Thursday 21 March 2024

Pratincoles Arriving & Other Spring Happenings

The arrival of Oriental Pratincoles marks the proper beginning of spring migration, they are always a spring migrant that I enjoy seeing immensely, as they are graceful in the air, and simply quite elegant when perched. I saw my first two along the gravel roads at Tai Sang Wai.

Oriental Pratincole

Many of our egrets are now moulting into their breeding plumage, such as this Eastern Cattle Egret, which is seen in full breeding plumage with bright orange head. Yellow Bitterns are present throughout the year, although their numbers do increase in spring and peaks during summer, I have been seeing quite a few of them in Mai Po, although I think most of them are over wintering birds instead of spring migrants.

Eastern Cattle Egret  - breeding plumage

Yellow Bittern

My long staying Citrine Wagtail was still present up until earlier in the month, later on joined by a moulting male, its colours are really coming through now, I am hoping it will stay long enough that it will become a full breeding plumage male! Although I doubt it will stay that long, and is expecting its departure any day now. Around the same area there were at least a pair of Greater Painted Snipes.

Citrine Wagtail - likely female

Citrine Wagtail - male assuming breeding plumage

Greater Painted Snipe - male

Some wintering birds remains, such as the Olive-backed Pipits which can still be found quietly walking around various parks or the footpaths at Mai Po. Ashy Drongo is one of our typical wintering forest bird, a few can still be found around Tai Po Kau, although I have a feeling they may be departing soon, as is the long staying Verditer Flycatcher there, which I have been fortunate enough to have seen on numerous occasions. While there are Chinese Blackbirds that breeds in Hong Kong, the majority of them are winter visitors, I had a very nice looking male on the side of the road one day.

Olive-backed Pipit

Ashy Drongo - race leucogensis

Verditer Flycatcher - male

Chinese Blackbird

Another long staying winter 'rarity' is the lonesome Greater White-fronted Goose at Mai Po, I caught up with it again one day, and was very glad to see its transformed into adult plumage. I was lucky that day and caught it walking around in front of the bird hide.

Greater White-fronted Goose - long staying rarity

The single Carrion Crow have been relatively reliable at Mai Po and Lut Chau area, quite often following the local Collared Crows, I was lucky enough to have seen this one a couple of times.

Carrion Crow - another long staying rarity

Other wintering birds lingering on includes a few Eastern Buzzards, while other larger birds of prey such as Imperial and Greater Spotted Eagles have mostly moved on, as they usually start doing so around March, Ospreys though often stay in Hong Kong a bit longer. The Black-capped Kingfisher out on the mudflat was still present, although not always presenting itself to visiting birders.

Eastern Buzzard


Black-capped Kingfisher

Over at Tai Po Kau, I managed a male Mrs. Gould's Sunbird, this is a wintering species in Hong Kong generally, and this winter have been a fairly good year for this species despite being generally a poor winter for other birds. This one surprisingly was not found on a flowering tree, but amongst other birds in a small bird wave.

Mrs. Gould's Sunbird - male

A good sign of spring at Tai Po Kau is the constant call of barbets, espeically Chinese Barbets which are very vocal at this time of the year. I got lucky with one that showed relatively well, but heard at least two around the nature reserve. Great Barbets are difficult to see in Hong Kong, although they have been relatively stable near Tai Po Kau Park, where a few often visited the blooming bombax trees, still not a bird you can guarantee to see on every visit.

Chinese Barbet

Great Barbet

Many forest birds are now coming into song more frequently, Lesser Shortwings are definitely more vocal at this time of the year, and sometimes you get lucky with a good view as well! Plain Flowerpecker is another species that is most vocal during spring, and the best time of the year to see this otherwise reclusive species.

Lesser Shortwing

Plain Flowerpecker

Some birds have already paired up and is in the process of building nests, such as this pair of Blue-winged Minla. The large flocks of birds during winter is no more, they are now often replaced by birds in smaller groups or even pairs, although both the songs of Huet's Fulvetta and Silver-eared Mesia fill the forest at this time of the year.

Blue-winged Minla

Huet's Fulvetta

Silver-eared Mesia

The favourite flower of the lovely Orange-bellied Leafbirds may have finished blooming, but the coral trees which blooms later on can also attract these colourful birds, I chanced upon a pair of them feeding on one of the coral trees and got some fantastic views! Fork-tailed Sunbirds and Mountain Bulbuls are also nectar loving birds, although it seems to me that by this time of the year, they are usually less dependant of flowering trees.

Orange-bellied Leafbird - male

Orange-bellied Leafbird - female

Fork-tailed Sunbird - male

Mountain Bulbul

Other fairly vocal species lately includes White-rumped Shamas, their beautiful song can be heard in various forest sites, they definitely have spread quite a lot and seems to be well established now in many places. Speckled Piculet on the other hand spread naturally and is becoming a very regular site and sound almost everywhere.

