Friday 22 May 2020

Going Cuckoo : Common Cuckoo in Hong Kong

May is no doubt the season of cuckoos, with Lesser Cuckoo, Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoo, Indian Cuckoo, Large Hawk Cuckoo, Plaintive Cuckoo and Chestnut-winged Cuckoos often heard around various places, it was therefore a very nice surprise that the list of cuckoos just got longer, as someone reported a Common Cuckoo at Mai Po, a mega rarity much needed this May!

Common Cuckoo - a real treat for early summer!

Upon hearing the news I immediately rushed to the scene, where dozen of serious birders were already there looking for the bird. We soon all got brief views of the bird, as it hawked for insects high up in the tree, although it was not making life easy for us, always staying out of sight or within cover.

Common Cuckoo - always behind something...

It took me a few hours to finally get a half decent record photo. This bird was calling on and off, making the classic 'cuckoo, cuckoo' call that we hear more often from cuckoo clocks. The barring in the front doesn't really strike me as that different from Oriental Cuckoos, although its large size was perhaps the first noticeable difference, as it felt almost as big as a Large Hawk Cuckoo. There were some discussions on the race of this individual, and it is believed this is probably race bakeri from western China. This is only the 2nd confirmed record of a Common Cuckoo in Hong Kong, a very nice addition to the Hong Kong list for many happy birders.

Common Cuckoo - likely to be race bakeri

Other than the cuckoo I have not seen too many interesting birds of late, I spent a morning looking at Indochinese Green Magpies at Wu Kau Tang, where a small flock were actively feeding in the dense forest. This group wasn't particularly shy, but as is the case with this species in general, they were unwilling to perch out in the open for a clear view, usually obscured by layers of branches and leaves. After an hour of trying I got a few clear photos, half of the time they were so close that I couldn't fit the whole bird in frame...This species have established a stronghold around Pat Sin Leng and now apparently also recorded as far as Yuen Long. Rather they have an impact on local fauna is unknown, but they certainly fills an ecological niche of large forest birds that is largely absent from Hong Kong.

Indochinese Green Magpie - an active bunch

I also spent some time near home to look for other critters, one of the more interesting find this week was perhaps a Macromidia rapida, a scarce dragonfly that inhabits hill streams. We were fortunate enough to find this one perched at night.

Macromidia rapida

The top spider species for me was a Hamadruas hieroglyphica, a species I have looked for a while but never found, turns out we got some right near home! Other exciting spiders includes Paraplectana coccinella, also known as the Ladybird Spider, was lucky enough to see a male attempting to mate with a female! Their size difference was simply incredible to witness.

Hamadruas hieroglyphica

Paraplectana coccinella

Eriovixia laglaizei was also a nice addition to our local list, a species that I find to be uncommon. While on our rooftop I also found a Phintella vittata hunting on our citrus tree, a very colourful little jumper which is always a delight to see.

Eriovixia laglaizei

Phintella vittata

Monday 18 May 2020

Summer Is Here

Hot and humid are two perfect words to describe summer in Hong Kong, it is not for the faint hearted, as the heat can be intense at times. It is also not a great season for birds, as most migrants have gone north to their breeding grounds, very few birds stay behind to breed. One of the more exciting breeding species in Hong Kong is the Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, they are pretty widespread throughout Hong Kong, found in a wide range of habitats, but they are almost never easy to see or photograph. A few individuals near Nam Chung have been pretty showy of late, I decided to try for it early morning, sure enough I saw a pair almost immediately after I arrived. They are impressive looking birds, being quite large and colourful, even got a crazy looking crest to go with that ever repeating call that sounds almost exactly like a reversing truck.

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo

Another local species with chestnut wings is the Greater Coucal, which is very common throughout, they are usually shy but occasionally can give good views, like this individual at Tai Mei Tuk Catchment, which was evidently looking for something to eat along the dried up catchment, my thought was that it was trying to pick up some tadpoles in the gutter.

Greater Coucal

Tai Mei Tuk Catchment is a great place for raptors, I saw a juvenile Crested Goshawk the other day, it was probably hunting for a Spotted Dove but obviously not quite quick perched there for a few minutes after losing the meal and flew off into the forest.

Crested Goshawk

Tai Po Kau is also fairly quiet, the only interesting birds I recorded were Lesser Cuckoo calling in the distance, I also caught a glimpse of a Bay Woodpecker but some hikers came through and likely scared it off. The only photogenic bird there was a Crested Serpent Eagle, back on its favrourite tree. It is a species I always enjoy seeing up close, and always ends up with me taking tons of photos...It perched there for over 10 minutes, where I left it to look for snakes in peace.

