Sunday 26 June 2022

June Summer Wildlife - Birding Off-season

June is not a great time for birding in Hong Kong, this is a fact! There are just not that many interesting birds around, and it is just too hot during the day to be productive. This is however one of the best time to engage in night walks, where many animals and insects are now extremely active. Within a week I saw no less than 12 different Bamboo Pit Vipers at various locations, the hot weather really brings them out into the open, this included a not so healthy looking juvenile, which looked very weak, my guess is that it will be picked off by an owl or a bird sooner or later...I encountered 3 Burmese Pythons in the same week, two of which were 3m long! Only the smaller one stayed still enough for a photo, not a great photo but still an exciting snake to see every time! 

Bamboo Pit Viper - fiesty one!

Bamboo Pit Viper - an unhealthy looking juvenile

Bamboo Pit Viper - classic 'S' pose

Burmese Python

Greater Green Snakes are always fun to find, and no doubt one of my favourite species in Hong Kong, they are very docile and extremely pretty, we found one during our night walk and was able to show our friends what gentle creatures they really are. The other extremely docile species is the White-spotted Slug Snake, also a joy to see every time.

Greater Green Snake - friendly snake with friends!

White-spotted Slug Snake - extremely docile species

Looking for frogs along the streams can be very rewarding, even the common species are extremely fun to watch. The Short-legged Horned Toad is fairly common in certain streams and are full of character, this near endemic species is listed as Endangered due to its limited distribution. The Asian Common Toad is by far our most common species of true toad in Hong Kong, but can come in a huge variety of colour variation. Green Cascade Frogs are almost always found near streams, really are a very pretty species. Whereas the Brown Tree Frog, aka the Hong Kong Whipping Frog can usually be found a bit further away from streams.

Short-legged Horned Toad

Asian Common Toad

Green Cascade Frog

Brown Tree Frog

There are other species of frogs that inhabits freshwater wetlands, such as the Chinese Bull Frog, a species that is threatened locally through mercy release of cultivated variant that may pollute the local gene pool. The Ornate Pygmy Frog is a tiny species that grows no bigger than the tip of my thumb, also a species mostly found in wetlands. The Fejervarya multistriata, more commonly known locally as the Paddy Frog, is a common species that taxonomy is still not fully resolved, they are found almost anywhere near still water. The Asiatic Painted Frog is a very common species in Hong Kong, more often heard than seen, their loud 'mooing' calls usually heard after heavy rain.

Chinese Bull Frog

Ornate Pygmy Frog

Paddy Frog

Asiatic Painted Frog

Moths are another group of interesting nocturnal insects that we adore. One of the more interesting species we encountered lately was a Bee Robber, also known as the Greater Death's Head Hawkmoth, they can produce a pheromone that mimics a queen bee that allows them to go right into a beehive without being stung. Other hawkmoths we saw include the White-edged Hunter Hawkmoth, and Yam Hawkmoth, both fairly common species that are fabulous looking nonetheless.

Bee Robber - Acherontia lachesis

White-edged Hunter Moth - Theretra pallicosta

Yam Hawkmoth - Theretra nessus

Other common yet interesting looking species includes the Erebus ephesperis, an Erebidae moth with intricate patterns that mimics broken dried leaves. A fresh looking Agathia carissima are never boring to look at, with their bright green patterns. While the Gangarides puerariae is not a particularly common species, is likely another dead leaf mimic.

Erebus ephesperis

Agathia carissima

Gangarides puerariae

Larger moths such as the impressive looking Lyssa Zampa, or more commonly known as the Tropical Swallowtail Moth, are a common feature during night walks in Hong Kong. The most impressive looking moth we encountered lately were up to two Golden Moon Moths at two different locations, they are never boring to look at and as large as my palm.

