29 Dec 2013

Eastern Water Rail (with supporting cast) at Long Valley

"Eastern" Water Rail - a.k.a. "Brown-eared" Rail (Rallus indicus) is a winter visitor to Hong Kong.

It's been getting pretty close to freezing in the past few days, so viewing a few winter birds has seemed appropriate.
Long Valley has boasted some good birds in recent weeks, and during holidays there are always birders and photographers about. Small huddles of well-wrapped-up people have been dotting the network of small freshwater fields.

Both rail and crake were in the corner, above.

Here's the rail; taking snails from the only remaining damp corner of this pond at Long Valley.

To the delight of many, a Ruddy-breasted Crake (Porzana fusca) has been appearing in the same small pond…

My last post for 2013.  Happy New Year !

13 Dec 2013

If you go down to the woods today…

You might see a female Grey-chinned Minivet, widespread winter visitor to Hong Kong's woodlands, and scarce breeder.   I photographed this along the water catchment road near Shek Kong, which runs along the boundary of Tai Lam Country Park.

Every mixed flock has a few Japanese White-eyes, a common resident from Hong Kong's highest scrublands to the mangrove edges of Deep Bay.  It's positively ubiquitous !

And here's a pre-Christmas bonus non-bird - a Great Eggfly Butterfly (Hypolimnas bolina), there seem to be a few around at the moment...

But back to birds, because this is a blog that "Does what it says on the Tin"...

Some of the most conspicuous woodland birds in Shek Kong are from feral populations of escaped or released birds which have found their own environmental niche. 

Since World War II, Hong Kong's almost entirely secondary wooded areas have been maturing so that more than a few ecological opportunities have been created. Below are three introduced species that have sprung (metaphorically) from cages to take advantage of those niches.

Silver-eared Mesias are very common in southwest China, where their forebears were probably trapped before arriving in Hong Kong in crates.  Now we have the yellow-throated variety argentauris and - pictured here - a red-throated race, ricketti.

Blue-winged Minla (also descended from escaped or released birds) can take inexperienced birders by surprise. Many are not as obviously "Blue-winged" as this one and can add an element of mystery to a mornings' birding.

Our only Nuthatch is Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, which has been enjoying the run of HK's Country Park woodland for the last twenty years or so.

Still, self-sustaining populations of these three species mean they are "tickable" !


Genuinely wild and genuinely seasonal is this winter visitor - Verditer Flycatcher….

….and another - Red-flanked Bluetail.

In some barbecue areas, it seems that "baiting" for photography is not necessary when the weekend merrymakers have left so much in the way of food scraps behind.  Both these Grey-backed Thrushes were out and about bright and early, before the cleaning workers arrived for the day.

It looks like it might be a "Thrushy" winter !  We live in hope.....

3 Dec 2013

November birding in Hong Kong

No sun - no moon!
No morn - no noon -
No dawn - no dusk - no proper time of day.
No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,
No comfortable feel in any member -
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,
No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds! -
Thomas Hood  (1799 - 1845)

November might be pretty grim in England, where Thomas Hood wrote his famous poem, but here in Tropical South China there's always something about, and the best weather of the year for birding. The Common Kingfisher has no fear of Hong Kong's watercourses freezing over.

On Sunday, 2nd November I was languishing at home pondering the futility of man's earthly existence, when Tim Woodward phoned me with news of a Bull-headed Shrike at Airfield Road, Shek Kong.

Here it is: identified as an adult female from Tim Worfolk's plate in "A Guide to the Shrikes of the World" (Pica press, 1997).

Tim Woodward's website is here: - http://www.southchinabirder.com

At Nam Sang Wai, the prospect of decent photo opportunities improved with some cutting and trimming by (I presume) a government contractor.

All you need at NSW is a sunny day, a low tide, and some some Black-faced Spoonbills - and Nov 7th was such a day.  

And - Stop Press - Great Cormorants still aren't very attractive.

Meanwhile, high tides are best for wader viewing at Mai Po Nature Reserve, and a few daytime high tides in early November were almost high enough.

A distant Nordmann's Greenshank

…and a flock of Black-tailed Godwits.

(December and January at Mai Po, by comparison, have hardly any daytime high tides that reach the boardwalk hides, so everything on the Deep Bay tideline is miles away.  But there are still duck and raptors and other "goodies" on the reserve itself).

A bonus was this Eurasian Woodcock in the pond beside the Mai Po car park.

In the woods, I saw my first Red-flanked Bluetail of the winter in mid-month.

Asian Brown Flycatcher is an autumn passage migrant and winter visitor, good numbers in November. Now this species has turned up in Britain, I note that Birding World has dropped "Asian" from ABF.

Grey-backed Thrushes arrive towards the end of the month. They are always shy, but newly-arrived birds are sometimes a little bit easier to see than the ones that have established winter territories. This is a first-winter male.

Plenty of swifts and swallows about at the end of November, here's my best effort at a House Swift.

To end with, another kingfisher, White-throated from a boardwalk hide at Mai Po.

We're half a world away from the UK, but there's already enough Christmas music in all the chain stores to make expat Brits feel at home.

11 Nov 2013

Warblers and other "wonderments"

Oriental Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus orientalis

Last Friday (Nov 8th) I joined Andrew Hardacre at Nam Sang Wai.  The good news was that we found that a government contractor had trimmed some of the sonneratia trees and other foliage at the slipway, freeing up sight lines and photo opportunities (if the tide was right) of the waterbirds.

But the bad news was that the light was poor, so we popped around the back of the AFCD post and had a "go" at photographing the warblers in the reed beds there. 

Here are some of the results..

Oriental Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus orientalis

Black-browed Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus bistrigiceps

Black-browed Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus bistrigiceps

Black-browed Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus bistrigiceps

Having looked at a paper in the 2011 Hong Kong Bird Report called "Seasonality of Acrocephalus and Locustella warblers in the reed beds at Mai Po Nature Reserve" (pp234 - 267) I can confidently assert that Oriental Reed and Black-browed are much commoner in autumn than they are in winter. Both species are coming to the tail end of their autumn passage.

An "also seen" was this phylloscopus

Dusky Warbler - Phylloscopus fuscatus

Dusky Warbler - Phylloscopus fuscatus

On a "Phylloscopus warblers" theme, here are some shots of Yellow-browed Warbler, taken from a window in the flat.

Yellow-browed Warbler - Phylloscopus inornatus

Yellow-browed Warbler - Phylloscopus inornatus

Yellow-browed Warbler - Phylloscopus inornatus

Off to Long Valley this morning, Andrew H. and I decided we'd try to get some shots of the Baillon's Crake that has been occupying a particular LV pond for a few days.  The pond is used for the cultivation of the little red worms people feed to aquarium fish. For the sake of science, I can report that Baillon's Crake eats those worms too.  I didn't get a decent photo of it doing so, but Andrew did:-


Anyhow, here are my efforts....

Baillon's Crake -  Porzana pusilla

Baillon's Crake -  Porzana pusilla

A bonus bird - for Long Valley anyway, Grey-headed Lapwing, with an altogether bigger catch.

Grey-headed Lapwing - Vanellus cinereus

Grey-headed Lapwing - Vanellus cinereus

Finally, not a warbler at all, really….

Zitting Cisticola - Cisticola juncidis

Zitting Cisticola….included in this post because it used to be called "Fantail Warbler".