13 January 2014

Barred Cuckoo Dove at KFBG

Another "Twitch" for a bird I hadn't seen in Hong Kong or China before, Barred Cuckoo Dove (Macropygia unchall).
Barred Cuckoo Dove (Macropygia unchall)
The southeast China race is minor and what with twentieth century forest destruction and the secretive habits of this species, it is very hard to find.
Barred Cuckoo Dove (Macropygia unchall)
Hong Kong's fifth or sixth record, - Thanks then to a visitor from Singapore who (I'm told) first spotted it. It had been around for a few days before we visited on Friday 10th January.

It reminded me that - sometime in the 1980s - it was birding visitors from Japan who put Japanese Grosbeak on the Hong Kong "list". The birds were among some Yellow-billed (Chinese) Grosbeaks.
KFBG road sign

Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden was set up as an agricultural research centre in the 1950s by the Kadoorie brothers, millionaire Hong Kong philanthropists who had made their money owning a utility company. It's at the head of the Lam Tsuen Valley, Tai Po.

In the early 1960s there were many new migrant farmers from China who were set up with livestock and equipment by the Kadoorie Agricultural Aid Association.
KFBG
The trees have matured and the habitat is pretty good, with concrete roads and paths about the area.

KFBG
KFBG is now really about conservation and education, and they have some very capable people working there.

Last Friday KFBG's fruiting trees were attracting thrushes, too.
White's Thrush (Zoothera aurea)
And a final KFBG winter specialty -

Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush (Monticola rufiventris)
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Over the house yesterday, a pair (?) of Crested Serpent Eagles, calling away. Spring is in the air, almost.

Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela)

Serpent Eagle (Spilornis cheela)
And we're off on a trip, I have a couple of draft Hong Kong posts ready to put up, but things will be quiet here for a few weeks.

9 January 2014

A "Twitch" for Long-billed Plover

A good "East Asian" plover, Long-billed Plover (Charadrius placidus) breeds in northeast China and adjacent parts of Russia. With a preference for rocky riverbed habitat, it is nowhere common. Wintering birds disperse south, with records scattered through south China.
Long-billed Plover (Charadrius placidus) 
There are very few records of Long-billed Plover in Hong Kong, with the official "first" a bird found by Paul Aston (as I recall) near Kam Tin in February 1994. That bird was around for a month and I well remember it. There was also a one-day-only appearance of a Long-billed Plover in 1998 at Pak Nai.

This afternoon I received a message to the effect that John Allcock had found a Long-billed Plover in the concrete drainage channel (officially, - the "Kam Tin River" ) just north of the Kam Sheung Road West Rail Train station.


Long-billed Plover (Charadrius placidus) - top right - with Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius) - bottom left
A fifteen minute drive, and there it was.  Looking larger and a shade duller than the numerous Little Ringed Plovers that also inhabit the area, it was poking around the slimy concrete.

Long-billed Plover (Charadrius placidus) 
Long-billed Plover (Charadrius placidus) 
Various birders turned up in the hour-and-a-half we were there. Like most HK "Twitches" it was a pleasant social occasion.


There was also a mystery pipit to keep us entertained… A first-winter Richard's (A. richardi) or a Blyth's (A. godlewski).




I don't know which, quite frankly. I won't be leading the charge to nail down the identification of this one.  Richard's Pipit is common in Hong Kong in winter - although not common in drains -  but Blyth's if confirmed - would be as rare as, well, Long-billed Plover. 


HK's third Long-billed Plover ! The promising start to the birding year continues...


3 January 2014

New Year at Long Valley, Hong Kong


First seen at LV on New Years Eve, this Brown-headed Thrush has been popular.



This is what I mean by "popular"…




"Long Valley" is a strange name for a place that isn't either long or a valley. 

A triangular area of wet fields between Sheung Shui and Ho Sheung Heung, in the year 2000 it was saved from disappearing under a Kowloon-Canton Railway spurline development by the spirited action of green groups, led by the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society. 

Fourteen years ago, a court determined that the KCR hadn't done its Environmental Impact Assessment properly and was told to "Go back and do it again". Re-doing the EIA properly would have delayed the project by another year, so KCR decided to tunnel underneath the area instead.



Now the area still functions as agricultural land, but on top of that, it is an easily-accessed area for people to enjoy the environment in many and various ways. I wonder sometimes whether today's visitors recall the debate of fourteen years ago, or whether they just take the place for granted. Most visitors respect the farmers' crops and property, but a few do not, and treat Long Valley as if were just another park.

Anyway, a few rarities have kept the holiday crowds - and I do mean crowds - coming back.  

Actually there are so many people in the area, it's easy to find where the rarities are… just look over the shoulders of the nearest group of people. Which is how I found the Brown-headed Thrush on New Years Day.



Twenty years ago, you could count the bird photographers in Hong Kong on the fingers of one hand.

The advent of digital photography has meant, especially in the last four or five years, an explosion of interest in bird photography as a leisure activity. There must be two to three hundred people now in HK who spend some of their time photographing birds.

Some of the Long Valley visitors with cameras have been artfully baiting some of the birds with mealworms.  The group in the photo above (just visible at centre, right) are looking down a narrow ditch that has become the winter territory of a Siberian Rubythroat.  One of the things that keeps the Rubythroat faithful to this spot is the abundance of mealworms put out for it.

Anyway, looking over the shoulders of these guys, here is a photo by me.



I'd love to be able to claim that pictures of this type were due to my skill, local knowledge and fieldcraft, but they're not.

Here is a distant female Bluethroat.



At one stage a couple of weeks ago, the Rubythroat and TWO different Bluethroats were staked out at Long Valley at the same time. It must be said that the extent of "baiting" now going on at Long Valley is modifying the behaviour of some of the much-photographed birds in the area.

As I've exploited the situation to get photos, too, I'll admit I succumbed to temptation.

"I can resist anything except temptation ! " (Oscar Wilde)


So here are shots of one of the Bluethroats. There happened to be no-one around at the time -apart from me- but the bird, now absurdly fearless of humans, still patrols the area. 



Again, I didn't find this bird myself, I went to where I'd seen a group of photographers the previous evening.

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Rice !  What makes LV unique is rice.  It's the only place in Hong Kong these days that this traditional food staple is grown.  It is planted by various environmentally-oriented groups, who make festivals out of  the cultivation and harvesting of the stuff. 

Then the dry stubble fields can make a stage for the public appearance of some much sought-after birds.



On the first day of the New Year,  two rarities; - Ruddy Sparrow (still Categorized as escape/released by the HKBWS Records Committee, so not "tickable" )…



and Black-headed Bunting.....



....were around the newly-cut rice paddy area. Commoner birds have been performing, too.  Here is a Common Snipe in a vegetable field. A fairly typical Long Valley view.



And a Pied Avocet on a shallow pond.




A large flock of Tree Sparrows has been enjoying some soon-to-be-harvested rice stalks.




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It's good to report that some real birding has been going on at LV as well, and for this we can thank the people on the January 1st Hong Kong Bird Watching Society outing. They found Hong Kong's fifth-ever Chiffchaff.  Most of the others have been discovered by bird-ringers rather than detected in the field, so I wasn't the only one who "needed" it for his Hong Kong List.

A couple of shots ..




I doubt that Chiffchaff will get the pulses of european birders racing, but there are very few east asian records, so this was an enjoyable "Twitch" to get the New Year going !