Tuesday 31 October 2023

30°C Still!? Very Warm End of October

Weather's still incredibly warm for end of October, with midday still up to 29 - 30°C, an improvement from the 35°C at the beginning of the month, but not the cool autumn days that I've come to love. That being said, some good birds have been seen, while not all rarities were twitchable (a White-browed Crake  inside Long Valley for instance is 'out of bounds' for birders, though some do venture inside), I've enjoyed the casual birding around the places quite a lot, places like Tai Sang Wai have been quite productive of late, and continue to turn up a steady stream of decent birds, such as Manchurian Reed Warblers, which seems to be in good numbers this year, I saw at least two different individuals on separate days, both showing extremely well! First one seen during a half day tour, after a tough morning at Tai Po Kau we got lucky with this very showy individual, which hopped up to the top repeatedly.

Manchurian Reed Warbler

The second individual was spotted during an outing with HKBWS, it was found dozing off at close range! My guess is that this was a newly arrived individual still exhausted from all the flying. While many confuse the Manchurian Reed Warblers with Black-browed Reed Warblers, the more you look at them the easier it gets in separating the two. Structurally they are very different, Manchurian having a much longer bill and often look quite 'big headed', Black-browed have a much slimmer and shorter bill. The supercilium on Manchurian is not as prominent and the black brow above the supercilium is often washed out or sometimes very thin, whereas in Black-browed they are always very dark and bold.

Manchurian Reed Warbler

Black-browed Reed Warbler

The tall grass not only attracts Reed Warblers, but also Prinias and Cisticolas, Plain Prinias are very common in Hong Kong, you can find them in most wetlands with tall grass, with a bit of patience they often can pose quite nicely. Both Zitting and Golden-headed Cisticolas spend their winters in Hong Kong, the latter is less common but can often be found making their distinctive 'zeeeeeeee' call inside the tall grass.

Plain Prinia

Zitting Cisticola

Golden-headed Cisticola

Other goodies at Tai Sang Wai includes a few Yellow-breasted Buntings, I was lucky with a pair of them feeding next to the footpath, which gave quite close views. I've found bunting numbers not been as high as previous years, for example I've only seen a few Little Buntings so far, whereas usually they should be quite easy to see by this time of the year.

Yellow-breasted Bunting

The male Northern Red Bishop is still around Tai Sang Wai, attracting tons of photographers chasing it around, which I am not sure why anyone bother, it is a very handsome bird, but being a released bird I am sure why anyone will be so interested in it. A more interesting find around the fish ponds includes a Citrine Wagtail, a species that I don't see very often nowadays. A few Eurasian Hobbies occasionally come through, although I've not had any luck with Amur Falcons at close range this year.

Northern Red Bishop

Citrine Wagtail

Eurasian Hobby

The small group of Pheasant-tailed Jacanas are still present on the 'Jacana Pond', I do wonder how long they will stay there, at the moment they seem pretty contented to continue staying there as long as there's food. The Bailon's Crake there seems to be showing more often, occasionally at close range. At another drained pond there are often a few waders present, a Dunlin was spotted there on my last visit.

Pheasant-tailed Jacana

Bailon's Crake


Over at Lut Chau, a drained pond attracted many egrets as well as Black-faced Spoonbills to feed, this juvenile came very close to my car giving excellent views at close range.

Black-faced Spoonbill

I've not had as much success at Ma Tso Lung lately, but still you see a few half decent birds along the way. There's been a few fairly tamed Red Collared Doves around, which posed nicely as long as you stay in the car, here's a male and a juvenile.

Red Collared Dove - male

Red Collared Dove - juvenile

A drained pond there attracted a lot of egrets and a few Spoonbills as well, other than a few Black-faced Spoonbill, a single Eurasian Spoonbill was also seen amongst the flock. Common Snipes are now everywhere, frequenting drained pond bunds, where they can often be found roosting out in the open.

Black-faced Spoonbill with Great and Little Egrets

Eurasian Spoonbill

Common Snipe

Tai Po Kau's been pretty boring this whole month, only a few regular migrants and nothing else, even the common residents were not showing well at all! Crested Serpent Eagle is regularly seen perched on its favourite tree, while a male Verditer at Tai Po Kau Park was the best I could manage over there.

Crested Serpent Eagle

Verditer Flycatcher - male

I gave Shek Kong Catchwater a try, and it seems slightly better, at least the common forest birds were more willing to show, and gave fairly good views, including a Speckled Piculet. A single Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher was a first for me this season.

