Thursday, 17 December 2020

Shrike Three! - 3rd Grey-backed Shrike in Hong Kong

Grey-backed Shrike is quite the rarity in Hong Kong, having only been recorded once in 2015. News of another adult Grey-backed Shrike surfaced not too long ago, unfortunately the bird was within the compound of Kadorie Farm, which is closed off to visitors at the moment. This was only the 2nd record for Hong Kong and one that many birders would love to see. To our delight, John Allcock found another 1st winter bird in Lam Tsuen, where the bird was stable and showed fairly well. Most birders were able to enjoy prolonged views of this wonderful vagrant.

Grey-backed Shrike - 1st winter

Being a 1st winter shrike, you can imagine identification to be tricky and not straight forward. This was absolutely the case for this bird, as most birders including me could have easily put it down as a Brown Shrike and moved on. There are a few differences to look out for, 1st winter Grey-backed Shrike should show the following features:

1. Heavier bill
2. Longer tail
3. Greyer mantle
4. Ear patch browner
5. Heavily marked breast

Grey-backed Shrike - 1st winter

For comparison, here is a photo I took of a 1st winter Brown Shrike a few days prior at Long Valley, although the tail length is blocked by the branch, features you can see here are:

1. Very warm toned mantle
2. Ear patch darker
3. Breast lightly marked

Brown Shrike - 1st winter

Other interesting observations at Long Valley includes a Javan Mongoose strolling along the river, I have not seen one of these for a while, it is always a thrill to see a mammal in Hong Kong. Most Buntings have left by now, leaving mainly Sparrows and Munias behind, the White-headed Munias are still in good numbers, I have a feeling they are here to stay...

Javan Mongoose

White-headed Munia

Shek Kong area had been fairly productive for some, I didn't really encounter anything too interesting, although a very large flock of Minivets was an absolutely joy to behold, most of them were feeding at eye-levels at extremely close range. Velvet-fronted Nuthatches were in no short supply, while Crested Goshawk is always a thrill to see up close.

Grey-chinned Minivet - female

Grey-chinned Minivet - male

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Crested Goshawk

I was expecting to find Common Rosefinch or Yellow-billed Grosbeaks at Shek Kong Airport Road, despite the cooler weather they seem to be missing. I did however managed a very confiding Asian Brown Flycatcher and a lot of Hair-crested Drongos,

Asian Brown Flycatcher

Hair-crested Drongo

Things at Mai Po were slightly better, the best bird of late being a male Baikal Teal in full plumage, although it was only seen on one day and not relocated, an eclipse male was found in the scrapes and remained there for quite a few days. I have not seen this species for many years now, so it was nice to catch up with them again. The pair of Greater White-fronted Geese were exactly where I last left them, still grazing along the buffalo field.

Baikal Teal - eclipse male

Greater White-fronted Geese

You often see Eastern Imperial and Greater Spotted Eagles in Mai Po during winter months, although you are unlikely going to get good photos of them every single time. Eastern Buzzards were in very good numbers, saw no less than four around the reserve.

Greater Spotted Eagle

Eastern Buzzard

Other notable birds includes a fairly confiding Yellow Bittern, which showed very well. Black-faced Buntings were in good numbers and many were feeding along the access road. I also saw what I believe to be a Common Reed Bunting briefly along the reed bed at 8a, but views were rather brief, but it did look much warmer toned than Pallas's Reed Bunting.

Yellow Bittern
Black-faced Bunting

Tai Po Kau had been excellent for warblers, despite the fact that I missed the White-spectacled Warblers seen there by other birders, a good range of warblers have been consistently showing well. The numbers of Hartert's Leaf Warblers seems to be an all time high, with both goodsoni and fokiensis. Sulphur-breasted Warblers are in no short supply lately, at least three were seen in the bird wave.

Hartert's Leaf Warbler - goosoni

Sulphur-breasted Warbler

At least two Kloss's Leaf Warblers had been spotted amongst the warblers in the bird waves, good thing they were calling, or else I think it would have been difficult to determine their identity, as they look superficially similar to fokiensis Hartert's Leaf Warblers. Although another good indication is a good look at their undertail pattern, where Kloss's shows a much thicker pale inner edge of their tail feather, and Hartert's inner edge are often much thinner, as demonstrated by the photos below.
Kloss's Leaf Warbler

Kloss's Leaf Warbler - undertail pattern

Hartert's Leaf Warbler - undertail pattern

It felt as though there were more Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers than usual, there were at least five individuals around Tai Po Kau, and I have seen a few elsewhere as well.

Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher

The best thing I found on Tai Po Kau however was not a bird, but a beautiful Red Mountain Racer! This absolute stunner is my dream snake of Hong Kong and a rare species that is not that often seen. Unlike most snakes, this species tends to be active in cooler weather. Having been looking for one of these for many years, this was a dream come true! It was a very gentle and cooperative snake, although gutted by the fact that I did not have the proper camera gear to take good photos, the photos I took with my phone was sufficient to demonstrate just how beautiful it was.

Red Mountain Racer

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