Wednesday 29 April 2020

Barred Cuckoo Dove and Other Goodies

We are just past mid-way point of Spring Migration, giving us a new sets of migrants. Other than the regular migrants, I received a nice surprise one day at Tai Mei Tuk Catchment in form of an adult female Barred Cuckoo Dove, a rare species in Hong Kong recorded sporadically. This species is widespread in mainland China, I have seen them many times in places like Jiangxi. I found the bird by pure luck, as I must have startled it while it was feeding on a fruiting tree, it flew up and perched on an open branch for around 10 seconds before it flew off, just enough time for me to get a photo! They are a stunning looking species and I do hope they can establish a resident population in Hong Kong someday.

Barred Cuckoo Dove - a brief encounter

The fruiting tree was later identified as Syzygium levinei, a species belonging to the family Myrtaceae, the fruit is obviously attracts a lot of birds as few dozens of Eyebrowed Thrushes, Japanese Thrushes and a single Brown-headed Thrush continues to be recorded here, although none of them really photographable.

Syzygium levinei

Other good birds at the catchment includes Oriental Cuckoos, I believe there were more than one individual, one of which decided to let me take a few photographs. Like all cuckoos, they are usually very shy, so I was very glad this one allowed some good looks before disappearing again up the slope.

Oriental Cuckoo

Another species passing through in great numbers at the moment is the Chinese Sparrowhawk, or as most birders in Hong Kong known as the Chinese Goshawk. This attractive little accipter can be quite approachable sometimes, especially those that just landed, a few of these showed well along the catchment, while many more flew overhead. This species is highly migratory, where some winter as far south as Java and migrate all the way back to China or Korea to breed. This species is sexually dimorphic, males have completely dark eyes while females have yellow eyes, both equally attractive.

Chinese Goshawk - male

Chinese Goshawk - female

I also enjoyed prolonged views of a Crested Goshawk the other day, a common species that I can never get bored of. This species is fairly adaptive and can be found in all sorts of habitats, including urban parks.

Crested Goshawk

Two species of Flowerpeckers have been seen along the catchment, including the very common but beautiful Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, which I managed a good photo of a male the other day. The other one is the drab looking but scarce Plain Flowerpecker. Flowerpeckers are best detected by their 'tic-tic-tic' calls, but these contact calls are difficult to identify down to species, their songs however are quite distinct and is useful for identification if you don't get a good view.

Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker - male

Plain Flowerpecker

With the Ashy Minivets now gone, only Scarlet and Grey-chinned Minivets remains, both species should be breeding right about now. I also explored the Tai Mei Tuk Family Walk recently, where I found a pair of Orange-headed Thrush, a scarce resident that I hope maybe breeding in the area.

Scarlet Minivet - female

Orange-headed Thrush - female

The peak for most flycatchers ends around late April, Narcissus or Blue-and-White Flycatchers are replaced by dozens of Grey-streaked Flycatchers, I had over 7 birds in just one tree! Hainan Blue Flycatchers remain vocal and abundant, although I have yet seen any breeding pairs in the area.

Grey-streaked Flycatcher

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - male

The first brood of Collared Crow may have already fledged as I saw a juvenile bird the other day, although I couldn't get a photo of it, but I see them along the catchment quite often, I suspect they make their nests further up the slope. Grey Treepies are abundant here as always, for some reason this species is often very shy in Hong Kong, even though they are common along the catchment I don't get to see them everytime, and I am always happy if I manage a decent photo.

Collared Crow

Grey Treepie

Thursday 23 April 2020

Little Curlew - Finally!

Of my Hong Kong boogie birds, Little Curlew was one of those regular migrants that eluded me since I started birding. Though scarce, they are regularly recorded during spring migration, with usually one or two passing through places like Mai Po, but they often just stay for a day or two before moving on. I have somehow missed them every single time! 

On the 18th I was alerted by a friend that a Little Curlew was spotted at Long Valley, I just finished with the weekly shopping and was driving home at the time...I quickly dropped off the shopping, grabbed my camera and drove as quickly as I could. I called up my dad who also needs this lifer, luckily he was also nearby and we arrived at Long Valley almost at the same time.

I was relieved to find the Little Curlew happily feeding in a field, it is an unmistakable bird which resembles a Whimbrel but a lot smaller. Like most waders this species is highly migratory, where they breeds in far north of Siberia and winters as far south as Australia. We got great views of the bird as it wandered around the fields, not particularly scared of people as long as you keep still.

