29 Oct 2013

A flavour of winter - Mai Po

The flared cowl of a startled cobra would be a highlight of any David Attenborough wildlife documentary.

They are pretty gripping in real life, too, as I discovered in a quiet corner of Mai Po Marshes Nature Reserve yesterday.  Cycling slowly towards a bend I entered a carpet of dry leaf litter and - right beneath my front tyre - saw the sudden movement of a large black snake.

The snake's head flared as I looked down and the white cobra nape "spectacles" were clearly visible.

"Goodness !" I exclaimed; - or words to that effect.  The writhing snake was lost to view behind me as the momentum of the bicycle carried me onwards.  But then there was a loud, hissing, scratching sound from the rear of the bike...

"It's coming to get me !" I panicked and jumped off the bike, only to discover that the snake was well away and the "hissing" was caused by a dry leaf stuck between the tyre and the rear brake pads.

And all the birds were pretty distant when I got to Ponds 16/17…. still, at least I'd had some exercise !

Anyway, I recovered my composure sufficiently to return to Mai Po this morning (Oct 28th). The only movements along the track to the boardwalk were the flittings of Japanese White-Eyes and a lone  Daurian Redstart. Nothing more sinister than White-breasted Waterhens scuttled into the undergrowth at my approach.

At the farthest Mai Po boardwalk hide, a couple of "surprise" birds, namely Large White Headed Gulls and fear of a different kind ... - how to identify these things when one is seasonally out of practice ?

And there is the business of negotiating the ever-shifting sands of gull taxonomy...

Heuglins is our commonest LWHG, but it has yellow legs.  For the pink (ish) legs and white-tipped outer primaries (even though this would be an earliest winter record) I'd have to go for Yellow-legged,
er, Mongolian, er, "Caspian Gull"...

 Larus (cachinnans) mongolicus ??
or Larus cachinnans (mongolicus) ??

I'll get back to you on this one, after I've asked around.

Meanwhile, here are some easy waders !

Common Redshank - Tringa totanus

Common Redshank - Tringa totanus

Common Redshank - Tringa totanus

Common Redshank - Tringa totanus

Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia

Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia

Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia

Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia

Great Cormorant - Phalacrocorax carbo

Temminck's Stint - Calidris temminckii

Temminck's Stint - Calidris temminckii

(Top right) Black-faced Spoonbills - Platalea minor

Black-faced Spoonbills - Platalea minor

Black-capped Kingfisher - Halcyon pileata

I tried to exude waves of warmth and friendliness, but the Kingfisher wouldn't come closer than about forty metres from the hide.

20 Oct 2013

Autumn passage wader highlights .....

Five or six early morning sessions in the Tragopan portable hide have brought a reward of some respectable wader close-ups.

So far, only a parade of common birds, but I'm not complaining.

A pleasant surprise (but not for the dragonfly) was the spectacle before sunrise yesterday of a Black-winged Stilt zapping a passing dragonfly and proceeding to drown and eat it.

Black-winged Stilt - Himantopus himantopus

Common Snipe - Gallinago gallinago

Spotted Redshank - Tringa erythropus

Grey Heron - Ardea cinerea

Black-winged Stilt - Himantopus himantopus

White-breasted Waterhen - Amaurornis phoenicurus

There are always reminders that birding in Hong Kong is not a "Wilderness Experience". After about eight o'clock the racket grows from the nearby container yards.

The yard dogs can be a bit of a nuisance, although they usually appear, nuzzle around discarded riceboxes, and go quite quickly.

The ubiquitous "chow" dog of the New Territories - Canis lapsappus
 Mid-October is usually when peak numbers of many autumn migrant waders occur.

Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia

Wood Sandpiper - Tringa glareola

Eurasian Magpie - Pica pica

Marsh Sandpiper - Tringa stagnatilis

Common Kingfisher - Alcedo atthis

"And that"  -  as the great Eddie Waring used to say  -  ".... is all you're getting !! "

10 Oct 2013

A passage of Whiskered Terns

At the end of last month Typhoon Wutip crossed Vietnam's coastline near Danang and some wet and windy weather blew north, bringing seabirds to Hong Kong's coastline.  A highlight being three Long-tailed Skuas seen over Mai Po Nature Reserve.

Sightings of "Marsh" Terns on autumn passage are not nearly as unusual as sightings of skuas, I'll admit.

A flock of Whiskered Terns over fishponds near Mai Po provided a good opportunity to study juveniles together with the adults moulting out of breeding plumage.  

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida (hybrida)

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida (hybrida)

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida (hybrida)

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida (hybrida)

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida (hybrida)

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida (hybrida)

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida (hybrida)

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida (hybrida)

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida (hybrida)

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida (hybrida)

No prizes for telling adults-from-juveniles.

A different call brought my attention to an "odd man out"; - Little Tern

This species breeds along the coast of south China, including Guangdong Province, and appears on passage here in Hong Kong too.

Little Tern - Sternula albifrons
And they all flew nice and  low, so I could get green/neutral backgrounds for the photos. 

Isn't nature fabulous ?

Finally, a semi-serious "Technical" note:  

Since July 2013 I've enabled "Google +" comments for this blog.  However, it became clear to me that this was EXCLUDING potential commenters who weren't on G +.

So I've disabled the Google + comments, and - something beyond my control - all those comments have been wiped off the blog records. My thanks, again to commenters, especially since July and apologies for the unintended deletions.

I felt that "Google +" comments were the electronic equivalent of shouting in a small room.

Although it's entirely possible I haven't grasped the potential of "G +" for "networking", I'd rather keep life simple.

4 Oct 2013

A quick "Twitch" for Red-backed Shrike

Common Snipe - Gallinago gallinago
I started 2nd October in my "Tragopan" portable hide, overlooking the concreted creek where a few autumnal waders pottered about ( "Pottered" - I hope this sounds scientific and disciplined.)

Common Kingfisher - Alcedo atthis (bengalensis)

Common Kingfisher - Alcedo atthis (bengalensis)
The good news is that a Common Kingfisher did me the honour of briefly field-testing my perch !

"WoodSand" and "GreenSand" also obliged with close views. 

Wood Sandpiper - Tringa glareola
(Note to self: - Must clean the litter off the possible background areas... !) 

Green Sandpiper - Tringa ochropus
THEN: a tip-off from Andrew Hardacre that he was in Long Valley, looking at a Red-backed Shrike (possibly HK's fifth), that had been originally found there the previous day. 

"Long Valley" - a rare patch of cultivated lowland in Hong Kong
After some directions were given, I found the right field, found Andrew (and James Lambert) and found the bird. 

Red-backed Shrike - Lanius collurio

It was perched on a wire above a patch of wet reeds. It was regularly diving into the foliage for caterpillars. The ginger-brown overall colouration, traces of grey on the hind neck, and squarish tail all seemed like good ID "pointers" to separate from Brown Shrike, our most-likely confusion species.

As I'd missed Hong Kong's previous Red-backed Shrikes, this was a "HK Tick" for me.

Nearby, a "bonus" Red-necked Phalarope, whirling away on a flooded paddy field.

Red-necked Phalarope - Phalaropus lobatus

More photos and shrike identification debate on the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society website : 

And what lovely cool weather we're having, too !