23 Apr 2012

Japanese Murrelet in HK southern waters - 21st April 2012

Japanese Murrelet - Synthiliboramphus wumisuzume

The Hong Kong Birdwatching Society runs a regular series of sea-birding trips throughout the year.  These are booked weeks in advance by the Society and are, in some ways, hostage to the weather conditions on the actual day the trip takes place.

With a lot of rain falling in the latter half of last week, we got a chance - at short notice- to book a boat privately on Saturday, 21st April.

We advertised and asked around for anyone interested to come along and share the costs.  As it happened there were only eleven birders on the boat.  Our fellow birding optimists may have been hoping, like us, for a good showing of migrant terns.  

The sight of dozens of Red-necked Phalaropes gave us heart that sea-going migrants could be around.

Red-necked Phalarope - Phalaropus lobatus

The terns were disappointingly few and were mostly encountered resting on various pieces of flotsam.

Aleutian  Tern - Onychoprion aleuticus

 Common Tern - Sterna hirundo

Great Crested Tern - Thalasseus bergii

But the stars of the show - and saviours of the trip - turned out to be two different murrelet species, including HK's second-ever Japanese Murrelet.  HK's first was on 5th May 2007.  We happened to be on that 2007 boat trip as well, and I thought then that Japanese Murrelet in Hong Kong would be a once-in-a-lifetime sighting. Which shows how little I know about seabirds !

Like the individual pictured here, the 2007 bird was moulting.  Actually the 2007 bird was in terrible 'nick'.  Photos on the HKBWS website here:- 

There seems little chance that either of the Japanese Murrelets seen in HK waters could regain their flight feathers and get back to Japanese offshore islands in time to breed in the same year. Perhaps one-year-old birds spend their first spring at sea.  

Japanese Murrelet - Synthiliboramphus wumisuzume

Less than an hour after encountering Japanese Murrelet two odd black-and-white shapes could be seen bobbing among some floating rubbish.  These turned out to be Ancient Murrelets.  Records in HK of these are almost annual, but we again had very good views.  More photos on the HKBWS website here:-

"Saam Dim Sui..." !

Ancient Murrelets - Sythiliboramphus antiquus

One of the Ancient Murrelets seemed less able to fly than the other, different stages of moult, perhaps ?

We sailed south of Po Toi and Waglan Islands until late afternoon, but it was a bit of an anti-climax after the earlier excitement...

With the light fading we headed back to the bright lights of Tsim Sha Tsui.


  1. Congratulations, John..! Good reward for your adventure. I quite fancy a pelagic off northern China in winter but I suspect we'll have to go quite a long way out to see anything!

  2. Aleutian Tern sounds pretty good, very rare here in Japan.........

  3. A wonderful outing. I wish I had been there but I had no pink ticket for the day.... congrats old bean.

  4. Terry, beware of icebergs !

    Stu, Aleutians are regular here... they were overlooked before 1992 in HK...

    Andrew, never mind - the murrelets saved the day, really, otherwise it was rather quiet.

  5. Great boat trip, John! I still haven't seen any murrelet in my life. The Ancient Murrelets look super cute. It's also interesting to see Red-necked Phalaropes over there. Some of them are still in Thailand!

    1. Yup - really cracking! Still, I know it looks better on the blog than it feels on the boat - those hours and hours of seeing nothing but sea!

  6. Dave - Yes, afterwards when I closed my eyes, all I could see was the rolling waves....

    Ayuwat - Red-necked Phalaropes are passage migrants here... so perhaps we're seeing some birds that wintered in Thailand

  7. More amazing birds - wish I had been there! Great photos too but my favorite is the last one of the boat and hazy sky.

    1. Jeremy,

      Nice sunset, but not a Turner-esque sort of sky, sadly !