21 Mar 2015

Purple Swamphen

I recall seeing Purple Swamphen about twenty years ago at Mai Po, but the possibility of escapes in HK long clouded their status.

Up to the beginning of 2015 it was determined that there were only three acceptable records of truly wild birds in Hong Kong.

Purple Swamphen is distributed from Africa across much of tropical Asia, with about a dozen recognised races. The Yunnan province race is poliocephalus, split by some now as Grey-headed Swamphen. Here's a shot of one of those: -


Hong Kong has swamphens to the east (at Haifeng in Guangdong) and the race of these is unclear. There's a suggestion that these may be race viridis of "Black-backed Swamphen", but I haven't seen them well enough to cast any light on the subject.

It would seem reasonable that any wild Swamphens in HK would be the same as the Haifeng ones.  Recently a Purple Swamphen was seen at Long Valley, (HK's possible fourth record) but I missed it.


On Monday 16th March there was a report by Richard Lewthwaite of Purple Swamphen on a pond in the Northeast New Territories, HK's fifth record. Having missed the LV bird, I had to go....

First thing, there was no sign of the Swamphen, but a posing Eurasian Bittern was welcome.

Eurasian Bittern
After an hour or so, the "star" bird made his (or her) entrance. "Grey-headed" or "Black-backed" ? Plate 29 of Craig Robson's "A Field Guide to the Birds of South East Asia" illustrates both, but but I just don't know which this is.

Hong Kong's Bird Records Committee will be looking into this one !

Purple Swamphen

Purple Swamphen

Purple Swamphen

Down the road, two different species of South American trees - but both with spectacular flowers were attracting Fork-tailed Sunbirds.

Tabebuia caraiba (Yellow flowers) and Erythrina speciosa (Red "corals")

Fork-tailed Sunbird

Fork-tailed Sunbird

Fork-tailed Sunbird

Fork-tailed Sunbird

Fork-tailed Sunbird

And at Mai Po, a variety of plovers paraded in front of the "New" boardwalk hide...
Grey Plover

Greater Sand Plover

Kentish Plover (with crab)
 I don't pay much attention to Gull-billed Terns, usually.  On Wednesday, 18th March there were only three around, but they gave a brilliant flying display as they tried to pluck crabs from the surface of the mud.

Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern

Gull-billed Tern

 The light was pretty dull by the time this flashed past the hide..

Black-capped Kingfisher
The terns and the Greater Sand Plover are spring migrants, and just a taste, I hope of what we'll be seeing in the next few weeks.

14 Mar 2015

Pallas's Gulls at the boardwalk, Mai Po

Pallas's Gull (summer plumage)
The weather is flat and grey at this season, but March is probably the best month of the year for gull-viewing in Hong Kong. And there are a few other winter visitors about, too.

Such as this Black-tailed Godwit.
Black-tailed Godwit

Avocets, Eastern Marsh Harrier

Eastern Marsh Harrier

The "new" boardwalk hide, Mai Po
The early spring tides bring the Deep Bay wintering birds reasonably close to the boardwalk hides at Mai Po Nature Reserve, and some birds, including gulls, are coming into breeding plumage, which makes identification easier.

Pallas's Gull - winter

Saunders's Gull

Saunders's Gull

Slaty-backed Gull (first year ?)

Black-headed Gull (l) and Relict Gull (r)

Kentish Plover - with crab

Black-faced Spoonbill

Pallas's Gull (summer plumage)

Vega-ish Gull 
I'm the studious owner of several books on gulls - but I still struggle with the ID of large white-headed gulls....

7 Mar 2015

Adapting well - woodland birds

Scarlet Minivet - female
During and after the Second World War (in the 1940s) the hills of Hong Kong became very bare, with mass influxes of immigrants, wartime conditions and people gleaning the hillsides for firewood.

In the seventy years since, Hong Kong has become a more high-rise urbanised place and even the poorer residents live in the kind of flats that you can't burn an open fire in.

So the woodland has recovered.  The increasing maturation of Hong Kong's woods has helped create viable habitat for colourful forest birds.

Some "new to HK" woodland species may have spread here naturally, but others have not - birds like  Blue-winged Minla and Silver-eared Mesia are well "out of range" here.

Spring is here, and birds are doing what birds do in spring, - singing, mating and carrying nesting materials. Scarlet Minivets - a long-term resident seem to be everywhere.

Scarlet Minivet - female

Tai Po Kau (our most-birded woodland site) is noticeably livelier - certainly more noisy - than it was a month ago. Conditions there got me thinking about the status of TPK's avian residents. For reference, I have been flipping through "The Avifauna of Hong Kong" which covers the records of the HK Birdwatching Society from 1958 to 2000. During that period - and since then - new species have been colonising Hong Kong's maturing woodlands.

Chestnut Bulbul
Over the past thirty years or so, Chestnut Bulbuls appear to have colonised Hong Kong - or recolonised it - from adjacent parts of Guangdong Province, where they are a common woodland bird. In the 1980s, it was an irruptive winter visitor, but now it is resident year-round and breeding.

But with many woodland species, releases of caged birds have been clouding the picture of which species got here naturally and which did not.

Chestnut-flanked White Eye
It seems you'd have to look through a thousand Japanese White Eyes before spotting a Chestnut-flanked White Eye here.  But how did they get here ? Before the 1980s, again, there were only a couple of records, but since then it is recognised as a bona fide winter visitor. Both White eyes are popular cage birds.

Japanese White Eye

New kids on the block, Mountain Bulbuls slipped onto the HK list in around 2002.  They are not even mentioned in the "Avifauna". Expanded range or cage release ?

Mountain Bulbul

Mountain Bulbul

Perhaps a bit of both.  Anyway, firmly resident and "Tickable", they brighten up a morning's birding, as do all the other species mentioned here.

Orange-bellied Leafbirds are well-established now, but the first post-war record was in 1984 and there was an "apparent influx" in the winter of 1985/6.  According to the Avifauna "...by the 1990s, Orange-bellied Leafbird consolidated it's position."

Looking solid....

Orange-bellied Leafbird - female
Orange-bellied Leafbird - male
There's no doubting the bona fides of a Fork-tailed Sunbird. Really, it's our only local sunbird species. (Ignoring the occasional appearances of Gould's). But it's easy to forget that the first Hong Kong record of this species was in 1959, and it ceased to be considered a rarity in the 1970s.

Forktailed Sunbird - (f)

The sunbird above the other day was sharing Tai Po Kau's "Red-hot Poker" trees with THIS

Blue-winged Leafbird

Blue-winged Leafbird
A handsome individual that has been around for more than a year, but, undeniably "plastic", as British Birders would say.  Blue-winged Leafbirds barely get into Yunnan Province, so we can't put this down to expanding it's range. But if there was a female Blue-winged Leafbird out there, anything could happen.

"Grey-cheeked Fulvetta" (now split into four species) was first seen in Tai Po Kau in 1984, but for umpteen years there were few sightings, and all seemed to be escaped or released birds.  But it's common enough here now, and the HK birds have been determined to be the same as those in nearby Guangdong, that is: - Huet's Fulvetta.

Huet's Fulvetta
Rufous-capped Babbler was first noted in 1984 but not until 1991 was there a second record.  It is described in the Avifauna as "a scarce resident of captive origin".  But in the past fifteen years they've become much more common and widespread.

Rufous-capped Babbler

Hong Kong's woodland birds are "Doing Nicely, Thank You" !