Friday 30 September 2022

Telford Garden Magic & Autumn Herping

Telford Garden continue to works it migrant magnet magic, with a steady stream of Grasshopper Warblers, while I kept missing the Lanceolated Warblers which Captain sees and photograph on a regular basis lately, the newest more unusual arrival includes a Styan's Grasshopper Warbler, now also known as the Pleske's Grasshopper Warbler. This usually very shy species is a regular passage migrant in Hong Kong, most usually found along the mangroves in Deep Bay area, this one however found itself in the middle of a shopping mall roof top garden. It still baffles me how these warblers seems to be attracted to this 100% manmade habitat. Nonetheless, it is a great to be able to observe these usually obscured species up close.

Styan's Grasshopper Warbler - Finally in full view!

I can't say for certain what it's been feeding on for the past few days, it looks like some kind of grubs or pupae, but it certainly have no trouble finding them! Its been active in a flowerbed and hedge no bigger than 2m x 3m wide, but does have a tendency to disappear once in a while and reappearing again.

Styan's Grasshopper Warbler - feeding

In the same flowerbed there were up to two different Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers. This leads me to believe that this very flowerbed likely have the highest density of grasshopper warblers in the world! The Styan's certainly want to keep this spot all to itself, but those two little warblers just kept coming back, plus an Oriental Magpie Robin also claiming this flowerbed to be its territory, so it was constant chasing and fighting from these few birds.

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler

Things were much more peaceful in other flowerbeds, with this very friendly Pallas's occupying this one all by itself. This is one of the tamest I have seen and will readily walk all the way to the edge of the flowerbed at arm's length! So, naturally this one attracted the most attention by photographers.

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler - the friendliest of the bunch

Another one occupied the rockscape near the pool, occasionally jumping out to the open before flying back into the covers of thick vegetation. There were likely two more elsewhere and apparently a Lanceolated Warbler according to Captain, but I didn't spend too much time looking for those. All in all a great season for these warblers! I am still hoping for something much rarer like Gray's or Brown Bush Warbler to turn up, fingers crossed!

Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler

My luck for snakes seems to have improved a bit of late, first with a young Common Rat Snake that was found during a night tour! This very cute and gentle snake was a huge hit for the kids, and everyone got to see this beautiful snake up close. This species is diurnal, so we don't usually see them at night, just so happened that this one was sleeping on the side of the road. We moved it off to somewhere safer afterwards. We also found a Bamboo Pit Viper plus a young Red-necked Keelback that evening, but those I didn't bother with photos.

Common Rat Snake

I found yet another Futsing Wolf Snake while out one evening, this one was still pretty small, but certainly a feisty little snake! It gave me a good nibble twice, although no blood drawn as its teeth were still too small. It was also not a great model and constantly moved around, having photographed this species quite a few times already, I took a few record shots and let it go back about its business.

Futsing Wolf Snake

The best snake of late being a Chinese Mountain Snake, found by James while we were out birding! We had a lengthy photo session with this cute little snake, as I've yet to get any proper photos of this species. While this species is actually quite widespread, it is rarely seen during herping sessions at night, as they are diurnal and usually burrow itself under leaf litter at night, making them a tricky snake to locate. I have seen them a few times already while out birding, walking along forest tracks during the day seems to be the best way in finding these docile snakes.

Chinese Mountain Snake

Another interesting find during night walk is a Reeve's Terrapin! This is one of the native species in Hong Kong, and like all native turtles they have been heavily poached and getting rarer and rarer by the day. Reeve's Terrapin is likely the most common native species left, but due to competition with released exotic species such as Red-eared Sliders, these turtles are much rarer than they were used to. I myself have not seen one in the wild for quite sometime! It is important that if you ever find a local turtle species to keep the location TO YOURSELF! Do not share or reveal location with anyone. 

Reeve's Terrapin

Wednesday 28 September 2022

Southern Lantau Migrants - Birding at Hong Kong's Largest Island

I rarely bird Lantau, mainly because I live on the opposite side of Hong Kong, the other reason being no person without a permit can drive into southern Lantau, which makes getting there more difficult than it should be. Usually, we need to head to Tung Chung and catch a bus to reach just one of the many birding hotspots, therefore it is difficult to travel multiple stops on a single day without getting bogged down by public transport. Therefore, when an opportunity arrises that a friend got a car with a permit to go into southern Lantau, it was worth spending a day there! We met up at Sunny Bay and got into his car and headed towards Shui Hau. Shui Hau been getting more attention of late due to a presence of a Fairy Pitta there a week ago, we knew it was already gone by the time of our visit, but our morning there started fairly well, with a female Yellow-rumped Flycatcher plus a few very confiding Asian Brown Flycatchers.

