15 Dec 2014

Getting the hang of things

In my last posting I mentioned that I had been loitering near a certain clump of reeds in the hope of a photo opportunity with Chinese Penduline Tits.

The tits did show briefly, and here are two out of the six in the small party that appeared.

Chinese Penduline Tit - Remiz consobrinus

Chinese Penduline Tit - Remiz consobrinus

Near Tai Sang wai, at a fishpond edge, a chance encounter with a Eurasian Hoopoe led to these photos.  Rather a scruffy individual, but it's about a year since I last saw one in Hong Kong.

Eurasian Hoopoe - Upupa epops

Near Gei Wai 19 at Mai Po there is a small patch of banyan trees that can be quite good for migrating flycatchers (and, now I think of it - Fairy Pitta was seen there once).

On 29th and 30th November we got glimpses of a furtive "blue" flycatcher, which we identified as Chinese Blue Flycatcher. This will be about a fifth record for Hong Kong if accepted. The problem with all these blueish flycatchers is that they are popular cage birds, and it's funny how it seems to be usually males that turn up.

This one - and I'm not biased, honestly - was behaving in a naturally furtive manner.

Chinese Blue Flycatcher - Cyornis glaucicomans

More photos of the flycatcher here - http://www.hkbws.org.hk/BBS/viewthread.php?tid=22276&extra=page%3D1

One of my Field Guides (a book - you must remember books) introduced a species as "nondescript" - and then proceeded to describe it.  I can't recall the species in question now, but the bird Ben King called "Inornate Warbler" in his otherwise impeccable "Collins Guide to the Birds of SE Asia" (1975) suffers from the same human imposition of blandness.

They're common but I like them -

Yellow-browed Warbler - Phylloscopus inornatus
Well I'd better go and post my Christmas Cards before it's too late.  

1 Dec 2014

Schrenck's bittern (Ixobrychus eurhythmus)

Schrenck's bittern (Ixobrychus eurhythmus) is an East Asian species that breeds in eastern Russia and eastern China. 

Schrenck's bittern (Ixobrychus eurhythmus)

It winters in the Phillippines, SE Asia and Indonesia.  It is strictly a passage migrant here in Hong Kong, with a latest autumn date (Hong Kong Bird Report 2012) of 19th November.

Last Monday (Nov 24th) I set myself and the long lens up at a pond with a small patch of phragmites reeds, with the aim of getting shots of Chinese Penduline Tits. 

Schrenck's bittern (Ixobrychus eurhythmus)

I had heard that a Schrenck's Bittern had been seen in the area a few days earlier, but was still taken by surprise when one stuck its' head out of the reeds in the early morning sunshine.  After half an hour or so, it strode across the remains of the cress crop in the paddy field and went off to feed in similar weedy habitat nearby.

Schrenck's bittern (Ixobrychus eurhythmus)

I returned in late afternoon and - at just around sunset - this individual demonstrated what "crepuscular" meant by coming out and poking around the edges of it's chosen pond.  I sat quietly and it came to within ten metres, providing the best views I've ever had of this species.

Schrenck's bittern (Ixobrychus eurhythmus)

According to "The Herons Handbook" (Hancock and Kushlan) Croon Helm, 1984, Schrenck's Bittern eats small fish, shrimps, crickets and the larvae of dragonflies and other insects.  Here are three shots with prey items…

Schrenck's bittern (Ixobrychus eurhythmus)

I won't attempt to identify the insects...

It seems that Leopold Ivanovich von Schrenck (1826-1894) - Director of the Imperial Academy of Sciences at St. Petersburg - originally thought this bittern was a hybrid of the already better-known Yellow Bittern (Ixobrychus sinensis) and Cinnamon Bittern (I.cinnamomeus)

Schrenck's bittern (Ixobrychus eurhythmus)

It was that pioneer of Chinese Ornithology, Robert Swinhoe, who determined that "Schrenck's" Bittern was a proper species in it's own right.

For anyone who has read this far; - for brief biographies of Schrenck and Swinhoe, and many others, I recommend "Whose Bird ?" (Beolens and Watkins) Helm, 2003.

I promise I'm not being paid to plug books for any particular publisher, I'm just suggesting a couple of possible Christmas reads !

28 Nov 2014

Deep Bay Birding

Crested Serpent Eagle - Spilornis cheela
We've had a few clear, sunny days and birding conditions have been at their best in terms of comfort and air quality.  Clear air in winter in Hong Kong usually follows southerly or easterly breezes from over the South China Sea.  Cold northerly winds usually bring pollution with them.

Out at Tsim Bei Tsui - across Deep Bay opposite Mai Po, I came across this Serpent Eagle sitting over a bare patch of ground. The car made an effective hide.

From the boardwalk hides at Mai Po, at least two Black-capped Kingfishers seemed to have staked out their own territories.

Black-capped Kingfisher - Halcyon pileata

Black-capped Kingfisher - Halcyon pileata
November is the best autumn month to see the crab-killing expert Saunders' Gull.

Saunders' Gull - Chroicocephalus saundersi

But when the mudflats (and the crabs) are getting covered by the rising tide, even Saunders' Gull will resort to robbery.

Or "Attempted Robbery" in this instance….

450 Pacific Golden Plovers were noted during the November Waterfowl Count.  Some came close to the hides over the next few days.

Grey Plover (P. squatarola) with Pacific Golden Plover (P. fulva)

Pacific Golden Plover  - Pluvialis fulva

Pacific Golden Plover  - Pluvialis fulva

A sizable flock of Dunlin is also present right on the Deep Bay mudflats right now.

