10 August 2016

From the Tap Mun Ferry - Sooty Tern and local breeders.

Sooty Tern - Sterna fuscata
Typhoon "Nida" swept into Hong Kong on the afternoon of August 1st, and swept out again early on the 2nd.  Gusty winds and heavy showers meant that most shops and businesses stayed closed for the rest of the day.

The weather was still unsettled when I boarded the Ma Liu Shui to Tap Mun Ferry at 08:30 on the morning of August 3rd, a Wednesday.  I had been reminded that early August is a good time of the year to see Hong Kong's regular breeding Terns, thanks to blog posts like this http://matthewkwanbirding.blogspot.hk/2016/07/boat-chasers-terns-at-sai-kung.html

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana - juvenile

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana

Bridled Tern - Sterna anaethetus

Bridled Tern - Sterna anaethetus

To my surprise a feeding flock of about two dozen of HK’s breeding terns began to follow the ferry almost immediately.  The storm had evidently pushed them a lot deeper into Tolo Harbour than usual.
Among the Roseate, Black-naped and Bridled Terns was a single, larger, darker bird. It was an immature Sooty Tern.

Sooty Tern - Sterna fuscata

Sooty Tern - Sterna fuscata

Sooty Tern - Sterna fuscata

I knew that there were fewer than ten Hong Kong records of this usually pelagic species, so I sent out messages on a couple of Bird News “WhatsApp” groups.
The terns, however, didn’t follow the ferry into the first stop at Sham Chung and didn’t rejoin the ferry when we continued eastwards towards Tap Mun Island and Wong Shek.  So I abandoned my original plan of getting off at Wong Shek Pier, and went back on the ferry towards Ma Liu Shui.

"Weather" coming....

Tap Mun Island - "Weather" has arrived....

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana

Roseate Tern - Sterna dougalli

Wong Shek Pier

Fortunately, the same Sooty Tern appeared as the ferry approached Ma Liu Shui Pier at about 12:15. 
Sooty Tern - Sterna fuscata

Sooty Tern - Sterna fuscata
It was photographed by Peter WONG from the shore near Ma On Shan.  His photos appear below.You can see the Sooty Tern to right of the ferry. 

That’s Yours Truly at the back of the ferry.

Well, I just HAD to go out again on the 15:00 afternoon ferry. Peter and Meiling Tang joined me, and we got one Sooty Tern flying past, photo below.

Sooty Tern - Sterna fuscata

Later, Graham Talbot told us from the shore that there were actually TWO Sooty Terns around, and closer examination of the shots of the afternoon Sooty show it to be a different individual from the morning’s bird.

That was about it for birding thrills, though.  We enjoyed the trip to Wong Shek and back, with the coastal scenery emerging from the mist, and the Black-naped Terns catching sprats in the late afternoon sunshine. 

But there was no new sighting of Sooty Tern for us back near the pier at Ma Liu Shui.

Ko Lau Wan

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana

The Tap Mun Ferry is pretty cheap for pelagic birding, the mid-week return fare is just HK $36 (less than five US dollars) for half a day’s entertainment. If you like terns, that is.

@Tsui Wah Ferry Service (HK)Ltd.

The Scotsman in me says I must try it again soon.

3 July 2016

On a beach with Chinese Crested Tern

The Critically Endangered Chinese Crested Tern (Thalasseus bernsteini) “CCT” - has had some recent publicity involving a second successful full season of breeding on Tiedun Dao, among the Jiushan Islands off the coast of Zhejiang Province.  The birds were attracted back to the island with a mixture of tape lures and decoys in 2014,in a project involving Birdlife International, HKBWS and local agencies.

This, it seems, has always been a rare bird, and  it had gone unseen from the 1930s until re-discovered in 2000 breeding among (far more numerous) Great Crested Terns on the Matsu Islands. The highly-fortified Matsu Islands are controlled by Taiwan, even though they are just off the coast of Fujian Province.

Shortly after the Matsu discovery, local Fuzhou-based birders found that CCTs were courting and preening on the beaches of the Min River Estuary, which is only about 30km from the Matsu Islands as the tern flies.

We visited in 2008 and 2011 but took the chance to visit again with Ondie Wong and Australian Birding friend Colin Rogers, for whom CCT was one of just three species of tern in the world he had not yet seen.

We flew to Changle Airport (Fuzhou) on 10th of June and were driven straight to the Min River Estuary by our guide for the weekend Lin Chen “Forest Morning” (Wechat ID : forestmorning,   Mobile : 133-3842-0092 ).

China progresses quickly, and I doubt that we would have recognised the scene of our previous visits, with a newly-paved road, a visitor centre and an observatory building.

One thing had not changed, we were still going to have to get our feet and legs dirty wading over a creek to get to the opposite bank and a path leading to “CCT beach”about a kilometre away.

Well, we arrived at the beach with the tide rising and a large group of mostly Great Crested Terns, together with White-winged, Whiskered and Little Terns bathing on the edge of a small sandbar.  Lin Chen picked out two CCTs in the right hand end of the group, and after scope views, we advanced to where four local photographers were already photographing the terns.

