Sunday 26 May 2024

Fairy Pitta & Other Last Spring Migrants

The one morning that I decided to head up Tai Po Kau on my own, I heard the unmistakable call of the Fairy Pitta coming from below a gully. While we get Fairy Pittas annually as a passage migrant, they are more often silent, therefore I was quite surprise to hear this one being very vocal! With a bit of patience, I got cracking views of this lovely bird. No matter how many times you see them, every encounter is just as exciting as the first. This species actually breeds fairly close to Hong Kong, there is hope that they will one day establish a breeding population here.

Fairy Pitta - certainly one of our top spring migrant

Both species of breeding flycatchers have now arrived, Hainan Blue Flycatcher often starts breeding earlier, and Brown-breasted Flycatcher a little later in summer. I caught up with one of the Brown-breasted Flycatcher at Tai Po Kau finally, this inconspicuous species is often much harder to find than the Hainan Blue Flycatcher, as they are not a very vocal species.

Hainan Blue Flycatcher

Brown-breasted Flycatcher

There's been a very vocal and relatively tame Pygmy Cupwing at Tai Po Kau, this is a pale morph bird with white throat and breast. Even though I hear and see them quite often, getting good photos of this skulker doesn't happen all that much! So, I am always grateful with any good photo opportunity of this species.

Pygmy Cupwing - pale morph

Weather's been quite unstable of late, with heavy showers every so often. That is quite a challenge when you are birding in forest areas like Tai Po Kau, even worst when you try to photograph birds. I found a recently fledged Orange-headed Thrush, but was too dark for me to get any meaningful photos of. Plain Flowerpeckers are still quite vocal around the reserve, and after the rain the local Crested Serpent Eagle perched back up to its favourite branch to dry itself off.

Red-whiskered Bulbul

Plain Flowerepcker

Crested Serpent Eagle

Out on Deep Bay, I counted three Chinese Egrets together, plus another one on the scrape, making it four in one day in total, which is quite a lot for this time of the year. They are fabulous birds and you will often be rewarded with good views if you go out to the mudflat at the right time.

Chinese Egret

There were still quite a bit of waders present, Terek Sandpiper, Grey-tailed Tattler, Red-necked Stint, Broad-billed Sandpiper, Great Knot, Red Knot, Siberian Sand Plover, Tibetan Sand Plover, Greater Sand Plover and Asian Dowitchers just to name a few. Heavy rain came in while I was out on Deep Bay, which halted the birds from feeding, as they stood there to wait out the rain.

Assorted Waders waiting out the rain

There were still plenty of terns around Mai Po as well as surrounding fish ponds, Whiskered Terns being the most numerous. There were still many White-winged Terns around Mai Po, although most of the adults seems to have gone through now, most remaining birds were 1st summer birds. I was pleasantly surprise to see still many Little Terns present, both in Mai Po as well as the fish ponds at Tai Sang Wai, again they gave great close up views as they dived for fish, there were a few 1st winter birds present as well.

Whiskered Tern

White-winged Tern - 1st summer

Little Tern

Little Tern - 1st summer

During our night time ventures, we found plenty of Hong Kong Newts along a stretch of stream, there were still many adults in the water here, but we also saw many tiny newts that probably just morphed into their terrestrial form, some no longer than 2cm!

Hong Kong Newt

Hong Kong Newt - juvenile

The recent rain triggered termites swarms, a nuisance for us humans to try and keep them out of the house, but a feast for many animals in the wild, especially frogs and to my surprise a Brown Forest Skink! A usually diurnal species taking full advantage of the termites attracted to the street lamps. While they are usually very shy, this one became extremely bold and came straight up to my camera to pick off termites on the ground.

Brown Forest Skink

Finally, one of the two Many Banded Kraits I came across lately, this one was getting ready to shed, so the usually black parts became this blue greyish colour, and its eyes seemed very milky. Still a beautiful snake, and a species that I always enjoy seeing.

Many Banded Krait

Monday 13 May 2024

Late Spring Pelagic, Migrants And Local Specialties

By mid May spring migration is tapering off, where you are mainly left with some late spring migrants like Brown Shrikes and Grey-streaked Flycatchers. Out at sea, there seems to be still a lot happening, as we had quite a good haul of birds on the pelagic bird workshop by HKBWS. Red-necked Phalaropes never disappoints when they show up in good numbers, these interesting sea dwelling waders are stunning in their breeding plumage, it is hard to imagine in a couple of weeks time it will be breeding up within the arctic circle.

