5 October 2015

Goodness Gorsachius Me

Malayan Night Heron - Gorsachius melanolophus

It was still very dark when I left the house. A morning in early September. The soon-to-be rising sun made a faint glow through patchy clouds. 

I had Long Valley in mind, but on a whim decided to have a look at an area I don’t get to much these days, - a “hop, skip and jump” from there, along an old army road near the border. 

Close to the Ng Tung river, what used to be paddyfields have mostly become a mess of container yards. In recent years I’ve visited the area at night to look for owls, but it has mostly been disappointing. “Still, should be good for a migrating flycatcher or two", I thought.

There are, however, seen Wild Boar along that road, so I wasn’t completely surprised when I rounded a bend and found a young boar standing there. It was still only 0615.

I wasn’t that prescient, though, because the camera was still in the bag, in front of the car passenger seat.  The boar (a bit like THIS one) ...

- couldn’t decide at first whether it was frightened enough to run away.  While I dragged the 500mm lens with camera attached from the rucksack it made up its mind and skipped into the undergrowth.

Camera at last in hand, I scanned the bushes, but it was gone.

At another bend I braked on sight of a distinctly heron-like silhouette a few yards in front. Something was standing on the concrete road with it’s back to me..

Malayan Night Heron - Gorsachius melanolophus

I could tell straight away that “That’s not what Black-crowned Night Herons do”  Of course, it was a Gorsachius night heron, and recognisable as a juvenile Malayan Night Heron (G. melanolophus) by the remains of scaly feathering on the nape, and some white edging to the tip of the folded wing.

Malayan Night Heron - Gorsachius melanolophus

I found that the road was not busy so early in the morning and had the MNH in view for about fifteen minutes. An ISO of 3200 still only gave 1/13 of a second shutter speed at f4, - it was that dark. Then I backed away from the feeding bird to somewhere where the road was wider.  Ten minutes later another car ( someone going to work, presumably) swept past and I was sure that would have flushed the MNH from the roadside leaf litter.  Following the other car a few moments later, I found the bird had gone.

This species has a short but interesting track record in Hong Kong. To begin with, it is one of a very few breeding species that visits HK to breed and then migrates south to spend the winter.

Malayan Night Herons were first recorded in Hong Kong in 2003, by means of a camera trap on Lantau Island, when a pair was photographed.  The record was duly accepted with no human beings having seen the birds themselves.

In the late summer of 2004, another pair were found close to Fanling Golf Course. There were two young, and the birds were last seen on October 1st of that year.  

A number of discreet visits to this group showed two, possibly three young. 

Malayan Night Heron - Gorsachius melanolophus

Malayan Night Heron - Gorsachius melanolophus

But my biggest “bonus” bird on that first day was two hundred metres further on from the juvenile bird. Beside the track, only four metres away, was an ADULT Malayan Night Heron, calmly regarding me from a heap of cut branches.  It was so close I couldn’t get it all in the frame.

Malayan Night Heron - Gorsachius melanolophus

Mid-Autumn Festival has come and gone, and so have these secretive visitors.

24 September 2015

A morning at Mai Po (Sept 10th, 2015)

It's already a fortnight since I took these shots at Mai Po Nature Reserve, but my excuse is that I was distracted by a Fairy Pitta (see previous post) in between then and now.

In the fig trees behind the Tower Hide...

Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike - Coracina melascistos

Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike - Coracina melascistos

Asian Paradise Flycatcher - Terpsiphone paradisi

Asian Paradise Flycatcher - Terpsiphone paradisi
Skulking on the ground beneath -
Pale-flegged/Sakhalin Leaf Warbler  - Phylloscopus tenellipes/borealoides

In front of the Tower Hide, a vocal and conspicuous resident...
Pied Kingfisher - Ceryle rudis

...and a shyer passage migrant, doing what this species always seems to do - dive for cover !
Purple Heron - Ardea purpurea

Here, a bird that Clements calls "Nutmeg Mannikin" in his checklist -
Scaly-breasted Munia - Lonchura punctulata

At the boardwalk, the "Barwits" are heading south.  The race here is menzbieri - restricted to the East Asian-Australasian Flyway (EAAF) it is now considered endangered, with populations of this form falling rapidly.
Bar-tailed Godwit - Limosa lapponica

Bar-tailed Godwit - Limosa lapponica

Finally, a passage migrant duck - Garganey.   I always get "Garganey" and "Gadwall" mixed up - so now I think of the name written along the bird's eyebrow - "Gar-GA-ney"....

Garganey - Anas querquedula

Garganey - Anas querquedula

Garganey - Anas querquedula
Well, it works for me.

17 September 2015

Away with the Fairies

Fairy Pitta is a scarce passage migrant here in Hong Kong.

