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.

http://www.hkbws.org.hk/BBS/viewthread.php?tid=20979&page=2#pid75396

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."



17 May 2016

A migrant bird transit lounge - Po Toi Island, Hong Kong.

I've been out to Po Toi only three times this spring. Twice on HKBWS boat trips, and once on the public ferry.

Here's a shot of the ferry, passing through some choppy water at the entrance to the small harbour. It's rough weather that can bring the birds in.



Po Toi is Hong Kong's most southerly island, and for a variety of reasons it may be the first piece of solid ground migrating birds see after they cross the South China Sea.

Here are two shots of a "Whew - just made it!"  Grey-streaked Flycatcher.




Similarly, here  a Blue Rock Thrush has just arrived, too.



On May 1st there were a few Chinese Sparrowhawks around.




And completing a migrant raptor theme, a solitary Grey-faced Buzzard the same day.


Here are two minivets that are more easily found on Po Toi than anywhere else in HK, at least for me. There is Swinhoe's Minivet - here you can see why it is called "Buff-rumped Minivet" in some books



And Ashy Minivet.  It was actually in the same tree as the Swinhoe's Minivet above.



On May 7th I managed to connect with this Siberian Rubythroat in a dark gully on Po Toi.  It was not quite the latest date ever for a species that is a passage migrant, but mostly a winter visitor to Hong Kong.



Both the spring boat trips were good social occasions, but the seabirds were mostly rather distant for photography.  An exception - well, two exceptions really, were these two Aleutian Terns on a piece of driftwood. 







The final shot is Jemi's - I didn't get any pics as the terns took off, losing my focus onto the waves.

I must do better next time !




7 May 2016

Mai Po boardwalk hides - first week of May 2016

There always seem to be a lot of factors to consider when trying to judge the timing and height of the tides at the boardwalk at Mai Po.

Generally, I'll look at the predicted tides for Tsim Bei Tsui and plan accordingly: -

http://www.weather.gov.hk/tide/eTBTtide.htm

Also, while walking out to the Border Fence, there is the "Real Time Time" to spur me along, usually because I fear I'll be late...

http://www.weather.gov.hk/tide/marine/hko_tb.htm

And there's always a concern that, even if the tide is a good height, there may not be any birds on it. Capricious things, birds.

Lesser and Greater Sand Plover - Charadrius mongolus and C. leschenaultii

Little Tern - Sterna albifrons


Little Tern - Sterna albifrons

Terek Sandpiper (asleep), Greater Sand Plover, Gull-billed Tern
Greater Sand Plover, Red-necked Stints

(mostly) Curlew SandpipersCalidris ferruginea

Terek Sandpiper (wing-stretch) with Lesser Sand Plover

Five wader species in this shot....

Curlew Sandpiper - Calidris ferruginea
As you can see, things fell into place nicely earlier this week.  There are not as many waders around as there were a couple of weeks ago, but a lot of them are in breeding plumage now.

They'll have to hurry.

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.