Monday 30 November 2020

Oriental Storks - For All You Endangered Waterbird Enthusiasts

Many wetlands across Asia are facing destruction, with them the waterbirds that lives in those wetlands. Many of these waders and wetland birds winter in Hong Kong, such as the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill. While many of the larger wetland birds such as cranes or storks winter further north around the large lakes in southern China, due to habitat loss, many of them are now listed as endangered or vulnerable, including the Oriental Stork. We are lucky enough to have two visiting Mai Po at the moment, and they have been showing exceptionally well.

Oriental Stork

I caught up with the pair one afternoon and marvelled at these incredible giants. On their own you don't really get a sense of how big they really are, only when they are right next to some Great Egrets do you really start to appreciate just how much bigger they are compared to the already very large Egrets. The Black-faced Spoonbill is dwarfed when compared side by side...They can be as tall as 150cm, with a wing span of over 2 metres!

Oriental Stork - look how small the Great Egret looks next to it...

Oriental Stork - the pair together

Oriental Stork

Also around Mai Po I finally caught up with the Ferruginous Duck, although other birders reported at least 3 birds, I only saw a single female within the flock of Tufted Ducks.

Ferruginous Duck - female with Tufted Ducks

Around the reed beds there were many Chinese Penduline Tits, this is a pretty good season to find them, especially if you know their calls. I can never get bored with these cute little birds, the way they perch lightly on the top of the reeds, and their 'panda eyes' look just makes them adorable.

Chinese Penduline Tit

Dusky Warblers are in no short supply at this time of the year, although usually not very photogenic, I was happy to find this one feeding in a ficus tree that at least gave me a chance for a decent photo. Yellow-bellied Prinias are usually quite skulking during winter months, this one however perched right out for a good photo. I found various Black-faced Buntings around Mai Po, a small flock gave good views along a quiet path.

Dusky Warbler

Yellow-bellied Prinia

Black-faced Bunting

Collared Crows are fairly common around Mai Po, you can hardly get around the reserve without seeing at least some of these now vulnerable corvids. A good numbers of Great Mynas within a large flock of Crested Mynas caught me by surprise, while I have usually seen a few, I have never seen a good size flock of this recently introduced species, it seems they have started breeding and slowly increasing in numbers.

Collared Crow

Great Myna

Both Eurasian and Black-faced Spoonbills can be seen around the reserve regularly, with Eurasian being less common. A few of these lovely spoonbills feeding at the scrape provided brilliant photographic subjects under the late afternoon light.

Eurasian Spoonbill

Black-faced Spoonbill

Birding around my local patch at Tai Mei Tuk Catchwater have picked up slightly, with a lot more action than previous month. Grey Treepies were active along here and often seen perched near tree top. While warbler numbers had increased the last weeks or so, with quite a few Two-barred Warblers along the catchwater.

Grey Treepie

Two-barred Warbler

Best birds so far were a pair of female Grey Bushchats which showed well consistently, I was surprise the pair didn't fight very much, a male Daurian Redstart was not particularly happy about their presence, it protested constantly with warning calls.

Grey Bushchat - female

Thursday 26 November 2020

Crested Bunting - a Long Awaited Hong Kong Tick

With the peak season for buntings now past, numbers of buntings present at Long Valley decreased significantly. Although, this doesn't mean nothing exciting is on show, the best bunting of late is a pair of Crested Bunting that stayed on for a while. The pair had been slightly elusive, but often hard to miss if they do show up. 

Crested Bunting

 Oddly enough, Crested Bunting had always eluded me in Hong Kong, while I have seen them during ventures elsewhere, it was not on my Hong Kong list! I was delighted to connect with this pair and finally ticking this off my Hong Kong list. They really are such a beautiful species with their unique appearance, unfortunately this species is not as common as they used to in Hong Kong, this is probably due to the lack of rice paddies, so the more rice we plant the better!

