Saturday 31 December 2022

Two Full Days Birding Tour - Quality End of the Year Birds

Since I started this blog, I've always been passionate about showing people the natural side of Hong Kong, and birding tour is just one way to show people our surprising diversity of birds. Just had two full days birding tour with two different guests, both days with some success in finding our targets plus a few surprises along the way. 

For the first day we started at Tai Po Kau, our prime forest birding site rarely disappoints. We hit our first large bird wave at picnic area 1, with a few Hartert's Leaf Warblers and Sulphur-breasted Warblers. Common species like Huet's Fulvettas showed well, I especially like this photo with the bird facing straight towards me. Further on we had a very confiding Blue Whistling Thrush.

Hartert's Leaf Warbler

Sulphur-breasted Warbler

Huet's Fulvetta

Blue Whistling Thrush

The Japanese Robin showed well, although not as easy to photograph as before, but with a bit of patience we got good views of several individuals throughout the walk. I still can't quite believe what an extraordinary year this had been for this species, there seems to be more of them compared to the usually common Rufous-tailed Robins! Of which we only saw two shy individuals!

Japanese Robin - male

An Asian Stubtail feeding by the side of the footpath provided excellent views, we followed it for a few minutes, this skulking species is never easy to photograph, so I was pleased we connected with this relatively 'showy' individual.

Asian Stubtail

Best bird at Tai Po Kau came in form of TWO White-spectacled Warblers in one large bird wave, we know clearly there are two because I photographed one with greyish crown and the other with greenish crown! This species been tricky to locate at Tai Po Kau, as the location of the bird waves seems to shift on each of my visits, but I am glad to catchup with these beautiful warblers in the end. We looked for the Rufous-faced Warblers but they were nowhere to be seen.

White-spectacled Warbler - greyish crown

White-spectacled Warbler - greenish crown

After Tai Po Kau we headed to Lions Nature Education Centre, where numerous thrushes been seen lately. There we added a nice looking male Red-flanked Bluetail, a female White-rumped Shama and a Taiga Flycatcher. 

Red-flanked Bluetail - male

White-rumped Shama - female

Taiga Flycatcher

The large numbers of thrushes can clearly be felt here, there were quite a lot of thrushes everywhere, many hiding in various corners within the centre, some photographers also tried putting out fruits to lure the thrushes into view just behind the car park. Most numerous being Grey-backed Thrush, where I counted no less than at least 5 to 6 individuals dotted around the place, with at least a pair going to the 'photo booth'. 

Grey-backed Thrush - male

Grey-backed Thrush - female

A female Japanese Thrush also lured to the 'photo booth' by the fruits, at first glance they look quite similar to female Grey-backed Thrushes, but often darker backed, the most obvious difference are the heavily marked flank.

Japanese Thrush - female

The main attraction being a very friendly White's Thrush, walking around the lawn oblivious to the people around it. Other than the fruits offered by the photographers, I also observed it feeding on the fruits of a Turn-in-the-wind (Mallotus paniculatus) nearby.

White's Thrush

A shrike had been frequenting the farmland in the middle of the centre, of which I believe is a 1st winter Grey-backed Shrike. It is not dissimilar to the one that turned up at my local patch last year, with brownish ear coverts, buffish underparts with extensive barring on breast, belly and rump, as well as the lack of barring on the wing coverts all seems to be good indicators that this is most likely a Grey-backed and not a Brown Shrike. Separation of 1st winters of the two species remains extremely tricky and hopefully more sightings will result in us being better at identifying them.

Grey-backed Shrike - 1st winter

We gave Yan Yee Road a try in the afternoon, while it was mostly quiet we did find a pair of Rufous-faced Warblers! A complete surprise for us all, I am glad we found this pair after missing those at Tai Po Kau. The pair foraged mostly in silent on their own, we watched them for a good ten minutes before they disappeared. Before we left we found a very confiding 1st winter male Japanese Thrush feeding by the side of the road.

Rufous-faced Warbler

Japanese Thrush - 1st winter male

Since the guest for the second full day tour was staying near Sai Kung, I thought we should start at Yan Yee Road again, where I hope to find the Rufous-faced Warblers again. Unfortunately, we didn't see the two warblers again, but we got a good cast of common forest dwelling species, including a good look at a Speckled Piculet near the end of the walk.

Speckled Piculet

Our next stop was Mai Po, where we were greeted by a Taiga Flycatcher near the entrance. It didn't take long for us to find our first of many Chinese Penduline Tit. I managed to find a Vinous-throated Parrotbill, which gave brief views, this was the first time I ever seen a Vinous-throated Parrotbill in Mai Po. Other than the regular Black-faced Buntings, a single Little Bunting decided to drop in right in front of us for a good long look before it took off again.

