Monday 30 January 2023

Scaly-sided Merganser - First for Hong Kong

A Scaly-sided Merganser was reported on Tai Lam Chung Reservoir, which naturally got all birders extremely excited. We always knew this species could one day reach Hong Kong, it was just a matter of when. Unfortunately on the day I visited, the merganser decided to stay far away, while other people had much better views than I did, I was just happy to see this rarity. Unfortunately, this bird seems to have a broken lower mandible, therefore its tongue is hanging out from below, whether this affects it's ability to catch fish is not clear, but at the mean time it looks to be overall still in good shape. This will be the first record for Hong Kong if accepted, and hopefully one of many more to come!

Scaly-sided Merganser - Hong Kong first!

Another bird thats been keeping a lot of birders busy is the Barred Cuckoo-Dove, a few of these wonderful doves are again taken up residence along the valley at Wu Kau Tang. They seems to be more approachable this year, although photographing them still requires some luck. I was very lucky to have this adult female perched close to the footpath. Even though I've seen this species a lot of times now in Hong Kong, seeing them up close is still an exhilarating experience. The other dove species frequenting the area are many Oriental Turtle Doves, more than once I've been fooled by these chunky doves, thinking it was a Cuckoo-Dove...

Barred Cuckoo-Dove - female

Oriental Turtle Dove

Another good bird wintering at Wu Kau Tang is the Small Niltava, it took me a few tries, but I finally got a few record photos of the beautiful male. Other than the Niltava, many birds can be seen along the valley, including numerous Indochinese Yuhinas, occasionally they can be extremely confiding. White-bellied Erpornis are also regularly sighted here with bird waves. 

Small Niltava - male

Indochinese Yuhina

White-bellied Erpornis

A single Hartert's Leaf Warbler been keeping birders busy when the Barred Cuckoo-Doves are not showing. Black Bulbuls also seems to be a permanent fixture here, their unique call echoes throughout the valley. A Speckled Piculet been drumming loudly, it occasionally show quite well here, foraging along the many climbing vines. A few Tristram's Buntings were also seen here, sometimes feeding on the trail.

Hartert's Leaf Warbler

Black Bulbul

Speckled Piculet

Tristram's Bunting - male

Along the main road to the village, up to two White's Thrush been seen regularly, it is almost unreal to have so many of these nice looking thrushes wintering in Hong Kong this winter. Numerous Japanese and Grey-backed Thrushes can be seen in the area as well. Black-faced Bunting is by far the most common bunting species wintering at Wu Kau Tang, they are most often found along the main road.

White's Thrush

Japanese Thrush - male

Black-faced Bunting

Common Rosefinch is another Wu Kau Tang specialty, there's been several flocks feeding along the main road, mostly females. One bird that I feel is less common this winter is the Black-winged Cuckooshrike, this one at Wu Kau Tang is the only one I've seen this past month.

Common Rosefinch - female

Black-winged Cuckooshrike

Over at Tai Po Kau, the best bird I found lately were a few Rufous-faced Warblers, these handsome warblers are always a joy to see but never fun to photograph. The warblers appeared alongside common residents such as Grey-chinned Minivets, Huet's Fulvettas and Silver-eared Mesias.

Rufous-faced Warbler

Grey-chinned Minivet - male

Huet's Fulvetta

Silver-eared Mesia

Black-throated Laughingthrush is a very common bird in Hong Kong, but I have yet to get any satisfying photos of the hainan race individuals, these dark-faced birds can often be found mixed in with the normal looking Laughingthrushes, I finally got lucky the other day and had a few coming in real close for a decent photo.

Black-throated Laughingthrush

Black-throated Laughingthrush - race monachus

Mui Shue Hang Park remains to be a great location for brief visits during the day, the many thrushes provides endless photo opportunities, such as this incredibly confiding Grey-backed Thrush, and the very friendly Dusky Thrush. 

