Wednesday 27 April 2022

Boring Spring...

Spring is suppose to be all about exciting migrants, rarities turning up weekly. This year, although we have got most of regular migrants, we barely got any rarities. Those reported only stayed briefly and were not twitchable. At Tai Mei Tuk Catchment, I hardly had any notable migrating flycatchers, the only one being a Grey-streaked Flycatcher that was too far for a worthy photo. We did get a few Chinese Sparrowhawks during the peak week for these pretty raptors, two were found perched on top of dead trees early morning before joining the migrating flock heading north.

Chinese Sparrowhawk

Tai Mei Tuk Catchment is quiet otherwise, I had a nicely perched Grey Treepie the other day, a species though common here is by no means easy to get a decent photograph. I suspect Speckled Piculets are breeding nearby, but no nest been located as yet, although they are very active lately. A few Two-barred Warblers remains, they are usually very scruffy looking at this time of the year. Large Hawk Cuckoos are still calling like crazy, occasionally they can show well if there are large trees in the area.

Grey Treepie

Speckled Piculet

Two-barred Warbler

Large Hawk Cuckoo

We joined a pelagic boat trip last week, but had no luck with any good birds. Conditions were extremely foggy and visibility was down to just 50m at one point, which is not good for birds as you can imagine. The southerly wind may also have something to do with it, as we usually get more pelagic birds during easterly winds. Some Red-necked Phalaropes and a few distant Little and Greater Crested Terns were the only interesting birds of note. Before we returned to Aberdeen we added a few Black-naped Terns, likely early arrivals from the tern colonies.

Red-necked Phalarope

Black-naped Tern & Common Sandpiper

I went after the Blue-throated Bee-eater reported by Koel at Fung Lok Wai but couldn't relocate the bird as expected. A fairly friendly Black Drongo was the only notable bird there, though a very common species in Hong Kong, it is nice to get a good photo opportunity with good perch and nice background.

Black Drongo

Although we usually go looking for Nightjars at night, we occasionally do come across them during the day. Here's one that I flushed from its day roost accidentally, they are so well camouflage that they are very difficult to find unless you know where it landed.

Savanna Nightjar

The disappointing week was saved by this beautiful Brown Fish Owl the other night. Hoiling and I chanced upon this one, it was rather confiding and remained perched even after we fumbled to a better position to photograph it. A bit of consolation for the lack of migrants.

Brown Fish Owl

Monday 18 April 2022

Spring Migrants - Making Us Work Extra Hard...

The thing with migration is that you never really know what to expect, some years maybe extremely good with migrants everywhere, some years you get a few weeks of practically nothing. This year was one of those, where continued north easterly winds seems to have affected the birds somehow. Things were relatively slow going, the usual migrant magnet at Ho Man Tin been getting barely any flycatchers. My local patch was fairing no better, with very little movements. A Crested Goshawk and Grey-faced Buzzard was about the best I managed at Tai Mei Tuk Catchment.

Crested Goshawk

Grey-faced Buzzard

I tried Ng Tung Chai one day, again it was great habitat with no migrants occupying it. Managed some photos of common forest species, such as some confiding Rufous-capped Babbler and a pair of nesting Streak-breasted Scimitar Babblers, this one carrying a legless Spider back to its young.

Rufous-capped Babbler

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler

Lok Ma Chau Village was slightly better, with a few 'Swintail' Snipes feeding on the lettuce field, couldn't get a good photo of their tail fanned out though, so can't confirm their ID. A single Plaintive Cuckoo was in song, flying around the fields and houses. A few Greater Painted Snipes were very well hidden in the fields, while a single Chinese Penduline Tit was all that remains along the reedbed.

'Swintail' Snipe

Plaintive Cuckoo - male

Greater Painted Snipe - female

Chinese Penduline Tit

Things started to improve on 16th, at Mai Po we saw the arrival of a male Ruff, a species that is far more uncommon now than it was used to. Most individuals passing through Hong Kong are juveniles, so a male was quite a nice surprise. Most waders were chased off by an Eastern Marsh Harrier off the mudflat when the tide came in.

