27 Apr 2014

Boat Trip - HK southern waters, 26th April 2014

Pomarine Skua

Geoff Welch has certainly spent more time watching the sea channel south of Po Toi Island than anyone else, and has observed that the movement of seabirds in that part of Hong Kong's southern waters is busiest in the first 2 - 3 hours of daylight.  The boat trip on 12th April (07:00hrs) was generally held to have been not early enough, so yesterday's boat was arranged for an even earlier time.

A 06:00 sailing meant that there were more than a few bleary eyes among the optimists who turned up at Aberdeen Public Pier. 

Some of HK's keener regulars were joined by Verity Picken - visiting from the UK, and Singapore's Martyn Kennewell, in town on business.

Northerly and easterly winds had produced a few migrant birds in Hong Kong's more popular birding areas in the previous 24 hours, so there was a mood of cautious optimism as we set off. The occasional fishing boat was a reminder that not everyone was at sea just for fun..

The weather was cloudy and dull for the first couple of hours of the day, but we started to get sightings of birds as soon as the open sea was in sight.

Pomarine Skuas

Pomarine Skua

The highlight was a shearwater that is either Short-tailed or possibly Sooty, some photos of which are below

More photos and ID discussion on the HKBWS Forum here:-


(Added 14 May 2014) The verdict is Short-tailed Shearwater, it seems.

It was a very memorable day, with two species of shearwaters, three species of skuas and eight species of terns.

Among the eight species of tern seen were White-winged Black

And Aleutian Tern….

Aleutian Tern

Aleutian Tern

And the number of Ancient Murrelets I've seen in Hong Kong increased during the morning from six to ten, with these four "fly bys"..

Back to Skuas, here's Long-tailed Skua

And an Arctic Skua

Another Aleutian Tern, resting on a piece of floating polystyrene.  This species was first noted on a Hong Kong Bird Watching Society Boat Trip in August 1992, posing on rubbish like this.

The sightings of exotic seabirds tailed off as the morning wore on. By late morning the sun was actually shining.

A final shot of a Hong Kong resident bird, but one that was well out to sea….

Reef Egret

So now we're all fired up to go and try a similar trip next Saturday (May 3rd) !

15 Apr 2014

A small feature on a very small bird - finding Spoon-billed Sandpiper

It's the middle of April and up until today we had had no reliable records of Spoon-billed Sandpiper during this spring's migration.

From the outermost hide at the boardwalk I was thinking of this as the waders approached in hazy sunshine. Hazy, a bit, but sunshine, yes. Good lighting conditions to find a very small feature on very small bird.

Dutifully scanning a bunch of Red-necked Stints I found a pale one that appeared to be gifted in the bill department.  Muddy stint bills can "get you going" as David Bakewell has described in Malaysia, 

But it was soon obvious it really was Eurynorhynchus pygmaeus - although at "Record Photo" distance. 

Later it turned up on the tideline in front of the "Twin Hides".

Also on display were five Asian Dowitchers among a large flock of Black-tailed Godwits.

Variety, that's the thing about waders at Mai Po in April . Also present and shown in this post are Curlew Sandpiper, Great Knot, Ruff, Grey Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Grey-rumped Tattler, Common Redshank and Pied Avocet.

Six species in the shot below, I think. 

More views of the "Blackwits" in flight.. 

A rather piebald-looking Ruff  (above), lower left

Other stuff about included this summer-plumaged Chinese Pond Heron

And about twenty Black-faced Spoonbills. Here's one of them. 

Spring migration rolls on.

10 Apr 2014

Early April at Mai Po, Hong Kong

Curlew Sandpiper - Calidris ferruginea
Tides at Mai Po (and everywhere else, I suppose) go through fortnightly cycles.  They key for wader viewing at Mai Po is for the tide to reach 2.2 metres or higher. This brings the tideline  - and the feeding birds - right up to the boardwalk viewing hides at the edge of the mangrove.

On a rising tide, waders and gulls at Mai Po, early April

When the tide is very high, the birds may roost on the ponds within Mai Po Nature Reserve, and return to the tidal mudflats when the mud is exposed again. (Although at the moment, some of the smaller waders have been doing a nifty high-tide disappearing act.)

Nordmann's Greenshank - Tringa guttifer

(mostly) Bar-tailed Godwit - Limosa lapponica

Bar-tailed Godwit - Limosa lapponica - ours seem to be race "menzbieri"

Lesser Sand Plover - Charadrius mongolus

Curlew Sandpiper - Calidris ferruginea

Curlew Sandpiper - Calidris ferruginea
When the tide is low the birds can feed all day out on the mudflats beyond the prying eyes of humans. Which is good for them, but not good for the humans who want to count them, identify them, or take their photograph.  But the waders might still get chased around by Peregrines, as can be seen here…

This bird seemed to enjoy chasing the waders, but I didn't see it take one.

Living reminders that our migrant waders have wintered elsewhere, here are two birds flagged in Australia : -

Curlew Sandpiper - Calidris ferruginea (State of Victoria)

Great Knot - Calidris canutus (Western Australia)
Here's an example of the prompt Aussie feedback when you report one of "their" waders !

Summary of sightings
Great Knot
Banding/Recapture ZMV
20/02/2014 Nicks Beach, Roebuck Bay, Broome  (-18.00, 122.37)  Australia
06320736  (ZMV) Aged 2+  
Resighting ZMV
07/04/2014 Mai Po  (22.48, 119.23)  Hong Kong (China)
John Holmes 

Unusual in Hong Kong, a flagged wader from Taiwan.

Greater Sand Plover - Charadrius leschenaultii

It's not all waders, April started with this magnificent Pallas's Gull - which may now have moved on.

Pallas's Gull - Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus

There has also been a non-breeding Pallas's Gull around.

Pallas's Gull - Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus

Terns - among forty-or-so Gull-billed Terns there were three Little Terns a couple of days ago, here is one:-

Little Tern - Sternula albifrons

Duck numbers have mostly decreased rapidly since mid-March, but Garganey is a welcome feature of spring, with some well-marked males about Deep Bay. 

Garganey - Anas querquedula

Still no reports of Spoon-billed Sandpiper in Hong Kong yet this spring, but plenty of people are looking out for them.