16 May 2019

Spring 2019 - "Boat Trip season" in Hong Kong's Southern Waters

Bridled Tern - Onychoprion anaethetus
The are umpteen species of tern of the HK “list” and we are lucky enough to get three handsome species (Bridled, Black-naped and Roseate) breeding on some of the weathered granite rocks that dot Hong Kong’s southern and eastern waters.

Bridled Terns - Onychoprion anaethetus

Bridled Terns - Onychoprion anaethetus

Bridled Tern - Onychoprion anaethetus (11th May)
By early May the islets are populated with noisy, quarrelsome terns in the process of pairing, securing nest spaces and breeding.

Bridled Tern - Onychoprion anaethetus (11th May)
They can often be seen carrying fish as offerings to potential mates. 

The Agriculture, Fisheries and conservation Department (HK Government) puts up signs in an attempt to stop careless humans from landing on the islands and disturbing the birds, but this doesn't always work.

(11th May)

Black-naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana (11th May)

Black-naped Terns - Sterna sumatrana and Roseate TernSterna dougalli

(mostly) Black-naped Terns - Sterna sumatrana (11th May)

Roseate Terns - Sterna dougalli (11th May)

Black-naped Terns and Roseate Tern (11th May)
Mid-April to mid-May is usually the ideal time for boat trips in HK waters to look for migrant terns and other seabirds as well.  

2019 was not as spectacular as some previous years, but a few migrant terns and other seabirds were tallied, too.

Aleutian Tern - Onychoprion aleuticus (11th May)

Great Crested Tern - Thallaseus bergii (28th April)
Common Tern - Sterna hirundo (21st April)

Common Tern - Sterna hirundo (21st April)

Arctic Skua - Stercorarius parasiticus(21st April)

Arctic Skua - Stercorarius parasiticus(21st April)
Short-tailed Shearwater - Ardenna tenuirostris (28th April)

Sometimes, not everything at sea is a seabird. 

Red-necked Phalarope - Phalaropus lobatus (20th April)
Oriental Pratincole - Glareola maldivarum (20th April)

Grey-tailed Tattler - Tringa brevipes (27th April)

Swinhoe's (left) and two Little Egrets (27 April)
Swinhoe’s Egrets - Egretta eulophotes (11th May)

Examples of "VizMig" - "Visible Migration" !

I know long-distance landbird migrants may have to fly over stretches of open sea, but it is still a thrill to see them actually doing it.

6 May 2019

East China Sea Cruise, - China to Japan seabirding, 30th April to 4th May 2019

Brown Booby - Sula leucogaster

On 30th April we sailed from Xiamen bound for Okinawa on the Costa Atlantica

On board were three Hong Kong would-be seabirders (Carrie Ma, Jemi and myself) and about two thousand mainland Chinese Golden Week merry-makers.

We intended to use the four night/three full days schedule to bird two days at sea north of Taiwan, - out and back - and get what birds we could on a very restricted "Tour" of Okinawa.

Here is the route (map by Carrie Ma) with the yellow areas "birdable" in daylight.

Last September we did a similar cruise, from Xiamen to Miyakojima. That time the ship was the Superstar Gemini.

Although the 3rd level deck of Costa Atlantica was spacious, there was no public area with a view of the sea surface to the front of the ship. The only view at the rear was at the 9th level. With space at the ship sides devoted to giving many cabins their own balcony, all round viewing opportunities on Costa Atlantica were more limited than on the earlier ship.

Plenty of deck space on level 3 - but no view front and rear.
It started raining as we left Xiamen (Fujian Province) and wet and windy decks the following morning (May 1st) meant that we were forbidden to go outside on the 3rd level. 

Ominous Xiamen rain clouds
We sneaked out anyway, but after an hour or so ship security staff led us back inside.

Inside “Costa Atlantica”

We ended up at the rear deck of the 9th level, where our only clear view of the sea was from next to the designated smokers’ area.

