Tuesday 10 May 2022

Pelagic Fun in May

I joined two pelagic trips in the beginning of the month, hoping to catch some more seabirds before spring migration is over. Both days saw strong easterly winds throughout the day, which is not good for migrating seabirds, but great for birders! Although we didn't find anything really unusual or rare, finding at least a few Shearwaters and Skuas was already something! This is also a really good time to find migrating terns, which we saw no less than hundreds of them. The most numerous being White-winged Black Terns, these good looking birds can be fairly common during passage, and this was a particularly good year for them, as birders been seeing them almost anywhere with water! We encountered flocks of these feeding together.

White-winged Black Tern

Common Terns were also seen in good numbers, we saw constant stream of these throughout the trips. Most were of race longipennis with all dark bills, only a few were of race tibetana or minussensis. Quite a few were seen resting of floating polystyrene out at sea, taking a break from their long distance migration.

Common Tern - race longipennis

Common Tern - race tibetana / minussensis

Spring is also a great time to see migrating Aleutian Terns in Hong Kong waters, it still amazes me to think that up till 80s their wintering grounds were almost unknown to ornithologists, and wasn't recorded in Hong Kong until 1992! Now, we know they winter in equatorial waters in South East Asia and as a regular passage migrant through the coast of China. We were able to get quite close to a few of these elegant looking birds as they rested on floating buoys or debris.

Aleutian Tern

Another regularly recorded species of tern throughout spring is the Greater Crested Tern, this species does not breed in Hong Kong but probably breed somewhere not far from Hong Kong, even from a distance we can usually pick them out from other terns due to their larger size.

Greater Crested Tern

The smallest of our migratory terns is the Little Tern, we saw quite a few following most of the White-winged Black Terns. They also have quicker wing beats, always looking quite 'busy'.

Little Tern

Finally, you get our trio of breeding tern species. They start arriving by late April and now starting to show signs of courtship. Black-naped Terns are the palest looking of the three species, they look almost all white from afar, with only a black stripe running across the back of their head.

Black-naped Tern

Bridled Tern is the most numerous and darkest of the three, they are also the largest and have longer wings. We saw plenty of them during the trip, but usually in pairs, I wonder if those are already paired up for the breeding season.

Bridled Tern

The least common of the trio is the Roseate Tern, we only saw a single one resting on the buoy with the Black-naped Terns. In breeding plumage their breast turns a pinkish hue, hence appropriately called the Roseate Tern.

Roseate Tern & Black-naped Tern

Hundreds of Red-necked Phalaropes migrate in flocks at sea, this arctic breeder winters throughout tropical oceans, during spring migration they are commonly found feeding on the waves. Breeding females have dark face, while males are duller in colour.

Red-necked Phalarope

On the first trip we encountered a single Arctic Skua, this seems to be the most numerous Skua species we've been getting these few years. Much thanks to dedicated sea watcher Bart de Schutter, who notified us of this incoming bird from behind our boat from his sea watching point on Po Toi! ID for adults are pretty straight forward, as they have a short streamer and slightly bulkier than Long-tailed Skuas, the large single wing patch on upper and lower wings also supports that.

Arctic Skua

No pelagic trip feels complete without find a Shearwater or two, we were lucky to find Short-tailed Shearwaters on both trips, though the best encounter was on the second trip when this individual flew in alongside to our boat! Thanks to the dedication of Hong Kong sea-watching pioneers like Geoff Welch and Bart de Schutter, we now have a much better understanding of seabirds migration in Hong Kong, it also shows the limitation of boat trips in terms of racking up species count, as we have limited visibility at sea, we are likely missing a lot of birds going past us outside of 1km radius. That being said, we do get to enjoy close encounters with these birds when we do chance upon them, so I am not complaining!

Short-tailed Shearwater

Sunday 8 May 2022

Breeding Birds & Migrants

May usually signify the end of spring migration, we still get a few migrants but numbers are definitely past the peak. At Nam Chung, the Chestnut-winged Cuckoos are back, but they are nowhere as friendly as they were last two years, I managed a record shot of one of them as it landed on a distant tree. Grey-streaked Flycatchers are passing through at the moment and you will most often find them perched somewhere conspicuous. Brown Shrikes are also passing through in good numbers.

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo

Grey-streaked Flycatcher

Brown Shrike

Over at Mai Po, there are still some migrating waders around, but most were too far on the scrape for me to photograph. Greater Painted Snipes are now paring up and often seen skulking around the grass together, though a pair were found bathing together right out in the open.

Greater Painted Snipe

Nothing exceptional at Tai Po Kau, I was hoping that slight drizzle last week would bring in some migrants but I was disappointed to find very few migrants around. A Crested Goshawk was found drying itself after the rain. 

Crested Goshawk

Many local residents are now breeding, this Blue-winged Minla was found gathering nesting materials, while numerous Red-billed Leiothrix were found in song higher up near Brown Walk.

Blue-winged Minla

Red-billed Leiothrix

A very vocal Orange-headed Thrush took me a while to locate, turns out it was perched quite high up in a tree, their beautiful song is not too often heard, I think it sounds like a mixture of Oriental Magpie Robin with Chinese Hwamei. Hainan Blue Flycatchers are in no short supply everywhere, occasionally you find a friendly one like this one.

Orange-headed Thrush - male

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - male

A pair of Great Barbets near the AFCD warden buildings been frequenting a dead tree nearby. Being a usually shy bird, this naturally attracted a lot of photographers. While a fairly common species in mature forests in Hong Kong, they are not always easy to see well.

Great Barbet

Despite not seeing the Chinese Grassbird on a visit to Tai Mo Shan, good appearances of our common resident species were welcoming. A friendly Brown-flanked Bush Warbler came right out in the open, though a common species I don't always see them this well! Our local Vinous-throated Parrotbills are notoriously difficult to photograph well, I was quite happy to find a few of them hopping out into the open briefly, they are restless birds and very rarely perch for more than a few seconds.

Brown-flanked Bush Warbler

Vinous-throated Parrotbill

The craze about the Spot-breasted Parrotbill is now passed, and this peculiar bird is now left in peace. Although with a quick burst of playback it still jump right out into the open, hoping to look for its non-existence mate...

Spot-breasted Parrotbill

A friendly Mountain Bulbul was found lower down, not quite sure what it was doing on its own but it came within 1m to me on a few occasion, I ended up with a good photo of this much underated species, only in the right light and angle can you truly appreciate the lovely olive green wings and tail.

Mountain Bulbul