Grey-backed Thrush - male
Dusky Thrush

Many Red-flanked Bluetails are wintering at the park, including this brilliant looking adult male, I usually see 1st or 2nd winter males, seeing an adult male is actually quite unusual in Hong Kong. Japanese Tits also come to the ground to forage along with other birds.

Red-flanked Bluetail - male

Japanese Tit

The male Ferruginous Duck been fairly stable at San Tin, often swimming along the Tufted Ducks. A female Verditer Flycatcher is somewhat of a surprising find here. White-throated Kingfishers are always worth a second look if seen up close, their beautiful colours are surely mesmerising for anyone care to take the time to appreciate their beauty.

Ferruginous Duck - male

Verditer Flycatcher - female

White-throated Kingfisher

The best birds at San Tin for me however is perhaps the Oriental White Storks, they have been going back and forth between Mai Po and the MTR Wetlands at Lok Ma Chau. Although access is unavailable to the public, you can see the storks through the fence if you are lucky, but nothing quite beat seeing 11 of these majestic birds soaring up close above your heads.

Oriental Stork

Saturday 21 January 2023

3rd Week of January - More Tours

Had two more very productive full day tours the past week with varying success, we focused mainly on sites such as Wu Kau Tang, Mui Shue Hang Park, Shek Kong Airfield Road, Tai Sang Wai and San Tin. One day was extremely productive and we ended up with 119 species in total, we started the day with an Asian Barred Owlet by the road, we were literally driving along and talking about owls when I spotted this guy sitting on a low branch on a tree! I slammed on the break and luckily the owl stayed long enough for us to get a very good look before flying off. While we have a lot of species of owls in Hong Kong, unlike many places we don't have very regular owl roost, making locating them a little tricky during the day. Therefore, it is always a huge thrill to find one during the day.

Asian Barred Owlet

At Starling Inlet, three Red-breasted Merganser's been showing 'well', always casually swimming out on water. This species is a rare migrant and winter visitor to Hong Kong, the trio can be viewed from Luk Keng, but are often too far for binoculars to identify. Many Great Crested Grebes are also feeding out on the inlet, they often looked much longer necked which makes them easier to identify.

Red-breasted Merganser - far...

Great Crested Grebe

Along the 'access road' to Wu Kau Tang, we had a very showy Indochinese Green Magpie foraging out in the open! A White's Thrush was also seen along the same stretch of road, one of the very many I've seen this winter.

Indochinese Green Magpie

White's Thrush

Just before the village you can often find some buntings, such as this Little Bunting. The many fruiting trees nearby will often produce Common Rosefinches, although most of the time they are pretty well hidden within the vegetation.

Little Bunting

Common Rosefinch - male

Like last year, there were plenty of over wintering flycatchers in the area, including at least two Small Niltavas and a Fujian Niltava along the valley, both species making it tough to see though. A female Hainan Blue Flycatcher showed well near the village car park. Just past the car park along the bridge and stream is a good place to look for bird waves, here we found flocks of Indochinese Yuhinas, as well as Grey-chinned Minivets feeding.

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - female

Indochinese Yuhina

Grey-chinned Minivet

The best bird within the mixed flock is perhaps a single Chestnut-crowned Warbler, being very quick as always, and always a challenge to photograph them well. Here are a few attempts on a half decent record photos, they can hardly do the bird justice!

Chestnut-crowned Warbler

An interesting warbler was observed near the Chinese Sweet Gums just past the village. At first glance I noticed it was either a Two-barred or Greenish type warbler, it had one faint visible greater coverts wing bar and an extremely faint median covert wing bar that is barely visible in the field. In some angles I thought legs looks pretty dark, but it was probably due to shadows and lighting, when I checked the photos later I saw it had quite pale legs. Strangest thing was, the only call it made during 15 minutes of observation didn't sound quite right for a regular Two-barred, but more similar to Greenish. A bit of mixed features between the two species, but as far as I understand, identification of three of the four subspecies of Greenish Warbler (trochiloides, ludlowi, obscuratus) is not as well documented or understood as race viridanus. So, I don't think I can truly come to terms as to what exactly this is, but will probably put it down as a Two-barred for the time being...