Crested Bunting

Other interesting observations at Long Valley includes a single Golden-headed Cisticola, it was a typical bird in non-breeding plumage with well marked head and long tail. I also spotted a few moulting juvenile Chestnut Munias, before moulting they looked just like juvenile Scaly-breasted Munias!

Golden-headed Cisticola

Chestnut Munia

I observed a Long-tailed Shrike feeding on a shrew in a very shrike-like fashion, I have never personally observed Long-tailed Shrikes impale their preys on plants, I don't think it is common practice within this species, but this shows they are more than capable of doing so! Finally, I found a pair of Citrine Wagtail within the flock of Eastern Yellow Wagtails present, we don't seem to get as many as we used to, so I am glad to find these at Long Valley.

Long-tailed Shrike - with shrew

Citrine Wagtail

At Lam Tsuen while working I had a very low flying Crested Serpent Eagle and disturbed a juvenile Besra feeding on something, it flew up and perched up in the tree and stared at me for a while, with feathers still stuck to its talons.

Crested Serpent Eagle


At Mui Shue Hang Park, birding is fairly good with a nice selection of winter visitors, including Ashy Drongos and Black-winged Cuckooshrikes. I also had a single Taiga Flycatcher and a male Verditer Flycatcher there on separate days.

Taiga Flycatcher

Verditer Flycatcher

While along the river a pair of Common Kingfisher were constantly diving for fish, this beautiful male came in particularly close for a nice photo. While a juvenile male Plumbeous Redstart had taken up the usual spot this year, you can just see one red tail feather when it fans out its tail, otherwise I would have mistaken it as a female. I had a lot of fun watching it wrestle with a large caterpillar, unfortunately it was snatched away by a much larger Oriental Magpie Robin later, leaving the poor Restart without a big meal.

Common Kingfisher

Plumbeous Redstart

During a tour for HKBWS in Wan Chai, we had a fairly pleasant morning along Dutch Lane near Wan Chai Gap Road. A nice selection of common birds includes Scarlet Minivets, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers and Black-throated Laughingthrush. The best bird that morning was a Sulphur-breasted Warbler which dropped in from nowhere! I am glad to see this after missing the one in Tai Lam.

Black-throated Laughingthrush

Sulphur-breasted Warbler

At San Tin, where I kept missing the Rosy Starling found by Captain, there were quite a few Common Starlings present, I had great views of one perched high up singing. Being a not so common bird in Hong Kong, we always stop to appreciate how beautiful they really are, with their iridescent plumage.

Common Starling

Friday 20 November 2020

Second Chances - Chinese Leaf Warbler

Birders doesn't always get second chances for twitches, sometime you fail to connect with a bird and thats it. I failed my first attempt on the Chinese Leaf Warbler found by Roman Lo at Tai Po Kau earlier, it was showing 45 minutes before I arrived and didn't show the entire afternoon! I thought the bird had moved on and gave up, only to be informed the next morning that it was back at the same location! I quickly got ready and headed to Tai Po Kau before work. Luckily, this time the warbler showed beautifully for the entire 30 minutes I was there.

Chinese Leaf Warlber

It was feeding on a piece of bamboo infested with scale insects, actively foraging around it and picking them off like popcorns! There had only been a handful of records in Hong Kong, and not all previous records claimed were accepted. This is a tricky bird to identify, as it superficially look similar to Pallas's Leaf Warbler.

Chinese Leaf Warlber - feeding frenzy on scale insects

How do we know this is a Chinese Leaf Warbler for sure you may ask? Firstly, this individual was pretty vocal and often made a sunbird like call that most birders may simply ignore! Although the call was slightly more rhythmic and more powerful when you really starts comparing the two. Secondly, the crown stripe was what I felt really different from Pallas's Leaf Warbler, especially closer to the forehead, where the crown stripe fades and does not touch the bill. The overall colour is also more subdued, while in Pallas's you expect the bird to be much brighter. Structurally, Chinese Leaf Warblers are longer than Pallas's, somewhat closer to what you expect on a Yellow-browed Warbler. Overall, a very nice bird to see, and likely one which have been overlooked in the past!

