Thursday 30 September 2021

Slight Improvement - Late September Urban Migrants

Having stayed mainly in the 'countryside' for most of autumn migration and not having much luck, I finally decided to visit some of our urban birding hotspots. First being the now famous Telford Gardens, its became a bit of a regular birding spot to look for Grasshopper Warblers. I was not disappointed while I was there, on the two days I visited I had at least two Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler, a single Lanceolated Warbler plus a Black-browed Reed Warbler. All of which were extremely elusive and terribly photo shy, maybe another week before they get used to people. Here are two horrible record shots I took, that being said it is still a wonderful experience to see these migrants in action, I was lucky enough to actually see this Lanceolated Warbler coming down from above and landing right into the flowerbed.

Lanceolated Warbler

Black-browed Reed Warbler

I felt luck haven't been on my side lately, turning up very little interesting birds despite some effort. Luckily for me, I struck some luck on my first visit to Ho Man Tin this year with this Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher. It was actively foraging in the dense thickets of what we call the 'Pitta spot', named after the two appearances of Fairy Pittas in the past. The Flycatcher 'performed' fairly well for me while I was there, although it wasn't particularly photogenic, it was still a very nice bird to see. This species is now listed as vulnerable due to ongoing habitat loss throughout its range.

Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher

In the same area were two female Hainan Blue Flycatchers, which seemed to be getting along with the Jungle Flycatcher, these were evidently migrating through and decidedly to stop in this urban oasis. Another species that we regularly see at Ho Man Tin during passage is the Orange-headed Thrush, this one was not particularly photogenic but showed a few times while I was there.

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - female

Orange-headed Thrush - male

There were plenty of Arctic Warblers present, although none were photographable. A vocal Sakhalin Leaf Warbler was however a little more cooperative. This species and the closely related Pale-legged Leaf Warbler are almost unidentifiable in the field, the only way to confidently identify them is by their call, where Sakhalin's pitch is lower than that of Pale-legged Leaf Warblers.

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler

It's not quite the end of autumn migration yet, still plenty of room for improvement!

Saturday 25 September 2021

Late September - Comme ci comme ça

Its been a fairly boring September for me in terms of birding, and I can only blame myself for the lack of enthusiasm in visiting hotspot like Ho Man Tin, where they have been getting the autumn goodies, I have been hoping to get something interesting closer to home, unfortunately that hope never materialised, resulting in a rather lacklustre autumn so far. Overall it's been so so, but, I am keeping faith that something will turn up, eventually!

I had a mediocre day at Lau Shui Heung, with a cast of common migrants, the Amur Paradise Flycatcher failed to perform and only gave fleeting views yet again! An Asian Brown Flycatcher was more obliging to pose for a photo. The only other sort of interesting bird was a female Black-naped Monarch, which showed very briefly.

Asian Brown Flycatcher

Black-naped Monarch - female

More warblers are now coming through, other than the few heard only Pale-legged Leaf Warblers, a few Arctic Warblers and Two-barred Warblers were present. I also connected with a single Eastern Crowned Warbler.

Two-barred Warbler

Eastern Crowned Warbler

I have been neglecting Tai Mei Tuk Catchment a little of late, due to the fact that it was under performing mostly since spring. The best bird was a single Taiga Flycatcher, while a Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike followed the local Minivets around. Speckled Piculet is now a staple around here, and quite often you get good views of a singing bird, like this little guy.

Taiga Flycatcher

Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike

Speckled Piculet

Over at Tai Po Kau, the usual Brown Shrike was back at its old spot along the access road. Adults of race lucionensis shows greyish crow.

Brown Shrike - race lucionensis

I was again granted brief views of an Amur Paradise Flycatcher on the day I visited, but it flew off before I could even hold my camera up. Other local residents were more friendly, such as the Huet's Fulvetta and often hard to photogrpah Blue-winged Minla. A little bit of excitement was provided by a very vocal Bay Woodpecker which gave fairly good views.

