15 November 2014

" The Big Bunting "

The Hong Kong birdwatching Society is among a number of Green Groups that grow rice in the Long Valley area of Hong Kong.  Apart from the family fun involved in harvesting modest quantities of the stuff, some rare birds, especially buntings, are attracted by the prospect of all that grain.

"The Big Bunting" is the name of the BWS's competition to predict how many series of bunting will turn up in the late autumn/winter.  Nine species were found at Long Valley last year.

And Long Valley, only a small area of cultivation, is looking for its' 300th species.

Pallas's Reed Bunting - Emberiza pallasi

At the start of this week (8th November) Long Valley's "star" bunting was this attractive winter male Pallas's Reed Bunting.

Long Valley from Yin Kong Tsuen

The bird liked the wet edges of a particular lotus pond, but, solitary and unobtrusive, it was hard to discern through the tangle of vegetation.

Pallas's Reed Bunting - Emberiza pallasi

Anything named after Ornithological pioneer Peter Simon Pallas must be good, but even this wasn't a "first" for Long Valley - actually, one of these was photographed in the same pond two years ago.


On Tuesday, 11th November, the first of the Long Valley rice plots was harvested.


Not for nothing are Yellow-breasted Buntings known as "Rice Birds",  - they can feed on the standing stalks of this food staple. 

Yellow-breasted Bunting - Emberiza aureola

Persecution of them throughout their range has meant continual decline in their population levels. But, at Long Valley, the agricultural area centered on the Green Group rice patches has been holding over one hundred of them for the past few days.

A versatile species, they also feed in wet ditches away from rice fields….

Yellow-breasted Bunting - Emberiza aureola

Yellow-breasted Bunting - Emberiza aureola

Yellow-breasted Bunting - Emberiza aureola

Another species around at the moment is Chestnut-eared Bunting, a few have shown well at Long Valley this week.

Chestnut-eared Bunting - Emberiza fucata


Chestnut-eared Bunting - Emberiza fucata

Chestnut-eared Bunting - Emberiza fucata

Two days ago, an ID request on the HKBWS website brought a flurry of excitement, when the mystery bird - a bunting of course - appeared to be Hong Kong's first Pine Bunting.

A determined "twitch" ensued the following morning, and the bird was around the first of the rice fields  to be harvested.




Pine Bunting - Emberiza leucocephalos

Pine Bunting - Emberiza leucocephalos

I'm cautiously optimistic that this bird will be accepted by the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society's Rarities Committee as a genuine vagrant, and should become Long Valley's 300th recorded bird species.

And while so many observers were there, a number of other noteworthy buntings were seen, including this rather nice (and "rare in Hong Kong") Rustic Bunting.

Rustic Bunting - Emberiza rustica
Five species of Long Valley buntings in this post, and a total of ten (I think) seen in the area so far this autumn.

The other species (for the record) have been: -

Little Bunting        (E. pusilla)
Black-faced Bunting    (E. spodocephala)
Yellow-browed Bunting    (E. chrsysophrys)
Black-headed Bunting    (E. melanocephala)
Japanese Yellow Bunting    (E. sulphurata)

Thanks to the efforts of all those involved in rice cultivation, it's looking like this could be a record season for buntings !

AND Crested Bunting (Melophus lathami) was seen at LV a couple of days after this was originally posted

7 November 2014

Passage Migrants and Winter Visitors

Birds - strangely - defy human classifications, and so most species in this post fall into both these Hong Kong categories.

Here are some examples;

Black-browed Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus bistrigiceps

Black-browed Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus bistrigiceps


Oriental Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus orientalis

Eurasian Skylark - Alauda arvensis

Dusky Warbler - Phylloscopus fuscatus


At Long Valley, the wet fields also hold a few familiar species, most here for the winter now; -

Citrine Wagtail - Motacilla citreola

Common Snipe - Gallinago gallinago

Black-winged Stilt - Himantopus himantopus


And, while everyone else was seeing rarer and exotic buntings the other day, the best I could come up with were these shots of one of our commonest winter visitors;

Black-faced Bunting (f) - Emberiza spodocephala

Black-faced Bunting (f) - Emberiza spodocephala

Yesterday I partially redeemed myself by getting a few shots of Yellow-breasted Bunting. Although an Endangered species, there were thirty-or-so around the area.