White-rumped Shama - male

Speckled Piculet

While there are areas where Asian Emerald Doves are easier to see, Tai Po Kau is not really one of them, I was quite happy to catch up with one fairly confiding individual there. A flock of Black-throated Laughingthrush frequents Tai Po Kau Park, a mixture of hainan race monachus and normal looking birds. Blue Whistling Thrush are also in song now, other than their diagnostic high pitch call, their extremely varied and complicated song can also be heard in the early hours of the day.

Asian Emerald Dove

Black-throated Laughingthrush - race monachus

Black-throated Laughingthrush

Blue Whistling Thrush

Thursday 14 March 2024

Signs of Spring

There is no better time to see Black-faced Spoonbills than now, when many of them are moulting into their fabulous breeding plumage, their head plumes grow longer, and neck is now yellowish. At Mai Po, they often come very close to you, especially out on the mudflat during a high tide, they can be just 2m away from the front of the bird hide!

Black-faced Spoonbill

Many wader species have yet to arrive, I believe they will be arriving soon. Numerous Dunlins were still present out there, a classic wintering species in Hong Kong. Many large gulls remains, mostly Lesser Black-backed Gulls (Heuglin's) and just two Pallas's Gull. An immature male Eastern Marsh Harrier came through to flush all the birds up into the sky.


Various gulls

Eastern Marsh Harrier - juvenile male

The long staying Greater White-fronted Goose can still be found often on the scrape, most of the time you see it relaxing or sleeping. A few Daurian Redstarts can still be found around Mai Po, despite being quite an uncommon species this winter. Same goes with Chinese Penduline Tits, while not as easy to find compared to previous years, with some luck you can still find them around the reedbeds. A few Yellow Bitterns have been frequenting a bund of reeds, occasionally perching out in the open. Many Little Grebes have now moulted into their breeding plumage, obviously ready for another breeding season.

Greater White-fronted Goose

Daurian Redstart - male

Chinese Penduline Tit - male

Yellow Bittern

Little Grebe

Things have been relatively quiet over at San Tin, with not many new birds. A beautiful male Amur Stonechat in breeding plumage was quite a stunner, while ocularis White Wagtails can still be found around the fish ponds. I connected with the now rather elusive female Pied Harrier once more, with brief views of it gliding over the fish ponds.

Amur Stonechat - male

White Wagtail - race ocularis

Pied Harrier - adult female

A single Carrion Crow have been spotted lately around Lut Chau, it is often associated with the Collared Crows. Here, you can clearly see the difference on the bill size and shape between a Carrion and a Large-billed Crow. 

Carrion Crow with Collared Crow

Carrion Crow

Large-billed Crow

The fish ponds at Tai Sang Wai hosted a few early migrants, including a few Whiskered Terns. Many Red-necked Stints dropped in for a few days on a drained pond, was certainly good sign. The long staying Great Crested Grebe is now moulting into breeding plumage, which is interesting to see.

Whiskered Tern

Red-necked Stint

Great Crested Grebe - assuming breeding plumage

Over at Ma Tso Lung, signs of spring was even more apparent, with my first Black-naped Oriole of the season! There were also clear signs of movements of birds, including a large flock of Red-rumped Swallow which dropped in during a rainy day, they were definitely not enjoying the weather. Pacific Swifts were also spotted, another early spring migrant. Both Peregrine Falcon and Eurasian Kestrel were observed there. While not a migrant, everyone enjoy close views of Kingfishers, including the common White-throated Kingfisher!

Black-naped Oriole - female

Red-rumped Swallow

Pacific Swift

Peregrine Falcon

Eurasian Kestrel - female

White-throated Kingfisher

The edge of Long Valley provides good area for Greater Painted Snipe, a few are often seen here and have been quite stable. The Oriental Greenfinches however were not, I only connected with them again twice more, most of the time they were not present.

Greater Painted Snipe - male

Oriental Greenfinch

Tai Po Kau's been more or less the same story, not a lot of new addition there, mostly just the usual suspects. The Crested Serpent Eagle's been back at its perch occasionally. Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush are often seen near the end of red walk, where a flock have been active. White-bellied Erpornis very active and vocal lately. Velvet-fronted Nuthatch now seems to be pairing up, I saw two gathering nesting materials. Yellow-cheeked Tits are also very vocal nowadays. White-rumped Shamas are coming into song, it is not uncommon to hear their melodic song now in our forest.
Crested Serpent Eagle

Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush

White-bellied Erpornis

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch

Yellow-cheeked Tit - male

White-rumped Shama - male

Shek Kong Airfield been overall pretty disappointing as a whole this winter, I've not really had any good birds there. The Asian Barred Owlets do show occasionally, but thats about as good as it gets.

Asian Barred Owlet

At Shek Kong Catchwater, a Jerdon's Baza been seen of late, I haven't had the luck with those, although I did found a few Eurasian Siskins which led to a lot of other photographers staking them out, I only got a record shot of them, did not bother with trying for some better shots. Verditer Flycatchers seems quite good at this site, I often saw one or two around.

Eurasian Siskin

Verditer Flycatcher - male

Spring migrants are now arriving, so hopefully things will improve somewhat!