7 March 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" !

9 comments:

  1. Nice to see nature recovering....................

    Despite being so close the avifauma of Hong Kong seems very exotic to us in northern Japan..........

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    1. Well, we're (just) in the tropics here, and the trees grow pretty fast in the spring and summer, especially.

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  2. What awesome photos. It is great to see small birds doing well in HK. In many parts of Asia, I know that local people hunt them so heavily that they all but disappear from accessible areas.

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    1. Thanks, John - fortunately hunting is not an issue here...

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  3. Nice illustration. It creates a very powerful storyline, but also draws the history of avian in Hong Kong.

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    1. Thanks Ah Kei, looking up the species arrival dates was good revision for me, too.

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  4. Thank you for such an informative post, John and with such splendid pictures. There are certainly some special birds present which I never would have guessed. What a wonderful place to live.

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  5. Hi Russell, Thanks. Woodland birding is getting better, but we have plenty of "land-use" issues elsewhere, unfortunately. The Government has mooted the possibility of allowing construction in our Country Parks. It would be scandalous if they did, but the developers are a powerful lobby. There are plenty of "Green" groups opposing this kind of thing, but we'll have to wait and see.

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  6. It's quite wonderful that the woodlands are recovering - not something we associate with our stereotypical image of Hong Kong as an overcrowded urban jungle, rather than a natural one.

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