21 October 2016

Something in the Air - mostly at Mai Po

This post has nothing to do with the late, lamented "Thunderclap" Newman.

No, the title is about trying to establish a common theme for this post's photos...

Black Kite - trying to look like a "real" raptor

Black Kite

Common Greenshank

Mongolian Gull - one of several loafing youngsters through the Mai Po summer

Grey Heron

Purple Heron

Pale Martin - ours are race "fohkinensis"

Pied Kingfisher - male

Eastern Marsh Harrier

Eastern Marsh Harrier

Collared Crows

Black Drongo

There !    Mai Po has always got some variety.

And this post has less "waffle" from me than usual.

13 October 2016

Greater White-fronted Geese

Here in HK we are generally too far south for geese.  There can be thousands of them 800 km north of here, along the Yangtse River at sites like Dongting and Poyang Lake.

So it’s always a thrill to see a goose.   On hearing that there was a Greater White-front on ponds 16/17 at Mai Po I went straight there.  Having arrived at the MP car park, I got a message that three geese were also showing in the ponds at San Tin.

Three seemed more alluring than one, so I decided to go to San Tin.

Fishponds at San Tin   -  Shenzhen highrise in the distance

A pin on an electronic map via WhatsApp should have been enough, but I overshot the spot and needed verbal directions back.  There they were, casually nibbling the grass on the bank of a drained fishpond.

Greater White-fronted Geese - Anser albifrons (frontalis)

Anyway, two adult Greater White-fronted Geese and a juvenile showed well for just over an hour. We wondered whether they had arrived with the fourth White-front which was simultaneously a couple of kilometres away in Mai Po.

Two adult "Whitefronts" - and a Greater Painted-Snipe

Eventually, our distinguished visitors got alarmed at something on the other side of their drained fishpond and took off, and to my knowledge, have not been seen since.

Greater White-fronted Geese - Anser albifrons (frontalis)

It was fun while it lasted.

3 October 2016

A Little Curlew at Mai Po

There are usually only one or two records per year of this species - today was one of those days, obviously !

Little Curlew - Numenius minutus

Little Curlew is a vagrant that is often found on open patches of grassland, - strangely, not a common habitat in Hong Kong. 

This one should be on its' way to spend the northern winter in New Guinea or Northern Australia.

Little Curlew - Numenius minutus

And here's a Whimbrel for comparison...

Whimbrel -Numenius phaeopus

Whimbrel -Numenius phaeopus

There were quite a lot of distant Garganey (passage migrants) between the hides as the tide rose.

The "new" floating hide from one of the "old" ones, Mai Po

Avocets will mostly be returning winter visitors - but a very few oversummer, anyway

Avocets - Recurvirostra avosetta
A small and distant group of terns gave pause for thought - late on autumn passage, but Common Terns..
Common Tern - Sterna hirundo
Just a couple of hours at the boardwalk today, and plenty of variety.

10 August 2016

From the Tap Mun Ferry - Sooty Tern and local breeders.

Sooty Tern - Sterna fuscata
Typhoon "Nida" swept into Hong Kong on the afternoon of August 1st, and swept out again early on the 2nd.  Gusty winds and heavy showers meant that most shops and businesses stayed closed for the rest of the day.

The weather was still unsettled when I boarded the Ma Liu Shui to Tap Mun Ferry at 08:30 on the morning of August 3rd, a Wednesday.  I had been reminded that early August is a good time of the year to see Hong Kong's regular breeding Terns, thanks to blog posts like this http://matthewkwanbirding.blogspot.hk/2016/07/boat-chasers-terns-at-sai-kung.html

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana - juvenile

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana

Bridled Tern - Sterna anaethetus

Bridled Tern - Sterna anaethetus

To my surprise a feeding flock of about two dozen of HK’s breeding terns began to follow the ferry almost immediately.  The storm had evidently pushed them a lot deeper into Tolo Harbour than usual.
Among the Roseate, Black-naped and Bridled Terns was a single, larger, darker bird. It was an immature Sooty Tern.

Sooty Tern - Sterna fuscata

Sooty Tern - Sterna fuscata

Sooty Tern - Sterna fuscata

I knew that there were fewer than ten Hong Kong records of this usually pelagic species, so I sent out messages on a couple of Bird News “WhatsApp” groups.
The terns, however, didn’t follow the ferry into the first stop at Sham Chung and didn’t rejoin the ferry when we continued eastwards towards Tap Mun Island and Wong Shek.  So I abandoned my original plan of getting off at Wong Shek Pier, and went back on the ferry towards Ma Liu Shui.

"Weather" coming....

Tap Mun Island - "Weather" has arrived....

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana

Roseate Tern - Sterna dougalli

Wong Shek Pier

Fortunately, the same Sooty Tern appeared as the ferry approached Ma Liu Shui Pier at about 12:15. 
Sooty Tern - Sterna fuscata

Sooty Tern - Sterna fuscata
It was photographed by Peter WONG from the shore near Ma On Shan.  His photos appear below.You can see the Sooty Tern to right of the ferry. 