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher

Asian Brown Flycatcher

With so many Water Buffalos, this naturally attracts a lot of Cattle Egrets, this is a common sight in south Lantau. The grass attracted quite a few Eastern Yellow Wagtails, and I was very pleased to find a Citrine Wagtail there as well, this juvenile got the classic looking C-shaped ear covert. 

Eastern Cattle Egret

Citrine Wagtail

To my complete surprise, a Forest Wagtail jumped out of nowhere and was feeding next to the Citrine Wagtail! It was very strange to see these two species together, as they usually inhabits very different habitats! The Forest Wagtail did not give good views however and disappeared very soon.

Forest Wagtail

After a relatively productive morning at Shui Hau we moved on towards Pui O, on the field we spotted a good numbers of 'Swintail' Snipes, but when two of them took flight their fanned tail revealed themselves to be Swinhoe's Snipes! I wasn't quick enough with my camera, but Ko who already got his camera ready managed to snap a few photos before they landed, confirming them as Swinhoe's Snipes.

Swinhoe's Snipe

Swinhoe's Snipe (photo credit to Ko)

Black Drongos were everywhere, one perched nicely and infront of a nice background for a good photo. Asian Brown Flycatchers were in no short supplies, and we saw a few more of those, one of them was very friendly and allowed close views.

Black Drongo

Asian Brown Flycatcher

But talking about friendly, nothing quite beat this over the top friendly Sanderling, feeding along the beach without a care in the world. it is always a pleasure to see these long distance migrants up close, getting the camera as close to the ground as possible ensures a nice background, we had a nice little photo session with this charming little bird before moving onto other birds at Pui O. We didn't connect with the Black-capped Kingfisher, but I did see a Black-naped Oriole. 

Sanderling - a very confiding individual

The mangroves at Pui O was covered in Fiddler's Crab, we saw two species, the pale but larger Austruca lactea and the smaller but very colourful Paraleptuca splendida.

Austruca lactea

Paraleptuca splendida

It was already mid-day when we got to Shap Long, and bird activity started to slow. We did add a distance Brown Shrike at the reservoir. Closer to the village we were surrounded by over a hundred Large-billed Crow, probably the largest congregation of Large-billed Crows I have seen in Hong Kong, I estimated at least 120 crows together, but actual count maybe even more. The best bird at Shap Long was an Eurasian Wryneck, but it was not cooperative and remained well hidden.

Brown Shrike

Large-billed Crow - one of the largest congregation I've seen in Hong Kong

Finally, we moved on towards Ngong Ping, where we were greeted by a pair of Eurasian Hobbies. But, our main target there was actually a Yellow-browed Bunting that was found earlier the day, luckily for us, the bird stayed and gave excellent views, no doubt one of my best encounter of this species to date!

Eurasian Hobby

Yellow-browed Bunting

On our way back to the car we added a single Dollarbird perched on a dead tree, plus a Dark-sided Flycatcher. And that concluded our rather productive full day birding at southern Lantau, although our species count was not that impressive, we managed some very good species and even some good photos to take home with us! Lantau is certainly a much under birded area in Hong Kong, and with more birders willing to spend time here, I am sure a lot more rarities will be reported here in the near future.


Dark-sided Flycatcher

I was invited by Canon Hong Kong to co-lead a forest bird photography workshop with James Kwok, we decided to head to Shek Kong Catchment for our outing, and it proved to be a good choice, as it provided plenty of photography opportunities of several forest species, the best being a flock of Asian Emerald Doves! We started with three on the same branch, later we saw at least 6 individuals coming and going, both adults and juveniles were seen.

Common Emerald Dove - adult

Common Emerald Dove - juvenile

Unfortunately we didn't get to experience any large bird waves with the group, but other birds of interest includes a single Plaintive Cuckoo, plus good numbers of Arctic Warblers, which always provide a good challenge for any bird photographer.

Plaintive Cuckoo

Arctic Warbler

Both Dark-sided and Asian Brown Flycatchers were seen, although they weren't particularly close, everyone got good views of them. I also saw a Yellow-rumped Flycatcher near the reservoir, but it was too quick for anyone else to see it.

Dark-sided Flycatcher

Asian Brown Flycatcher