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


  1. The Green Group rice patches sound a fun and great idea. A lovely series of birds, none of which I've seen.

    We've got a twitch here at the moment - a Dowitcher, with the jury being out on a long-billed female Short-billed, or a Long-billed. The latter would be a first for Australia, and the former only one of a few. It was seen for 2 days, disappeared for 2 and has re-appeared again today. Birders from interstate are driving overnight to try to see it!

    1. For American Dowitchers, Hong Kong the other way round - regular but rare Long-billed, no records Short-billed. Telling them apart must be a challenge !

  2. Well I've seen 3 out of those 5................

    1. Stu, Two of them are "Second time ever" for me, so we must be about even !

  3. Must be exciting times now at the valley. Good collection of buntings. Buntings are rare here in Malaysia. I have only seen 1 wild bunting so far and it was a Yellow-breasted.

    1. Thanks, Mun ! We're lucky here to get some of these northern species as uncommon winter visitors.