31 Mar 2012

The hides of March...Mai Po Nature Reserve

Lesser Sand Plover (Charadrius mongolus) - could this individual be wondering why a proposed "split" as "Spot-fronted" and "Black-fronted" has been made ?

Which do you suppose this bird would be under the proposed new names ?  White headlights on the forehead ?  I'd have gone for "Spot-fronted", but no, the suggested new name is "Black-fronted" according to the captions under plates 2 and 3 in Birding Asia 16, out a couple of months ago.  But "Black-fronted" has less black on the forehead than "Spot-fronted" .....

Go figure, as they say in North America.  I thought that the captions had been transposed, but reading the text of the item the captions seem to be correct.  

The original paper, based on DNA analysis, was published in the Journal of the Linnaean Society in 2010.  I admire people who can do all this nitty-gritty analysis, but until they come up with better new names, I'm just going to ignore them.  

Anyway, I mustn't be "Mr Grumpy of the New Territories" - spring is here ! 

A series of lowish tides this week coincided with the departure of more wintering birds, and influxes of "East Asian flyway" spring migrants. 

Great Knot (Calidris tenuirostris) - a flock of about sixty moved around the tideline.

Caspian Tern (Hydroprogne caspia) - an influx of eighty-two birds, the highest for some years

Curlew Sandpipers (Calidris ferruginea)

The furthest boardwalk hide - decent viewing even on relatively low tides this week.

At the end of the boardwalk at Mai Po the mossy area in front of the "far" hide in Deep Bay  attracted a few birds.  The green, unreflective moss carpet often made a better background for photographs than the nearby mudflats with varying degrees of glare.

A few small rain showers brought a welcome degree of cooling.

Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos) - poking around with raindrops on its' back  

"Macronyx" Yellow Wagtails (Motacilla tschutschensis) found the moss particularly attractive

Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii) - effective hunter of small crabs

Greater Sand Plover (Charadrius leschenaultii)   and    Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus)

Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis)

Life getting you down ?  Just shrug it off !

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus) 

And it's not even April yet ! 

22 Mar 2012

"Turned out nice again…"

…as George Formby used to say in the 1930s.  Or so I'm told.

I have a Field Guide in which the author introduces a bird as "nondescript" - and then proceeds to describe it.

Well, spring weather in Hong Kong is "unpredictable", but the HK Observatory people feel obliged to make predictions anyway.  Rather them than me. 

A grey morning was predicted to presage a grey day, but the sun broke through at about 09:30 to general delight. Temperatures rose so fast I felt rather foolish in my thick jacket.

The tide in Deep Bay was predicted to peak some distance from all the but the newest hide, but actually it rose 25 cm or so higher, covering all the mudflat and bringing the waders close to the older hides.

Hot breaths of air from the Pacific Ocean in the past week have persuaded many Great Cormorants and duck to move north, so it was mostly a "Wader Show" at Mai Po Nature Reserve, with a variety of lingering winter visitors and some early migrants. 

"Eastern" Black-tailed Godwits - Limosa melanuroides

Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia

Eurasian Curlew - Numenius arquata

Pied Avocet - Recurvirostra avosetta

Pacific Golden Plover - Pluvialis fulva

Not a wader at all, of course..but a popular visitor this winter..

Glaucous Gull - Larus glaucescens

Some genuine passage migrants on show:

Broad-billed Sandpipers - Limicola falcinellus

Curlew Sandpipers - Calidris ferruginea

This spring I seem to have been lucky in the hide to be close  to keen people with 'scopes who have picked out the best waders.  Today it happened again, as John Allcock picked up a Spoon-billed Sandpiper among the Curlew Sands…

Spoon-billed Sandpiper - Eurynorhynchus pygmeus

The same individual as the one 10 - 12 days ago ?  I'm not sure.

8 Mar 2012

A promise of spring at Mai Po

Saunders's Gull (Saundersilarus saundersi)

Out to the Mai Po Nature Reserve boardwalk today, and the Deep Bay tide was higher than predicted, coming all the way in.  

I was carrying the big lens, so I didn't bother carrying my telescope.  

March must be the best month to see Saunders's Gulls in HK, and several adults in breeding plumage  showed well close to the hide, although the light was poor.

Saunders's Gull (Saundersilarus saundersi)

A few migrating Curlew Sandpipers were on the mudflats, - harbingers - (I hope)  of the thousands of migrant shorebirds we can expect to pass through in the next few weeks.  A single Nordmann's Greenshank loafed at the tideline, looking a lot more relaxed than you might expect for an Endangered species.

