15 April 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 April 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. 

8 April 2014

Pacific coast, Costa Rica

Tearing ourselves away from Monteverde and the cool mountain air, we headed south towards Costa Rica's Pacific Coast.

To Cerro Lodge, to be precise, handily placed for boat trips to view waterbirds, and Carara National Park.

Mouth of Tarcoles River

But before heading out there always seemed to be one or two fine birds to be seen around the hotel cabins and the restaurant… 

Turquoise-browed Motmot
The National Bird of Nicaragua, no less !

Also present in modest numbers, but due to their size, very noticeable: -

Scarlet Macaw

And yet another confiding new world trogon… 

Violaceous Trogon

Carara National Park has a "River Trail" described in Where to watch birds in Costa Rica as "arguably the single most productive birding trail in all of Costa Rica.."

We went to the National Park on two mornings and weren't disappointed.  We did the River Trail with a guide and another trail near HQs by ourselves, and still saw plenty of birds.

 White-whiskered Puffbird

 Black-throated Trogon

White-throated Capuchin

Tawny-winged Woodcreeper

Down the gravel road from the hotel, the former forest had given way to cattle country.

We paused while a Crested Caracara did its' kerb drill:

Crested Caracara

An early morning boat trip was aimed at filling a few gaps in the "trip list".

Yellow/Mangrove Warbler - two names, take your pick

Bare-throated Tiger-Heron

Anhinga (female)
From Plate 26 of "Kingfishers, Bee-eaters and Rollers" (Helm,1992), our third bird out of four: -

American Pygmy Kingfisher
And that's about it for two weeks in Costa Rica.

Plenty of colourful birds, nice people, and cold beer.  Just about my ideal birding destination.

6 April 2014

Monteverde's Flying Quetzals

Resplendent Quetzal

Zoned as "The Mountains" in Barratt Lawson's "Where to watch Birds in Costa Rica", the area around Santa Elena provided the highest elevation birding that we did, at around 1,300  metres. 

Why go there ? Well, 39 out of Costa Rica's 89 endemics occur in the central chain of mountains. Including, of course, Resplendent Quetzal, a bird I'd lusted after since seeing Michael Fogden's photos of them in BBC Wildlife Magazine some time in the 1980s. (Edit - Read "AND" for "Including".)

We stayed at the "Cloud Forest Lodge".  It was a nice place with no TV in the rooms, which I regard as a sign of discerning management. Website here: https://www.monteverdecloudforestlodge.com

We tried Bosque Nuboso ("cloud forest") de Santa Elena first, and found it, well, cloudy.  Just imagine that.

But the following day dawned with views from the hotel all the way down to the Pacific Ocean.  Our pre-breakfast birding from the restaurant window was enlivened by an Emerald Toucanet posing in a tree at eye-level.
Emerald Toucanet

As the bird on the cover of our field guide, we took this as a good omen and bashed off to Monte Verde Cloud Forest Reserve.  Like Santa Elena, the site is not part of the National Parks system, it is privately owned. We paid our admission fee and hired a guide named Sergio.  It was money well spent.

We had not been long on the Sendero El Camino ("The Road Path") before Sergio heard the calls of Resplendent Quetzal. There turned out to be three of them, all males, and we had prolonged views.

Resplendent Quetzal

Resplendent Quetzal
Later we saw a fourth bird on a different trail.

Opposite the entrance to Monteverde reserve is a snack-and-souvenir shop called "Colibri Coffee". To get over our post-quetzal depression, we went over there for hot drinks and sticky buns.

The place has a fine array of hummingbird feeders, attended by a fine array of hummingbirds, some of which are shown below.
Magenta-throated Woodstar

Violet Sabrewing

Green Hermit

Purple-throated Mountain Gem (female)

White-tailed Emerald

Green-crowned Brilliant (female)
Hummingbirds, - you've got to love those names !