Little Curlew - a long awaited lifer

We enjoyed the presence of this special lifer in the dimming lights, it always feels incredible when a bird you want to see for so long finally materialized! And whats better to share this lifer with friends and family.

Little Curlew - friendly and very cooperative individual

Saturday 18 April 2020

Birds and...Mongoose!

I continued exploring my local patch for the past week, the most surprising find was however not a bird, but a Crab-eating Mongoose seen in broad daylight! This is a rare mammal locally with limited distribution in Hong Kong, as you would expect they are rarely seen by people, I never thought I would see one near home!

Crab-eating Mongoose - a rare mammal in Hong Kong

An adult male Blue-and-White Flycatcher on the 15th was probably one of my best bird at the catchment, as I have waited a few weeks for one to turn up! With many recorded throughout Hong Kong I was feeling slightly left out with none turning up at my doorstep. It was accompanied by a female nearby, making this the 3rd female here this spring.

Blue-and-White Flycatcher - male

Blue-and-White Flycatcher - female

The species of April definitely goes to Narcissus Flycatcher, this was an incredible spring for this species, with at least 14 individuals counted at Tai Mei Tuk Catchment from late march to mid april! No doubt the most Narcissus Flycatchers I have ever seen within a month. Here are a few different individuals seen in the last two weeks, including the only female I saw this spring.

Narcissus Flycatcher - male

Narcissus Flycatcher - female

To prove my point that they are not just turning up at my local patch, I was at Tai Po Kau one afternoon and found two more there! One of them was extremely photogenic, I was happy to just spend an hour there looking at this stunner.

Narcissus Flycatcher - very showy male at Tai Po Kau

At least 5 Hainan Blue Flycatchers have marked their territory along the catchment, all of them now in song. I have yet seen any females, but most likely they will start forming breeding pairs in the coming weeks or so.

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - male

The sizeable flock of Ashy Minivets continued at the catchment till the 12th of April, they always showed well and often very photogenic, thanks to the fact that trees at the catchment are generally quite low.

Ashy Minivet - male

Ashy Minivet - female

Speckled Piculet also seems to be a regular staple here at Tai Mei Tuk Catchment, the lower trees often makes it easier to spot this tiny woodpecker amongst the branches, they are often detected by their high-pitched and repeating 'sit-sit-sit-sit-sit' call, or by their loud drumming.

Speckled Piculet

A flock of Eyebrowed Thrush had been sneaking around for two weeks but I never got to see them properly, it took me a few tries but I at least got a record shot in the end, they were also accompanied by a few Japanese Thrush. Black-winged Cuckooshrikes and Grey Treepies are both regularly seen at the catchment, sometimes mixed in with the laughingthrush. A pair of Hair-crested Drongo were spotted, the first of this species for me at the catchment.

Eyebrowed Thrush

Black-winged Cuckooshrike

Grey Treepie

Hair-crested Drongo

Tai Mei Tuk Catchment always seems to attracts plenty of raptors, one of the most commonly seen here is the Crested Goshawk, an impressive looking accipiter fairly common throughout Hong Kong. A very confiding individual gave good views one morning, it fled to a higher tree after being mobbed by sunbirds and flowerpeckers. During display flights they often fluff out feathers from the vent and beat their wings rapidly.

Crested Goshawk - display flight

The much smaller Besra is also a regular here at the catchment, where you often see them flying over, but I was lucky one afternoon to find a juvenile Besra perched at close range, it remained there for 10 minutes before flying off. I first thought it was a Japanese Sparrowhawk, but the shorter primary projection suggests otherwise. Either way, it was still a treat to see such a beautiful raptor up close.

Besra - juvenile

Friday 10 April 2020

Critically Endangered Spoonie - Spring Migration at Mai Po

If you ask birders what is the most critically endangered bird species in Hong Kong, I am sure most of them will answer 'Spoon-billed Sandpiper'. This charismatic little wader is no doubt considered the holy grail of all migrants in Hong Kong, and a highly sought-after species for all birders globally. This species had always been rare, but in recent decades their population plummeted from over a few thousands to merely a few hundreds. Now listed as critically endangered and on the verge of extinction, ornithologists are racing to save this species from the abyss, and this begins with understanding their migration route.

