26 Sept 2018

Tai Hang “Fire Dragon” - 25th Sept 2018 (off topic)

Birders notice the seasons passing more readily than, well, people who don’t bird or take much interest in wildlife.

Here in Tropical South China, the weather has only just started to cool but   we are already at the “Mid-Autumn Festival” - six weeks since the Chinese Autumn began.

A local event to mark mid-Autumn is Hong Kong’s very own “Fire Dragon” Festival, held in Tai Hang (near Causeway Bay) on Hong Kong Island.

The Fire Dragon itself is a spectacle of thousands of lit incense sticks, tricky to manoeuvre, but great to watch...

Here are a few shots from last night’s event. These were all taken handheld with the 1DX 2 set at ISO 5000, and with the image-stabilised 100-400 lens.

Could the Dragon’s appearance herald the appearance of some later Autumn migrants ? 

Blue-tailed Bee-eaters were seen over Mai Po this morning.  

See ! It’s all falling into place.

22 Sept 2018

An East China Sea "pelagic", 14 - 17th Sept 2018

Typhoons can be shared experiences in a place the size of Hong Kong. With concern about danger outdoors, and worries of damage to property at home, people tend to stay indoors and sit them out.

So with Super Typhoon “Mangkut” approaching we were reluctant to leave town, but a short sea birding trip had been booked and paid for weeks earlier.

The trip was researched and organised by Carrie Ma, and there were four of us HK birders in the party. The fourth participant was T P Luk.

Extinct, according to  "A field Guide to the Birds of Japan" (1982 edition) 

Xiamen (formerly Amoy) in Fujian Province, is only four hours away from Shenzhen North Station on China’s new high-speed railway system.  Xiamen is the place where Robert Swinhoe shot the type specimen of Hydrobates monorhis (Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel) in November 1866.

"Superstar Gemini" at Gulang Dock, Xiamen

We boarded the Superstar Gemini at Xiamen’s plush new ferry terminal with three days of pelagic birding in mind.  The other five hundred or so passengers thought they were on some sort of casual cruise, with buffet dinners, cabarets and a chance of poolside frolics. The route, as plotted by Carrie from Google Earth, is here...

Xiamen in the west and the Japanese Ryukyu islands to the east

RED: Ship's track.  YELLOW: parts covered in daylight hours
The ship departed in late evening on the 14th and dawn on the 15th found us off northwest Taiwan sailing into large swells. The ship was very big and stable, but there was a high wind from the front (northeast). 

This was indirectly due to the influence of Typhoon “Mangkut” (according to the "Nullschool.net" website ). We were distant from the Typhoon and moving away from most of the rough weather, but perhaps the winds from the east pulled more birds toward the sheltered side of Taiwan.

Chinese Trawler

For safety reasons the sheltered 8/f rear deck was the only available outdoor space on the first day at sea.  But one of our highlights came early with the sight of a string of storm-petrels passing southwards, near some wave-swept trawlers.

Swinhoe's Storm-Petrels - Hydrobates monorhis
Swinhoe's Storm-Petrels - Hydrobates monorhis

Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel - Hydrobates monorhis
Later we saw our only Masked Booby of the trip. These breed on the Daiyutai/Senkaku Islands, which we later passed close to after dark.  

Masked Booby - Sula dactylatra

The more widespread Brown Booby was also noted.
Brown Booby - Sula leucogaster

We were overflown by a migrating flock of fifteen (ten here) Little Curlew. 

Little Curlew - Numenius minutus

Later in the day the wind subsided somewhat and the sun came out. We saw what at first appeared to be a large tern, sitting on the sea surface. Actually, it was a White-tailed Tropicbird. 

White-tailed Tropicbird - Phaethon lepturus

White-tailed Tropicbird - Phaethon lepturus

White-tailed Tropicbird - Phaethon lepturus

We passed some rock stacks before darkness fell.