Ruff - male with assorted waders

Ruff - inflight

Eastern Marsh Harrier

At least two Chinese Egrets were still present on the mudflat, this is a species I can hardly get bored of, they certainly are the most elegant of all egrets in Hong Kong!

Chinese Egret

While a Japanese Paradise Flycatcher was reported at Tai Po Kau, I couldn't connect with it. A friendly pair of Black Bulbul was probably the best bird I managed here. The pair seems to be engaging in some courtship display and in the process of looking for suitable nest site. While a relatively common winter visitor to Hong Kong, not many of them breed here. This is by far the closest encounter I have with them.

Black Bulbul

Though there weren't that many migrants around, Tai Po Kau is still easily one of the best site for forest birds in Hong Kong, here is a good range of species you can expect to see on a single visit. Other than the common resident species, Hainan Blue Flycatchers make any spring time visit a truly delightful experience.

Velvet-fronted Nuthach

Silver-eared Mesia

Pygmy Cupwing

Huet's Fulvetta

Great Barbet

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - male

Thanks to Captain's tip, I managed to get a male Japanese Paradise Flycatcher at Jordan Valley, this site is not quite known for birds but with suitable habitat it can be a good place to look for migrating flycatchers. This male was a little shy, only showed briefly after I waited nearly three hours. A more surprising find was a juvenile male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, this species is more common in autumn, and quite rare in spring, unfortunately this was not the adult male I was hoping for. A pair of Blue Whistling Thrush was also nesting nearby, allowing quite close views as they forage along the stream.

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher - male

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher - juvenile male

Blue Whistling Thrush

Saturday 9 April 2022

Spot-breasted Parrotbill - Escapee or Wild?

A Spot-breasted Parrotbill was found by birders a few weeks back, and relocated recently. This species has never been recorded in Hong Kong before, but being a largely sedentary species, its appearance in Hong Kong is somewhat surprising. Being stuck in Hong Kong for two years now, I can't really say no to a crazy looking parrotbill! It took very little effort to relocate this very vocal bird, in a matter of minutes we were looking at this large and simply insane looking parrotbill. I've seen this species on my travels to northern Thailand, and viewing conditions were very similar, it perched up calling within a a few meters to us.

Spot-breasted Parrotbill

Now the big question, is this bird an escapee or a genuine wild bird? The answer may not be as simple as we think. Historically we've had Grey-headed Parrotbills records from Hong Kong Island, they were considered as escapes, the live bird trade in Hong Kong is unfortunately alive and well, and we do find the odd exotic bird every so often, this could well have been brought to Hong Kong via pet trade, escaped or released somewhere and ended up on suitable habitats on Tai Mo Shan.

But, Hong Kong is well within the natural range of this species, with closest record just 200km east of Hong Kong. They are also found in northern Guangdong at sites such as Nanling and Chebaling. So, Hong Kong is well within reach for this species. As we have learnt in the past that sedentary species are capable of spreading from one patch of suitable habitat to another, who is to say that this could not have been a naturally spreading bird from nearby population that just ended up here? That being said, most species that naturally spread to Hong Kong will often see a spread in Guangdong first, I am not sure whether this species is showing sign of spread in Guangdong, though I've never seen this species at any of the forested sites near Hong Kong, although that could be due to the fact that we were looking at the wrong habitat, where this species require tall grass and shrubs to thrive, and we've mostly been looking at forested sites. My guess is that this will be first put into category III for now, until we see more clear signs of spread it will probably remain there. Either way, this is a fun bird to see and photograph and brings back joyful memories from northern Thailand!

Spot-breasted Parrotbill

Tai Mo Shan is of course home to our local Vinous-throated Parrotbills, it was believed that the population here derived from caged birds as well, yet we are very well within its natural range, as this species is actually quite common throughout most of Guangdong.

