30 Jun 2011

"Swinhoe's Plover" on Dahu Beach, east Guangdong

Charadrius (alexandrinus) dealbatus

Last weekend I arranged to accompany Shenzhen-resident Brian Ivon Jones to Dahu Beach, near Haifeng. My aim was specifically to see and photograph the  Swinhoe's Plovers Brian discovered breeding there in late May. 

The background to the belated identification of these long-overlooked  birds is set out here:-

Although the article, by Peter Kennerley and David Bakewell, is titled "Malaysia's Mystery Plovers" , they were later found to be breeding in Fujian Province, and  - thanks to Brian - now known to be doing likewise in Guangdong.  With wintering records from Hainan Island as well, they are very much south China's "mystery" too.

Although I've seen breeding WFPs before - at Changle Beach, Fujian Province, in 2008 - the sighting of an odd juvenile plover in Hong Kong on May 31st  re-kindled my interest in this enigmatic bird. Hence my eagerness to get to this nearby site.

In turn, Brian was continuing his weekly monitoring of breeding progress of these birds. He has been reporting progress on the "Surfbirds" website here:-

It took just under three hours to get from Shenzhen to Haifeng  on a comfortable coach, where Brian was greeted like a long-lost cousin by all and sundry at his usual hotel.

On Saturday, June 25th, a 05:30 start and a taxi ride got us to Dahu beach bright and early.  A small party of WFPs were seen straight away, and they were more-or-less in view the whole four hours it took us to cover the length of the beach.

It was pretty warm by the time we finished, and I'll admit my concentration was flagging, but Brian was relishing the challenge.

Just offshore, fishermen bashed the sea surface in the time-honoured way to get the fish into their nets.  Back on the beach, the plovers - numbering 120 in total - displayed an impressive variety of plumages.

(juvenile - left, adults centre and right)

(Adult - left,  juvenile - right)

(This one really is young - note yellow legs)

The closest I could find to the Hong Kong bird of 31st May !

(Female, I think)

(Charadrius (a) dealbatus)

The whole area is part of the "Guangdong Haifeng Dahu Provincial Nature Reserve" as depicted in this mapboard. 

The site includes some tidal pools, fishponds, agricultural fields, a rare (for China) breeding spot for Purple Swamphen and an egretry. WWF Hong Kong have recognised the potential of the site, and are using sponsorship money from HSBC to maintain an observation platform at the egretry. 

June can be a quiet time for birding in south China, but it's obvious that there will be birds to see year-round at Dahu.  It's become Brian's selected "local patch" and I'm not the only one looking forward to seeing what turns up there as the seasons pass.

Watch this space. 

22 Jun 2011

Wuyuan County, Jiangxi - 16th to 18th June 2011

Heavy rain in June has meant misery for many in the Chinese Provinces that border the Yangtze River.  But our tickets were booked and paid for, so, with the usual optimism of birders, last week we flew from Shenzhen to Jingdezhen for three full days of birding in Jiangxi Province.  

Apart from ourselves, there was Roger Muscroft and Tim and Thelma Woodward. Tim is the author of the excellent "Birding South-East China" and -naturally- had been to Wuyuan before.  Tim's "South China Birder" website is here: -http://www.southchinabirder.com/

The main target bird was the Critically Endangered Blue-crowned (or Courtois's) Laughingthrush.

Dryonastes courtoisi

Wuyuan was seventy kilometers eastwards from Jingdezhen along a splendid new highway. We could see that a lot of the low-lying field and roads were flooded. We arrived in the dark. 

The county town turned out to be something of a bustling - albeit wet - metropolis. But next morning, once we left Wuyuan Town, things got more rustic in the countryside. People were busy planting - or re-planting after the flooding- rice in the fields.

Grey-headed Lapwings were seen regularly, often, as here, with young at the edges of rice paddies.

Vanellus cinereus

The traditional style of house in the area is quite attractive.

Red-rumped Swallows were nesting in the villages, and circling everywhere when the rain eased off.

Cecropsis daurica

Wuyuan County is famous for the tea grown there.

