Wednesday 29 July 2020

Ryukyu Scops Owl - an unusual otus for Hong Kong

Ryukyu Scops Owl - an interesting record for Hong Kong 

The Collared Scops Owl is perhaps the most commonly encountered local Owl species in Hong Kong, while another species of the genus otus the Oriental Scops Owl is a scarce passage migrant in Hong Kong. I was alerted by a friend of an interesting scops owl found somewhere near Sheung Shui, although it had yellow eyes just like Oriental Scops Owl, it was making the call of the Ryukyu Scops Owl. As bizarre as this maybe, I went over to check it out for myself. Before I even got to the supposed location, I heard the distinctive 'pu-wu' call. I have yet to visit Okinawa or Lanyu of Taiwan, but I knew this call was very different from the barbet like call of the Oriental Scops Owl.

It took a little effort but we were able to get a good observation of the bird, it was very vocal and kept calling throughout most of the evening, this left me with little doubt on the true identity of this owl as truly elegans. However, the natural range and habitat of this species is of offshore islands from northern Philippines all the way to southern Japan, and this begs the question 'what is it doing here?'.

I wouldn't reject the possibility that this may well be a wild bird that had gone off course during dispersal, I am sure they are capable of island hopping when dispersing...Although the likeliness of a vagrant Ryukyu Scops Owl is not high, as there have not been any mainland records of this species I am aware of. Another explanation for this unlikely occurrence is for this bird to be an escapee...while it is illegal to sell or keep owls in Hong Kong, the black market for owls is unfortunately very much alive. Therefore, it is not impossible for this to be a pet owl that escaped. Either way, it was a pleasant encounter and a nice surprise for us to see this exotic creature amidst this travel ban!

Ryukyu Scops Owl - what subspecies though? 

Birding is still very slow of late, early migrants will likely arrive around late August. Local breeding species is all we have for now, and one of those we don't often get a good look is the Russet Bush Warbler, they are becoming more and more common at Tai Mo Shan during summer months, although being a Locustella they are notoriously difficult to observe in the wild. We were able to locate this vocal individual on Tai Mo Shan, singing away inside a dense bush.

Russet Bush Warbler - 'zee-bit, zee-bit, zee-bit...' 

 I myself is not a huge butterfly person, but I do look at the odd one from time to time. Here are a few I have seen lately, highlights including a Powdered Oakblue, a Burmese Bush Blue and Shan Nawab and Common Duffer.

 Powdered Oakblue

 Burmese Bush Blue

 Tropical Fritillary

Shan Nawab 

 Common Duffer

Bamboo Treebrown 

Chinese Bullfrog is our second largest frog species in Hong Kong, unfortunately they are also a very popular food item hence a very popular species for mercy release. We saw a few froglets the other day, surely not released! Hong Kong Cascade Frog is one of those species we often see during night walks, as long as you find cascading waters they are usually not far away.

Chinese Bullfrog

Hong Kong Cascade Frog 

On our most recent night walks we encountered two snakes, a Many-banded Krait and an Anderson's Stream Snake, although none of them stayed long enough for a photo, we did however encountered a very friendly Chinese Waterside Skink that was quite the poser. I don't encounter this species very often, as they are usually very good at hiding, plus their patterns blends in perfectly with the pebbles in mountain streams.

 Chinese Waterside Skink

Tuesday 14 July 2020

The Mysterious Chinese Babax on Tai Mo Shan

Of the many grassland specialist that lives on Tai Mo Shan, the Chinese Babax is perhaps one of the more mysterious species, having been formerly a locally uncommon species up there, records of this species is now extremely rare, my one and only encounter with this species was in the summer of 2011, where my dad and I saw a small flock on Tai Mo Shan. There were huge gaps in-between sightings, which adds to the mystery of the movements of these birds, but we simply have to believe they are out there away from the prying eyes!

