31 August 2012

End of August at Mai Po

Out to the boardwalk at Mai Po Nature Reserve, and my pre-dawn optimism about bright conditions came face-to-face with the reality of the newly risen sun hidden by ominous-looking clouds.

The tide was forecast to be "2.7m at 09:27".  (The tide tables issued by the Hong Kong Observatory are really that precise, even if mother nature doesn't always behave as expected.)

So there was a lot of mud to look at as the egrets congregated on the tideline with Shenzhen's high rise in the background. And the sun tried, briefly, to come out. 

Yet another barge laden with sand headed upriver to Shenzhen. Chinese construction boom over ?  Not there, not yet.

The bigger tides come in quickly, and I didn't have long to wait in the already sauna-like hide before some migrating waders came close enough to get their pictures taken.

A Whimbrel posed nicely in front of some of the new summer grass.  

And a young Greater Sand Plover (one of twenty-or-so) chased crabs half-heartedly.

The year's highest numbers of Common Redshank usually occur in August, here is one of them.

And the prize for the most obliging wader goes to....... this Terek Sandpiper.  It wasn't in front of the hide for long, but at least it was close !

The water moved past the outermost new hide, and the light - what there was - began to fade.  I moved to the inner hides for a second chance at the waders.

An unusual Grey-headed Lapwing hid resolutely behind some grass tufts, and most of the waders left the tideline while it was still fifty metres from the  inner hides. 

Only a lone Great Knot stayed behind. I got back to the car as the rain started to fall.

Still, it beats a day at the office !

29 August 2012

The illicit joy of an “Armchair Tick” ! – Cyanoptila cumatilis

On 18th October 2008, together with a score of other birders and photographers I spent a Sunday afternoon at Po Toi Island, south of Hong Kong Island.  And I did a blog post about it here: -

Later I posted the Blue-and-white flycatcher photo on the HKBWS website here :-

As can be seen, on the forum Paul Leader pointed out that the bluish breast was indicative of the cumatilis race of Blue-and-white flycatcher, Cyanoptila cyanomelana

Actually, the cumatilis race of Blue-and-white Flycatcher is illustrated in the eighth edition (2005) of  “The BIRDS of HONG KONG and SOUTH CHINA” .

But I freely confess I hadn’t thought of “cumatilis” when I posted the photo originally.  As a grammar school boy with hardly any latin, I had to look up “cumatilis” in James Joblings’ “Helm Dictionary of Scientific Bird Names” to find that it means “sea-coloured.”  

Sea coloured it is.

Rolling the clock forward to 2012, and a paper published in the Oriental Bird Club’s Forktail 28 by Paul Leader and Geoff Carey highlights the differences between the various forms of Blue-and-white Flycatcher.  The paper is titled:

Zappey’s Flycatcher Cyanoptila cumatilis,             -  a forgotten Chinese breeding endemic

Paul and Geoff’s research has taken several years and has gone all the way from the Russian Far East, through China’s eastern provinces, to museum collections in Europe.

The type specimen was taken by the Dutch ornithologist Walter R. Zappey in May, 1907 at Mafuling, nw Hubei Province. So, the name proposed by Geoff and Paul in English is “Zappey’s Flycatcher”. 

As pointed out in “Whose Bird?” by Bo Beolens and Michael Watkins, Zappey’s name is already commemorated by Paradoxornis zappeyi – Grey-hooded Parrotbill.

A fine bird. And now we can thank Walter Zappey – and Messrs Leader and Carey – for Cyanoptila cumatilis – Zappey’s Flycatcher.

This year's edition (No. 28) of Forktail won't be online for a couple of years, so this is a reminder that if you're not already a paid-up ember of the Oriental Bird Club, you should be !