2 May 2016

Southwest Guangxi - home of the Nonggang Babbler

Nonggang Babbler  - Stachyris Nonggangensis

The Nonggang Babbler was first described to science in 2008. Like many other birders, we were keen to see a species that had evaded formal ornithology until the 21st century. We had heard that some entrepreneurial villagers near Nonggang Nature Reserve had a reliable stake-out for the bird.

Despite that, one still has to make a special effort to get down to the karst landscapes of SW Guangxi, an area largely overlooked by ornithologists and birders for many years.  Richard Lewthwaite had kindly given us a birdlist for the area, and it was interesting to see which periods of the year had been covered by other people, including Richard himself.  Richard and Jonathan Martinez also reminded me of the paper by Jiang Aiwu et al in Forktail 30 which details bird records 2004-2012 centered on the Nonggang National Nature Reserve.  It was during these surveys that the Nonggang Babbler was discovered.

Karst Landscape, Longzhou  County - SW Guangxi

According to WWF Hong Kong's Biodiversity Review of China (1996) Nonggang National Nature Reserve is the only nature reserve in China "established for the protection of limestone subtropical monsoon rainforests".

Karst Landscape, Longzhou  County - SW Guangxi

Official permission for foreigners to visit Nonggang National Nature Reserve is difficult to get.  However, we were aware that some locals could show the babbler to visitors in the vicinity of the Nature Reserve. 

We discovered that HK birding friend Carrie Ma was also interested to go, and she made arrangements with Tong Mengxiu of China Wild Tour to make a three night, four-day visit to the Nonggang area. 

We were picked up around midday on 20th April at Nanning Airport by our host, Mr Nong,and set off first to the city of Chongzou.  About 30Km out-of-town is recently upgraded National Nature Reserve (formerly "Eco Park" ) for the White-headed Langur Presbytis leucocephalus ("Trachypithecus poliocephalus" , according to Smith and Xie - A Guide to the Mammals of China).  It seems that primate taxonomy - like bird taxonomy - is in a state of flux.

White-headed Langur - Presbytis leucocephalus 

The reserve itself is fenced off. As an Eco Park, it used to be a tourist destination (mentioned in the "Rough Guide to SW China" among others) but now appears to be closed and shuttered. 

White-headed Langur  - Presbytis leucocephalus

We drove along a track outside the reserve walls and scanned the karst outcrops, both inside and outside the walled area.  With rain approaching we saw a flurry of activity on a limestone cliff, and saw fifteen or sixteen langurs scuttling for cover from the rain on narrow ledges.

After this early chance to check how rainproof our camera lens covers were, we headed southwest where more karst outcrops dominated the landscape. Over roadside fields we noted White-winged Starlings, Crested Buntings and a Francolin calling from a cable, finally arriving at Longheng Village after dark.

There are nine guides from several villages of the area working co-operatively to find birds and show them to visitors. Most of this effort is made to accommodate Chinese photographers. Until very recently, these locals were probably hunters of wild birds.  Now there seems to be a good collaborative effort going to act as guides.

Buff-breasted Babbler  - Pellorneum tickelli

Streaked Wren Babbler  - Napothera brevicaudata

The prospect of more rain did not deter us from visiting their Nonggang Babbler set-up on the first full morning. Buff-breasted Babbler and Streaked Wren Babbler provided the warm-up acts, but it took over an hour for the Nonggang Babbler to make his appearance.  It was worth the wait.

Nonggang Babbler  - Stachyris Nonggangensis

The periods of rain were a reminder that spring had arrived in SW Guangxi.  Some birds were calling in a territorial manner, and others already seemed to be carrying food for their young. 

The Yellow-eyed Babblers were already paired up.

Yellow-eyed Babbler Chrysomma sinense

Other birds included Brown Crake...

Brown Crake  - Porzana akool

And Black-capped kingfishers..

Black-capped Kingfisher - Halcyon pileata

After lunch we sat in a hide behind Mr Nong's house, overlooking a pool created for White-rumped Shama.  It failed to appear, despite the efforts of one of the more senior ladies of the household to whistle it in.  A flurry of blue as a flycatcher came and went had us poring over our field guides, but our elderly companion identified it - correctly - as Hainan Blue straight away. 

