5 Jun 2020

Going “Cuckoo” - over a HK second record

Every year here in HK we get Large Hawk Cuckoo (Hierococcyx sparveroides),  Indian Cuckoo (Cuculus micropterus ) and Chestnut-winged Cuckoo (Clamator  coromandus).  Each of these species seems to arrive in a particular week and the timings of their different calls where I live indicates the progress of spring.  These three species deposit their eggs in the nests of their host species here and stay until summer.

Catching up in numbers are Hodgson’s Hawk Cuckoo (H. nisicolor), and Lesser Cuckoo (Cuculus poliocephalus), which have gone from unknown in HK to being heard annually in just a few years.  Maturing HK woodland means that the species these cuckoos parasitise are getting more widespread.

Common Cuckoo - (Cuculus canorus)

BUT there is only one HK record of Common Cuckoo - a bird photographed (but not heard to call) by Geoff Welch on Po Toi Island on 4th April 2007.

Common Cuckoo - (Cuculus canorus) - the cuckoo that actually goes “Cuckoo” !

Terry Townshend’s Birding Beijing blog has been getting some much-deserved media attention, highlighting the progress of Common Cuckoos fitted with radio trackers in Beijing.  Some of the birds pass south China, but they don’t call much on migration.

On May 20th this year Peter and Michelle WONG were birding around the entrance to Mai Po Nature Reserve when they heard that distinctive call - “Cuckoo”. 

They managed to sight, photograph and record the bird, then get photos and sound clips out on WhatsApp.

Common Cuckoo - (Cuculus canorus)

Paul Leader - who has studied the collection of cuckoo specimens at Natural History Museum at Tring (UK) responded with a photo of some of these specimens and a suggestion that the bird might be a race of Common Cuckoo known from west China - “bakeri”.

Common Cuckoo - (Cuculus canorus)

I went along the same afternoon the bird was found, but the Cuckoo was happily hunting caterpillars in the top of a banyan tree over the old Pak Hok Chau police post, and was mostly obscured. However, it was nice to meet a few fellow-twitchers despite “Social Distancing”. (We are not “locked down” here.)

The following morning, after overnight rain, the Cuckoo briefly sunned itself on a lower tree nearby, when these photos were taken.

Common Cuckoo - (Cuculus canorus)

Common Cuckoo - (Cuculus canorus)

Common Cuckoo - (Cuculus canorus)

Graham Talbot had a copy of a June 2014 paper by Clive Mann from Birdwatch Magazine (published in the UK), which highlighted the differences between Common and Oriental Cuckoo (the most likely confusion species).  

Barring on the underwing coverts is the clincher for Common, compared to Oriental. A point worth remembering when confronted with any future silent cuckoos. 

Common Cuckoos breed from western Europe all the way across eurasia to Kamchatka in far eastern Russia.  They all winter in southern Africa, though, so the eastern ones have a very long migration route.

So thanks to persistence by the finders, co-operation by others in the group, technical know-how and the contribution of knowledgable individuals the whole experience came together.

A microcosm of what makes Hong Kong the place it is.