Speckled Piculet

Rufous-capped Babbler

Grey-chinned Minivet - male

Grey-headed Canary Flycatcher

Wednesday 25 October 2023

Picking Up the Pace - Lesser and Greater White-fronted Geese at Mai Po

Things are finally picking up pace here, starting with a proper rarity in form of a Lesser White-fronted Goose found by Benjamin Li, which is only the 2nd record in Hong Kong since a pair turned up in 2006. I was lucky enough to see the first two in Hong Kong back in 2006, but being such a rare species and also not really that common a species globally, I was quite happy to be able to catch up with this one. It stayed quite far while I was at Mai Po, but showing all diagnostic features of this species, being quite small, with very short and stubby bill, the yellowish eye-ring is also diagnostic.

Lesser White-fronted Goose - 2nd record in HK

It's also been a good year for Greater White-fronted Geese, with a few scattered throughout Deep Bay area, 6 of them have now taken up residence at Mai Po, although always staying very far. So, two species of Geese in Mai Po at the moment which is not something we are used to!

Greater White-fronted Goose - 6 individuals in total

There's been a good selection of birds around Mai Po, out on the mudflat Black-capped Kingfisher is back again, this is another species which numbers seems to be decreasing in recent years. A Chinese Egret was seen, a species I don't see that often in autumn. There were good selections of waders, Far Eastern Curlew being one of them.

Black-capped Kingfisher

Chinese Egret

Far Eastern Curlew

The rice WWF planted seems to have worked wonders in attracting numerous Yellow-breasted Buntings, although you can only see them from afar here, it is still a wonderful sight to see them flying around. Eastern Marsh Harriers are back and patrolling the scrape occasionally. Oriental Reed Warblers can be seen with relative ease at the moment, I do scan for Thick-billed Warbler but have had no luck.

Yellow-breasted Bunting

Eastern Marsh Harrier

Oriental Reed Warbler

A single Grey-headed Lapwing dropped in on the scrape, a species I only see in Mai Po occasionally. I know they are being reported near Nam Sang Wai, so I guess it is not so surprising that the occasional one drops in for a visit.

Grey-headed Lapwing

Along the footpath at Mai Po, Asian Brown Flycatchers are plentiful at the moment. I saw an odd looking Wagtail, which had an eyestripe and a signs of a darker mantle. I initially thought this could be a good candidate for a lugens, however, the breast pattern seems to look off, so I am actually thinking this may well be a leucopsis x lugens hybrid. While I am not 100% confident, these hybrids do happen occasionally. The ficus trees are attracting quite a lot of birds, mostly bulbuls, but occasionally you may find a few Starlings in there, such as this White-cheeked Starling.

Asian Brown Flycatcher

White Wagtail - possibly leucopsis x lugens

White-cheeked Starling

Great Cormorants numbers have increased a lot during the month, hundreds of them now filling up our skies once again. Here's one cooling off under the midday sun.

Great Cormorant

The farmland at Lok Ma Chau village have been relatively productive, I had a Northern Lapwing briefly which never landed, possibly flew off to find somewhere more suitable elsewhere. Common Snipes are plentiful there, with the odd Pin-tailed Snipe. Red-throated Pipits in good numbers as well! Over at Ho Shueng Heung, a few Yellow-breasted Buntings were present.

Northern Lapwing

Common Snipe

Red-throated Pipit

Yellow-breasted Bunting - female

Over at Ma Tso Lung, nothing too impressive. Oriental Magpies which are now more difficult nowadays seen at close range. Common Kingfishers are always a good photography subject. A pair of Black-faced Spoonbills were found on the drained pond, which gave relatively good views. A few Red-collared Doves were also present.

Oriental Magpie

Common Kingfisher

Black-faced Spoonbill

Red-collared Dove - male

Tai Sang Wai have been quite productive of late, while waiting at the Jacana pond, a Black-winged Kite flew over being chased by a Large-billed Crow. At dusk I counted over 50 Collared Crows roosting together towards Lut Chau. I did not bother taking more photos of the Pheasant-tailed Jacanas, but a distant Bailon's Crake on the same pond was a welcoming sight.

Black-winged Kite chased by Large-billed Crow

Collared Crow rookery

Bailon's Crake

A drained pond towards Lut Chau also created plenty of photo opportunity during sunset, as the water reflects the light beautifully, and Egrets all feeding on the fish pond, a few Black-faced Spoonbills flying over certainly adds to the magic.

Black-faced Spoonbill

Little Egret in the sunset

Grey Heron

Over at Tai Po Kau, things are generally quiet, with only a few notable migrants such as Japanese Paradise Flycatchers, Eastern Crowned Warblers and Pale-legged Leaf Warblers. Even common species seems quite difficult to get good views of lately, although Pygmy Cupwings seems quite active. Velvet-fronted Nuthatch is always fun to watch, while Ashy Drongos are now back, here was a rather confiding one hawking for insects low down in the morning.

Pygmy Cupwing

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Ashy Drongo - leucogenis