Huet's Fulvetta

Blue-winged Minla

Bay Woodpecker - male

I have been far more successful with my evening ventures, including an evening with a Brown Fish Owl, perched quite high up but still an enjoyable encounter. 

Brown Fish Owl

I finally caught up with one of my last two species of frogs I have yet seen in Hong Kong, the Three-striped Grass Frog, a small species that inhabits lowland wetlands. It took us a while to find this one, but thanks to Hoiling who found this little guy sitting on a fern! My final target is the South China Cascade Frog, hopefully I can find it next year.

Three-striped Grass Frog

Another frog that is new for me locally is the Rough-skinned Floating Frog, also known as Green Puddle Frogs. While Hoiling and I encountered more than two dozens on the day we visited this wetland site, this species was locally extinct since 1995. Not until recently was this species seen again, and base on my personal observation there were easily over 70 individuals there. A species as recognisable as this is unlikely going to be overlooked, my guess is that these were released, either through religious purpose or otherwise. Whether this 'reintroduction' is successful remains to be seen, but mean while these guys seemed happy enough here.

Rough-skinned Floating Frog

Other frog species worthy of note was the Chinese Bull Frog, a species that was far more common years ago, being a popular food item doesn't help and their preferred habitat also been much reduced.

Chinese Bull Frog

Another species that I finally caught up with was the Plumbeous Water Snake, this is also a lowland wetland species, while not a particularly rare snake in Hong Kong, I have for some reason not seen one before. I found this one sitting in a puddle right by the footpath, where it soon retreated back into the mud as soon as I took a few photos.

Plumbeous Water Snake

Tuesday 14 September 2021

Underway! Autumn Migration

Autumn migration started for nearly half a month, unfortunately I have been busy with work and barely had any time for birds, finally got most of my work done and was able to free up a morning for some birding! My top target was a Daurian Starling thats been seen at Mai Po, I have seen them many times in Hong Kong but never been able to get any decent photos. I was delighted to find not just one, but two Daurian Starlings feeding in a few ficus trees along the access road! They showed briefly at first but finally came into one of the closer trees to feed and gave great views.

Daurian Starling

They were not the only starlings feeding in those trees, with them were lots of White-shouldered Starlings, they are similar size to the Daurian Starlings, therefore can be confusing when searching for the odd one out in the field, but their greyish white backs and pale eyes are a dead giveaway.

White-shouldered Starling

Its that time of the year again where hundreds of Arctic Warblers passes through, they were in no short supply, you can either find them gleaning for insects in the trees or hear their 'chit-chit' call up above.

Arctic Warbler

In the same tree as the starlings were at least two Asian Brown Flycatchers, these returning migrants are highly under rated, while a common species during passage, they are great fun to watch, the two were chasing each other from time to time and often gave close views when perched.

Asian Brown Flycatcher

It is no autumn migration without any Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, was happy to catchup with this one, also in the same tree as the starlings! It was really quite shy and only showed briefly before chased away by an Asian Brown Flycatcher.

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher

I've not had much luck birding elsewhere, I visited Tai Lam and Tai Po Kau once earlier in the month, both outings were highly disappointing where I saw ZERO migrants. Although many of our local residents still showed well, including a Pygmy Cupwing, many Blue-winged Minlas, numerous Velvet-fronted Nuthatch and last but not least a few Speckled Piculet.

Pygmy Cupwing

Blue-winged Minla

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Speckled Piculet

One of the Brown-breasted Flycatcher at Tai Po Kau remained till early September, it showed well not far away from their nesting site, hopefully after this successful breeding season they will be back again next year.

Brown-breasted Flycatcher

Its never a bad time to look for Savanna Nightjar, while they are not vocal anymore come autumn, its not difficult to find them sitting quietly in the middle of the road at night, as long as you go slowly they can be fairly confiding.

