28 Sept 2011

Autumn Waders in flight at Mai Po, Hong Kong

Out to the Mai Po Nature Reserve boardwalk today, 28th September.

The tide came in quite quickly, but the birds stayed around until they were reasonably close to the hides, then took off in strong sunlight.

They're heading south, of course, away from their breeding grounds, and some juvenile plumages were in evidence.

Great Knot

Marsh Sandpiper

Eurasian Curlew


 Bar-tailed Godwit  -  "D1" flagged here in Hong Kong

Bar-tailed Godwit (three views)

Greater Sandplover

AND - a sure sign that winter is on it's way back - five Black-faced Spoonbills turned up as well. Here are two of them...   Hong Kong's peak count of 461 was in November 2009.

Black-faced Spoonbill

22 Sept 2011

Eagle Owl beside Yuen Long Highway, Hong Kong

Around midday today I travelled back to Sheung Shui from Tuen Mun (along Yuen Long Highway) on a Public Light Bus. 

I was gazing at the unfamiliar surroundings in Lam Tei when I noticed what looked like a rolled-up piece of matting at the base of the perspex sound barrier beside the carriageway.  The "matting" had bright orange eyes and ear tufts....  it was an Eagle Owl !

I was reminded of Jemi spotting an Eagle Owl by the roadside once, on Lantau Island.

The minibus didn't stop until it got to Sheung Shui.  I was reasonably confident I hadn't imagined the owl, but if it really was an owl my presumption was that it must be injured and need help.  However, Eagle Owls have sharp talons, and I didn't want to try to pick it up by myself.

After discussions with a couple of people I decided that the only thing to do was to go back, make sure the bird was still there and report the location accurately to the police, who should then call out AFCD.

With mixed feelings I returned to Lam Tei in a taxi (an hour or so later) to find the bird still there. After I dialled the police, two officers from the Traffic Section arrived very quickly.

I was not carrying my camera, and these photos were taken by one of the Traffic officers - "Dicky" on his mobile phone. 

The owl showed no sign of physical injury, but sat quite still, watching our every move.  However, with the traffic thundering past, one of us must have stepped too close to it, because it suddenly took off and flew across the road, disappearing into the trees beyond.

It really seemed to have no trouble flying, and so, in a way, I was glad to see it go.

How did it get there ?  Why did it stay so long in such a dangerous place in bright daylight?  

It might have flown into one of the translucent sound barriers, - these take a steady toll of birds locally, especially migrating ones unfamiliar with the landscape. 

Or it might have been hit by a vehicle on the road....but this seems less likely, as the impact could have caused more serious injuries. 

We'll never know for sure.  

But one thing IS for sure, - Eagle Owl is now on my 2011 year list !

20 Sept 2011

Beyond the Great Wall - Qilian Shan, 21st August 2011

It has been written that the Great Wall is "visible from  space". Well, parts of it may be, but in places near Wuwei, Gansu Province, the Wall has weathered over the past two thousand years to become no more than an earthen dyke.

Even with all that weather damage, though, it's still a very symbolic and stirring monument.

Nearer Zhangye, on the old "Silk Road", we thundered along a four-lane highway and observed bits of the wall and watchtowers in the nearby grassland.

The traditional end of the Wall - and, traditionally the end of Chinese civilization too - is at Jiayuguan. The end-of-wall site is a "must-see" for visitors from China and other parts of the world.

Jiayuguan - the "end of Chinese civilization"

On 21st August we set off southwest of Jiayuguan into the foothills of the Qilian Shan, on the way to a glacier in the mountains.

Foothills of the Qilian Mountains

Further up the road it looked as though the valley grasslands were winter pastures, and the animals were mostly much further up the surrounding hills.  Some birds appeared to have been utilizing the rock crevices in an empty corral to breed.


 Tickell's Leaf Warbler

Twite - the young birds are competing for the attention of the adult (centre)

But the "Bird of the Day" for me was this Lammergeier circling the hills above us.  And I didn't even see it - Jemi took this shot with the 400mm/f 5.6 after going further uphill.  You can even see the "beard" on it....  Jealous ?  Moi ?

Lammergeier (Bearded Vulture)

Ah well, that will teach me a lesson that I shouldn't lavish too much attention on Twites....      

All too soon we had to move on, with a 400km drive to Dunhuang to be completed before it got too late in the day.

15 Sept 2011

"My cherie Amur..." Ningxia, Aug 15th 2011

It's a fair bet that Stevie Wonder doesn't have Amur Falcon on his palearctic list.

We saw dozens of them in mid-August 2011, on power lines east of the Helan Shan Mountain Range in Ningxia Province.

They seemed to be in ones and twos and threes and even fours every few yards, hanging around like teenage delinquents. I guess they were in the early stages of their extraordinary migration from eastern Russia to sub-saharan Africa. But even with such a long way to go, they didn't seem to have any great sense of urgency. But raptors are "cool", and something named after the Amur River is "cooler" still.

(Falco amurensis)

The Amur River sounds like such an exotic place to me, - like Samarkand or Timbuctoo - that I was was captivated by them, especially because I've missed the few vagrant Amur Falcons that have passed through Hong Kong.  


I'll be trying to catch up and post some highlights from our recent China trip in the next couple of weeks.