Wednesday 28 October 2020

The Buntings Returns

It is about the time of year when flocks of Buntings are returning to the paddies at Long Valley, and without missing a beat I found them in fairly good numbers, although many of them were still rather skittish and only gave brief perched views. I counted over ten Yellow-breasted Buntings, the now critically endangered species is clinging on despite trapping in China continues to threaten their existence. A Black-headed Bunting is also present, their annual appearance is much appreciated. Other species I saw includes Chestnut-eared Buntings and Little Buntings.

Yellow-breasted Bunting

Black-headed Bunting

I was delighted to find small flock of Russet Sparrows feeding in the paddies, some of the handsome males were showing nicely. This is not a particularly common species in Hong Kong, usually appearing sporadically in the winter months.

Russet Sparrow

I finally caught up with a Himalayan Swiftlet at Long Valley last week, having missed them throughout much of this autumn. They are fairly scarce passage migrants in Hong Kong, where we usually get single birds following other swifts or swallows, this one was seen hawking for insects with a large flock of Red-rumped Swallows.

Himalayan Swiftlet

At Tai Sang Wai I failed to produce anything particularly interesting, the numerous Whiskered Terns were still attracting tons of photographers. I suspect the disturbance may have affected the birds there somewhat, as one of the promising looking drained ponds were missing all the interesting waders that I was expecting.

Whiskered Tern

Shek Kong Catchment had been fairly consistent lately, with a few bird waves seen near eco-garden, with newly arriving Verditer and Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers, although none of which allowed a photo. Eastern Crowned Warblers were still in good numbers, while a few Hartert's Leaf Warblers (goodsoni) are now turning up in the bird waves.

Eastern Crowned Warbler

Hartert's Leaf Warbler - goodsoni

Larger birds includes Ashy Drongos and Black-winged Cuckooshrikes, both regularly seen in the area. During a full day tour last week we had great views of a single Speckled Piculet within a bird wave, it showed superbly for everyone. The best bird was probably an adult Bonelli's Eagle, a local species that seems to have declined significantly in recent years, I haven't seen one for over two years, its nice to catchup with this handsome raptor last week.

Ashy Drongo - salangensis

Black-winged Cuckooshrike

Speckled Piculet

Bonelli's Eagle

Friday 23 October 2020

Locustella Heaven - Telford Garden

For all warbler fanatics out there, Locustella warblers are always some of the trickiest to see. In Hong Kong you will often find these skulkers in fields, near fish ponds or mangroves, on passage they can literally turn up anywhere, and one of the most peculiar places to find these skulkers is the garden area just outside of Telford Garden mall, an area no bigger than two basketball court, I call it the magic flowerbeds. After the incredible Baikal Bush Warbler back in 2017, Telford have been consistently producing several Locustella each year, usually Pallas's or Lanceolated Warblers. This year, a Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler turned up, this is only the 9th record for Hong Kong and 3rd field observation record! It is also a lifer for me.

Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler

On the first day I only managed to see the bird and grabbed a few record shots, it was relatively shy and wasn't easy to see. The bird settled in after a few days and became more and more friendly. On my 3rd visit the bird finally showed well, walking along the edge of the flower beds foraging for food.

Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler - showing well

With most birders having no or very little field experience with Middendorff's Grasshopper Warblers, the bird caused a little bit of confusion at first. But most features points more Middendorff's than Pallas's, such as no dark streaking on the throat or breast, streaking on mantle also rather faint. This bird also lacks any prominent contrasty markings on the crown, which you will often find on Pallas's. The yellowish tone on the underside of this individual suggests this as a 1st winter bird.

Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler - a good look at all its key features

For our convenience, at least one or two Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler were always present nearby, occasionally chasing one another. In comparison to the Middendorff's, the Pallas's mantle and crown is heavily streaked, with a more rusty coloured rump, streakings on throat and breast also visible. In the field the Middendorff's looked very slightly chunkier than the Pallas's present, although this may not be particularly useful when seen elsewhere.

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler

The final Locustella warbler present was a Lanceolated, it showed briefly and skulked within the taller grass, I have always found them to be the most attractive of the bunch, you can see here the more dark olive tone and fine streaking on both flank and breast. Other warblers present was a single Black-browed Reed Warbler, although it didn't allow me to take a photo.

Lanceolated Warbler

The garden is of course filled with many Eurasian Tree Sparrows, of which the warblers often mixed with, being similar sized and colour many photographers get confused...although their behaviour is very much different, whereas the sparrow jumps, the Locustella warblers walks along the ground much like pipits. The most surprising bird there was perhaps a Ruddy-breasted Crake, skulking around in the flower bed, migrating individuals really can turn up anywhere...