Hainan Blue Flycatcher - Cyornis hainanus

It was nice to see Crested Buntings around in good numbers, calling and holding territory .

Crested Bunting - Melophus Lathami

We added Asian Brown and Dark-sided Flycatchers - described in Zheng's "Avifauna of China" as Winter Visitors - during an afternoon walk, 

White-winged Magpie - Urocissa whiteheadi

White-winged Magpie  Urocissa whiteheadi

- with a highlight being a party of four White-winged Magpies, including at least one juvenile.

Karst Landscape, Longzhou  County - SW Guangxi

The karst scenery throughout the area made a remarkable backdrop for some unpredictable birding. We saw two races of Brown Shrike within yards of each other. "lucionensis" -  described in the Zheng's Avifauna as a winter visitor to Guangxi and race "cristatus",  described as a passage migrant. 

Brown Shrike  Lanius cristatus

Brown Shrike  Lanius cristatus lucionensis

On Friday morning we checked out a report from a few days earlier of Long-tailed Broadbills building a nest behind another nearby village.  Standing under a tree in persistent rain we saw both adults fluttering up into their untidy ball of twigs and creeper, effectively stitching the nest from the inside.

 Long-tailed Broadbill - Psarisomus dalhousiae

 Long-tailed Broadbill - Psarisomus dalhousiae

Later we went to the road outside the Nature Reserve, and walked back from the locked gate. The noise of cicadas in the rain seemed to drown out everything else, but  two Buff-breasted Babblers and a Streaked Wren Babbler came to peep at us. 

That afternoon we tried a hide established to see White-winged Magpies, but in two hours they didn't come for the papaya on offer.  Our disappointment was tempered by seeing several individuals from the edge of the cane fields at the foot of the karst outcrops. 

White-winged Magpie  - Urocissa whiteheadi

White-winged Magpie - Urocissa whiteheadi

On our final morning, we walked over a ridge to an abandoned area of fields at the end of a track.  As on previous days, the birding was slow going, but we saw a pair of Indochinese Green Magpies briefly. White-browed Piculets and Yellow-bellied Warbler competed in stands of bamboo.  Olive-backed Sunbird, Black-crested Bulbul and Black Bulbul were new for the trip list. Red Jungle Fowl and Collared Scops Owl were "Heard" only.

Olive-backed Sunbird - Nectarinia jugularis

A highlight was two Blue-breasted (King) Quails crossing a track in an abandoned maize field; - but these rarely seen birds were too quick for me to get a photo.

Karst Landscape, Longzhou  County - SW Guangxi

Our brief visit was all-too-soon over. It was a fascinating area, and we'll go back in a drier, cooler season.

19 April 2016

Franklin's Gulls at Mai Po - 19th April 2016

Franklin's Gulls - Leucophaeus pipixcan
Yes, you read that correctly.

With only a handful of China records, and Hong Kong's first bird around various places in Deep Bay for four months or so, another appeared today, 19th April.

The Franklin's Gulls are behaving like buses - you wait ages for one, the TWO come along at the same time.    Thanks to Ivan TSE for spotting the second.  I had noted the first and then moved on to look at egrets.

The most attractive of these was this Chinese (Swinhoe's) Egret....
Chinese Egret - Egretta eulophotes
And many, many  waders out there today, on a tide that just crawled under the innermost boardwalk hides.
Curlew Sandpiper - Calidris ferruginea

mostly "shanks"

Asian Dowitcher - Limnodromus semipalmatus

Black-tailed Godwits - Limosa (l) melanuroides

These shots are from yesterday, despite the rain, some decent birds came quite close to the outermost hide.  Worth getting rained on getting out there.
Curlew Sandpiper - Calidris ferruginea

Greater Sand Plover - Charadrius leschenaultii
The flagged birds have been reported to the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society co-ordinator.
Lesser Sand Plover - Charadrius mongolus

Long-billed Dowitcher - Limnodromus scolopaceus
And two shots from a week-or-so ago that I've been looking for an excuse to post; -
Nordmann's Greenshank - Tringa guttifer

Nordmann's Greenshank - Tringa guttifer

Gotta love April at Mai Po !

17 April 2016

Bee-Eaters at Pak Nai, Hong Kong

Blue-tailed Bee-eater - Merops philippinus

Once a month there is a Waterfowl Count in the Deep Bay area of northwest Hong Kong, centred on the Nature Reserve at Mai Po.  