Most of the birds we saw were distant.  In fact it seemed like some species were actively avoiding the boat.

Here in HK bird photographers call distant bird specks on their image files “sesame seeds”.  Many of these are “sesame seed” images, greatly cropped.

Bulwer’s Petrel - Bulweria bulwerii

Brown Noddy - Anous stolidus

Sooty Tern - Onychoprion fuscatus

Streaked Shearwater - Calonectris leucomelas

Red-necked Phalarope - Phalaropus lobatus

Long-tailed Skua - Stercorarius longicaudus

Masked Booby - Sula dactylata

Red-footed Booby - Sula sula
A strong northerly wind came with the rain, and a few migrant passerines were seen, including a party of seven Yellow Wagtails which settled somewhere on the upper decks.
Eastern Yellow Wagtail - Motacilla tschutschensis

We soon noted that a Peregrine was hunting the birds resting about the ship. 

Peregrine Falcon - Falco peregrinus

Daiyoutai/Senkaku Islands
As we passed the Daiyoutai/Senkaku Islands, up to forty Brown Boobies circled high on the wind-sheltered side to hunt flying fish disturbed by the ship’s passage. In this respect,  the ship was attracting the hunting boobies.

Brown Boobies - Sula leucogaster (there's one under the water)

Brown Boobies - Sula leucogaster

Brown Boobies - Sula leucogaster
This time the flying fish got away.

There were also a few Masked Boobies, and a single (brown morph) Red-footed Booby.
Red-footed Booby - Sula sula

On May 2nd, after Immigration formalities, we all disembarked for the scheduled “Sight-seeing” coach trip on Okinawa.

Docked at Naha, Okinawa, Japan
We called briefly at Senaga Island.

It was a scenic spot with a few waders and co-operative Little Terns.

Little Tern - Sternula albifrons

Little Tern - Sternula albifrons

Little Tern - Sternula albifrons

Our second stop was at Shurijo Castle Park, where Blue Rock Thrushes were numerous and confiding.

Blue Rock Thrush - Monticola solitarius
Shopping was the main objective for many of our shipboard companions. Across the road from the first of three stores the tour coach visited, at Nishizaki, we found more waders on a pleasant little beach.

Nishizaki Beach

Pacific Golden Plover -Pluvialis fulva

Kentish Plover - Charadrius alexandrinus

"Ghost" Crab - Ocypode sp. ?
"Also seens" included Grey-tailed Tattler, Ruddy Turnstone and Whimbrel. 

Eventually we got back on board the Costa Atlantica, and a full day at sea (May 3rd ) saw us cover much of the same area as two days earlier, passing close to the north of Taiwan on our way back to the Chinese mainland.

With fine weather, we had unrestricted deck access. Carrie saw and photographed a Sperm Whale, and we all had brief glimpses of dolphins.

Flying fish sp.
From mid- to late morning the Brown Boobies were chasing flying fish again.... 

Brown Booby - Sula leucogaster

Brown Booby - Sula leucogaster

Brown Booby - Sula leucogaster

But later - after we left the disputed islands behind and entered the Taiwan Strait - there were no birds to be seen. 
Taipei - Matsu Islands Ferry

Northern Taiwan
It was a long afternoon as we examined various items of rubbish on the sea surface in the hope of discovering more birds.  

Sunset in the Taiwan Strait (May 3rd 2019)

I think that these trips are as instructive for what we didn't see, as well as what we actually saw.  So, no albatrosses or storm-petrels, but there were areas with regular appearances of Bulwer's Petrels and Brown Noddies, both of which might be breeding in the area.

Red-footed Booby is unusual in Japanese waters, but was probably attracted by the activity of the Brown Booby flock.


Thanks  again to Carrie MA for planning and organising the trip !

Technical matters

An apology

Since the demise of Google+, although I have redone my Google profile, I am strangely unable to reply to comments on my own blog ! 

I'm working on it !