22 Dec 2021

Outer Island Birding, Hong Kong

View from the Pier, Kat O

With overseas options closed off by the prospect of a 21-day quarantine on return to Hong Kong, like everyone else we’ve been exploring corners of HK we haven’t seen much of before.

To my shame, in 43 years in Hong kong I had never been to Kat O Chau (Crooked Island).  At the end of November, we put that right. There are ferries out there at the weekend from Ma Liu Shui, and By Golly, they’re popular. 

Kat O was a centre of HK’s mid-20th century fishing industry, and the school there (now closed) had 300 pupils at one stage.  Mechanization led to over-fishing and fish stocks collapsed in the mid-1960s.  Like other rural communities there was a wave of emigration and the fields and houses on Kat O fell to disuse and decay.

From the high point of Kat O island, the visitor can look north to Yantian on the mainland, where things have gone the other way - agriculture has been superseded by a Container Port servicing Shenzhen and other places in east Guangdong.

Down in Kat O village, this Plumbeous Water Redstart looked like it had just arrived for the winter.  It was competing with Daurian Redstarts for insects in a broad drain behind a row of partially-ruined houses.

Nothing says “50s” like an asbestos-tiled roof

Plumbeous Water Redstart - (f) - (Phoenicurus fuliginosus)

Three days later, we got a hot tip concerning the location of an Oriental Scops Owl on Lamma Island.

Lamma Island has changed too, but, - unlike remote Kat O - it’s only a short ferry ride from Central so there a traditional lifestyle has been supplanted by an influx of outsiders as residents.

Despite having specific directions we needed the help of the locals to spot this one. I had fully expected a crowd of birders/photographers at the owl site already, but my preconception was entirely wrong in this case.

We hadn’t seen Oriental Scops for a dozen-or-so years, so it was great to see this one.  And Lamma is a great spot for a “Post Twitch coffee and cake !

Oriental Scops Owl (Otus sunia)

Oriental Scops Owl (Otus sunia)

This species is a rare passage migrant in Hong Kong. It was around for about four days and then moved on.

In a flash, it’s Christmas, so all the best for Christmas and the New Year.

3 Dec 2021

2nd Dec 2021 - A clear winter morning at the Mai Po boardwalk.

A clear cold morning, and the tide came higher than predicted.  

I didn’t find anything unusual, but some typical early winter birds presented some photo opportunities
Grey Heron - Ardea cinerea

Dunlin - Calidris alpina
Common Redshank - Tringa totanus
Chinese Pond Heron - Ardeola bacchus
Eurasian Wigeon - Mareca penelope
Eurasian Wigeon - Mareca penelope
Eurasian Curlew - Numenius arquata
Black-faced Spoonbill - Platalea minor
Saunders's Gull - Chroicocephalus saundersi
Saunders's Gull - Chroicocephalus saundersi
The usual suspects

26 Nov 2021

Finally, some cooler weather !

A cold front arrived with clouds and flurries of rain on November 22nd.  The temperature in the New Territories was a nippy-for-us thirteen degrees centigrade.

Japanese Quail

Jemi and I met up with friends in the fishponds south of Mai Po at Tai Sang Wai. The main reason to go there were reports of Rook and Carrion Crows among the Large-billed Crows so common around the fishponds.

We couldn’t make out any exotic corvids for certain, 

Chestnut-eared Bunting

Little Bunting

Japanese Quail (f)

Japanese Quail (f)

but two species of bunting and a Japanese Quail were the highlights.

two Large-billed Crows

A Black-shouldered Kite lent a tropical flavour to proceedings

Black-shouldered Kite

Black-shouldered Kite

..and pond life continued as usual...

Black Kite harries Large-billed Crow

As we left, an odd-looking female duck was spotted in a grass-filled pond.

Falcated Duck (female)

I had mistaken it for a Gadwall, but our birding companions pointed out that it was, in fact, a female Falcated Duck. 

Stejneger's Stonechat

Mmmm....some duck revision by me will be necessary as our winter wildfowl numbers build up.

2 Nov 2021

As seen on TV...Lapland Longspur

Hong Kong’s second-ever Lapland Longspur was trapped and ringed at Long Valley last week.

The first, three years ago, to quote the HKBWS records committee 

"Lapland Longspur Calcarius lapponicus. One filmed at Nam Sang Wai by TVB on 13 March 2018. Communication with TVB confirmed that the footage was not sourced elsewhere." 

Now a construction site - “LV Nature Park” - Long Valley is closed to visitors, but word leaked out and some keen birders managed to sneak in.  They made use of a narrow window of opportunity between daybreak and site security personnel turning up for work.

These shots were taken early on Oct 31st.. 2021 note the “long spur” in the uppermost shot.

The Longspurs must be having a breakout season, with other individuals noted in Zhuhai (across the Pearl Delta*), and in the Philippines in the past few days.

The birding WhatsApp groups have been buzzing with news of Amur Falcons in the past ten days or so.

NOT to be confused with Northern Hobby, also seemingly popping up everywhere recently.

The falcons are migrating through Hong Kong, but this Dusky Warbler may be arriving for the winter.

The most obvious of escapes, these Black Swans were showing well recently at Mai Po Nature Reserve.

They most likely have come from Huawei’s Shenzhen Campus, a distance of just a few kilometres from northwest Hong Kong, where Mai Po is.

A recent Boat Trip produced few noteworthy birds, but our route included south Lantau Island, where we saw seven or eight Pink Dolphins. “Indo-Pacific Humpback Dolphins"

The Hong Kong population have been badly affected by infrastructure development, particularly the controversial Third Airport Runway and the underused Bay Area bridge to Macau and Zhuhai. Only 30-40 individuals remain.

The dolphins must wish they could fly away, like some of the birds...

Still the sight of a few of those that remain made our day, even if such encounters are tainted with sadness at the thought of what humans have done to them.


* “Pearl River Delta” - these days the HK Government would like us to refer to the “Greater Bay Area” instead.

There, you have been reminded.