The Waterfowl Count is part of the Governments’ meeting of its responsibilities of monitoring the birdlife in HK’s only Ramsar site; - “Inner Deep Bay”. Depending on the season, the habitat where birds are to be counted is divided between about two dozen counting volunteers.

Last Sunday, I was assigned to count part of Deep Bay from the pier at Tsim Bei Tsui, followed by the coastline between there and Nim Wan. 

I’ve done this area before, but haven’t felt quite as exposed as I did when looking behind me towards the west and seeing some huge, black rainclouds.

I managed to complete the pier section of the count, and scuttled back to the car before the first of several heavy squalls arrived.

It was quite obvious along my route that most of the birds didn’t like rain such quantity either, and they remained mostly hidden from view, until I completed the survey near the landfill site at Nim Wan.

On the way back I had reached Pak Nai when the rain eased off.  The weather had warmed a little, and I could see hundred of swifts and swallows circling in the still grey sky above. 

Starlings, both White-shouldered and Red-billed were active, too. Many were perched on power lines over a grave and scrub covered hillside, together with Crested Mynas.

Getting out of the car for a closer look there were about thirty Pacific Swifts in the flock, with two hundred House Swifts and a similar number of Barn Swallows. Two circling Blue-tailed Bee-eaters provided a vivid reminder that spring migration was in progress.

Pacific Swift - Apus pacificus

Many of the birds were hawking insects, mostly winged termites, which were swarming after the rain.  

Black-winged Termite - Odontotermes formosanus (?)

Red-billed Starling - Sturnus sericeus

Blue-tailed Bee-eater - Merops philippinus

More Bee-eaters paused in their migration to enjoy the feast.  I counted nineteen in total.

Blue-tailed Bee-eaters - Merops philippinus

Looking at the wall of concrete across the Bay in Shenzhen, the attraction to the birds of a scrub-covered hillside in Hong Kong seemed obvious, and the presence of swarms of termites must have been welcome to wet and hungry migrating birds.

Blue-tailed Bee-eaters - Merops philippinus
I managed to line up a few shots with a fairly neutral background, so that the birds, especially the Bee-eaters weren’t just silhouettes.The light was still lousy and (insert excuse here) the birds more distant than I'd have liked. Still, it all seemed like a bonus after the downpours earlier. 

Blue-tailed Bee-eater - Merops philippinus

Turned out nice again !

8 April 2016

First week of April at Mai Po

Asian Dowitcher, Great Knot and Grey Plover
It’s April and the spring migration of many wader species is well underway.  There's a fine variety of waders to be seen, if you can get the timing of tides right.

After a big thunderstorm on April 2nd, conditions have been fairly clear for the past few days, so there is a turnover of birds, but they still need to stop and feed.  Here’s a view of part of Deep Bay from the northernmost floating hide.

"Look Mum ! - No High Rise.."

Curlew Sandpipers are the commonest bird in front of the hides in Deep Bay this week.

On 6th April, there were eight Nordmann’s Greenshanks on the tideline, returning the following day we didn’t see any.  Perhaps some had moved on, or perhaps they were in a part of Mai Po ature Reserve we just weren’t looking at.  Anyway, it was nice to see a few of these Endangered waders.  Four Nordmann’s and three Common Greenshanks in the photo below.

To help you work out which are which, here's a Nordmann’s flying past a Common Greenshank.

And here’s a Nordmann’s on its’ own...(a big photo crop, as usual)

On the outgoing tide, as is their way, some gulls dropped in. I'm reasonably confident that the one on the right is a first or second year Slaty-backed Gull.

The gulls will all be gone soon. There are not enough Lesser Sand Plover photos on this blog, so here’s two.  (I’m aware that the taxonomy and English names are in flux for Asian Sand Plovers, but I’m sticking with the names used by the HK Records Committee, who broadly follow the IOC.)

Lesser Sand Plover with Curlew Sandpipers - Western Australian flag on the CS on the right has been reported

Gull-billed Terns are moving through south China right now, too. A single Caspian Tern near the front in the top photo.

Bar-tailed Godwit (r) - most of ours are of race menzbieri.

And finally, a spanking Asian Dowitcher.

Not many passerine migrants about at Mai Po just now, but the waders more than make up for that !