Friday 31 December 2021

End of Year Tick - Olive-backed Sunbird

All previous Olive-backed Sunbirds in Hong Kong were one-day birds, therefore its a species thats long eluded me on my Hong Kong list. Therefore I was delighted to learn that an eclipse male been spotted at Hutchison Park at Whompoa, and supposedly quite stable. I gave it a try on the last week of 2021, and luckily was successful in connecting with this local rarity. OBS are not rare elsewhere, race rhizophorae is resident on Hainan, Yunnan, Guangxi and some western parts of Guangdong.

Olive-backed Sunbird - eclipse male

Also present at the park was a very confiding Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher. which almost got as much attention by the photographers present than the sunbird.

Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher

Someone relocated the Steppe Eagle at Lut Chau where it was seemingly unfazed by the crowd it created, with a few dozens birders and photographers down to less than 10 metres away from it! It mainly fed on the dead fishes around the fish ponds. While the Collared Crows were not so pleased with this oversized visitor, the eagle took very little notice of them even when they pecked at its wings or tail. It stayed till the morning of 29th, where birders witnessed it soared higher and higher until out of sight, its not been seen since.

Steppe Eagle - juvenile

Warblers in Tai Po Kau been tough to nail, I saw both Rufous-faced Warbler and White-spectacled Warbler but didn't manage to get even a record shot...Hartert's Leaf Warblers and at least one Kloss's Leaf Warbler were slightly easier, but still not as friendly as they were last year. The only friendly warbler I got were Pallas's Leaf Warblers, which were in no short supply.

Hartert's Leaf Warbler

Kloss's Leaf Warbler

Pallas's Leaf Warbler

Even the common resident species at Tai Po Kau were not that easy lately, as bird waves were quite scattered. I did manage some good photos of our lovely residents, including a male Yellow-cheeked Tit, male Scarlet Minivet and Silver-eared Mesia.

Yellow-cheeked Tit - male

Scarlet Minivet - male

Silver-eared Mesia

Red-flanked Bluetail are often heard at this time of the year, but not always easy to photograph, I managed a record shot of this female. The Rhodoleia are now starting to flower, and that attracts Orange-bellied Leafbirds to visit the sweet nectar, here is a female.

Red-flanked Bluetail - female

Orange-bellied Leafbird - female

Over at Tai Lam, I didn't manage to photograph the Japanese Robin, but I did find plenty of Chestnut-flanked White-eyes along the 'magic valley'. Feeding amongst the Swinhoe's White-eyes. 

Chestnut-flanked White-eye

While Long Valley is out of bounds to birders, the surrounding area still have some birds. Most birders and photographers were there to look for the Grey-headed Greenfinches thats been frequenting the area, although I did not connect with them I found at least two Common Kestrels in the area, plus a few Red-rumped Swallows amongst some Barn Swallows.

Common Kestrel

Barn Swallow & Red-rumped Swallow

Red-rumped Swallow

I've almost lost count to how many times I visited Mai Po lately in hope to bump into the long staying Northern Goshawk, which I miserably failed. There are still plenty to find around the reserve, and not always water birds. Yellow-fronted Canaries are fairly common along the access road nowadays, while Chinese Penduline Tits frequents the reedbeds. The Red-breasted Flycatcher was still present last time I checked. Finally, its almost impossible to not find at least one or two Daurian Redstarts at this time of the year.

Yellow-fronted Canary

Chinese Penduline Tit

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Daurian Redstart - male

Saturday 25 December 2021

Mai Po - Home of the Eagles

There is no better place to find wintering eagles in Hong Kong than Mai Po, almost all the recorded wintering eagle species comes from Deep Bay area, this is not surprising as the increase in wintering birds obviously attracts these large raptors. Imperial Eagles are almost unmissable if you ever visit Mai Po in the winter, although not always do we get close views, I had two individuals which gave excellent views the other day. Both were adult, but one was moulting and looked rather scruffy.

Imperial Eagle

The other relatively common species is the Greater Spotted Eagle, a slightly smaller species but still quite majestic looking. They have slightly shorter tail and usually lack the bright cap of the Imperial Eagle.