Crested Serpent Eagle

It is no surprise that the Crested Serpent Eagle is out and about, as a night walk at Lung Fu Shan yielded three snakes, including two Taiwan Kukri Snakes, a very pretty species that specialize in eating eggs, they are non-venomous and usually pretty docile. The other snake being a Bamboo Pit Viper. Near Wu Kau Tang while out for night birds survey, we encountered my first ever Banded Krait! Like its cousin the Many-banded Krait they are highly venomous, although the Banded Krait is usually docile. This individual was pretty gentle and only wanted to escape when we got closer, protecting its head under leaf litter or its body.

Taiwan Kukri Snake

Bamboo Pit Viper

Banded Krait

Its been too dry for most frogs, the forecast of rain throughout the week maybe good news for our local amphibians! We often find Spotted Narrow-mouthed Frogs out and about at this time of the year, they are surely one of Hong Kong's cutest frog species. The Hong Kong Whipping Frog which is also known as the Brown Tree Frog is also a very common species throughout.

Spotted Narrow-mouthed Frog

Hong Kong Whipping Frog

It is also a good time of the year to see the Nanhaipotamon hongkongense, also known as the Hong Kong Stream Crab, they can be easily found along mountain streams, being bright red they are hard to miss. This is an endemic species to Hong kong, and recently they discovered yet another species of this genus on Lamma Island, which is also endemic.

Nanhaipotamon hongkongense

It is also a great time of the year to look for butterflies, I am not a particularly active butterfly person, but given the chance I do look at the odd one. Like this Glassy Bluebottle which stopped briefly for a drink, this is an uncommon species in Hong Kong, and I rarely get to see one so well. Another uncommon butterfly is the Indian Awlking, one of the prettier member of the Skippers.

Glassy Bluebottle

Indian Awlking

We've also had some success in rearing a few larvae, including two Tailed Jays which we collected from the Magnolia figo on our rooftop. We also reared two Cephonodes hylas larvae, both of them successfully emerged, it is a beautiful species of hawk moth, they actually have a few scales on their wings when they first emerge, but seems to wear off pretty quickly.

Tailed Jay

Cephonodes hylas

Monday 4 May 2020

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher - Look at That Tail!

Of the many amazing looking spring migrants in Hong Kong, nothing quite compares to the Japanese Paradise Flycatcher in breeding plumage. Their long tail that cascades down their back gives them a very distinctive look when they hawk for insects in the forest, it is even harder to imagine this magnificent creature flying over oceans during migration from the Philippines back towards Japan! These incredible looking birds don't usually stay long, I was lucky to be tipped by Captain about one at Tai Po Kau late last month, fortunately enough for me the bad weather must have grounded the bird and it stayed long enough for me to relocate it within a bird wave.

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher - male

I have not seen one of these beautiful males since April 2007, so I was very please to see this one so well! It didn't stay long for me, I only had the bird in view for two minutes before it fluttered off back into the depth of the forest. The Japanese Paradise Flycatcher is now listed as Near Threatened due to habitat loss throughout much of its wintering range.

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher - male

Grey-streaked Flycatchers were still in good numbers near the end of April, but saw a decrease in numbers once the weather improved. There must have been over a dozen individuals along the Tai Mei Tuk Catchment. A Chestnut-winged Cuckoo have been frequenting the catchment, although being very shy as usual, despite much effort I ended up with only a record shot through the leaves.

Grey-streaked Flycatcher

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo

At Tai Tong, I encountered a very confiding female Chinese Goshawk, it remained perched even when I walked right up to it, they are a species I very much enjoy seeing every time. Around the reservoir I spotted a juvenile White-bellied Sea Eagle, which gave good flyby views before perching on a tall tree further away.

Chinese Goshawk - female

White-bellied Sea Eagle - juvenile

Other confiding birds at Tai Tong includes a mob of Red-billed Blue Magpies, a common species that I still love seeing up close, a few were feeding in a picnic area on the ground. A large flock of Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush were also unusually confiding, this species is not very often photogenic, but these were feeding just a few metres away from me.

Red-billed Blue Magpie

Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush

I didn't find anything new around my local patch, but a Two-barred Warbler at Tai Mei Tuk Family Walk was a nice bird to see, it however made a very Greenish like call which confused me to begin with, but overall plumage fits Two-barred more. It was seen actively feeding with a few Swinhoe's White-eyes and Rufous-capped Babblers, later it perched up to preen which allowed some decent photos to be taken. This is a fairly late individual which stayed till May, but latest date recorded in Hong Kong is 15th of May.

Two-barred Warbler