14 Dec 2012

Mai Po and Deep Bay Ramsar Area - "Winter Visitors"

In December and January Deep Bay's daytime high tides rarely come close to the birdwatching hides. 

So, due to the usual distance of the tidelines, the best of our winter visitors can go largely unseen, or at least, seen distantly.  

Due to some quirk of the weather, last Monday's tide (Dec 10th) was significantly higher than predicted, and the birds passed the "Birdwatching Society" hide in hazy sunshine.

Here are some of them:- 

"Eastern" Black-tailed Godwit - Limosa melanuroides

Nordmann's Greenshank  - Tringa guttifer (two in the lower photo, right and rear)

Dunlin - Calidris alpina

Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia

Marsh Sandpiper - Tringa stagnatilis

And "shuffling the wader pack" were: -

Eastern Buzzard - Buteo japonicus

Osprey - Pandion haliaetus

Back to the waders...

Eurasian Curlew - Numenius arquata  (dropping in on some godwits)

"Eastern" Black-tailed Godwit - Limosa melanuroides

Saunders's Gull - Saundersilarus saundersii

As the tide went out, a surprise visitor to the tideline dropped in - Mai Po's one and only resident (since July 2012) Oriental Stork.

Oriental Stork - Ciconia boyciana

Including a distant Black-faced Spoonbill, the Stork and Nordmann's Greenshank made it  three "Endangered" species for the morning.

(Edited and added) And as Martin Williams reminds me, - Saunders's Gull is "Vulnerable".

Beats a Monday morning in the office !

12 Dec 2012

Not completely gloom and doom

I'm talking about the cruddy weather of the last few weeks or so.  It's official !  - according to the HK Observatory, in November 2012 Hong Kong experienced the fewest hours of bright sunshine in any November since 1885.

December won't be greyer than November, will it ? Let's hope not.

Last week began slowly and just got better. In mid-week, the high-ish tides in late afternoon at the Mai Po boardwalk gave some decent viewing opportunities, but it was a bit gloomy for photos.

Saunders's Gull - Saundersilarus saundersi

For a small cute-looking gull, Saunders's is an astonishingly effective crab-killer…and it scatters its prey all over the mudflats.

Grey Plover - Pluvialis squatarola - with a piece of crab carapace.

At Nam Sang Wai, though, things perked up when the sun came out on Thursday (6th December), and the NSW regulars paraded along the edge of the creek.  You've seen 'em all here before, but here they are again, in all their sun-drenched glory !

Pied Avocet - Recurvirostra avosetta

Black-winged Stilt - Himantopus himantopus

Black-faced Spoonbill - Platalea minor

Grey Heron - Ardea cinerea

Three shots of Marsh Sandpiper - Tringa stagnatilis

Great White Egret - Casmerodius albus

Last Sunday's sunshine inspired me to try to "improve" on the Red-rumped Swallow shots I'd taken a few days earlier…  in the end though, my "Bird of the Week" was a Northern/Common House Martin

With a copy of the 2009-10 Hong Kong Bird Report beside me, I can tell you that Hong Kong's first confirmed Northern House Martin was found by Paul Leader on Nov. 20th 2009  (Photos by Martin Hale).  

Two other NHM reports followed in quick succession, possibly birds of the same influx due to cold weather.  

I don't know how many sightings of Northern House Martin have been made in the intervening three years, but there are still only a handful of records, due to the difficulty of seeing House Martins well enough to distinguish "Asian" from "Northern/Common".

Some record shots and discussion are here, but here are the photos I posted on the HKBWS website.

Northern House Martin - Delichon urbicum

A Hong Kong "Tick", and December off to a flying start....

4 Dec 2012

Asian Red-rumped Swallow - (Cecropis daurica) in Hong Kong

Asian Red-rumped Swallow ( Cecropis daurica ) race "daurica" OR "japonensis"

In the late autumn, flocks of migrant Red-rumped Swallows can be found hawking insects over the fishponds around Deep Bay.  The gloomy weather of the last few days seems to have brought in a lot of them, more than I think I've seen before.  On Dec 2nd there were about forty over just one fishpond near Mai Po  Nature Reserve.

In "The BIRDS of HONG KONG and SOUTH CHINA", Clive Viney notes…"amount of fine streakng variable".  Here are a few photos that show exactly that..

(same individual as top bird)

Asian Red-rumped Swallow - Cecropis daurica

The swallows were being quite obliging for photography, they were flying low and straightish over the water. I always think that Red-rumped flies noticeably slower than Barn Swallow which helps when I'm trying to crank an 800mm lens around on a Wimberley head.

Twice in the half-hour I spent at the pond edge, the swallows rose as one from wingtip height to about ten metres in the air.  This was prompted both times by a passing Kestrel.  The silent (to MY ears) communication among the flock seemed to be 100 % effective, and their co-ordination was something to behold.

Here's the Kestrel :-

Common Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus

And here's a nest-building Red-Rumped Swallow from Jiangxi Province (June 2011);-

Red-rumped Swallow - Cecropis daurica

And in the "also photographed" category, a "fohkinensis" race Pale Martin :-

Pale Martin - Riparia diluta fohkinensis

And Hong Kong's supermarkets are playing Christmas "musak" - is it that time of the year again already ?


Edited: 1) To change "Hirundo" to "Cecropis" - Wake Up, John !

             2) To add the Jiangxi RRS photo

              3) And to highlight that these are races daurica or japonica

27 Nov 2012

Dark-sided Flycatcher (Muscicapa sibirica)

The flycatcher formerly known as "Sooty Flycatcher" is a passage migrant through Hong Kong, "uncommon in autumn" and "rare in spring".

I came across one in some wet woodland this morning, associating with an active group of Japanese White-eyes.  First impressions of an upright, small brown flycatcher called to mind Asian Brown, Grey-streaked or Dark-sided.  

Once I decided that there really was some streaking on the flanks, not just due to the bedraggled appearance of the bird, I was able to dismiss Asian Brown Flycatcher.  My personal prejudice is that Grey-streaked always seems to pop up along the waterside on Po Toi Island, and Dark-sided is the one I've usually encountered in woods in the New Territories.  Not very scientific, I know.

Dark-sided Flycatcher (Muscicapa sibirica)

Mark Brazil's "Birds of East Asia" is useful for differentiating this trio of flycatchers, but even he noted in relation to Dark-sided that.."Underparts darker than Asian Brown or Grey-streaked, but variable and confusing."

Grey-streaked has "more clearly defined streaks" according to Clive Viney in "The Birds of Hong Kong and South China" …"and the wing tip of adults almost reaches the tip of the tail."

The posture of the bird can affect the position of the wing tips relative to the tail....but I think it is the DEFINITION of the streaks that nails it for me.

Here are pics of Grey-streaked Flycatcher from Po Toi; -

Grey-streaked Flycatcher (Muscicapa griseisticta)

A big drop in temperature over the last couple of days has distressed many insects, and when this happens they tend to drop to the ground. On my way back to where I'd left the car, I came across two more flycatchers, both down on the stone path. Only the one on the right of this picture hung around long enough to give me a decent view.

He really WAS more "Sooty" than the other Dark-sided I had seen earlier.

And finally, a female Daurian Redstart in the "also snapped" category.

Daurian Redstart (Phoenicurus auroreus)

Looks like the waterproof camera cover is working okay !