31 Jul 2014

Mai Po : Black-headed Gull in July

Despite temperatures at 30 degrees and above, yesterday I decided that a manly stroll to Mai Po's boardwalk hides would be a good way to spend two to three hours.

Sunhat, sunblock, and the 500mm lens seemed like an appropriate combination.

Along the path,  beneath the casuarinas, the first of many White-breasted Waterhens were encountered.

Away to my right, looking west, Gei Wai 11, the Border Security Fence, and the high-rise of Shenzhen in the distance.

A few spiders' webs across the path showed that I was the only person silly enough to go out through the mangroves.  I arrived with the rising tidal waters close to the hide.

From the newest boardwalk hide, a surprise.   Black-headed Gulls usually leave Hong Kong in April, and don't return until October.

Another unseasonal visitor, Eastern Common Tern.  Not quite as unseasonal as Black-headed Gull, the early autumn birds may sometimes show themselves in late August.

Some Cattle Egrets engaged in a staring contest...

At the "Twin Hides" a Richard's Pipit.   Race sinensis breeds in Hong Kong, but I don't recall seeing one at the edge of the Deep Bay Mudflats before.

Finally, a species that is present year-round (but some birds we see are passage migrants) - Common Kingfisher.

I carried one-and-a-half litres of water, and I drank all of it.

27 Jul 2014

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch - coming soon to a tree near you

According to The Avifauna of Hong Kong*, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch has a "locally-common resident population considered to be of captive origin…..(it was) first noted in Tai Po Kau on 15 April 1989."

Well, VFNH can recognize an ecological niche when it sees it, and in the past two decades they have spread to much of the wooded areas of Hong Kong's New Territories.

For the first time ever, yesterday a small party of these birds appeared in the Chinese Hackberry tree outside the front of the building where we live.

This first shot was taken from the roof  - 

The rest were taken from beneath the tree…

They're obviously going to take over the world, given time.

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch - coming soon to a tree near you !

*The Avifauna of Hong Kong - It's a book - remember those ?

21 Jul 2014

Black Bazas - summer visitors to Hong Kong

Black Baza is a species that expanded it's breeding range from far southwest China (and Vietnam, Laos, Thailand) to Hong Kong and other parts of south-east China through the 1970s and 1980s.

But from a high point during the 1990s, numbers have fallen back again.

Unlike some more recent additions to the Hong Kong "list", it's hardly the sort of bird that would be overlooked or misidentified, so it seems that there is no doubting the changes in status of this species. 

Black Baza has never taken up full-time Hong Kong residence.  They usually arrive in late April, and depart through the month of October. (There's one February record, but that's just birds for you !)

The first confirmed breeding record involved a nest with two young near Sha Tau Kok Police Station in mid-July 1989, found by Nigel Croft.  I remember banging off about four rolls of slide film from the roof of the station with my old manual-focus Pentax ME, but all the results looked pretty same-ish.

All the shots in this blog post were taken a few days ago, with a Canon 1D MkIV, 800mm lens and sometimes a 1.4 converter. The birds were quite distant, but at least they seemed unconcerned at my presence and behaved naturally.

Juvenile (left), adult (right)

In the 1990s -and I'm quoting from The Avifauna of Hong Kong - "the total number of birds reported annually was in the range of 39(1993) to 131(1996), with an average of 78."

But in the past few years Bazas have become rarer again with, for example, just single-figure totals for 2011 and 2012, according to the two most recent (annual) Hong Kong Bird Reports.

So it was nice to find this species within walking distance of the flat where we live a few days ago.

A family party of five; - two adults and three young.  The juveniles sunned themselves on a bare tree during the first couple of hours of daylight, while their parents foraged for insects - mostly praying mantises - in the canopies of nearby trees.

Sometimes the adults would land beside the young….

...and sometimes they would land a few metres away and call the young across for their food.

The juveniles lumbered on the bare branches, exploiting good opportunities for a wing-stretch or practice flap…

Or even some old-fashioned sun-bathing...

I don't know if this group actually nested where I saw them, but the young were quite clumsy and they obviously hadn't come very far. Nonetheless, they seem to have moved on now.

Time to go !

So, proof that we can have some birding fun in tropical south China in mid-summer. The lesson is to keep getting out there and to keep looking, I suppose.

Note to self: "Must try harder !"

19 Jul 2014

"Rain, rain, go away…"

Just in case anyone was worried that I'd moved to Central America, I know that a post from Hong Kong is somewhat overdue.

It's been raining for the past couple of days with a typhoon passing to Hong Kong's south and west.  If you imagine a big anti-clockwise spinning wheel, that means wind and rain coming off the South China Sea from the east and south.  Good conditions to see seabirds, perhaps ? HK's first confirmed Bulwer's Petrel was found moribund in a public park after a similar typhoon in 2011.

