12 March 2018

In praise of - Oriental Pratincole (Glareola maldivarum)

In spring, Oriental Pratincoles pass through Hong Kong between the end of February and mid-May. A couple of days ago, I had the luck to come across a pond with twenty or more of these birds wheeling around taking insects in the late afternoon sunshine.

In flight they are surprisingly erratic - at least that's my excuse for not getting more shots in focus.

The low sun angle made it possible to appreciate the cinnamon-coloured underwing lining of this species.

Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum

Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum

Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum

Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum

Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum

Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum

Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum

Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum

Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum

Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum

Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum

Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum

A wader that flies like a swallow - what's not to like ?

3 March 2018

Southern Ecuador

It's lucky that this blog isn't read for its topicality.

Here are some shots from the final leg of our South America trip, in southern Ecuador, back in November 2017.

We booked through Mindo Bird Tours, and the three reserves we visited are operated by the Jocotoco Foundation.

Accommodation was simple but comfortable, and profits are ploughed back into buying more habitat and educational programmes.

White-tailed Jay - Cyanocorax mystacalis
Our first stop was Urraca Lodge, inside Jorube Reserve.  A dry forest site at the southern end of Ecuador with Peru visible to the south.

Dining Area, Urraca Lodge
Blackish-headed Spinetail - Sinallaxis tithys

Pale-browed Tinamou - Crypturellus transfasciatus

Our next stop was Umbrellabird Lodge, Buenaventura.   These photos were all taken from the lodge viewing deck !

Long-wattled Umbrellabird - Cephalopterus penduliger

Black-and-White Owl - Ciccaba nigrolineata

Chestnut-mandibled Toucan - Ramphastos swainsonii

And finally to Casa Simpson Lodge, in Tapichalaca, adjacent to Ecuador's Podocarpus National Park.

Buff-breasted Mountain-Tanager - Dubusia taeniata

Chestnut-naped Antpitta - Grallaria nuchalis

Casa Simpson blends in with its' surroundings.

Casa Simpson

This is the view of the lowlands from along the thirty-minute walk to the Antpitta site...

The world-famous Jocotoco Antpittas are well-worth a birders' pilgrimage to go and see them. They are charismatic, handsome and touchingly confiding.

It's remarkable to think that they were unknown to science until well into the 1990s.

Jocotoco Antpitta - Grallaria ridgelyi
Birding can bring so many surprises.

24 February 2018

Cool Winter weather - February in Deep Bay, Hong Kong

A month for exotic gulls in the tidal reaches of Deep Bay, here are three shots of "scarce winter visitor" (HK Bird Report 2015) Vega Gull from the Mai Po boardwalk...

(foreground) Vega Gull - Larus vegae

Vega Gull - Larus vegae

Vega Gull - Larus vegae

One or two Pallas's Gulls have graced the tidelines this month. These can be annual in twos and threes.

(right) Pallas's Gull - Ichthyaetus ichthyaetus
Earlier this month a cold snap meant that insects became moribund and fell to the surface of streams and fishponds.  Low and slow flight by insect predators made photography easier and - a bonus - the light cleared up briefly, too !

House Swift - Apus nipalensis
House Swift - Apus nipalensis

House Swift - Apus nipalensis

Red-rumped Swallow - Cepcropsis daurica

Red-rumped Swallow - Cepcropsis daurica

A couple of Mai Po's attention-grabbing rarities this month have been these....

(right) Smew - Mergellus albellus

Black-backed Swamphen (Porphyrio indicus)

(The Swamphen formerly known as "Purple", of course....).

Back at the boardwalk, another "scarce winter visitor" (HKBR)...
Mew Gull (right) - Larus canus

Finally a  shot of a gull that looks like a first winter Glaucous Gull, but it's not quite right and not big enough, either.

"It's just little me..."

This has caused a lot of puzzlement, with a Slaty-backed/Glaucous hybrid being suggested.

I confess I'm not sure either, sometimes nature must remain a mystery to us !