Since my last encounter, they were sporadically recorded by lucky birders. Last week I heard from a few friends that someone had sighted a few on Tai Mo Shan. Since there are hardly any interesting birds around in July, I thought I may give it a go, although I wasn't particularly confident that I will find them. I met up with Captain and we worked our way towards the summit...To my surprise, we found a few of these energetic birds almost as soon as we arrived at the supposed spot, they were quite vocal, but remained in cover mostly, I saw at least 4 birds. They were only in view for around 10 minutes before they disappeared down the slope again, I only managed some half decent record shots, but I was quite pleased to have seen them.

Chinese Babax - one of the more mysterious species up on Tai Mo Shan

Other Tai Mo Shan speciality on show includes a few flocks of Vinous-throated Parrotbills, this one only popped out of the tall grass once the fog came in, some post production to increase the contrast helps...we also spotted two Chinese Grassbirds, first I have seen this year, although I haven't really been out looking for them as such, still a great bird to see everytime. Despite discovery of a few population in South East Asia, Hong Kong is still one of the world's best place to find them.

Vinous-throated Parrotbill

Chinese Grassbird

Lower down at Kap Lung Trail, Great Barbets were actively calling, some effort was required to get decent views of them. Despite not a particularly rare species, good views of this species are hard to come by. Fire-breasted Flowerpecker is presumed to be breeding in the area, as a very vocal male dominated a tree with lots of mistletoes growing out of it.

Great Barbet 

Fire-breasted Flowerpecker

Hoiling and I also joined a snake safari run by William Sargent recently, he runs the 'Hong Kong Snake' facebook group and is one of the local snake catchers. It was extremely good fun and thanks to the expertise of William and co-guide Franco we spotted 6 snakes that evening! Here is a photo of William with a Mock Viper he spotted curled up in the tree. He also found a fairly large Red-necked Keelback sleeping in some vines, it obviously just had a big meal that day and was sleeping it off...

William with a Mock Viper

Red-necked Keelback

Along the mountain stream Franco spotted us the beautiful Mountain Water Snake, a species that is always a delight to see. Snake of the night for me was a stunning Futsing Wolf Snake, a species I have wanted to see for quite a while! They look superficially like the extremely venomous Many-banded Krait, but with more broken and less contrasty bands. A classic case of mimicry as they are completely harmless.

Mountain Water Snake

Futsing Wolf Snake

William also had a few tricks up his sleeves in-case we didn't see many snakes that night, as he often helps with relocating snakes near people's houses to safer locations. That evening he brought with him a beautiful Indochinese Rat Snake, one of the quickest snakes in Hong Kong. Another very exciting snake is a juvenile Chinese Cobra.

Indochinese Rat Snake

Chinese Cobra

During the snake tour we saw a Big-headed Frog along the stream, which is actually a new species for me despite not being particularly rare! Now I only need two more frogs to tick off all the species in Hong Kong...

Big-headed Frog

During a tour to Lung Fu Shan I also spotted two Rufous Burrowing Snakes, one adult and the other a tiny juvenile which must have just hatched recently. The Bamboo Pit Viper is perhaps the most commonly encountered snake at Lung Fu Shan, they are quite well camouflaged but the bright yellow underside often gives it away at night.

Rufous Burrowing Snake

Bamboo Pit Viper

Looking for frogs is a great way to spend a summer night, we have a total of 24 species of frogs in Hong Kong (1 locally extinct and 1 introduced), many are quite charismatic. The Green Cascade Frog is always fun to see, being quite large, you can often find them sitting on rocks or tree trunks next to forest streams. The Lesser Spiny Frog is hardly ever found far away from the stream, but they are quite widespread throughout Hong Kong.

Green Cascade Frog

Lesser Spiny Frog

The Short-legged Toad is common around Hong Kong Island but less common in New Territories and Lantau. Although not an endemic species, they were first discovered on Victoria Peak in Hong Kong. Another species that was first discovered in Hong Kong is the Hong Kong Whipping Frog, also more commonly known as the Brown Tree Frog.