Yellow-breasted Bunting - Emberiza aureola

Yellow-breasted Bunting - Emberiza aureola

Yellow-breasted Bunting - Emberiza aureola

Finally a bird that really says "Hong Kong Winter" - Daurian Redstart.

Daurian Redstart - Phoenicurus auroreus

Daurian Redstart - Phoenicurus auroreus


Daurian Redstart - Phoenicurus auroreus

According to the Cantonese Lunar Calendar, today marks the start of winter.  It's very grey and cool outside this morning.


24 October 2014

Birds - many with wet feet

Yes, I know I'll have to be more imaginative in my choice of attention-grabbing blog post titles.


Anyway, a "mixed bag" from the past couple of weeks. Here's one from Shek Kong Water Catchment...

Dark-sided Flycatcher - Muscicapa sibirica
At the "scrape" at Mai Po, exotic Harriers proved elusive for me, but this male and juvenile Painted Snipe provided something to look at.

Greater Painted-Snipe - Rostratula benghalensis

Black-faced Spoonbills have really started to come back to Deep Bay in the last few days, November is actually the month of Hong Kong's high counts of these.

Black-faced Spoonbill - Platalea minor

Near Mai Po's "Tower Hide", an Asian Brown Flycatcher -

Asian Brown Flycatcher - Muscicapa dauurica

And from the "Tower Hide" itself, another species now building up in numbers;

Great Cormorant - Phalacrocorax carbo

A few of the "usual suspects" in my favorite drain, taken from a portable  "Tragopan V3" hide….

Common Snipe - Gallinago gallinago

Wood Sandpiper - Tringa glareola

Marsh Sandpiper - Tringa stagnatilis


Back out at Mai Po's boardwalk hides -

Black-tailed Godwit - Limosa limosa (melanuroides)


Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia
Finally, another group of birds returning for Hong Kong's winter. "Large White-headed Gulls" give me identification headaches, but someone suggested that I just call all the 1st and 2nd-winter birds "Brown Gulls".

Chances are, this is a Heuglins Gull (now held by the I.O.C. to be a race of Lesser Black-backed Gull), because most of our LWHGs are this type.  But I'm not sure.


Heuglin's Gull - Larus fuscus (heuglini) ??
Ho hum.  Looks like I've got all winter to re-acquaint myself with the gulls.

14 October 2014

Eastern Marsh Harriers at Mai Po, Hong Kong

Eastern Marsh Harrier - Circus spilonotus
Both EMH and Pied Harriers have been around Mai Po in the last few days. Pied is usually a passage migrant here in Hong Kong, Eastern Marsh Harriers may be arriving for the whole winter.

I detect a "speciesist" tendency among the Hong Kong bird-photographing fraternity, who seem biased in favor of Pied Harrier, - especially if an adult male comes into view.

So far this autumn, no adult males, but perhaps it's only a question of time.

Meanwhile the only Pied Harriers this autumn I've seen were: -

                        1) Juvenile
                        2) Against the light
                        3) Miles away.

So you'll have to settle for these; two different first-winter Eastern Marsh Harriers.

Eastern Marsh Harrier - Circus spilonotus

Eastern Marsh Harrier - Circus spilonotus

Eastern Marsh Harrier - Circus spilonotus

And the second, rather cooler-toned individual; -

Eastern Marsh Harrier - Circus spilonotus
Eastern Marsh Harrier - Circus spilonotus
Eastern Marsh Harrier - Circus spilonotus

Finally: - "John's Photo Masterclass"

The feature you've all been waiting for, no doubt.  (To give myself more gravitas, I'm going to refer to myself in the third person from here on.)

Eastern Marsh Harriers - Circus spilonotus
John says :

"If you can get both Harriers in the same frame, don't cut off the wing of one of them, like I just did !"