Vinous-throated Parrotbill

No visit to Tai Mo Shan is completed without at least trying for the Chinese Grassbird. Managed to find a fairly friendly one, singing out in the open. With such limited global distribution, I always feel very fortunate that we can find this species relatively easily in Hong Kong, and no doubt one of the top resident species here!

Chinese Grassbird

Chinese Babax was heard only, this rare resident remains rather elusive. A Eurasian Hoopoe was a bit of a surprising find, I've never seen them up here before, although they are known to wander and can turn up almost anywhere. This one was seen feeding on the grass amongst the large boulders. I even got a new butterfly species while looking for birds up there, an Orange Punch, one of the three species of Riodinidae found in Hong Kong, and no doubt the best looking of the lot!

Eurasian Hoopoe

Orange Punch

As mid April approaches, more migratory waders are now arriving. The first of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper arrived, unfortunately I was a day late and missed the bird. Still, there were plenty of migrants to look at and often at close range. Terek Sandpipers now in very good numbers, and we are also seeing more Broad-billed Sandpipers. Red-necked Stints are common and will often walk right up to the bird hide. No less than 20 Nordmann's Greenshanks were feeding and resting on the mudflat, they have a habit of staying until the water is so high that they can barely stand on the mudflat.

Terek Sandpiper

Broad-billed Sandpiper

Red-necked Stint

Nordmann's Greenshank

There were plenty of Whimbrels feeding close to the bird hide, a few Far Eastern Curlews came relatively close, their brown rump is a feature best seen in flight. Their difference with the similar Eurasian Curlew don't stop there, Far Eastern Curlews also have marked underwing, as oppose to the plain underwing of Eurasian Curlews.


Far Eastern Curlew

Eurasian Curlew

Most Grey Herons are winter visitors in Hong Kong, although some do stay over summer. Great Egrets now moulted into their breeding plumage, with bright green facial skin and black bill. Little Egret is perhaps the most common egret species in Hong Kong, but it is often amongst them we find the much rarer Chinese Egret, a species that formerly bred in Hong Kong but now only as a migrant, spring is definitely the best time to see them as they moulted into the exquisite breeding plumage with beautiful head plumes. Almost equally exquisite looking are the many Black-faced Spoonbills in breeding plumage.

Great Egret & Grey Heron
Little Egret

Chinese Egret

Black-faced Spoonbill

Wintering Chinese Penduline Tits are still around, it is not difficult to find them feeding in reedbeds. Once you know their call, they are actually quite easy to locate, and you hear them everywhere!

Chinese Penduline Tit

The drained pond at San Tin continues to provide some refuge to migrant waders, including a small flock of Sharp-tailed Sandpipers. They were feeding in the remaining puddles with numerous Long-toed Stints, the two species actually resembles one another in plumage, but very different in size. The exposed mud is the perfect nesting ground for Little Ringed Plover, their eggs perfectly camouflaged on the pebbled and shell littered ground.

Sharp-tailed Sandpiper & Long-toed Stint

Little Ringed Plover

Closer to home, breeding Hainan Blue Flycatchers are back, their songs can now be heard throughout the forest. The good weather and continued north easterly winds are not doing much in bringing in new migrants, the only notable migrant I got near home is a huge flock of Ashy Minivets, I estimated around 100 together, likely one of the largest congregation of Ashy Minivets in Hong Kong ever! As previous high count was 55 birds.

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - male

Ashy Minivet - male

Ashy Minivet - female

I tried visiting the Ting Kok East Coast for migratory waders, but the tide was too high for any waders to be feeding there. The nearby grassy area hosted a single Little Bunting that was too quick for me to grab a photo, Yellow-bellied Prinias are in song and very confiding. One of the best bird present was a Siberian Rubythroat in song, though a bit far it was nice to see this usually skulking bird out in the open.

Yellow-bellied Prinia

Siberian Rubythroat - male