17 February 2018

Tangjiahe NNR in Sichuan - a February flying visit

Takin - Budorcas taxicolor
Just before Lunar New Year, (10th - 14th February 2018) we had five-day break to visit Tangjiahe, a Chinese National Nature Reserve on Sichuan’s border with Gansu.

The American Zoologist Dr. George Schaller spent a year at Tangjiahe in 1984/5, and wrote about it in his book “The Last Panda”.

Brief summer visits were made by Jemi and I in 2005 and 2009, and I had spent a couple of nights there in November 2006. Winter time had looked promising for mammal viewing.

On this trip, our first and last days (including flying to and from Chengdu) were “travel” days, so we only had three days inside the Reserve. 

Tangjiahe National Nature Reserve, Sichuan

Bird and mammal viewing was mostly done from the roads at the bottom of the steep-sided river valleys. Temperatures were below freezing at night, and rose only to single figures during the day, despite weak sunshine. There were patches of snow in wooded gullies and icicles in the river.

First, some "river birds"...

Crested Kingfisher - Megaceryle lugubris

White-throated Dipper - Cinclus cinclus
White-throated Dipper - Cinclus cinclus

White-crowned Forktail - Enicurus leschenaulti
Many of the birds were encountered in fast-moving mixed flocks, but the hazy sunshine and it’s reflections were good for photography. As usual, most shots are quite heavily cropped, though.

David's Fulvetta - Alcippe davidi

Coal Tit - Periparus ater

Red-billed Leiothrix - Leiothrix lutea

Hodgson's Treecreeper - Certhia hodgsoni
Rufous-faced Warbler - Abroscopus albogularis

Eurasian Nuthatch - Sitta europea (sinensis)

Crimson-breasted Woodpecker - Dendrocopus cathpharius
We encountered two Chinese Endemic specialties of the area, Slaty Bunting….

Slaty Bunting - Emberiza seimsseni (m)

Slaty Bunting - Emberiza seimsseni (f)

….. and Golden Pheasant

Golden Pheasant - Chrysolophus pictus

Golden Pheasant - Chrysolophus pictus

After "spectacular" I run out of adjectives !

Tangjiahe is famously a good place to view mammals, and the late-winter lack of leaf coverage meant that the animals were easily sighted. If they thought they were safe across the river from us - like this Takin - then we really had prolonged views. This gave us lots of time to try to line up photos with as few branches in the way as possible.

Takin - Budorcas taxicolor

There were several other mammals encountered here and there -

Reeve's Muntjac - Muntiacus reevesi

Reeve's Muntjac - Muntiacus reevesi

Tufted Deer - Elaphodus cephalophus

Tufted Deer - Elaphodus cephalophus

Tufted Deer - Elaphodus cephalophus

Chinese Serow - Capricornis milneedwardsi

Chinese Serow - Capricornis milneedwardsi

Tibetan Macaque - Macaca thibetana

Tibetan Macaque - Macaca thibetana

On our final afternoon we checked the road towards Motianling for otters in the river below us. There were no otters, but the first members of the group found a single Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey close to the road.  Dawdling at the back, I missed it. This photo was taken by Carrie Ma.

Golden Snub-Nosed Monkey - Rhinopithecus roxellana

Accommodation at Tangjiahe had been fine on our earlier trips, but we found this time that it had really gone upmarket. The important thing, though, was that the food was still good, the electric blankets worked and there was hot water in the shower.

Our last night in Sichuan was spent near the museum at SanXingDui, where we added a few waterfowl on the nearby river to our bird count. We were surprised at the sight of people using cormorants to fish. 

This practice is tough on the cormorants of course, but it was unusual to see this now-rare mode of fishing, especially on the outskirts of one of modern China’s major cities.

An early afternoon flight took us back to Hong Kong with indelible memories of Tangjiahe's wildlife.  

Many Thanks to Carrie Ma for organising the trip.