Chinese Crested Tern - Thalasseus bernsteini (centre -wings raised)

As the tide covered the sand bar the terns flew left along the waters’ edge to join another tern roost several hundred metres to the west.  We had fly-by views of three CCTs in total. With a good handheld 500mm lens and LOTs of cropping I managed one or two "keepers".

Chinese Crested Tern - Thalasseus bernsteini 

We realised we had been lucky, though - if we’d arrived a few minutes later the terns would have already gone.

With a possible three days set aside to check the tern beach, we had time in hand. Lin Chen suggested going to an inland site, Longxi Shan. It was a six-hour drive, but, flushed with success (or sunburn?) we decided to go for it.

At Longxi Shan the weather in the hills was cooler but wet on the Saturday morning.

After a rustic noodle breakfast, we drove up a track to a temple surrounded by tea terraces.

We were in the clouds and hearing some birds but not getting views of much, until Colin spotted a male Cabot’s Tragopan, fossicking among the tea bushes just ten metres away. Seeing us, it kept a wary distance, but still gave good views.

Cabot's Tragopan

Going downhill we had memorable encounters with Silver Pheasants - 

There were some of the commoner woodland birds of east China, too.

Slaty-backed Forktail

Red-billed Blue Magpie

Chestnut Bulbul

There was not a great variety of birds in the woods of Longxi, but what the place lacked in quantity it more than made up for in quality. 

This was perfectly demonstrated by our hearing of a strange call as we left Longxi on Sunday morning, just outside the Reserve entrance gate.  “Sultan Tit” said Lin Chen - and sure enough, there were two perched on a power line, before disappearing into the top of large fronds of bamboo.

Sultan Tit

Sultan Tit has an enigmatic history in Fujian… there were no records for eighty years until members of the the Fujian Birdwatching Society re-discovered it - at Longxi Shan - in 2004.

There’s always something exciting going on in China Birding !

29 May 2016

Breeding Terns

Bridled Tern - Onychoprion anaethetus

Hong Kong’s two commonest breeding terns are Bridled Tern and Black-naped Tern.  At this time of the year, both can be found on remote, rocky outcrops in HK waters.

We got the public ferry to Tap Mun, and hired a smaller boat for a trip around the tern islands in Mirs Bay.  All of these photos were taken from the boat; - we didn’t land on the tern islands.

Bridled Tern - Onychoprion anaethetus

Right now there is some courting and nest-site selection activity going on, but it seems the terns have not laid their eggs yet.

Bridled Tern - Onychoprion anaethetus

Bridled Terns - Onychoprion anaethetus

Bridled Tern - Onychoprion anaethetus

Bridled Tern - Onychoprion anaethetus

The presence of anglers on the same islets can cause some disturbance, so the government has fenced off some sections and posted signs to advise the humans to be considerate, and not disturb the breeding birds.

Some artificial nesting shelters have been paced on some of the bare islands to encourage the terns to stay and breed. We saw several of these already were occupied by paired terns.

Nest shelters

So far, so good  - this year it looks like four hundred or more Bridled Terns are preparing to breed. There are also smaller numbers of Black-naped Terns in the same area.  

Black-naped Terns - Sterna sumatrana

Black-naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana

Black-naped Terns - Sterna sumatrana

It's easy to forget just how elegant "Sea Swallows" can be....
Bridled Terns - Onychoprion anaethetus


26 May 2016

Victorian Little Stint - Mai Po, 2nd May 2016

Little Stint - Calidris minutus

Every spring I try to note as many migrant wader leg flags as possible, and either write the letters/numbers down or get a photo.

Then I'll report them on the appropriate thread on the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society website.


These will then be reported to the organisations in the East Asian-Australasian Flyway by co-ordinating BWS staff, YU Yat-tung or Ivan TSE, mainly.

Spring passage is over and it's feedback time - so here's a self explanatory response from the Australian Wader Studies Group, Victoria.

"....Please check the information given below and advise me if any details appearincorrect.

A Little Stint Calidris minuta was sighted by John and Jemi Holmes at: MaiPo, Hong Kong (China) 22deg 29min 0sec N, 119deg 14min 0sec E  on 2/05/2016with flag(s) as follows:
      LEFT leg: nothing/unknown on tibia (upper leg) above metal band ontarsus      RIGHT leg: orange flag on tibia (upper leg) above nothing/unknown ontarsus

This bird was flagged in Victoria (Australia), approximate co-ordinates38deg 0min S, 145deg 0min E, which uses the flag combination Orange.
The resighting was a distance of approximately 7245 km, with a bearing of334 degrees, from the marking location.
Plumage described as: Breeding.

This is the first time a flagged Little Stint from Victoria has been seenanywhere else.

Only nine known Little Stints have been flagged in Victoria since 1978.

Due to the difficulty in identifying these (from Red-necked Stints) innon-breeding plumage, it is likely that this bird was not recognised as aLittle Stint when banded.

A great record.

Thank you for contributing to shorebird research studies in the EastAsian-Australasian Flyway.  The information you have helped to collect isvaluable for scientific and conservation purposes."