Greater Spotted Eagle

Other than these two regulars, a third species decided to drop into Mai Po lately, that is a juvenile Steppe Eagle. I have seen the last one in Hong Kong back in 2009, but I am still glad to catch up with this rarity. Juveniles are easily recognisable by their rather pale and plain upper parts, that is less streaked compared with juvenile Imperial Eagles. Thanks to Captain and Abdel who found this guy perched on the top of a tree next to a Greater Spotted Eagle.

Steppe Eagle - juvenile

Steppe Eagle with Greater Spotted Eagle

Mai Po's been excellent for raptors in general of late, I have been quite a few times looking for that elusive Northern Goshawk thats been terrorising the birds in the area, unfortunately its eluded me so far. An interesting looking Peregrine Falcon was spotted recently and after some discussion it is likely of race pealei, a race that breeds in Alaska and far eastern Russia. This species occasionally turn up in Japan but never been seen in Hong Kong before. This juvenile is very distinctive looking, with very dark underparts. Here is a photo for comparison of our 'usual' wintering Peregrine below, taken on the same day.

Peregrine Falcon - race pealei

Peregrine Falcon - race calidus

Other than the more interesting raptors, Mai Po is also home to more common species, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Western Osprey and Eastern Buzzards are some of the raptors that you are unlikely going to miss at Mai Po.

Eastern Marsh Harrier

Western Osprey

Eastern Buzzard

Raptors are not the only birds that prey upon other birds, an injured Black-headed Gull on the scrape the other day attracted numerous Black Kites as well as Collared Crows...The poor bird probably don't stand a chance and no doubt would be easy pickings for these fierce predators and opportunistic feeders. 

Black Kite & Black-headed Gull

Collared Crow & Black-headed Gull

Other than the raptors, there are plenty of other interesting birds around the reserve, the Common Shelduck stayed on and now quite often seen feeding on the scrape, I was lucky to have it coming quite close to the hide one day.

Common Shelduck

The scrape briefly hosted over 30 Northern Lapwings, while this species is not rare in Hong Kong, I rarely see flocks this big! This reminded me of the large flocks of Lapwings I used to see in the UK, I could have well been back on the Somerset levels!

Northern Lapwing

We have plenty of ducks around at the moment, but many interesting species such as Falcated Ducks decided to stay near the middle of the scrape. I found this lone Eastern Spot-billed Duck relatively close. Eurasian Bitterns are a regular sight in Mai Po during winter, although they are notoriously difficult to photograph, I grabbed this record shot of one flying across the other day.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck

Great Bittern

Other than the water birds, Mai Po also host a bunch of quality passerines during winter, such as this very confiding Red-breasted Flycatcher. Not a species I see that often, they can be separated with the more common Taiga Flycatcher by their paler lower mandible bill base, brownish upper tail coverts, slightly browner tail feathers, and overall warmer tone plumage. Their calls are also distinctive different from the Taiga Flycatcher, often much softer.

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Yellow-billed Grosbeaks are also quite common in Mai Po around this time of the year, I had a few flocks throughout the reserve the other day. You quite often find them on their favourite trees, the Chinese Hackberry, if you see one of these trees it is worth checking for feeding Grosbeaks.

Yellow-billed Grosbeak - male

Yellow-billed Grosbeak - female

Dried fish ponds can attract many species, a pair of Oriental Magpies were seen feeding on the ground, this species is now a lot less common than they used to be, for reasons we don't quite understand, I truly hope they won't disappear completely! These ponds often host Buff-bellied Pipits, of which I found quite a few. Nearby, large flocks of starlings congregate, mainly White-cheeked Starlings and Red-billed Starlings.

Oriental Magpie

Buff-bellied Pipit

White-cheeked Starling

Just across the river at Tai Sang Wai, best bird of late was an Eurasian Hoopoe found during an outing with Russel Yeh, who spotted this beautiful bird for us. Great Mynas are now very regular around this part of Hong Kong, often mixed in with the Crested Mynas. Along the main track, a male Bluethroat showing well, along with numerous Black-faced and Little Buntings.

Eurasian Hoopoe

Great Myna

Bluethroat & Black-faced Bunting

Little Bunting

Finally, the two Plumbeous Redstarts at Chun Shin Road are now attracting dozens of photographers on a daily basis. The best find for me there was probably a Citrine Wagtail, now that Long Valley is out of bounds this species becomes quite tricky! 

Plumbeous Redstart - male

Citrine Wagtail