At Wuyuan, Blue-crowned Laughingthrushes are known to nest in a wood between a tea plantation and the river.  The water was too high to cross into the wood itself, but the Laughingthrushes obliged, coming down to the waters' edge opposite to forage for nesting material among the flotsam.

Dryonastes courtoisi

An Ashy Drongo - race  leucogenis  - sallied from a bare perch.  These are really "Ashy", unlike  some of the other forms of this species in south and southeast asia.

Dicrurus leucophaeus

We saw Crested Kingfishers in several places, including these juveniles. One  juvenile permitted a closer approach.

Megaceryle lugubris

On to Xiaoqi, in picturesque hills further to the northeast, where we were treated to views of Pied Falconets from the roof of the guesthouse.  The falconets use the bare branches of huge Camphor trees as lookout points. 

Microhierax melanoleucus

These fierce little raptors subsisted mainly on dragonflies, but, with young to feed, we saw the female take a Great Tit. After stripping the feathers off, the carcass was carried to the falconet nest hole.

Microhierax melanoleucus

There was attractive scenery continuing further up the valley, closer to the provincial border with Zhejiang. In fact the whole area is marketed to domestic Chinese tourists as a "Scenic Area".  It is popular, but not yet too over-visited.

At the end of a road seemingly built just so that tourists like us could admire the view, we found a pair of obliging Meadow Buntings.

Emberiza cioides

And that was about it.  Despite the wet weather, a lot of birding was packed into our visit. Our total was about seventy species.

On Sunday morning we returned to Hong Kong and I had a knot tied in my sodden handkerchief to remind me to "Bird Eastern China More Often" !

10 Jun 2011

Weekend Plover Trip to Haifeng, east Guangdong

Postponed due to the approach of Tropical Storm "Sarika".

I'm prepared to take my chances with predictions of rain, but the approach of a Tropical Storm is natures' way of telling you to do something else...

(from website of the Hong Kong Observatory)

Yes, I'm a wimp !

9 Jun 2011

The real "deal" ?

A puzzling (to me) juvenile "Charadrius" plover with a hindcollar, seen in front of Mai Po's boardwalk hide on 31st May 2011. 

The hindcollar should eliminate Greater and Lesser Sand Plovers, and these don't usually return to Hong Kong in juvenile plumages until late july.

Little-ringed Plover seemed a possibility, it breeds locally, but I eliminated it due to LRP's smaller size, brighter yellow legs and -usually- LRP's complete collar across the breast.  

Common Ringed Plover and Long-billed Plover are both rare winter visitors. Neither seemed "right" for this individual.

Kentish Plover - is a spring and autumn migrant, numerous winter visitor - to my mind more delicate than this.

So I was still guessing about the identification until I heard that the recently re-discovered "dealbatus" form of Kentish Plover, known as "White-faced" Plover was found breeding on a beach in late May at Shantou, Guangdong Province, by Brian Ivon Jones.

For photos of young plovers on the beach,  and other shots of "dealbatus" see Oriental Bird Images at :

There is a good online account of the re-discovery of "dealbatus" by Peter Kennerley and David Bakewell here at Surfbirds :

To sum up, "dealbatus" is:
(1) slightly larger than the Kentish Plovers that winter in south China, 
(2) bigger-billed and 
(3) longer-legged, especially above the knee. 
(4) the legs are paler in colour than wintering Kentish Plovers. 
(5) in flight: broad white trailing edge to secondaries, pale tips to the outer greater coverts and extreme white in outer rectrices, more so than Kentish would show (see below).

I may be guilty of making 2 + 2 = 5, but I think this could be a "White-faced" Plover, Charadrius (alexandrinus) dealbatus.

Science has not yet determined whether this form is a race of Kentish Plover, or a separate species.

I have exchanged Emails and my photos above with Peter Kennerley and David Bakewell - the co-authors of the "dealbatus" identification papers in Forktail and Birding Asia, as well as the Surfbirds article linked to above.

They have been quite positive, but have expressed reservations about whether these photos  absolutely confirm the identification, especially because the identification features of juvenile "dealbatus" are still not well known.

A weekend excursion to Shantou to study juvenile "dealbatus" is required !