29 Jan 2019

First “Twitch” of 2019 - Fire-capped Tit at KFBG

The Hong Kong birdwatching Society has a forum on its’ website and requests for bird identifications are often made.

One such request appeared on 26th January, about a bird seen the previous day at Kadoorie Farm and Botanic Garden in Hong Kong’s New Territories.

Fire-capped Tit - ( Cephalopyrus flammiceps )
I missed the posting but had a group WhatsApp message to the effect that Paul Leader thought the bird in question was a Fire-capped Tit - ( Cephalopyrus flammiceps ).

Fire-capped Tit would be a first for HK, so it seemed worth a bash down to KFBG for a look, especially when news came through that it had been re-found on Monday morning (28th Jan), in the same flowering apricot tree.

The limited parking spaces were fully occupied, so we arrived by bus at KFBG’s front entrance.

Also fully occupied were seats on the hourly Shuttle Bus to the top of KFBG’s grounds, so we had a fairly stiff walk up to the spot, which took about 30 minutes.

Fire-capped Tit - ( Cephalopyrus flammiceps )

Fire-capped Tit - ( Cephalopyrus flammiceps )

Fire-capped Tit - ( Cephalopyrus flammiceps )

Fire-capped Tit - ( Cephalopyrus flammiceps )

Fire-capped Tit - ( Cephalopyrus flammiceps )

But we were in luck, and the bird was showing well to a small but appreciative audience.

Fire-capped Tit - ( Cephalopyrus flammiceps )
It was vigorously bashing away at the apricot blossoms, - above with flower stamen in its bill - and also found one or two caterpillars among the flower buds while we were watching.

Fire-capped Tit - ( Cephalopyrus flammiceps )
Most characteristically, it sometimes held the apricot flower buds in one claw while pecking at them.

Fire-capped Tit - ( Cephalopyrus flammiceps )

Fire-capped Tit - ( Cephalopyrus flammiceps )

Fire-capped Tit - ( Cephalopyrus flammiceps )
After another 45 minutes or so, the bird moved on. Having trudged up the hill we were prepared to wait for it to return. But eventually, after a couple more hours it hadn’t come back and we left.

Fire-capped Tits breed in Sichuan and Northern Yunnan and there are regular records from Yunnan in the winter (indeed, we saw them on our recent trip there.)

Richard Lewthwaite was at KFBG and noted there there are no previous Guangdong or southeast China records for this species. In the western part of their range some disperse to central India, with others in northern Thailand.  So, vagrancy is not impossible, and a female seems less likely than a gaudy male to be an escaped cage bird. 

The HKBWS Records Committee have a difficult task to declare whether they think this bird is wild or escaped. But, meanwhile we can just enjoy the thought of it, on a Hong Kong hillside, bashing around the blossom-laden apricot branches.


27 Jan 2019

In praise of .....(Asian) Red-rumped Swallows (Cecropsis daurica)

I strolled out to a fishpond area near HK's northernmost boundary a couple of evenings ago and found a whole host of hirundines whirling about.

Among them a species I've photographed before, but I make no apology for posting more photos here....

Asian Red-rumped Swallow - Cecropsis daurica

Asian Red-rumped Swallow - Cecropsis daurica

Asian Red-rumped Swallow - Cecropsis daurica

Asian Red-rumped Swallow - Cecropsis daurica

Asian Red-rumped Swallow - Cecropsis daurica

Asian Red-rumped Swallow - Cecropsis daurica

Asian Red-rumped Swallow - Cecropsis daurica

Asian Red-rumped Swallow - Cecropsis daurica

10 Jan 2019

Southwest Yunnan 2018/9 - Part 3, “Gaoligongshan”

Black-headed Shrike-Babbler - Pteruthius rufiventer

It was tangerine harvest time as we drove from the main road up towards Baihualing village on Dec 29th.

We had given ourselves two full days to bird this part of Gaoligongshan in the “traditional” manner, and two full days at some of the many “Bird Ponds” that have been set up the past few years.

Dec 30th

View from "Old Street", Baihualin, Gaoligongshan

Like every other day of the trip, it was clear and cool as we stood at the site of the “Old Street”, with some birdsong in the air. This area is also quite busy early on as the assembly point for hikers crossing the mountain range on the “Ancient Trail”

On the eastern side of the same spur of the Gaoligong range, a drivable track runs for about six kilometres. This is maintained to service a new water pipeline for all the new buildings in the village.  

First, though, one of the locals had a nearby pitch in the woods to see Grey-bellied Wren-Babbler - we went and saw this first.

Grey-bellied Wren-Babbler - Spelaeornis reptatus (Corrected 13-Jan-19)

The “bottle-brush” trees (Melaleuca sp.) were only just starting to blossom, but still attracted some fast-moving sunbirds, fulvettas and sibias.

A small party of Vinaceous Rosefinches appeared on the path, and a persimmon tree was proving popular, especially with barbets.

(m) Vinaceous Rosefinch - Carpodacus vinaceus

Golden-throated Barbet - Megalaima franklinii
We enjoyed our walk and a picnic lunch, but found the birds to be very shy.  Red-headed Trogons appeared briefly and we encountered two species of partridge dashing across the road.

Dec 31st

We drove about 3km up the pipeline track to a ruined house (Daluchang) and then took a shortcut (that we’d used in 2012) uphill to the Ancient Trail at Ertaipo ("Two Platform slope").