Tropical Swallowtail Moth - Lyssa Zampa

Golden Moon Moth - Actias sinensis

Along the streams you can often find Nanhaipotamon hongkongense, also known as the Hong Kong Stream Crabs, a mainly nocturnal species that is most active at night, although I do see them crossing footpaths during the day as well. On wet days they can even be found much further away from streams.

Hong Kong Stream Crab - nanhaipotamon hongkongense

There are some insects more commonly found in wetlands, such as Diplonychus rusticus, more commonly known as Water Bugs, June is one of the best time to find them, it is known that female lay eggs on the male's back and let them carry them around until they hatch. You more often find dragonflies emerging at night, where they will dry their wings through the cool night air to get ready to fly off at first light, this Globe Skimmer was found just emerging.

Diplonychus rusticus - aka Water Bug

Globe Skimmer

Beetles can be very colourful and exciting, three fairly common species in Hong Kong includes the Protaetia orientalis aka Oriental Flower Chafer, the Euselates magna aka Cockchafer Beetle and the Sagra femorata aka Frog-legged Leaf Beetles. The Neolucanus sinicus is a Stag Beetle, although it doesn't have an impressive mandible as on other larger species, is still a nice beetle to find.

Protaetia orientalis

Euselates magna

Sagra femorata

Neolucanus sinicus

Two of the more interesting spiders I encountered including a Phlogiellus species, more commonly known as the Garden Tarantula, there are two known species in Hong Kong that cannot be separated without dissection. Epeus glorius is another spider that I really like, never boring to see this jumping spider!

Phlogiellus sp.

Epeus glorius

Finally, the only photographable large mammal I saw lately, a Red Mutjac. This one was found feeding on the side of the road, taken through a metal fence...Not much birds photographed lately, still hopeful that something interesting will turn up this summer.

Red Muntjac

Friday 3 June 2022

Here Comes The Heat!

May marks some of our last remaining spring migrants passing through, though I've been drowning in work, I spared few hours to visit a pair of Pheasant-tailed Jacanas at Mai Po, one in particular was already assuming breeding plumage, although not quite in full breeding plumage yet, we don't often see one with 'pheasant tail' in Hong Kong.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana

The fishponds and marshes around Mai Po attracts hundreds of marsh terns during migration, a flock of terns feeding on a fishpond at San Tin provided plenty of opportunity for photographers to test their gear's full potential, evidently my EOS R6 did a good job in tracking these flying acrobats. Many were White-winged Black Terns, all in breeding plumage.

White-winged Black Tern

The majority of marsh terns there were Whiskered Terns, I did find the camera tracked these slightly better, perhaps the White-winged Terns were darker and the camera's computer doesn't pick them up as easily.

Whiskered Tern

During our night surveys we continued our luck with owls, including a rather friendly Collared Scops Owl, as well as the resident Brown Fish Owl, although it prefer to keep its distance.

Collared Scops Owl

Brown Fish Owl

The breeding Black Baza returned yet again, unfortunately this year the news was somehow leaked to photographers, since then hundreds of photographers flocked to the site. Though I am not fond of huge crowds, I usually see no problem as long as everyone keep a good distance to the bird and try to keep disturbance to a minimum, but nesting bird is a whole other matter, especially such a rare breeding species, where this pair is now the only known pair left breeding in Hong Kong, it probably would've been best for the birds if the location of the pair was not publicized. Either way, there is no turning back from that, all we can hope for is the this pair can breed successfully despite the disturbance. That being said, the location is currently under construction, and that very patch where this pair breeds is unlikely going to remain there for long, I just hope they will relocate somewhere safe nearby in the future, and not abandon Hong Kong altogether.

Black Baza

Summer is a time to focus less on birds and more on herps! I start my herping season with a lovely juvenile Many Banded Krait, this one perfectly demonstrate how docile this highly venomous species can be, though being notoriously one of the most venomous snake in Hong Kong, fatalities from this species is almost unheard of here, as they rarely strike without any provocation, even when disturbed they almost always want to flee, and quite often will hide its head under its body.

Many Banded Krait