Taiga Flycatcher - light made it look like a Red-breasted...

Chinese Penduline Tit

Little Bunting

Since the tide was very low, we decided against going out to Deep Bay, we scanned the various ponds and added more waterbirds to our day's list. We saw plenty of Black-faced Spoonbills, along with Eurasian Spoonbills. There were plenty of ducks around, although most of them were common species that is not particularly exciting for a birder from the UK, we did see some Eastern Spot-billed Ducks which added to the variety.

Eurasian and Black-faced Spoonbill

Eastern Spot-billed Duck

It took a while but I finally found three Yellow-billed Grosbeaks, they were relatively confiding and allowed us to get quite close, we enjoyed excellent views for over five minutes before they took off.

Yellow-billed Grosbeak - female

Yellow-billed Grosbeak - male

We decided that we probably got most of the birds we could in the reserve, as we were about to head back out to the park entrance, I noticed two large birds gliding high above, the first being an Imperial Eagle, the second bird was about the same size as the eagle but had a long neck. "Black Stork!" I shouted, and we watched the two glided together to the east and soon out of sight! Theres been at least two Black Storks reported in recent weeks, but none of them decided to stop over at Mai Po, so it was pure luck that we chanced upon this individual gliding past! And what a fine addition to my year list before the end of the year.

Black Stork & Imperial Eagle

Since we still had some time, I decided a short trip to Tai Sang Wai would probably allow us to add a few more species to our day's list. We first added a very showy male Bluethroat, later we added three more female Bluethroats, while a Siberian Rubythroat only gave us a very brief look. We ended our day at Tai Sang Wai with a Golden-headed Cisticola, which was first heard, and finally seen well after some effort.

Bluethroat - male

Golden-headed Cisticola

145 species in total recorded in two days, with 118 species on the second day alone, which is not bad for a relatively relaxed itinerary. And what a great way to end the year with two really high quality birding days.

Friday 23 December 2022

Wintering Birds - Japanese Robins & Thrushes

There are several species in Hong Kong that tells you we are truly into the winter months, Japanese Robin is one of those. This rare winter visitor is a treat to see every single time, and this year we seem to have a good numbers of them around at several different locations. I found at least 3 at Tai Po Kau, with other birders reporting up to four! This one in particular showed fairly well, although I had to crank my ISO up to 6400 to get anything usable. Still, a brilliant looking bird that is surely one of my favourite winter birds to encounter.

Japanese Robin - male

This winter's been exceptional for thrushes, in particular White's Thrush, which seems to be everywhere! I haven't caught up with any photogenic ones yet, but saw at least 3 in one day at Tai Po Kau. Other species such as Japanese Thrush as well as Grey-backed Thrush are also in good numbers. 

White's Thrush

Japanese Thrush - male

Grey-backed Thrush - male

Though considered common, the usual species at Tai Po Kau are still a nice addition to a day's birding if you see them well. Winter is probably some of the best time to see these fine forest birds in action, as they congregate in large feeding flocks.

Grey-chinned Minivet - female

Huet's Fulvetta

Yellow-cheeked Tit - male

Chestnut Bulbul

Black-throated Laughingthrush

Mountain Bulbul

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Leaf Warblers are all passage migrants or winter visitors in Hong Kong, you will often find many in these feeding flocks, the most numerous being Pallas's Leaf Warblers and Yellow-browed Warblers. Eastern Crowned Warbler seems to be wintering in Hong Kong regularly now, while this seems to be a great year for Rufous-faced Warbler, I saw at least three in a feeding flock at Tai Po Kau.

Pallas's Leaf Warbler
Eastern Crowned Warbler

Rufous-faced Warbler

Wintering flycatchers includes Daurian Redstarts which is especially common this winter. Asian Brown Flycatchers can also be found occasionally in suitable habitats.

Daurian Redstart - female

Asian Brown Flycatcher

Over to the fishponds near Deep Bay, Eurasian Coots numbers are up this year, I don't remember seeing so many of them for a long time, Black-faced Spoonbills are also a regular sight around the fishponds.

Eurasian Coot

Black-faced Spoonbill & Great Egret

Black-winged Kites seems a lot more common than they used to be, I see one or two every time I visit Mai Po, as well as other fishponds area such as Tai Sang Wai and Fung Lok Wai. Eastern Marsh Harriers are also a regularly encountered species of raptors in these areas.

Black-winged Kite

Eastern Marsh Harrier - female

Finally, some Common Starlings to round things off, this 'common' species is an uncommon winter visitor to Hong Kong. I found several of them at Tai Sang Wai, along with a very nice looking male Red Collared Dove and numerous Eurasian Collared Dove. If it wasn't for the Red Collared Dove this could well have been a photo taken in the UK!

Common Starling, Red Collared Dove and Eurasian Collared Dove