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Ruddy-breasted Crake - no doubt the strangest bird to turn up there so far...

Saturday 17 October 2020

Mai Po Returning to Form - Taiga Bean Geese

A pair of Taiga Bean Geese were spotted at Mai Po a few days ago, I finally had time to look at them this week, although they remained quite far away and the hot air constantly fogs up the photos, it was still pleasant to observe them resting and feeding along the scrape. Goose are not a common sight in Hong Kong, as we are too far south to be in their natural wintering range, although we seems to be getting more records in recent years, it is still a wonderful sight to see them flying through the scrapes.

Taiga Bean Geese - my first Taiga Beans since November 2010

Mai Po in autumn is a very pleasant place to be, returning winter visitors as well as numerous migrants can be seen around the reserve. Both days I were there ended with a nice selection of birds, although not all of them were photographable, including a flock of Blue-tailed Bee-eaters which flew past. Two Eastern Marsh Harriers were patrolling the reed beds, soaring quite close at times.

Eastern Marsh Harrier

At least two Black-winged Kites have been spotted around the reserve, usually hovering or perched on dead trees at a distant. They are very good looking raptors even when seen from afar.

Black-winged Kite

While walking along the border fence, I spotted a snake on the road, which I thought was a Chinese Cobra at first, but on closer look it turns out to be a large Checkered Keelback! This one is probably as big as they get. A Black-winged Cuckooshrike was seen feeding with some bulbuls, I managed to grab a photo before it flew off to another tree.

Checkered Keelback

Black-winged Cuckooshrike

There were no short supply of Pheasant-tailed Jacana at Mai Po, I saw three individuals one afternoon, although none were as friendly as the long staying one at Long Valley, the one at lily pond did gave quite a good flyby view.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana

Ducks are now returning in decent numbers, with a nice selection of Eurasian Wigeons, Teals, Garganeys, Northern Shovelers and Northern Pintails. More will be returning in the coming month, hopefully something rare will turn up with them!

Eurasian Wigeon

The trees around Mai Po are great for migrants, there were plenty of Black-naped Orioles around, although none of which were easy to photograph. A female Japanese Paradise Flycatcher at the car park eluded my camera, although I found a female Yellow-rumped Flycatcher at the same spot, I usually see them up to the end of September, but extreme dates for this species in Hong Kong is in November.

Black-naped Oriole

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher

A few Yellow-fronted Canary grabbed my attention as I was exiting the reserve, I noticed a juvenile next to an adult begging for food! We usually treat this species as escapes, as they are very popular in the pet trade. Breeding in Hong Kong have never been proved, therefore this species continues to be placed in Cat-3. 

Yellow-fronted Canary - possibly breeding?

I have been patrolling my local patch, but with relatively little success. I found an Oriental Reed Warbler, took a little effort but it finally showed itself in the tall grass, although I would have been a lot happier if this was a Thick-billed Warbler...Asian Brown Flycatchers were in no short supply, one along the main road was friendly enough for a photo at close range.

Oriental Reed Warbler

Asian Brown Flycatcher

Yellow-breasted Buntings are now arriving at Long Valley, I saw quite a few of them on my last visit, although none of them were cooperative and flew off the second I saw them. I didn't bother with the Jacana there again, so I just took some photos of common birds there. The Chestnut and White-headed Munias were still around.

Common Snipe

Common Moorhen

Chestnut Munia

White-headed Munia

Recently I have been working with HKBWS on urban birding tours for the Wan Chai District Council, to the surprise of many local residents, the area can be quite birdy, especially for common species. Trees around Victoria Park is of course one of the best places in Hong Kong to see the Yellow-crested Cockatoo, a critically endangered species that is fortunately thriving in Hong Kong. Other birds you may encounter in the area includes Masked Laughingthrush, Black-collared Starling, Blue Whistling Thrush, White-throated Kingfisher and Red-billed Blue Magpie, all of which you can see up close within the park!

Yellow-crested Cockatoo
Masked Laughingthrush

Black-collared Starling

Blue Whistling Thrush

White-throated Kingfisher

Red-billed Blue Magpie

A few more interesting migrants we encountered in the area includes a Red Turtle Dove which totally caught me off guard! It was feeding with other Spotted Doves on the street, a fairly peculiar place to find this what is usually a more rural species. A Brown Shrike was also seen within Victoria Park. The best bird there was probably a single Black-naped Oriole, which I first detected by its unusual calls from up in the trees.

Red Turtle Dove - a real surprise in such urban settings!

Brown Shrike

Black-naped Oriole