24 Feb 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 Feb 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.

3 Feb 2018

A Cruise around some of the Galapagos Islands (Ecuador)

Galapagos Sea Lion, Floreana

We had a few days to bird around Puerto Ayora and Santa Cruz Island itself, while we looked for a suitable cruise to do some of the outlying islands.

Magnificent Frigatebird and Brown Pelican at the fish market, Puerto Ayora
Lava Gull, fishmarket, Puerto Ayora

Galapagos Lava Lizard by the roadside, Puerto Ayora

Cactus Finch, Puerto Ayora town

Puerto Ayora is the busiest town in the Galapagos Islands. Armed with a couple of guidebooks, knowing it was not yet peak season, and with a few days to spare before we were due to fly back to mainland Ecuador, we checked the Avenida Charles Darwin Travel Agents for last minute opportunities to get on a boat to the outlying islands.

Medium Ground Finch, Santa Cruz

Galapagos Dove, Santa Cruz

The agents are experienced in dealing with such requests and all have whiteboards on the pavement outside their places with what’s new.  To their credit, none of the people we spoke to tried to give us the “Hard Sell” and took the trouble to outline  where the trips were going and had photos of each place on the schedules and photos of the facilities on board the many and varied boats doing the rounds.

We settled on a north-south circuit on the Yacht Daphne. Seven nights on board, from 22nd to 29th November 2017.

Giant Tortoise
Day 1 - Santa Cruz.   We met the rest of our cruise party at the airport at Baltra, to the north of the island of Santa Cruz.   First stop:-  a Galapagos tortoise viewing place - "Rancho Manzanillo" in the highlands.

Giant Tortoise

Giant Tortoise

Yellow Warbler and Giant Tortoise
After Giant Tortoise viewing -a "must do" in the Galapagos, after all, - we boarded our home for the next seven nights, the Yacht Daphne, in Puerto Ayora on the south side of the island. Overnight we sailed south to Floreana.

Rather than write “Then we went here and then we went there…” I have mostly let the photos tell the story. Thanks to Jose, our patient local guide, we were well-briefed before dinner on what the schedule was for the following day. 

Some places we went are not documented here, because I was snorkelling in kit rented on the boat, and not carrying the long lens and camera. 

Day 2 - After a visit to Post Office Bay on Floreana, most people went snorkelling in the afternoon.  I had the camera in hope of getting some Shearwater shots, but that day, photo opportunities were few.

Cormorant Point, Floreana

Red-billed Tropicbird

Halfbeak Fish (Hemiramphus) avoiding another predator !

Magnificent Frigatebird

Yacht Daphne

Stingray Beach, Floreana

Stingray - don't panic if they brush past in the surf

Day 3 - Suarez Point on Espaniola

Yellow Warbler

Hood (Espaniola) Mockingbird

Warbler Finch and "Christmas Iguanas"

 "Christmas Iguana" - Espaniola

Blow Hole, Espaniola

Galapagos Hawk, Espaniola

Waved Albatross, Espaniola - just a few breeders left in late November

THEN - north to San Cristobal, where three of our number were sorry to be leaving the following day. These photos were taken from the deck of the Daphne.

Magnificent Frigatebird

Galapagos Shearwater

Elliot's Storm-Petrel

Bottlenose Dolphin - one of about twenty at sunset

Day 4 - In port at Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal.

Puerto Baquerizo Moreno, San Cristobal

San Cristobal Mockingbird - behind the nature interpretation centre

Small Ground Finch, San Cristobal

Blue-footed Booby at the pier, Puerto Baquerizo Moreno

 Day 5 - Santa Fe island - the Galapagos Hawks showed very well....

Galapagos Hawk - Santa Fe

Galapagos Hawk - Santa Fe

Galapagos Sea Lions - Santa Fe

Day 5 afternoon - the "Yellow Iguanas" of Plaza Sur....

Land Iguana, Plaza Sur (Santa Cruz)

Land Iguana, Plaza Sur (Santa Cruz)

Follow the guide !

Red-billed Tropicbird - Plaza Sur

Red-billed Tropicbird

Small Ground Finch

Day 6 - At last Genovesa - the birder's favourite island, it seems.

Swallow-tailed Gull - Darwin Bay, Genovesa

Approaching Prince Phillip's Steps, Genovesa

Galapagos Shearwater from Prince Phillip's Steps, Genovesa

Red-footed Booby, Genovesa

juvenile Magnificent Frigatebird, Genovesa

Red-footed Booby, Genovesa


Short-eared Owl, Genovesa

Day 7 - rope-like lava formations (Pahoehoe) at Sullivan Bay, Isla Santiago

Sullivan Bay, Isla Santiago

Sullivan Bay, Isla Santiago

Galapagos Penguin, - Sullivan Bay, Isla Santiago

Day 8 - ended with a Zodiac cruise to see Hammerhead Shark and Eagle Rays at Black Turtle Bay, on the north of Santa Cruz. We were back where we started.


Overall we had a great time, the Daphne was comfortable and our companions were a lively bunch of people from the USA, Australia, Austria, the UK and New Zealand. 

The birds and fish were very approachable, and there were lots of iguanas.  

As always - I shall END with a sunset..... !!
Frigatebirds at sunset, San Cristobal, Galapagos