28 March 2016

Winter turns to Spring, but slowly.



Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum
March should be the month when winter turns to spring.

A few breaths of warm air, it seems, is all it takes start the breeding birds calling. 

But it was still quite cool back on March 11th when John Allcock found a Cuculus family cuckoo in Lam Tsuen.   It may have been either Oriental or Himalayan Cuckoo.  The former would be a rare-but-regular spring migrant, and the latter a “First” for Hong Kong.

Oriental/Himalayan Cuckoo - Cuculus sp.


Since Oriental was “split” from Himalayan, like other “splits” we now have  two species that are visually hard to tell apart - “essentially identical” according to one field guide.

Oriental/Himalayan Cuckoo - Cuculus sp.

Oriental/Himalayan Cuckoo - Cuculus sp.
If the bird called, the ID would be straightforward, but this one remained silent throughout it’s stay.

If only it had turned up at the end of March, instead of the middle - maybe it would have called.  Although a number of photographers got far better shots than these, the identification to species may never be established.

At Mai Po Nature Reserve, some wintering gulls were still around this week. All the gulls should be gone by mid-April, and the ones in breeding plumage tend to go first. Here are two species we don’t always see with full breeding-plumage black heads.

Pallas's Gull - Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus (with Black-headed Gulls, L. ridibundus)

Saunders's Gull - Chroicocephalus saundersi (breeding and non-breeding, with Black-headed Gulls, C. ridibundus)

Oriental Pratincoles, on the other hand, are regular early passage migrants and no call is required for identification. Groups of migrant pratincoles have been turning up here and there in the north-west New Territories of Hong Kong in the last few days.  

Oriental Pratincoles - Glareola maldivarum


Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum

Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum

 As usual, Long Valley has been a good site for this species.


Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum

Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum

Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum

They are pretty confiding, too - which is a good characteristic in a bird one is trying to photograph.

18 March 2016

A Lamma Island “Twitch"


Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata)

There is plenty of bird news out there on the internet, but tuning into the stuff one wants to hear seems to get harder when we are spoiled for choice.

Via a WhatsApp group we heard of a Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata) in the harbour of Yung Shue Wan, on Lamma Island, Hong Kong.  It had been seen on Monday 14th March by a (Canadian ?) visitor called Steve Ansell while he ate at a restaurant on the waterfront. Reported to eBird, someone locally picked up the news from in mid-afternoon yesterday and put it out on WhatsApp.

Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata) 
The diver was also independently snapped by a Hong Kong photographer on the afternoon of the 17th March and photos posted yesterday evening on the HKBWS website here.


It is the fifth or sixth HK record of this species, with some sightings more “twitchable” than others.

Although we had seen the 2005 Red-throated Diver - in Starling Inlet - we had already made up our minds to go to Lamma. The 07:50 ferry from Central to Yung Shue Wan takes 25 minutes.  

Seafront - Yung Shue Wan

Coming out of the ferry building, the diver was immediately visible in the harbour among bobbing boats. The promenade, seafront eateries and lack of traffic made for an attractive scene.

Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata)
Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata) 

Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata) 

It moved around for about an hour before disappearing westwards, towards Lamma’s not-picturesque coal-fired power station.

We retired to the Green Cottage Restaurant for coffee and breakfast.Other birders were on their way.

There had been some mist around, but more blew in and it turned a bit cooler. Migranting birds were immediately visible over YSW harbour in the form of a couple of Silver-backed Needletails, a Pacific Swift and two Grey-faced Buzzards. - only record shots !

Silver-backed Needletail

Pacific Swift

Grey-faced Buzzard with Black Kite

The Diver should really be at sea, not swimming around too close to people. Sadly, it is probably sick.

Red-throated Diver (Gavia stellata)
But it's still "tickable" while it lives , and many Hong Kong birders and photographers will wish it well, while they plan a pilgrimage to Lamma to see it.

10 March 2016

Birds in flight at Nam Sang Wai

Well, a pause from all this South American exoticism for this blog be "what it says on the tin".

Hong Kong birds, namely some BIFs from NSW.

A few days ago I went down to the slipway at Nam Sang Wai. The water was higher than ideal, but flat calm and there was a bit of hazy sunshine around.

Chased by a dozen Black-headed Gulls, this Marsh Sandpiper was trying to escape with it's breakfast intact...


Marsh Sandpiper

same bird, trying to evade about a dozen gulls...


Marsh Sandpiper

Common Greenshank

Great Cormorant

Spotted Redshank

Spotted Redshank

Pied Avocet


Black-faced Spoonbill

It just wouldn't be the same, a morning at Nam Sang Wai without Black-faced Spoonbills .....

2 March 2016

Whales and seabirds at the "End of the World"

Snow Petrel seemed to embody the mystique of Antarctica for us....

Snow Petrel - Pagodroma nivea

But there was plenty of other stuff to look at, too.  
Humpback Whale- Megaptera novaengliae

Gentoo Penguins - Pygoscelis papua



You'd think they would have seen enough cruise liners by now, but it seemed that all the penguins on the icebergs we approached were duty bound to scuttle for cover...

Scuttling Gentoos

Seals tended to just lounge around...

Crabeater Seals - Lobodon carcinophagus

Conscious that time was running out, perhaps, the most dedicated observers and photographers huddled at the front of the ship, seeking the next dark lump on the ice, and hoping it would be a “lifer” of some sort.  

"What's that lump on the ice floe ?"

Heading north, the volume of ice in view on the islands and the seas dwindled, but there was still plenty to look at. 
Gentoo Penguins - Pygoscelis papua

Feeding whales attracted seabirds, mainly because of the numbers of small prey fish they disturbed.

Humpback Whale- Megaptera novaengliae

Humpback Whale- Megaptera novaengliae - with Fulmars

Humpback Whale- Megaptera novaengliae - with Fulmars


Humpback WhaleMegaptera novaengliae - with Fulmars



Humpback Whale- Megaptera novaengliae


Wandering Albatross - Diomedea exulans


Southern Giant Petrel - Macronectes giganteus 

Southern Giant Petrel - Macronectes giganteus 


Light-mantled Albatross - Phoebatria palpebrata

Light-mantled Albatrosses - Phoebatria palpebrata



Southern Fulmars,  Cape Petrel


Antarctic Prion - Pachyptila desolata

Antarctic Prion - Pachyptila desolata

Great Shearwater - Puffinus gravis

Southern Royal Albatross - Diomedea epomophora
Southern Royal Albatross - Diomedea epomophora

Wilson's and Black-bellied Storm-petrels

The Drake Passage remained very calm  - described as “Drake Lake” by the staff ( a joke we passengers hadn’t heard before ). We arrived off Cape Horn earlier than scheduled, with a host of Black-browed Albatrosses circling.

Black-browed Albatrosses near Cape Horn

Chilean Post at Cape Horn


Black-browed Albatross - Thalassarche melanophris

White-chinned Petrel - Procellaria aequinoctialis

Black-bellied Storm-petrel


.Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego and the Beagle Channel

Then back to precisely where we had started....Ushuaia


We took a gazillion shots during our 19 days at sea, and I couldn’t show them all here.