Nordmann's Greenshank (Tringa guttifer)

The bird of the morning was a Spoon-billed Sandpiper, spotted by the visiting Finns, Antero Lindholm and Annika Forsten.   Antero kindly let me look at it through his 'scope but from my place in the hide I couldn't line up a record photo before the SBS and the other waders near it took off, and flew towards the middle of the Reserve. The first Hong Kong sighting this year of this Critically Endangered species, and I'd missed the shot !

About an hour-and-half later the tide was dropping and birds ware re-settling themselves to feed in the sludge of the Bay.  I noted a smallish flying flock of Curlew Sandpipers and took a couple of "just for practice" shots… the kind of unnecessary shutter noise that drives non-photographers mad.

When I got home I reviewed the mornings' photos and found that the Spoon-billed Sandpiper had been in the "just-for-practice" Curlew Sandpiper group; here -

Spoonbilled Sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)

It's a poor quality photo, shot but it IS a Spoonbilled Sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus) 

- as Mark Brazil writes in "Birds of East Asia" -  "(a) unique bill, though distinctive tip is not always clear, especially in profile." 

Note to self:  "Must Try Harder !"

Added and edited on 9th March 2012:

The "Spoony" was on the outgoing tide today.  Thanks to Annika For finding it !

Spoonbilled Sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)

And, yes, even with the 800mm it was miles away....


Edited and added on 11th March 2012

Today on the outgoing tide, but a bit - only a bit - closer than two days ago...

Spoonbilled Sandpiper (Eurynorhynchus pygmeus)

- and a bonus "Kamchatka" Gull -

6 Mar 2012

Yunnan - Jan/Feb 2012 Part Five - Lashihai and Lijiang

Common Cranes - Grus grus

On our previous visit, Lashihai had a number of places where tourists could access the lakeshore and go for boat rides of various kinds.  This activities have now been supplemented by the creation of a "Lijiang Lashihai Wetland Park".  We paid our 30RMB admission fee  and drove around the perimeter of the area.  There were a good number of wetland birds to be seen. We counted fifty-six Common Cranes but there were no Black-necked Cranes.

Entrance Gate

A newly-completed guesthouse (I think)


Bar-headed Geese - Anser indicus

Ruddy Shelduck - Tadorna ferruginea

There was a pleasing number of duck and coot bobbing on the lake surface in the cold wind.  It was the place (confession) where we missed having a 'scope… but we still got Falcated Teal, Goldeneye, Gadwall and Red-crested Pochard, to name but four.

Back in town we spent one morning visiting Black Dragon Pool Park, but saw few birds of note there.  Momentary excitement at the call of Hwamei was soon tempered by the sight of one in a cage.

The path to Black Dragon Pool Park

Lijiang is still dominated by the sight of Yulongxueshan:-  "Jade Dragon Snow Mountain". Which is a substantial name for a substantial mountain.

View from our hotel room at sunrise

This just about brings our Yunnan birding travelogue to an end.  I've skipped over quite a lot, but I hope that if you've managed to read this far you'll have a "feel" for the area we covered.

Don't thank me; it was

                                                                  " NO BOTHER "  

5 Mar 2012

Yunnan - Jan/Feb 2012 Part Four - The road to "Stone Treasure Mountain"

Leaving the Old City of Dali, we drove northwards along the shore of Erhai - the "Ear-shaped Lake" that the guidebook reminded us was China's sixth largest freshwater lake.

At the northwest corner of the lake is Shaping, where we found a newly completed wetland park, with "The Bird Formerly Known As Purple Gallinule" showing well in the morning sunshine.

Grey-headed Swamphen - Porphyrio poliocephalus

The weekly village market was in progress, so we dropped in.

Shaping Market

Shaping Market

On to Shibaoshan, the "Stone Treasure Mountain", where we found the guesthouse near the entrance had closed - so on we went to the picturesque town of Shaxi where we stayed at the Tea and Horse Caravan Trail Inn.  (Which we highly recommend.)

Town Square, Shaxi

Mornings were clear and cold at Shaxi. Verity's thermometer read minus two at 07:00hrs.  As we headed out  the smoke of many early morning fires drifted across the landscape.

Black-billed (Common) Magpie - Pica pica

The "Treasures" at Shibaoshan are some ancient Buddhist Grottoes.  For birders the site seems to be reliable for views of Yunnan Nuthatch near the summit.  But there are other birds there too.

Spectacled Fulvetta - Fulvetta ruficapilla

Rufous-breasted Accentor - Prunella strophiata

It's a bird ! It's a plane ! No, it IS a bird…

Crimson-browed Finch - Propyrrhula subhimachala (male)

Crimson-browed Finch - Propyrrhula subhimachala (female)

A couple of days later and we headed north again.  The sight of village women in ethnic minority dress demonstrated that we had arrived in Lijiang County, home of the Naxi.   

They were all going to market which we found down a side street…. 

We were less than two hours from Lashihai, a wetland "Ramsar Site".....