26 February 2015

Saunders's Gulls - coming into breeding plumage

Saunders's Gull

Saunders's Gull

Saunders's Gull
At this time of the year the Saunders's Gulls (several dozen) here in HK are getting into their breeding plumage, while the more numerous (several hundred) Black-headed Gulls are still very much in non-breeding plumage. 

But then, the Black-headeds have further to go to breed from here. 

Also on the Deep Bay tideline:

Common Redshank

Black-tailed Godwit

Koels are calling every day now, spring must be here !

9 February 2015

Mai Po in midwinter

A Short-eared Owl has been reported twice in the past few weeks at Mai Po.

But it seems to have a very good idea of what "nocturnal" means, and despite several dusk and dawn visits, I haven't managed to see it while there was any light to see by.

Mai Po Nature Reserve

Mai Po Nature Reserve

Mai Po Nature Reserve

Mai Po Nature Reserve

My last visit was in the middle of last week. No sign of the owl. 

Still, it was a fine morning for a cycle ride around the Border Fence Road. 

Out at the boardwalk, the commoner winter waders have been showing well; -

Marsh Sandpipers - Tringa stagnatilis

Pied Avocet - Recurvirostra avosetta

Black-tailed Godwit - Limosa limosa

Common Redshank - Tringa totanus

Common Redshank - Tringa totanus
Common Redshank - Tringa totanus

There are still thousands of duck in the bay, here are two of the common ones...

Wigeon, Pintail - Anas penelope, Anas acuta

Northern Pintail - Anas acuta
 We have lift-off !

1 February 2015

Black Kites over urban Hong Kong

Every winter Hong Kong is home to about 1200-1300 Black Kites (Milvus migrans lineatus).  A few stay through our summer, but by April the majority will be heading back to Mongolia and southern Russia to breed.

If you "split" lineatus as a separate species (as Mark Brazil does in "Birds of East Asia") then they are Black-eared Kites, but HK follows the IOC, so, "Black Kite" is what they're called here.

In December last year - along with Samson SO - I accepted an invitation by Canon Hong Kong to take part in a project to celebrate the presence of the these raptors in healthy numbers around our city.

Samson's Eco Institute site is here


Canon are promoting the new 7D Mk2 camera and two new lenses, a 100-400mm f5.6 II zoom and a new version of the 400mm f 4 DO lens.  The brief was to the use the new kit as far as possible to photograph Black Kites in an urban setting.

Between early December and early January I took thousands of shots of kites, and I feel as though I've got to know them better as a result.

A joint exhibition of some of the best of these Black Kite photos is on at the Innocentre, 72 Tat Chee Ave, Hong Kong from tomorrow (Feb 2nd) until February 8th.  It's just down the road from Kowloon Tong MTR Station.


Five of the photos above are among the shots displayed.  Which five ?  Well, you'll have to get along to Tat Chee Avenue to find out !

UPDATED  9th Feb 2015

Some shots from the show.

At the end.....

Thanks to Samson and Iris SO, and the people from Golin (PR) and the Canon Hong Kong team, for making such a challenging project fun.


29 January 2015

Relict Gull at Mai Po

Relict Gull (Larus relictus) enjoys a unique distinction among gulls of my acquaintance - it is almost romantic. 

Relict Gull - Larus relictus

It was overlooked as a species until 1970, having been previously confused with other species, especially Brown-headed Gull (L.brunnicephalus).  There’s a fascinating paper about this species in the Oriental Bird Club publication “Forktail” from 1991, written by Dan Duff, Dave Bakewell and Martin Williams.

Hong Kong’s first Relict Gull was found by Peter Kennerley and Mike Turnbull in 1989.  I missed that one, but saw the second bird after it was reported from Tsim Bei Tsui in 1992. (But all the Relict Gull shots shown here were taken last week.)

Relict Gull - Larus relictus (l)
Since then , Relict Gulls (always first winter birds) have been seen in HK’s Deep Bay - especially Mai Po’s boardwalk hides - every two to three years, on average. They, like other gulls, are often very distant. 

John Allcock found this one a few weeks ago, and on 21st January 2015 it came obligingly close to the hides.

Relict Gull - Larus relictus

Relict Gull - Larus relictus

Relict Gull - Larus relictus

Smew is not a rare species in its normal range but we get very few in HK.  One has been hanging around Mai Po Nature Reserve’s Pond 7 and Pond 8 since December 2014.  It is Hong Kong’s third record, I think.

Smew - Mergus albellus
Rarer than Smew for us, but “common where it is common…” - a few days ago a Common Swift was found by Paul Leader over a Hong Kong fishpond, among thousands of House Swifts. A second record for Hong Kong, Martin Hale had it staked out - if a swift can ever be "staked out" - and led me to it.

Common Swift - Apus apus
Handholding a 500mm lens with the 7D Mk2  to get this shot proved to be good exercise !

18 January 2015

WWF HK's 2015 "Big Bird Race"

Abdel, Mei-ling, and James at Nam Chung
Yesterday, 17th January 2015, I drove the "Deadset Drongos" Team in Worldwide Fund for Nature's 31st Big Bird Race. The people doing the actual birding were John Allcock (Captain), Abdelhamid Bizid, Mei-ling Tang and James Lambert.

This is the event link on WWF HK's website http://www.wwf.org.hk/en/getinvolved/hkbbr/

The race hours were 06:30 to 18:30, and we began in clear winter sunshine among some of Hong Kong's nicest scenery.

Nam Chung, NE New Territories

Nam Chung, NE New Territories

I took the Race Day shots with a Canon 5D Mk3 and 24-70mm zoom.  I have spliced in a few shots taken in the preceding days of species seen during the event.

For added colour, that sort of thing.

Chestnut Bulbul
Mountain Bulbul

Japanese White-Eye

Brides Pool Picnic Area

Scarlet Minivets - a pair
Tai Po Kau is Hong Kong's best-known woodland site, and a "must visit" during any Bird Race. While John, Abdel, Meiling and James flogged around TPK, as driver I minded the car (someone had to) and photographed some of the other teams entering and leaving.
The "Professionals" Team

The "Swire Birdbrains" Team

On to Long Valley, another "must visit" site. Teams were coming and going there, too.


The "Magic Scops Owl" Team
Some teams were smiling because they got these....
Eastern Water Rail

Bull-headed Shrike

The EEI Korea Team

Before getting to Mai Po we passed through San Tin.
"Deadset Drongos" in San Tin
A few missable species were finally added to the "Deadset Drongo" Team list in San Tin, including these:

White-shouldered Starlings

Red Turtle-Doves

The Big Bird Race is to raise funds for Mai Po Nature Reserve (managed by WWF HK) so it was fitting that the race ended there.
Fishponds at Mai Po Access Road

Into Mai Po Nature Reserve

Eurasian Teal

Three-quarters of the "All Stars" Team
Adjudicator Geoff Carey waited for the Race Teams to return to the Mai Po Carpark at 1830.

"Rule One :The Adjudicator's word is final"

Sundown at Mai Po
It was getting pretty dark by the time the Teams had to report their race finish.

Still time to find something new ?

With digital cameras these days "available light " includes flickering hazard lights on the Team Car.
Checking the LogBook again

...and again
At the Adjudicator's Desk -

At the Adjudicator's Desk
The Teams had to report in by 1830 and then had half an hour to sort out their list.  It's not uncommon for tired BBR Teams to just overlook some birds they've seen.

A final tally

Try as we might, we just couldn't find any of these, a common winter bird, but a "dip" on the day
White-cheeked Starling

Before the 1900 deadline the "Deadset Drongo" list was finally done and handed in....

Time to relax !