Two-barred Warbler - probably?

The pièce de résistance of Wu Kau Tang is of course the Barred Cuckoo Doves, up to three been spotted again this year. Was quite lucky on the second tour we connected with this beauty, despite being a little bit far away, all features shown very well! I must thank Russell for sending me this photograph to include here on the blog, as I forgot my SD card that morning!

Barred Cuckoo Dove - photo by Russell Yeh

The Dusky Thrush at Mui Shue Hang Park continue to show extremely well, there are not as many photographers now, we were the only people there on the first day which allowed us to get incredibly close views of this wonderful bird.

Dusky Thrush - still showing well

The Siberian Rubythroat is getting all of the attention of the many photographers coming to the park, we went past and grabbed a few photos from a much more naturalistic setting before the bird hop onto the 'stage'. 

Siberian Rubythroat - male

For those who doesn't like waiting around the crowds, Mui Shue Hang Park is also a great place to look for some of our common forest species, I find the Velvet-fronted Nuthatch here most photogenic and will often come all the way down to eye-levels. A flock of Silver-eared Mesias came past, feeding on some fruiting bushes.

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Silver-eared Mesia

The park is of course also hosting a good range of other winter visitors, including many thrushes, such as this handsome White's Thrush. We also had a flock of 15 Yellow-billed Grosbeaks which showed extremely well on the first day.

White's Thrush

Yellow-billed Grosbeak - male

Shek Kong Airfield Road been slightly disappointing lately, producing very little bird of interest on my last two visits. There are huge numbers of Pallas's and Yellow-browed Warblers to photograph at close range. A few Hair-crested Drongos relatively close were about the only birds remotely worth mentioning.

Pallas's Leaf Warbler

Yellow-browed Warbler

Hair-crested Drongo

Lok Ma Chau village and Ma Tso Lung is also an area I checked often, the best bird for me was a Rustic Bunting that showed very briefly at Ma Tso Lung, it took off before I could get a photograph. Daurian Redstarts are in no short supply this winter, but males are always a show stopper. Another good bird at Lok Ma Chau village was not much of a rarity, but just a regular wintering Russet Bush Warbler that decided to show itself really well! This is probably some of the best views I've had outside of Tai Mo Shan, this bird was very vocal and came right out into the open which made for a brilliant photo opportunity for this usually shy species.

Daurian Redstart - male

Russet Bush Warbler - very confiding individual

Didn't turn up anything huge interesting at San Tin, the Ferruginous Duck was nowhere to be seen on my other visits, though the Tufted Ducks were still there. Common Snipes often come out to feed at dusk, and it seems a female Pied Harrier was also doing the same, actively patrolling the fish ponds in the setting sun.

Tufted Duck - male

Common Snipe

Pied Harrier - female

Over at Tai Sang Wai, my most surprising find were a flock of eight Oriental Storks! They glided past and apparently later landed on the scrape at Mai Po. It was an incredible sight to behold, and no doubt one of the top birding moments of this month! 

Oriental Stork - eight in total!

A pair of Golden-headed Cisticolas were still showing occasionally along fish pond, this skulking species can be tricky sometimes, and doesn't always want to show well. The male Bluethroats at Tai Sang Wai is now so used to handouts by photographers that it will just hop along the roadside waiting for its next meal...

Golden-headed Cisticola

Bluethroat - male

Another nice addition at Tai Sang Wai was a Eurasian Hoopoe on the second tour, it was casually strolling along the road as we were on our way out! Again have to thanks Russell for grabbing a quick photo of this good looking bird on the ground before it flew up onto the trees, where it continued to show well for another 10 minutes!

Eurasian Hoopoe - photo by Russell Yeh

Eurasian Hoopoe - always an exciting bird to see