Yesterday I dutifully went out and scanned the fishponds near Mai Po for anything that the storms might have blown our way. All I saw were a few windswept Chinese Pond Herons and a jaywalking White-breasted Waterhen.

The trouble is that there are not so many birds "on the move" in July.

So here's a post about rainy weather in mid-May.


(10th May 2014) It seems to have been raining for the past two weeks.  The kind of weather where you think the sun has broken through, but around the corner a big thundercloud is speeding towards you..

Here are some shots from late spring in Hong Kong.

Winds from the south and west have tended to speed avian migrants on their way, too. Here are some shots of some of the last of these seasonal callers at some fishponds near Mai Po Nature Reserve.

Starting with a couple of shots of Whiskered Terns. Grey skies and rain tend to bring them in off the sea, and then they circle selected fishponds for a day or two before they move on.

One photographic lesson I've learnt with these is that you can take a thousand shots against a grey sky and the birds will look even greyer….. 

So, the artist in me found a bit of green hillside for a background, and snapped away. And some extra colour is furnished by a stack of out-of-focus containers….. (Sarcasm alert) - the quintessential Hong Kong photographic experience ! 

Around the fishpond banks, the unusual sight of some Red-necked Stints

Beancurd dregs at the pond edge (to feed the fish) had turned into a messy slime, but either the slime itself - or attendant insects was attractive to the birds. 

Also seen was this well-marked Red-necked Phalarope

a juvenile (?) Common Sandpiper 

a Long-toed Stint

and an influx of Pale Martins.  

Usually, the Pale Martins are mixed in with hordes of Barn Swallows, but back on May 9th they were ruling the air by themselves.

13 Jul 2014

La Selva Biological Research Station, Costa Rica

Pale-billed Woodpeckers, La Selva

Our first taste of the public bus system in Costa Rica saw us on board a shiny new Chinese-made "Higer" coach, thundering southeast from Los Chiles near the Nicaraguan border to San Carlos. The coach had the customary television rack on the ceiling behind the driver, but mercifully there was no blaring TV in it. 

San Carlos Bus Station
We changed buses at San Carlos, and got to Puerto Viejo in late afternoon. We arrived at Estación Biológica la Selva in a Taxi and picked up our "Welcome Package" from the gate attendant. (On the phone a couple of days earlier, we had booked four nights at La Selva by phone.) The website is here:


La Selva is a protected area of 1,600 hectares of lowland forest at the tip of Braulio Carrilio National Park.  A network of well-maintained paths runs through the site. 

There are plenty of birds around, including this pair of Currassows at the edge of the football field.

Great Curassows - pair

Great Curassows - pair

Nearby, another large and characteristic bird..

Crested Guan

La Selva is not a hotel, so the rooms are rather spartan for the money you pay, and meals are taken in the canteen with the researchers, students and staff. Still, the birds and other wildlife made it great value.

Staff accommodation

In the "other wildlife" category.

Eyelash Pit Viper

The station has a public birding session from mid-morning  and keen birders can hire one of the available guides from 06:00 for a couple of hours at first light. Our rooms were actually a full kilometer from the main station area, but we always saw "good" birds along the broad concrete track between the two places.

Great Tinamou

While there we saw a number of foreign birding tour groups coming and going. Some were staying at the station, but others were obviously staying in the variety of lodges and hotels in the area outside it. With a lot of active birding going on, the visitor can pick up the latest "gen" quite easily.

Snowy Cotinga

Rufous-winged Woodpecker

Semiplumbeous Hawk
A good example of following up "gen" was news that Bare-necked Umbrellabird could be seen near a certain junction of two of the tracks.

Bare-necked Umbrellabird
This was "only" a female, but we were pleased to find it. Another species we stumbled over by ourselves was a party of Purple-throated Fruitcrows.

Purple-throated Fruitcrow

La Selva turned out to be a great way to bring our Costa Rican birding to a conclusion.  We saw a good number of birds that were new to us, even though we had been in Costa Rica for four full weeks by then.  There were "best yet" views, too of species we'd seen before. The birds were relatively unafraid of people, too, so there were some decent photo opportunities.

With generally poor light under the forest canopy, I used the tripod quite a lot at this site. This crocodile was a reminder not to stray off the paths.

A fairly typical example of the "small stuff" on the forest floor. We didn't have any bird tapes, so it took a bit of patience to get a clear view.

White-breasted Wood-Wren

More birds were encountered in the forest between the canteen and our rooms.

Rufous Motmot

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan

Our last night in Costa Rica was back at the Hotel Gavilan, where we said "Adios" to our friends there, including the Spectacled Owls.

From there, we took a taxi to San Jose Airport (2 hours).

While in Costa Rica we saw about 350 bird species. The well-organized or well-guided birder would probably see more birds than we did, but we did it at our own pace, and thoroughly enjoyed it.

And who would have guessed*, Costa Rica's football team did far better than England at the 2014 World Cup.

(*Actually, about four million Costa Ricans could have guessed, probably)