That’s Yours Truly at the back of the ferry.

Well, I just HAD to go out again on the 15:00 afternoon ferry. Peter and Meiling Tang joined me, and we got one Sooty Tern flying past, photo below.

Sooty Tern - Sterna fuscata

Later, Graham Talbot told us from the shore that there were actually TWO Sooty Terns around, and closer examination of the shots of the afternoon Sooty show it to be a different individual from the morning’s bird.

That was about it for birding thrills, though.  We enjoyed the trip to Wong Shek and back, with the coastal scenery emerging from the mist, and the Black-naped Terns catching sprats in the late afternoon sunshine. 

But there was no new sighting of Sooty Tern for us back near the pier at Ma Liu Shui.

Ko Lau Wan

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana

Black-Naped Tern - Sterna sumatrana

The Tap Mun Ferry is pretty cheap for pelagic birding, the mid-week return fare is just HK $36 (less than five US dollars) for half a day’s entertainment. If you like terns, that is.

@Tsui Wah Ferry Service (HK)Ltd.

The Scotsman in me says I must try it again soon.

3 July 2016

On a beach with Chinese Crested Tern

The Critically Endangered Chinese Crested Tern (Thalasseus bernsteini) “CCT” - has had some recent publicity involving a second successful full season of breeding on Tiedun Dao, among the Jiushan Islands off the coast of Zhejiang Province.  The birds were attracted back to the island with a mixture of tape lures and decoys in 2014,in a project involving Birdlife International, HKBWS and local agencies.

This, it seems, has always been a rare bird, and  it had gone unseen from the 1930s until re-discovered in 2000 breeding among (far more numerous) Great Crested Terns on the Matsu Islands. The highly-fortified Matsu Islands are controlled by Taiwan, even though they are just off the coast of Fujian Province.

Shortly after the Matsu discovery, local Fuzhou-based birders found that CCTs were courting and preening on the beaches of the Min River Estuary, which is only about 30km from the Matsu Islands as the tern flies.

We visited in 2008 and 2011 but took the chance to visit again with Ondie Wong and Australian Birding friend Colin Rogers, for whom CCT was one of just three species of tern in the world he had not yet seen.

We flew to Changle Airport (Fuzhou) on 10th of June and were driven straight to the Min River Estuary by our guide for the weekend Lin Chen “Forest Morning” (Wechat ID : forestmorning,   Mobile : 133-3842-0092 ).

China progresses quickly, and I doubt that we would have recognised the scene of our previous visits, with a newly-paved road, a visitor centre and an observatory building.

One thing had not changed, we were still going to have to get our feet and legs dirty wading over a creek to get to the opposite bank and a path leading to “CCT beach”about a kilometre away.

Well, we arrived at the beach with the tide rising and a large group of mostly Great Crested Terns, together with White-winged, Whiskered and Little Terns bathing on the edge of a small sandbar.  Lin Chen picked out two CCTs in the right hand end of the group, and after scope views, we advanced to where four local photographers were already photographing the terns.

Chinese Crested Tern - Thalasseus bernsteini (centre -wings raised)

As the tide covered the sand bar the terns flew left along the waters’ edge to join another tern roost several hundred metres to the west.  We had fly-by views of three CCTs in total. With a good handheld 500mm lens and LOTs of cropping I managed one or two "keepers".

Chinese Crested Tern - Thalasseus bernsteini 

We realised we had been lucky, though - if we’d arrived a few minutes later the terns would have already gone.

With a possible three days set aside to check the tern beach, we had time in hand. Lin Chen suggested going to an inland site, Longxi Shan. It was a six-hour drive, but, flushed with success (or sunburn?) we decided to go for it.

At Longxi Shan the weather in the hills was cooler but wet on the Saturday morning.

After a rustic noodle breakfast, we drove up a track to a temple surrounded by tea terraces.

We were in the clouds and hearing some birds but not getting views of much, until Colin spotted a male Cabot’s Tragopan, fossicking among the tea bushes just ten metres away. Seeing us, it kept a wary distance, but still gave good views.

Cabot's Tragopan

Going downhill we had memorable encounters with Silver Pheasants - 

There were some of the commoner woodland birds of east China, too.

Slaty-backed Forktail

Red-billed Blue Magpie

Chestnut Bulbul

There was not a great variety of birds in the woods of Longxi, but what the place lacked in quantity it more than made up for in quality. 

This was perfectly demonstrated by our hearing of a strange call as we left Longxi on Sunday morning, just outside the Reserve entrance gate.  “Sultan Tit” said Lin Chen - and sure enough, there were two perched on a power line, before disappearing into the top of large fronds of bamboo.

Sultan Tit

Sultan Tit has an enigmatic history in Fujian… there were no records for eighty years until members of the the Fujian Birdwatching Society re-discovered it - at Longxi Shan - in 2004.

There’s always something exciting going on in China Birding !