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

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