Chinese Leaf Warbler - subdued colours and less contrasting crown stripe

Also present was a single Crested Serpent Eagle which perched on its 'usual' spot, calling away loudly. While it may not be there all the time, I have seen it perched there fairly often, no doubt a very good tree to look out for this handsome raptor! 

Crested Serpent Eagle

Over at Mai Po, a Canvasback was reported on the 16th. It caused a huge amount of excitement, as this would have been a Hong Kong 1st! Although all we had was a very blurry photo to go by, and after many photos coming through which simply doesn't show the right bird, it looks as if the initial bird had either moved on or it was misidentified, I certainly hope it was the former, but I will leave the decision to our record committee! Nonetheless, there are plenty of 'interesting' ducks to see, I tried my luck on the 19th and connected with the small flock of Mallards; a species we don't see often enough in Hong Kong!

Mallard - not a common sight in Hong Kong

Also present was the largest single flock of Eastern Spot-billed Duck I have seen on a single pond, while we often see this species in singles or pairs. They are very handsome ducks and one we too often neglect.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck

I located some fairly good looking Common Pochard which provided for a wonderful photographic opportunity. They were actively diving and feeding along the edge of pond 11, the males showed beautifully in the morning sun, the females were equally photogenic. Common Pochard is not really a common species in Hong Kong, in some years we barely get any records, so seeing small flocks of these was quite nice.

Common Pochard - male

Common Pochard - female

There were plenty of Tufted Ducks, a good time to scan for any other diving ducks. One bird i noticed with greenish sheen and a rounded head that looked quite bulbous. I thought could have been a good candidate for Greater Scaup, but it lacked any vermiculation on the back which I would expect to see even in a moulting male, so perhaps its just a tufted male without a crest?

Tufted Duck

Greater Scaup or Tufted Duck?

Another problematic individual appeared, it had a white patch on the lore, not very large but slightly bulkier than most Tufted females present. It looked slightly bigger with a rounded bulbous head, bill also looked slightly larger. It also showed a pale patch on the cheek, which is one of the main differences between Tufted and Scaups. The bird swam closer in the end and allowed for some closer photos to be taken, it wasn't until it was very close that I noticed some faint vermiculation on the mantle. For me, it ticked all the right boxes for a 1st winter Greater Scaup.

Greater Scaup - 1st winter

However, after further enquiries, the opinion on the identity to this bird was split between Tufted and Greater Scaup amongst birders. The reason being one of the photo showed a posture which reminiscence of female Tufted, especially a photo of which I took right after it dived; the neck and head shrunk. For comparison, here is a photo of a Tufted female present at the time and the bird in question below. Part of the white patch on the lore was also obscured by the mud, which made the patch looked smaller than it is. It just shows how tricky these two species can be in certain shape of head can change after diving and there are some overlapping in sizes. However, I think with the combination of various features all checked out (Larger head, pale spot on cheek, vermiculation on back), I am quite confident to call this a 1st winter Greater Scaup.

Tufted Duck - female

Greater Scaup - 1st winter

Other than diving ducks, there were plenty of dabbling ducks to look at, including hundreds of Eurasian Wigeons, Northern Shovelers, Northern Pintails and Garganey...

Eurasian Wigeon

Northern Shoveler

I also caught up with the pair of Greater White-fronted Geese, they were showing at close range, although slightly obscured by tall grass, I enjoyed good views of the pair feeding. Also present along the same patch was a very nice looking Intermediate Egret.

Greater White-fronted Goose

Intermediate Egret

Other birds seen around Mai Po includes a Manchurian Bush Warbler which showed briefly. A flock of at least 20 Chinese Grosbeak was a first for me this winter, both males and females showed very well, they are certainly a nice reminder that winter is upon us, despite the fact that it was still 30 °C outside...

Manchurian Bush Warbler

Chinese Grosbeak - female & male

Last but not least, a lovely Common Kingfisher which posed nicely for a photo, despite how common they are I still stop to enjoy their vivid colours every once in a while.

Common Kingfisher