Dunlin - Calidris alpina

The wintering birds are not ALL waders, here are a couple of shots of Tristram's Bunting. Pretty much a closed-canopy species, with poor light for photography, but these are with a 500mm f.4 and 5d Mk 3 combination, which can work well in the gloom.

Tristram's Bunting - Emberiza tristrami

Tristram's Bunting - Emberiza tristrami

Out in the open, an Amur Falcon has roosted overnight on a power cable, over a grassy hillside with a view of the bay. 

Amur Falcon - Falco amurensis
Perhaps due to the recent mild weather, some migrant birds are passing Hong Kong later than usual this year.

But with any luck, this one will be in southern Africa by Christmas !

15 Nov 2014

" The Big Bunting "

The Hong Kong birdwatching Society is among a number of Green Groups that grow rice in the Long Valley area of Hong Kong.  Apart from the family fun involved in harvesting modest quantities of the stuff, some rare birds, especially buntings, are attracted by the prospect of all that grain.

"The Big Bunting" is the name of the BWS's competition to predict how many series of bunting will turn up in the late autumn/winter.  Nine species were found at Long Valley last year.

And Long Valley, only a small area of cultivation, is looking for its' 300th species.

Pallas's Reed Bunting - Emberiza pallasi

At the start of this week (8th November) Long Valley's "star" bunting was this attractive winter male Pallas's Reed Bunting.

Long Valley from Yin Kong Tsuen

The bird liked the wet edges of a particular lotus pond, but, solitary and unobtrusive, it was hard to discern through the tangle of vegetation.

Pallas's Reed Bunting - Emberiza pallasi

Anything named after Ornithological pioneer Peter Simon Pallas must be good, but even this wasn't a "first" for Long Valley - actually, one of these was photographed in the same pond two years ago.

On Tuesday, 11th November, the first of the Long Valley rice plots was harvested.

Not for nothing are Yellow-breasted Buntings known as "Rice Birds",  - they can feed on the standing stalks of this food staple. 

Yellow-breasted Bunting - Emberiza aureola

Persecution of them throughout their range has meant continual decline in their population levels. But, at Long Valley, the agricultural area centered on the Green Group rice patches has been holding over one hundred of them for the past few days.

A versatile species, they also feed in wet ditches away from rice fields….

Yellow-breasted Bunting - Emberiza aureola

Yellow-breasted Bunting - Emberiza aureola

Yellow-breasted Bunting - Emberiza aureola

Another species around at the moment is Chestnut-eared Bunting, a few have shown well at Long Valley this week.

Chestnut-eared Bunting - Emberiza fucata

Chestnut-eared Bunting - Emberiza fucata

Chestnut-eared Bunting - Emberiza fucata

Two days ago, an ID request on the HKBWS website brought a flurry of excitement, when the mystery bird - a bunting of course - appeared to be Hong Kong's first Pine Bunting.

A determined "twitch" ensued the following morning, and the bird was around the first of the rice fields  to be harvested.

Pine Bunting - Emberiza leucocephalos

Pine Bunting - Emberiza leucocephalos

I'm cautiously optimistic that this bird will be accepted by the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society's Rarities Committee as a genuine vagrant, and should become Long Valley's 300th recorded bird species.

And while so many observers were there, a number of other noteworthy buntings were seen, including this rather nice (and "rare in Hong Kong") Rustic Bunting.

Rustic Bunting - Emberiza rustica
Five species of Long Valley buntings in this post, and a total of ten (I think) seen in the area so far this autumn.

The other species (for the record) have been: -

Little Bunting        (E. pusilla)
Black-faced Bunting    (E. spodocephala)
Yellow-browed Bunting    (E. chrsysophrys)
Black-headed Bunting    (E. melanocephala)
Japanese Yellow Bunting    (E. sulphurata)

Thanks to the efforts of all those involved in rice cultivation, it's looking like this could be a record season for buntings !

AND Crested Bunting (Melophus lathami) was seen at LV a couple of days after this was originally posted

7 Nov 2014

Passage Migrants and Winter Visitors

Birds - strangely - defy human classifications, and so most species in this post fall into both these Hong Kong categories.

Here are some examples;

Black-browed Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus bistrigiceps

Black-browed Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus bistrigiceps

Oriental Reed Warbler - Acrocephalus orientalis

Eurasian Skylark - Alauda arvensis

Dusky Warbler - Phylloscopus fuscatus

At Long Valley, the wet fields also hold a few familiar species, most here for the winter now; -

Citrine Wagtail - Motacilla citreola

Common Snipe - Gallinago gallinago

Black-winged Stilt - Himantopus himantopus

And, while everyone else was seeing rarer and exotic buntings the other day, the best I could come up with were these shots of one of our commonest winter visitors;

Black-faced Bunting (f) - Emberiza spodocephala

Black-faced Bunting (f) - Emberiza spodocephala

Yesterday I partially redeemed myself by getting a few shots of Yellow-breasted Bunting. Although an Endangered species, there were thirty-or-so around the area.

Yellow-breasted Bunting - Emberiza aureola

Yellow-breasted Bunting - Emberiza aureola

Yellow-breasted Bunting - Emberiza aureola

Finally a bird that really says "Hong Kong Winter" - Daurian Redstart.

Daurian Redstart - Phoenicurus auroreus

Daurian Redstart - Phoenicurus auroreus

Daurian Redstart - Phoenicurus auroreus

According to the Cantonese Lunar Calendar, today marks the start of winter.  It's very grey and cool outside this morning.