There were quite a lot of birds around, and we got there before the first hikers of the day passed through. For about an hour, there was a steady passage of hikers but then it was quiet again.  Cutia was one of our target birds, and we got one at this spot.

Himalayan Cutia - Cutia nipalensis

Chestnut-vented Nuthatch - Sitta nagaensis

Yellow-cheeked Tit - Parus spilonotus

Darjeeling Woodpecker - Dendrocopus darjellensis

In the late afternoon we descended to the banks of the Salween, where Carrie’s determined efforts added Chinese Francolin to the trip list.

Salween Ferry
The “Bird Pond” phenomenon

The Gaoligongshan Nature Reserve officials and the neighbouring villagers reached an agreement several years ago about use of the fringe areas of the Nature Reserve.

In about 2012, a Mr Hou -ex-GLGS staff- started a homestay business with a “Bird Pond” that has flourished into the success there is today, with several places to stay in Baihualing and dozens of similar ponds dotted around the Nature Reserve boundary.  

The majority of the guests are mainland photographers, many of whom drive from eastern and northern China to get to Yunnan with their tripods and long camera lenses.

Online, the photographers split from China's birders several years ago.  It is the number of digital photographers and their willingness to spend money to get the best photos that has driven the success of the Bird Pond business so far. Would-be entrepreneurs from other parts of China have visited Baihualing to learn how it’s done.

Our guesthouse is at the top left (white 3-storey building)

The place we stayed was completed in 2016. We had a western toilet and clean shower. The in-room kettle worked. There were plenty of battery charging points.  Downhill from Mr Hou’s guesthouse his family operated a restaurant from before dawn to late evening.  Guests could help themselves from boxes of seasonal tangerines.

Bird photos to decorate the restaurant wall 

In the dining area there was plenty of news (in Chinese) about what birds are turning up at which ponds, and Chinese "social media" spread the news, too.

Guesthouse in the evening

So, with a fee of 60 RMB for whole-day use of the hides, a visitor can move around and try two or three in a single day.  The disadvantage is that hides may become fully-booked at peak holiday periods.

For each 60 RMB received, the operator gets 50 RMB and the rest goes into a village community fund. This scale of income is significant for people in rural China.

Purists may frown at birds viewed or photographed when lured with water and food, but many bird lodges elsewhere in Asia and in South America have bird tables as part of the birding experience. 

It is the responsibility of photographers themselves to be honest about how and where their photos were taken. (Including me !)

Baihualin Village
Jan 1st

Hide 11 was new. A long, steep trot up the hillside (after the car got stuck) to get there was well worth the  effort.

Grey-sided Laughingthrush - Dryonastes caerulatus

Streak-breasted Scimitar-Babbler - Pomatorhinus ruficollis

Assam Laughingthush - Trochalopteron chrysopterum (woodi)

Scarlet-faced Liochichla - Liochichla ripponi

Barred Cuckoo-Dove - Macropygia unchall

Slender-billed Scimitar-Babbler - Xiphirhynchus superciliaris

Hill Partridges - Arborophila torqueola

(m) Hill Partridge - Arborophila torqueola

Here we are, on the way down.

Then we moved to Pond 8, which is a long-established place with some other bird species....

Black-streaked Scimitar-Babbler - Pomatorhinus gravivox

Large Niltava - Niltava grandis

Pond 4 in the afternoon was cold and damp, conditions that suited the Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler, among others..

Scaly-breasted Wren-Babbler - Pnoepyga albiventer

Red-tailed Laughingthrush - Trochalopteron milnei

Chestnut-headed Tesia - Tesia castaneocoronata
Jan 2nd

Pond 35 was another well-established pond with an open aspect and its own suite of birds.

Flavescent Bulbul - Pycnonotus flavescens

Mountain Bamboo Partridge - Bambusicola fytchii

Great Barbet - Megalaima virens

Chinese Thrush - Turdus mupinensis
Pond 77 was another popular place with a well-tended garden in front of the camera positions. The small mammals liked it, to the irritation of some of the photographers.

Northern Tree-Shrew - Tupaia belangeri

Pallas's Squirrel - Callosciurus erythraeus

Long-tailed Thrush - Zoothera dixoni

Rufous-throated Partridge - Arborophila rufogularis

Our last Bird Pond was No.27.  The lady in attendance expected a Black-headed Shrike-Babbler to arrive at about 16:00hrs, in fact it was twenty minutes early !

Black-headed Shrike-Babbler - Pteruthius rufiventer

After this we headed back to Baoshan, a drive of about two hours.

Jan 3rd

We said our Goodbyes to "Xiao DU", and flew from Baoshan to Kunming, then to Guangzhou. An electric taxi, hailed by Uber-equivalent Didi Chuxing got us to GZ South Railway Station. A local train to Luohu (Shenzhen) saw us home in mid-evening.


Chinese Immigration record the fingerprints of visitors, and facial recognition software is used at border control points, as well as at airport and railway security checks. It's all very "hi-tech".

Plane and train tickets must be booked with identity documents presented.  

Payment by “WeChat Pay” via mobile is preferred for payment in many places including some restaurants and fast-food joints. It seems like old-fashioned cash is becoming obsolete.


As stated in Part 1, many thanks to Carrie MA for putting the trip together - all we had to do was turn up.

Our guide for the 12 days was “Xiao DU” of Yingjiang City, he is young, hardworking and keen.  I heartily recommend him. 

WeChat: yilovejiaju

Although he does not speak English he told us he had recently guided a foreigner and done the basic translations on his mobile phone.