Red-necked Phalarope

Migrating terns are of course a major part of our pelagic birds, although these are often considered less exciting, I enjoy seeing those truly pelagic species such as Great Crested Terns, we had one sitting on a piece of styrofoam, seemingly taking a break from the long flight.

Great Crested Tern

Bridled Terns are returning to the breeding colony, and we saw quite a few of them out at sea. Common Terns are regular migrants, and we saw plenty of them around, although none came close to our boat for photos. A pair of migrating Little Terns gave good views as they rested on a buoy, they allowed close views and photos for everyone.

Bridled Tern

Common Tern

Little Tern

May is probably the best time to look for Short-tailed Shearwaters in Hong Kong, we were not disappointed, as we connected with four individuals, three of them glided past quite far away from our boat, one came closer and gave great views for everyone, certainly a highlight of the day!

Short-tailed Shearwater

Although the bird of the day was no doubt an adult Long-tailed Skua that Kenneth spotted first, it flew straight towards us when everyone was taking photos of the Little Terns! Good thing he was looking up, otherwise we might have missed this bird! I have not seen a Long-tailed Skua for quite some time, so it was nice to connect with an adult.

Long-tailed Skua

Pelagic trips are not completed without visiting our local White-bellied Sea Eagles, the pair showed well and allowed quite close views. It's good to see these majestic raptors doing well in Hong Kong.

White-bellied Sea Eagle

Marsh terns such as Whiskered Terns and White-winged Terns are very regular passage migrant in Hong Kong, and there seems to be an influx of them lately, with many Whiskered Terns and even more White-winged Terns all around Hong Kong! We usually get more Whiskered Terns than we do White-winged Terns, so its nice to have things the other way round for once! There were well over 200 White-winged Terns just on a single pond at Tai Sang Wai, I estimated around 600-700 individuals all around Deep Bay on one single day!

Whiskered Tern

White-winged Tern

White-winged Tern - biggest flock I have seen!

It was also nice to have a few Sand Martins feeding around the fish ponds, they were flying low over the pond hawking for insects, allowing quite close views and relatively good photo opportunity.

Sand Martin

The long staying ex-captive Daurian Jackdaw is still around, and seems to be moulting into adult plumage slowly, I am waiting for it to fully moult into an adult, hopefully it will still be around then.

Daurian Jackdaw - long staying escapee

There are still plenty of waders at Mai Po, there were still six Nordmann's Greenshanks around, plus other goodies like Asian Dowitchers, Chinese Egret and other regular waders. No Spoon-billed Sandpiper yet though, I do wonder if this will be another year without any reported...If so this may well become the norm.

Nordmann's Greenshank - amongst Asian Dowitchers, Common Greenshanks and Black-tailed Godwits.

Hainan Blue Flycatcher is a regular summer visitor to Hong Kong, unlike many species they actually come here to breed. I finally connected with a few photogenic ones near Tai Mo Shan lately, a male showed brilliantly and allowed quite close views.

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - male

I went up to Tai Mo Shan with Chester Yip on the 11th, having heard that he have yet to see a Chinese Grassbird, I thought we should change that! Initially it was quite misty, we heard several Chinese Francolins up there, and saw two successfully, although as always there were very difficult to approach.

Chinese Francolin

It didn't take us too long to connect with a Chinese Grassbird, one showed really well and gave great views in the mist. We later connected with it again, this time further up the slope and just as the mist lifted! 

Chinese Grassbird

Near home, we found a trio of recently fledged Collared Scops Owl, these adorable fur balls seems to be in good hands, as soon after we found them, we heard a contact call made by one of their parents, and soon after they were gone. At Tai Mei Tuk Catchwater, a few Fujian Large-headed Frogs were seen, I've never seen them at this site, so it was quite a nice surprise for me. We saw a White-spotted Slug Snake down in the catchwater, we picked it up and relocated back on the forest floor, hopefully it won't get trapped agian.

Collared Scops Owl - three recently fledged individuals

Fujian Large-headed Frog

White-spotted Slug Snake

Not had too much luck with many snakes, a Mock Viper was about the best one I could manage lately. This one was taken in-situ, while they are fairly common I always like seeing Mock Vipers, as they have such a grumpy look with so much character.

Mock Viper