Fairy Pitta - Pitta nympha

One or two are seen each year by a lucky few birders.  As it happens, I've only seen one once before, a spring bird at Tai Po Kau in 2006.

On Monday, 14th September, David Diskin was birding near Lau Sui Heung Reservoir when he discovered a Fairy Pitta near post 2207 of the Maclehose Trail.

I was out birding when I saw Dave's message on a Bird News "Whats App" group.  Ah, technology ! - birding information in real-time.

I got to the site named by Dave in 45 minutes, and spent a while staring into the woods to no avail.

Then, there was another message from Dave to say that the Pitta ( or another individual) had been found by him near Lau Shui Heung Reservoir, a kilometre down the track I was on.

I told him where I was and Dave kindly agreed to meet me and show me exactly where he'd last seen the bird.   At the reservoir we had the briefest glimpse of the pitta again, but Dave had to leave.

Fairy Pitta - Pitta nympha

I decided to hang about and see if the bird would come back to the footpath, which is exactly what it did after about half an hour.

It was suitably alert but not too shy, and I kept seeing it on-and-off in the waterside vegetation.

Fairy Pitta - Pitta nympha

Handholding a 500mm f4 lens I did my best to line up angles to get a clear view. I used no tape or bait - but if I had thought a pitta would eat crumbled oatmeal biscuits I would have offered it some !

Fairy Pitta - Pitta nympha
I left at about 11:45 and I know the bird was seen at the same place later in the afternoon.  But as a typical passage bird, it moved off overnight and was not seen on the Tuesday or Wednesday.

Fairy Pitta - Pitta nympha

Anyway, I was very pleased to make its acquaintance.

1 September 2015


Yellow Bittern - Ixobrychus sinensis

It seems to have been a good breeding season for Yellow Bitterns, there are a lot around right now.  Of course, like this juvenile, many of the birds on view could be passage migrants.

As are some of the waders we are seeing..

Greater Sand Plover - Charadrius leschenaultii (juv)
Grey-tailed Tattlers are a good "East Asian" species and there are a few about, including this Australian-flagged one that was first sighted on Aug 21st - and snapped again by me on Aug 30th.  "Stay an extra day" says the HK Tourist Board.

Grey-tailed Tattler - Heteroscelus brevipes
Grey-tailed Tattler - Heteroscelus brevipes
Nine juvenile Great Knot, also on 30th August (seven in view here) - no older birds seen with these.

Great Knot - Calidris tenuirostris (juvs.)

Great Knot - Calidris tenuirostris (juv.)
Ponds 16/17 "The Scrape" - Mai Po Nature Reserve
Once the birds have left the tideline, in the past few days they have settled on "The Scrape" in good numbers.

21 August 2015

Hong Kong: - Early morning, rising tide at the Mai Po boardwalk hides, 13th August 2015

Well, that couldn't be more precise, could it ?

With the Chinese calendar officially "Autumn" it seemed a good time to check out a rising tide at Mai Po Nature Reserve.

For context, a couple of views of Deep Bay with the air clear after overnight rain.

Deep Bay - view from Mai Po boardwalk hide with Shenzhen in the distance

Not fully alert, I wandered into no less than three spiders' webs strung between the mangrove along the boardwalk.  Sorry spiders...you'll have to string those up again.

There was about an hour of sunshine in the early morning  (06:30 to 07:30, roughly) as the tide came in.  The few birds present shuffled around the tideline, with a few of the Grey Plover still in fine breeding plumage.

You can see why this species is called Black-bellied Plover in the United States.

Grey Plover - Pluvialis squatarola

Grey Plover - Pluvialis squatarola

Grey Plover - Pluvialis squatarola

Many Grey Plovers will winter in Deep Bay, but birds such as Terek Sandpiper and Grey-tailed Tattler are on their migration southwards.

Terek Sandpiper - Xenus cinereus

Terek Sandpiper - Xenus cinereus

Grey-tailed Tattler - Heteroscelus brevipes

Others - like these Whimbrel and Black-faced Spoonbills - have over-summered here, but will be joined by more of their fellows as winter approaches.

Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus

Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus

Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus

Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus

Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus
The spoonbills have mastered the art of "loafing"..

Black-faced Spoonbills - Platalea minor

But even for them, the water on a rising tide soon gets too deep.

Black-faced Spoonbill - Platalea minor

And that's all for now - "Must fly !"

7 August 2015

99 Dragon Pools, northwest Yunnan, China

Grey-headed Bullfinch - Pyrrhula erythaca

From 27th July to 4th August, as a short break from Hong Kong’s summer heat, we flew to Lijiang in northwest Yunnan Province.

We were with Roger Muscroft, a HK birding friend.

It was the first time we’d flown from the new Airport Terminal in Shenzhen, which looks like something out of a science fiction film. 