Short-legged Toad

Hong Kong Whipping Frog

The Paddy Frog is perhaps the most common frog species in agricultural area, it is quite a variable species, with some individuals lacking the buffish line down the middle. Another frog often found in wet fields is the Marbled Pygmy Frog. One of prettiest frog species is perhaps the Spotted Narrow-mouthed Frog, fairly common and widespread throughout.

Paddy Frog

Marbled Pygmy Frog

Spotted Narrow-mouthed Frog

Monday 6 July 2020

More Summer Wildlife

Hot and stuffy summer months are not the easiest to get through for birders in Hong Kong, carrying around heavy gear in the intense heat is no fun. Although it does have its charm as the forest is truly alive at this time of the year, with many insects, reptiles and all sorts of other critters you may find if you look closely. A few rare breeding birds may also be present, one of them is the Malayan Night Heron, which have been regularly breeding in Hong Kong since last decade, they are now quite a widespread breeder but is by no means common. I was lucky to encounter this one in Western New Territories, strutting along a grassy lawn, feeding on earthworms.

Malayan Night Heron - rare breeding species in Hong Kong

Most cuckoos have seized calling by now, having found their victims to deal with their troublesome young...although I found a Chestnut-winged Cuckoo still calling near Lok Ma Chau, was able to get some good looks before it flew off into the distance. They are such an attractive species that I can hardly get bored of.

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo

Most birds are still busy rearing their young in June, forest birds in particular can become quite quiet during this time. By late June most birds have reared at least one clutch and some on their second, thats when you start seeing juvenile birds following their parents around. A walk around Tai Po Kau at this time of the year will often see familiar species engaging in breeding activities such as carrying food. Here a Chestnut Bulbul carrying an insect back to its nest, while two Mountain Bulbuls eyed me closely from above, likely having a nest nearby. You may also find juvenile Velvet-fronted Nuthatch with black bills, learning how to forage.

Chestnut Bulbul

Mountain Bulbul

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch - juvenile

We don't have any flying foxes in hong Kong, but we do have the Short-nosed Fruit Bat, a species that helps disperse the seeds of our local trees. You often find them resting under the leafs of Fan Palms during the day, which shelters them from the sunlight and rain.

Short-nosed Fruitbat

As birding is slow during summer months, it is a good time to put some effort in identifying all the damselflies and dragonflies around us. Here is a collection of some beautiful damsels and dragonflies I encountered recently. Nothing really rare but they are fascinating to look at.

Ceriagrion auranticum ryukyuanum

Agriocnemis pygmaea

Onychargia atrocyana

Agriocnemis femina oryzae

Neurothemis tullia tullia

Zygonyx iris insignis

Moth of the month no doubt goes to a Clelea sapphirina, a small but extremely beautiful little gem, as its name suggests, it looks as if someone embedded many sapphire on its wings.

Clelea sapphirina

Summer is also a great time to see some impressive looking Beetles, such as the very beautiful Euselates magna, Hong Kong is not known for having too many impressive looking stag beetles, but we do have a fair share of species, such as this Prosopocoilus oweni.

Euselates magna

Prosopocoilus oweni

Spiders are my newest obsession, and summer is a great time to look for these eight legged creatures. As little as they are studied in Hong Kong, we do have a good range of species. Like many Argiope species, the Argiope vietnamensis create a white 'X' on their web, supposedly to lure in insects. The Cyrtarachne inaequalis which is also known as 'Bird Dropping Spider' mimics a bird dropping on a leaf. The very colourful Thwaitesia glabicauda is not uncommon and often found hiding under leafs. Jumping Spiders are probably the most attractive of all spiders, here we have the Harmochirus brachiatus, Carrhotus sannio and Rhene flavigera.

Argiope vietnamensis

Cyrtarachne inaequalis

Thwaitesia glabicauda

Harmochirus brachiatus

Carrhotus sannio

Rhene flavigera

Finally, we just had a solar eclipse on 21st of June, it was only a partial eclipse, but with a coverage of 90%. It would be another 50 years before we see another eclipse of this coverage in Hong Kong.

Partial Solar Eclipse