except for a nice looking male Blue Rock Thrush of race philippensis.

Blue Rock Thrush - male

Nocturnal birds are also very active at this time of the year, at Wu Kau Tang I spotted a nice Collared Scops Owl which gave good views. On the same evening I also heard Brown Fish Owl calling, although it remained out of sight. Other nocturnal birds actively calling in our neighbourhood includes Slaty-legged Crake, Large Hawk Cuckoo and Savanna Nightjars.

Collared Scops Owl

Even when there are no birds around home, there are lots of butterflies to look at, especially a small dam at our local stream where butterflies come to drink water. The most common species being Common Mormons. Other large black butterflies includes Spangled, Chinese Peacock and Paris Peacock.

Common Mormon - Papilio polytes

Spangle - papilio protenor

Chinese Peacock - Papilio bianor

Paris Peacock - Papilio paris

Common Bluebottle is also a regular visitor, the less common Five-barred Swordtail came through but without stopping, leaving me without a photo. One of my favourite butterfly the Common Mapwing usually allow close approach. The Common Archduke was considered rare a few years ago, but is now extremely common and can be seen in most forested areas.

Common Bluebottle - Graphium sarpedon

Common Mapwing - Cyrestis thyodamas

Common Archduke - Lexias pardalis

Lots of small Blues were seen, most of these tiny butterflies look alike. The most common being the Long-tailed Blue, but two other less common species includes Plain Hedge Blue and Tailless Line Blue.

Long-tailed Blue - Lampides boeticus

Plain Hedge Blue - Celastrina lavendularis

Tailless Line Blue - Prosotas dubiosa

Friday 20 March 2020

Mid March : Winter to Spring

March is around the time of the year when you truly get a sense of transition from winter to spring, you still get the odd winter visitor lingering on, but you also start getting some movements of birds and spring migrants arriving. A flock of over 20 Eurasian Siskins were reported earlier in the month at Shek Kong Catchment. This is not a rarity in Hong Kong but they are not exactly common either, we only get small numbers of these each year, so it is always worth a look when they are around. They were not difficult to find feeding on the Horsetail Trees, but they were just too far away for me to get any decent photo of.

Eurasian Siskin - male

Other than birds, adult Hong Kong Newts had finished with their breeding season and now is the best time to find the newly hatched tadpoles, unlike frog tadpoles, newt tadpoles develop arms and legs fairly early on and also have external gills, they are surely some of the cutest creatures you can find in the streams, each of them measuring at just 2cm long. Once the tadpoles are big enough they will lose their gills and start a terrestrial stage of their lifecycle, before maturing enough to go back into the water to breed.

Hong Kong Newt - tadpole

We get most Golden-headed Cisticolas during winter, a few do linger till spring but there have been no breeding record of this species in Hong Kong that I know of. An adult moulting into breeding plumage had been spotted lately at Tam Kon Chau, finding it wasn't particularly difficult, you just follow the wheezy song and quite likely it will be perched on the top of a blade of grass. It is not in full breeding plumage yet, but its tail is shorter and a bright tuft had started replacing the dark cap of winter plumage.

Golden-headed Cisticola - moulting into breeding plumage

Nearby another Cisticola also made the wheezy call, a 'tailless' individual hopped out into the open nearby, its neck wasn't as dark as I would expect on a Golden-headed Cisticola, but its call was certainly unmistakable. This one is likely just moulting out of the non-breeding plumage and the bright cap will soon be showing.

Golden-headed Cisticola - moulting

A Zitting Cisticola was nearby to provide a good comparison of the two species, with paler supercilium and overall brighter plumage.

Zitting Cisticola

Both species of Prinias are now actively singing out in the open, these usually shy birds can become quite bold in breeding season, perching up on trees or wires to sing, often at very close range.

Plain Prinia

Yellow-bellied Prinia

At Tai Sang Wai, a few Black-faced Buntings were feeding by the roadside, while Red-throated Pipits are now transforming into their breeding plumage with pinkish face and throat.

Black-faced Bunting - male

Red-throated Pipit - breeding plumage

Waterbirds also undergo dramatic transformation during this time, such as the usually dull looking Eastern Cattle Egret which moult into a handsome creature with orange head and chest. The Great Cormorant as well develops white neck which contrasts nicely with its dark plumage.

Eastern Cattle Egret - breeding plumage

Great Cormorant - breeding plumage

Barn Swallows are now returning in good numbers, while flocks of Oriental Pratincoles arrived once again to take a break on various dried fish ponds on their northward migration.

Barn Swallow

Oriental Pratincole

Spring is also a good time to start night walks again, with frogs and snakes becoming more and more active. This is also a good time to look for nocturnal birds, Savanna Nightjars are now singing again, Collared Scops Owls are heard regularly in the evening. Hoiling and I went out searching for Brown Fish Owl one night and succeeded in finding one, these large owls often inhabits quiet reservoirs and streams, although widespread in Hong Kong they are not always easy to find, so seeing one is always a joyful experience.

Brown Fish Owl - always happy to see