The Spoon-billed Sandpiper breeds in the arctic tundra of Siberia, with major wintering population in Bangladesh and Thailand. Hong Kong being situated along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway is blessed to be one of the migratory stop for this species, mostly recorded in spring. With so few left in the wild, finding them in Hong Kong is becoming increasingly difficult, as only a handful passes through Deep Bay area annually, and each only staying a few days at most. A pair was reported on the 7th of April, I was at Mai Po on the 8th hoping to find them on the scrape but ultimately failed. It was again reported on the morning of the 9th, apparently seen well from hide 3 on the scrape of Mai Po, a quick dash there resulted in over an hour of superb views!

Spoon-billed Sandpiper - one of the rarest bird species in the world

It had been well over a decade since my last encounter with this incredible species, although I do remember back then finding them were a little bit easier...This bird was tagged '1T', an individual part of the artificial incubation programme ringed in 2016 at Meinypil’gyno, Chukotka in Far North East Russia. It was great to see this bird in great shape, actively feeding with other waders including Red-necked Stints, Little Stints, Curlew Sandpipers and Lesser Sand Plovers. Hopefully with better understanding of their migration route we will be able to secure more suitable habitat for their long term survival.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper - feeding amongst Broad-billed Sandpipers & Lesser Sand Plovers

April is no doubt the best time for waders in Hong Kong, other than Spoon-billed Sandpipers, birders scanning the Red-necked Stints may also be rewarded one or two Little Stints. While Curlew Sandpipers, Broad-billed Sandpipers, Sharp-tailed Sandpipers, Lesser and Greater Sand Plovers are often plentiful.

Little Stint - with numerous Red-necked Stints

Curlew Sandpiper & Greater Sand Plover

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper with Curlew Sandpiper, Broad-billed Sandpiper & Greater Sand Plover

A flock of over 20 Oriental Pratincoles flew overhead, a species fairly common during migration. Bar-tailed Godwits were in fairly good numbers, some already moulted into their beautiful breeding plumage, while the more common Black-tailed Godwits usually move in one big flock.

Oriental Pratincole

Bar-tailed Godwit

Black-tailed Godwit

Spoon-billed Sandpiper is not the only threatened bird present on the scrape...many species had declined rapidly throughout the years and are now listed as endangered species. The Nordmann's Greenshank is also globally rare, with an estimated population of less than 1300. Great Knots and Far Eastern Curlews numbers are also decreasing, but both are still regularly seen around Deep Bay area.

Nordmann's Greenshank

Great Knot

Far Eastern Curlew

The congregating waders do occasionally attract the 'wrong crowd', raptors often take advantage of this food source and hunts regularly at the scrape. A Black Kite was seen eating a bird in front of the bird hide, although I do not know what bird it caught. A Peregrine Falcon also came through for a quick meal, as it snatched a Curlew Sandpiper out of the sky, the poor sandpiper nearly escaped in the water, but ultimately the Peregrine finished it off...

Black Kite

Peregrine Falcon - preying on Curlew Sandpiper

Two species are often associated with Mai Po, one is the Pied Kingfisher which was the bird of the logo of Mai Po Nature Reserve, they are indeed pretty common here and often put on quite a show in front of the bird hide. The other is of course Black-faced Spoonbill, somewhat of a conservation fairytale, with numbers dwindling to a few hundreds in 80s, their numbers are now increasing steadily annually. This individual was a rescued bird by the Kadoorie Farm, it was fitted with a satellite tracker on its back and later released when it recovered.

Pied Kingfisher

Black-faced Spoonbill - with satellite tracker

Other than waterbirds, I also came across a singing Eastern Crowned Warbler, they are fairly common during migration. While along the footpath I spotted three Chinese Cobras, a species with a bad reputation of being aggressive, although all three I encountered did not even bother to raise their hoods at me, given enough space they are pretty harmless.

Eastern Crowned Warbler

Chinese Cobra - Naja atra

Outside of Mai Po, I went past Sunny Bay and found an Eurasian Hoopoe, a species I haven't seen in a while. I first detected it when it took flight from the ground and perched up on a tree, it later flew back on the lawn to feed, picking up worms and grubs in the ground. Hoopoes are generally scarce in Hong Kong, but regularly recorded during migration and occasionally during winter.

Eurasian Hoopoe

Forecasts predicts a bit of rain over the weekend, which may again ground some migrants, we shall see!