We found Lijiang ( 2,300m elevation) about ten degrees centigrade cooler than Hong Kong, a comfortable daytime 24 deg C (rather than 34 deg C!).  On our first full day we birded around the valley between the city and the entrance to Jade Dragon Snow Mountain Scenic Area.

Grey-crowned Warbler - Seicercus tephrocephalus

Black-browed Tit - Aegithalos bonvaloti

Lijiang city itself was very busy and noisy, and even the characteristic sound of Lijiang’s calabash flutes seems to have been silenced by a wave of music bars, travel agents, and purveyors of dried Yak meat, not to mention other varieties of tourist tat.  Lijiang's local culture and charm is being drowned by an estimated eight million visitors a year.

Joni Mitchell hit the nail on the head with "Big Yellow Taxi" more than forty years ago, so I'll say no more.

Lijiang travel companies are busy selling tours to Lugu Lake, “Shangri-la” (formerly Zhongdian) and a destination now called “Lao Jun Shan National Park” .  An American environmental group, The Nature Conservancy, has influenced local policy makers to set up a “National Park” which is a new idea for China that is aimed to combine the conservation value of a Nature Reserve (of which China has many) with the money-making potential of a scenic site (of which China also has many).

Tourists are mostly directed to the northern area of Lao Jun Shan National Park which was formerly a scenic area near a small town called Liming.  The main attraction is  a variety of rock formations. 

One of our Lijiang objectives was to check out what is happening at “99 Dragon Pools” a high-elevation birding site with good quality forest that we visited in 2005. This is now included within the southern part of LJSNP, but none of the travel agents in the alleys of Lijiang was interested to sell us a trip there.

Bai women pulling up rice stalks


Due to Jemi’s persistence we got a local four-wheel drive to take us to “99 Dragon Pools”.  The driver, Mr HO, had never actually been there before.

We took the road south, G 214. Here is the turnoff. 

There was plenty to look at on the way up, including these Spot-winged Grosbeaks feeding on wild cherries.

Spot-winged Grosbeak (female) - Mycerobas melanozanthos

Spot-winged Grosbeak (male) - Mycerobas melanozanthos
Coal Tit - Periparus ater

Buff-barred Warbler - Phylloscopus pulcher

Yellow-browed Tit - Sylviparus modestus

White-browed Fulvetta - Fulvetta vinipectus

We found that not only had the road been recently widened but the the guesthouse at the end of the road (elevation 3,700m) now has a permanent electricity supply.  Actually, access is possible by vehicles as low-slung as private cars.

Newly-widened road to 99 Dragon Pools

At a barrier we paid RMB 80 each as admission to the National Park. A few kilometres further on, at the end of the road, it turned out that there was was an ensuite toilet, shower and wifi in each of the rooms. But at a steep cost of RMB 295 per night we were not surprised to be the only guests.

99 Dragon Pools - view of guesthouse

There is still some rustic charm about the place, although the dining area is a bit run-down.

We spent some of our evenings in the staff room, it was the warmest place to be !

Anyway (when the rain stopped) the scenery was splendid. 
Jade Dragon Snow Mountain (from 99 Dragon Pools)

We saw a few birds along the road...
Bar-throated (formerly "Chestnut-tailed") Minla - Chrysominla strigula

The dominant trees are Silver Firs,   Abies delavayii 

Coal Tit - Periparus ater, in silver fir -Abies delavayii 

Blue Silver Fir cones - Abies delavayii 

There was a small party of White-winged Grosbeaks very close to the guesthouse dining area, actually taking heaven-knows-what from inside an occupied pigsty on the slope below.

White-winged Grosbeak - Mycerobas carneipes (m)

White-winged Grosbeak - Mycerobas carneipes (f)

We hiked up to the 99 Dragon Pools viewpoint, from where the usual picture postcard photos must be taken.

Roger and Mr HO, the driver

Three of the 99 (?) pools

After two nights at the 99 Dragon Pools guesthouse we birded our way downhill, and bagged a few lower-level birds as we headed back towards route 214.

Spot-breasted Parrotbill - Paradoxornis guttaticollis

Crested Finchbill - Spizixos canifrons

Later we arrived at Shaxi, which is still quite nice and a convenient base for a look at Shibaoshan.

Town Square, Shaxi

Town Square, Shaxi

 At Shibaoshan we photographed a few of the “usual suspects”…

Godlewski's Bunting - Emberiza godlewskii

Rusty-capped Fulvetta - Schoeniparus dubius

Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler - Pomatorhinus ruficollis

Chestnut-vented Nuthatch - Sitta nagaensis

Near picturesque Shaxi we had a good walk beside the river. 

Black-shouldered Kite, Grey-winged Blackbird, Citrine Wagtail and Cinnamon Bittern were among the species that nudged the trip list over the one hundred mark.

We packed a lot into six birding days, but it was fun.