We arrived at Miyako Island in the Japanese Ryukyu chain at daybreak on 16th September and after Immigration checks commenced our coach tour of the island shortly after 07:00hrs local time. 

At the “Japanese-German Friendship Village” we saw migrant Grey-streaked Flycatchers and resident Japanese White-Eyes. 

Grey-streaked Flycatcher - Muscicapa griseiticta

Japanese White-Eye - Zosterops japonicus

The race of JWE on the Ryukyus is the exotic-sounding loochooensis.

Blue Rock Thrush - Monticola solitarius

The longest coach tour stop was at some kind of shopping warehouse where a variety of "Made-in-Japan" supplements and lotions could be purchased at purportedly bargain prices.   

Outside, beyond the car park, it was good to see Blue Rock Thrushes in good numbers. Brown-eared Bulbuls also lent character to the island landscape. 

Brown-eared Bulbul - Microscelis amaurotis

We saw two each of Pacific Golden Plover and Grey Plover in fields, and about a dozen Common Greenshank on a beach. All seemingly migrating birds.

In early afternoon we sailed away westwards from the Ryukyus in calm seas and this time had access to all the decks. Levels 7 and 8 near the bow of the ship seemed good viewing areas. We had about four hours birding before it got dark.  

There were distant groups of Streaked Shearwaters and other unidentified seabirds. 

Streaked Shearwater - Calonectris leucomelas

Later on, one or two Bulwer’s Petrels came close to the ship, 

Bulwer's Petrel - Bulweria bulwerii

Bulwer's Petrel - Bulweria bulwerii

......as did another hoped-for species, Wedge-tailed Shearwater.

Wedge-tailed Shearwater - Puffinus pacificus

A few flying fish were seen... 

Finally, we had the whole of the 17th September daylight sailing from near the northern tip of Taiwan back to Xiamen.

Early in the morning it was misty and grey, but two pods with a total about thirty Bottlenose Dolphins livened things up.

Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus)

Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin (Tursiops aduncus)

Landbirds that had landed on the ship included Grey Wagtail and Brown Shrike.

Brown Shrike - Lanius cristatus

A lone Whimbrel passed us in flight. 

Whimbrel - Numenius phaeopus

There was a distant tussle between a Bulwer's Petrel and what we thought was a first-year Long-tailed Skua (or possibly Arctic Skua, see comments below)

Familiar (to HK birders) were Bridled Terns, often standing on flotsam. 

Bridled Terns - Onychoprion anaethtus

A loose aggregation of Red-necked Phalarope added up to over 120 in total.

Red-necked Phalarope - Phalaropus lobatus

Back at the Xiamen dockside, at around 18:00hrs there was a cheerful scrum to get off the ship, and we were done.

So, Superstar Gemini was often frustratingly distant from the birds, but it was about the stablest platform we could have hoped for. You could seabird with a ‘scope in most conditions.

Thanks again to Carrie for organising the whole thing.

It seems like we’ve only scratched the surface in terms of discovery, so we’ll have to go again !

11 Sept 2018

In praise of - Whiskered Terns

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida
 There’s a tropical depression to the south of Hong Kong, and the Typhoon “No.1” signal has been up all day.

Cooler, dusty air has drifted down from the north, and it’s actually felt like autumn.

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida
Whiskered Terns are passage migrants in HK waters, but rough weather, or the threat of it, can bring these seasonally southbound seabirds in over the fishponds of the New Territories.

Such was the case today, where I came across some other people enjoying the sight of Whiskered Terns at the edge of a commercial fishpond in Tai Sang Wai.

At the edge of the fishpond...

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida

Bread had been put in the water for the farmed fish, but the terns were coming in for the minnows also feeding on the bread. 

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida

Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida

We knew that it might rain all day tomorrow, so we enjoyed the tern show in the hazy sunshine while we had the chance.
Whiskered Tern - Chlidonias hybrida

Sunset over Tin Shui Wai, Hong Kong