31 Oct 2015

European Golden Plover - a "First" for Hong Kong

LAST Sunday things got off to a slow start.  I missed the rising tide and settled for a couple of shots of a nice male Kestrel over the hills near Mai Po Nature Reserve.

Eurasian Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus

Eurasian Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus

Later I waited for the tide to go out. The waders circled, looking for exposed areas of mud.

Far Eastern Curlew - Numenius madagascariensis

Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus

The birding highlight (but not for the duck) was seeing an Eastern Marsh Harrier predate a Garganey in the shallow waters near the tideline.

Eastern Marsh Harrier - Circus spilonotus

Eastern Marsh Harrier - Circus spilonotus
 The harrier drowned the duck in the receding waters.
Eastern Marsh Harrier - Circus spilonotus

Eastern Marsh Harrier - Circus spilonotus

Eastern Marsh Harrier - Circus spilonotus

Eastern Marsh Harrier - Circus spilonotus
Oddly, though, the harrier dropped the dead duck on the mudflat and didn't come back for it. Lunch for a Collared Crow instead, perhaps.

Collared Crow - Corvus pectoralis
Back at the Border Fence gate, my mobile coverage improved, and I saw a Whats App message by Ivan TSE about a suspiciously large Golden Plover he had found on the "scrape" (Mai Po's ponds 16 and 17).

I cycled to hide 7 (overlooking the seaward end of ponds 16/17) and met Ivan coming the other way.  Through his scope we could see two Golden Plovers, one obviously a Pacific Golden Plover (regular here in HK) and this bigger bird.

The accompanying Pacific Golden Plover provided some useful comparison with the suspect European GP.

The European Golden Plover is the lower bird - note white axillaries, Pacific Golden Plover above

European (l) and Pacific (r) Golden Plovers

A bit of a "twitch" was already brewing, and the bird stayed around until late afternoon. A number of birders and photographers saw it, as outlined on the HKBWS website here


An hour before sunset our distinguished visitor finally took off and headed out into the bay beyond the fence.
European Golden Plover - Pluvialis aricaria
This bird seems likely to be accepted by the HK Records Committee as European Golden Plover, due to the easy comparison with the Pacific Golden Plover, and the notes and number of photos taken (not just mine, obviously) during the hours the bird was in view.

23 Oct 2015

It's October ! - some autumn passage migrants

They're big, they're gaudy, and their modelling career probably peaked with the publication of  "Hong Kong Birds" by Geoffrey Herklots in 1954 - but I still find Black-capped Kingfishers irresistible. Some may stay in HK for the winter, but most are heading further south.

Black-capped Kingfisher - Halcyon pileata

Black-capped Kingfisher - Halcyon pileata

Black-capped Kingfisher - Halcyon pileata

Black-capped Kingfisher - Halcyon pileata

Black-capped Kingfisher - Halcyon pileata
October is a good month to see Blue-tailed Bee Eaters, and at the start of October I was keenly scanning every power line looking for them, but only found Bulbuls or Black Drongoes.  

However on October 11th, at Tsim Bei Tsui there were over thirty; - here are twelve to start with.
Blue-tailed Bee Eater - Merops philippinus
The Bee Eaters, many of them juveniles, are strictly "fly-throughs".  The scientific name provides a clue to where many will spend the winter.
Blue-tailed Bee Eater - Merops philippinus

Blue-tailed Bee Eater - Merops philippinus

Blue-tailed Bee Eater - Merops philippinus

Blue-tailed Bee Eater - Merops philippinus

Blue-tailed Bee Eater - Merops philippinus

And finally, here are four passing autumnal raptor species.  Raptors, especially juveniles,  usually provide hours of  ID fun for young and old alike.  

Pied Harrier - Circus melanoleucos

Common Kestrel - Falco tinnunculus

Amur Falcon - Falco amurensis

Eurasian Hobby - Falco subbuteo
The Kestrel may hang around for Hong Kong's winter, but the others are likely to be long gone by November.....

10 Oct 2015

Tai Po Kau regulars

The other day I pottered around Tai Po Kau, doing the Red Walk and bits of the Blue Walk.

