23 Jan 2012

Cormorants behaving Badly

Several thousand Great Cormorants (Phalacrocorax carbo) winter in Hong Kong every year.  

They gather in noisy, quarrelsome groups and hunt for fish en masse.  They are the Millwall F C supporters of the bird world: -

"Nobody Loves Us, We Don't Care ! "

Even when the fishing is good they fight among themselves.  A small fish can be quickly swallowed but if a cormorant hesitates for a moment - especially when the fish is too large to swallow - there is a wet tussle for the prize.  

These photos, I hope, convey some of the fun-and-games to be seen on an otherwise dull day at Nam Sang Wai.

A  new winner emerges triumphantly from the depths....

…but can he keep the fish ?

It looks like he can !

A Very Happy "Year of the Dragon" to everyone !

11 Jan 2012

Mai Po in winter - some Deep Bay birds

On 3rd January the forecast tide was close to the boardwalk hides in the late afternoon.  Less-than-ideal viewing conditions, but a good number (about 140) large white-headed gulls settled on the tideline as it peaked. Most of our LWHGs are "Heuglin's", with a few Mongolian (Yellow-legged) Gulls also present.  But OUR "Yellow-legged" gulls don't have yellow legs, which is a source of consternation to more literal-minded Hong Kong birders.

Luckily for us, a second-winter Pallas's Gull was one of the closest birds in view.  In recent years there have been only one or two records per winter season, although, like most gulls, this species is probably under-reported. Anyway, Pallas's - formerly known as "Great Black-headed Gull" has the virtue of being pretty much unmistakable as it nears full breeding plumage.  "The King of Gulls" it says in my Helm guide to Gulls by Klaus Malling Olsen.

A few days later, the sun came out, but the tideline - and the big gulls - were w-a-a-a-a-y out in Deep Bay. I went out to the newest of the boardwalk hides.

Pied Avocet were dotted around the exposed mudflats, sieving their way through the goo.  Several thousand now winter in Deep Bay annually, and their abundance is suspected to be related to declining water quality.  They're welcome to whatever they can get.

Also present were a few Common Greenshank, including this wintering one, below, with Hong Kong leg flags.

The competitiveness of birds searching for prey could be clearly seen with the amount of attempted robbery going on.  Here, a White-breasted Kingfisher with a mudskipper is menaced by a Black-headed Gull, and then chased as it races to the safety of the mangroves.  On this occasion the kingfisher kept its' meal, but only just.

Oriental Magpie Robin could be described as an "opportunist", and it's a bit odd to see a garden bird at the edge of the bay.  Here, one demonstrates the usefulness of a nictating eyelid as it tackles a small crab on a moss-covered area of the mudflat.

A male Pied Kingfisher hovered briefly near the hide, but - ain't that the way - the light angle was less-than-perfect.

A passing raptor, such as Eastern Marsh Harrier.... (below) can really cause a commotion

But to really stir things up, a larger raptor is required.  During the morning a juvenile Eastern Imperial Eagle made a few sorties over Deep Bay, and once came quite close to the hide.

Hong Kong's Mai Po - there's always something to look at !

5 Jan 2012

Hong Kong in winter: - some "fishpond birds"

Black Kite -Milvus migrans.......  with dead fish"prey"

Mai Po Nature Reserve is surrounded by areas of commercial fishponds.  In these freshwater fish are "farmed" for the Hong Kong dinner table.

Hong Kong's Property developers see fishponds as potential building sites… they are large, cheap and flat. 

You can see the high-rise towers of Tin Shui Wai in the background here, until the late 1980s all fishponds, too.

In other places ponds have been filled in to make space for open storage and container yards.  So we have to have to appreciate these areas while we've still got them.  

A typical view…. some discarded rubbish, a wandering dog and the odd rusting container..

Still, on to some pondside birds......

Green Sandpiper - Tringa ochropus

Zitting Cisticola - Cisticola jundicis

Common Kingfisher - Alcedo atthis (bengalensis)

Richard's Pipit - Anthus richardi

Red-throated Pipit - Anthus cervinus

Common Sandpiper - Actitis hypoleucos

Collared Crow - Corvus torquatus

Yellow Wagtail - probably "taivana"

Stejneger's Stonechat - Saxicola stejnegeri

Stejneger's Stonechat - Saxicola stejnegeri

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida

Red-billed Starling - Sturnus sericeus

Sometimes Great Cormorants get into fishponds and take the fish. This has become a conservation issue in Hong Kong.

With thousands of cormorants in Hong Kong in the winter, various strategies have been tried to keep them out of commercial ponds, including distracting them with trash fish at Mai Po - a concept abandoned this year after three years or so of pouring tilapia into Gei Wai 3 at Mai Po Nature Reserve.

Elsewhere wires were strung across ponds to stop cormorants gliding in, but these lines have broken or fallen into disrepair and there has been a dispute between fishpond operators and the Government's AFCD about maintenance.

As of New Year's Day, though, the only cormorants we saw were flying into the sunset.  No controversy there, then.