Savanna Nightjar

Saturday 4 September 2021

South China Sea Pelagic - 1st & 2nd of September

Back in May my friends organized a trip to the oil rigs south to Hong Kong to look for sea birds, they had huge success that time and I was gutted I couldn't go. So, when I heard they are planning for another one again on 1st and 2nd of September, I was thrilled! I don't get sea sick too easily, but kind of anticipated the possibility of getting sea sickness from staying overnight on a small fishing boat. A total of twelve of us met up on 1st of September and headed out from Aberdeen Pier.

We saw relatively little on our way out to the oil rigs, there were good numbers of Streaked Shearwaters but most of them were extremely far away. The highlight being a pod of Pantropical Spotted Dolphins, which followed our boat for quite some time!

Streaked Shearwater

Pantropical Spotted Dolphin - note the white bill tip and 'lip'

When we got to the oil rigs, the captain and his crew started casting their fishing lines, this area is famous for sport fishing, where people often land huge fish almost as tall as a person. They certainly seemed very happy with their catch.

Bluefin Trave

Rainbow Runner - one of the most numerous fish in the area

Boat captain Mr. Chu and a Yellow-finned Tuna

Mahi Mahi - also known as Common Dolphinfish

While they were busy fishing, we scanned the sea for any birds. We spotted a Long-tailed Skua very far away, another Skua flew a little bit closer, which was likely an Arctic Skua. A bit of rain brought in more Shearwaters, mostly Streaked but Jemi spotted an all dark one which I unfortunately didn't get a photo of, it looked a bit like a Wedge-tailed Shearwater, but difficult to say for sure from such distance!

Arctic Skua

Streaked Shearwater

After sunset, most people were feeling slightly nauseated, I could barely eat anything without throwing it back up. So after a little bit of food I decided to hit the bed. I woke up at 5am, feeling much better, I was ready for some birds! Unfortunately, we weren't as lucky this time round, as they had a lot of seabirds moving around the oil rigs early morning back in May, we only saw a few migrating passerines and a Black-winged Stilt circling around us, still an interesting experience to see these birds migrating through open oceans.

Black-winged Stilt - out in open ocean

We started to make our way back by mid morning, along the way we scanned for anything flying above the ocean. Birds are not the only creatures that takes to the sky out here, flying fishes were regularly sighted during the trip, some gliding as far as 50-60 metres!

Flying Fish

Things improved slightly with a few more Streaked Shearwaters, this time a bit 'closer', but not what I would call close...Streaked Shearwaters are relatively easy to distinguish from other shearwaters based on size, their white underside and often conspicuous white forehead.

Streaked Shearwater - this was the closest we got, still very far away...

On our way back to Aberdeen we also spotted another pod of dolphins, this time likely Indopacific Bottlenose Dolphins.

Indo-Pacific Bottlenose Dolphin

Our best bird of the trip came when we almost gave up hope, a single adult Red-footed Booby gilded right across the front of our boat. Although we saw very few species in the end, it was still an enjoyable trip (minus the seasickness). The oil rigs area is mostly unexplored by birders, therefore who knows what is hiding out there! Hope we will have better luck next time.

Red-footed Booby - best bird of the trip!

I paid the breeding terns one last visit before they depart, we went there mainly to look for the strayed Bryde's Whale thats been frequenting Mirs Bay, although after three hours of waiting the whale never appeared, only to be found dead a few days later! What a shame for such a beautiful creature, although it must be said any cetaceans that venture this close to shore near Hong Kong almost always ends badly...Either way, the terns provided plenty of photographic opportunities, with mainly Black-naped and Roseate Terns on the buoy.

Black-naped Tern

Roseate Tern

A few Bridled also came into roost on the buoy, while at least two Common Terns were seen, including a juvenile. While these terns will soon head back out to the sea to spend the winter, more migrants are on their way here.

Bridled Tern

Bridled Tern - juvenile

Common Tern - juvenile