Huet's Fulvetta - Alcippe hueti

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler - Pomatorhinus ruficollis

Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler - Pomatorhinus ruficollis

So far, so quiet.  After viewing the Scimitar Babbler trying to demolish the rotten tree stump, it got very quiet.

But back at the main road, at the foot of the hill, it suddenly got very busy.

Yellow-cheeked Tit - Parus spilonotus

Yellow-cheeked Tit - Parus spilonotus

Yellow-cheeked Tit - Parus spilonotus

Yellow-cheeked Tit - Parus spilonotus

Yellow-cheeked Tit - Parus spilonotus

Yellow-cheeked Tit - Parus spilonotus

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch - Sitta frontalis

Velvet-fronted Nuthatch - Sitta frontalis

Grey-throated Minivet - Pericrocrotus solaris

Blue-winged Minla - Minla cyanouroptera

"The usual suspects" are always in Tai Po Kau; - finding them is another matter !

5 Oct 2015

Goodness Gorsachius Me

Malayan Night Heron - Gorsachius melanolophus

It was still very dark when I left the house. A morning in early September. The soon-to-be rising sun made a faint glow through patchy clouds. 

I had Long Valley in mind, but on a whim decided to have a look at an area I don’t get to much these days, - a “hop, skip and jump” from there, along an old army road near the border. 

Close to the Ng Tung river, what used to be paddyfields have mostly become a mess of container yards. In recent years I’ve visited the area at night to look for owls, but it has mostly been disappointing. “Still, should be good for a migrating flycatcher or two", I thought.

There are, however, Wild Boar along that road, so I wasn’t completely surprised when I rounded a bend and found a young boar standing there. It was still only 0615.

I wasn’t that prescient, though, because the camera was still in the bag, in front of the car passenger seat.  The boar (a bit like THIS one) ...

- couldn’t decide at first whether it was frightened enough to run away.  While I dragged the 500mm lens with camera attached from the rucksack it made up its mind and skipped into the undergrowth.

Camera at last in hand, I scanned the bushes, but it was gone.

At another bend I braked on sight of a distinctly heron-like silhouette a few yards in front. Something was standing on the concrete road with it’s back to me..

Malayan Night Heron - Gorsachius melanolophus

I could tell straight away that “That’s not what Black-crowned Night Herons do”  Of course, it was a Gorsachius night heron, and recognisable as a juvenile Malayan Night Heron (G. melanolophus) by the remains of scaly feathering on the nape, and some white edging to the tip of the folded wing.

Malayan Night Heron - Gorsachius melanolophus

I found that the road was not busy so early in the morning and had the MNH in view for about fifteen minutes. An ISO of 3200 still only gave 1/13 of a second shutter speed at f4, - it was that dark. Then I backed away from the feeding bird to somewhere where the road was wider.  Ten minutes later another car ( someone going to work, presumably) swept past and I was sure that would have flushed the MNH from the roadside leaf litter.  Following the other car a few moments later, I found the bird had gone.

This species has a short but interesting track record in Hong Kong. To begin with, it is one of a very few breeding species that visits HK to breed and then migrates south to spend the winter.

Malayan Night Herons were first recorded in Hong Kong in 2003, by means of a camera trap on Lantau Island, when a pair was photographed.  The record was duly accepted with no human beings having seen the birds themselves.

In the late summer of 2004, another pair were found close to Fanling Golf Course. There were two young, and the birds were last seen on October 1st of that year.  

A number of discreet visits to this group showed two, possibly three young. 

Malayan Night Heron - Gorsachius melanolophus

Malayan Night Heron - Gorsachius melanolophus

But my biggest “bonus” bird on that first day was two hundred metres further on from the juvenile bird. Beside the track, only four metres away, was an ADULT Malayan Night Heron, calmly regarding me from a heap of cut branches.  It was so close I couldn’t get it all in the frame.

Malayan Night Heron - Gorsachius melanolophus

Mid-Autumn Festival has come and gone, and so have these secretive visitors.