A few Migrants and an Eagle at Mt. Davis

Mount Davis is probably the easiest spot for me to visit these days, second only to Lung Fu Shan. I dislike going there, however, given the foot traffic and, well, the truly oppressive amount of stairs. The walk up to the top of Mt Davis, by contrast, is more gradual. It’s a pretty tight spot, however, so you may struggle to find good stuff on the edge of the field at the top like buntings and chats during the autumn if some merrymakers are up there.

By the time I got up there, two separate groups were taking wedding photos in the field, and a few hiking groups also showed up, so at one point there were nearly 30 people up there—not great for birds. However, I did manage to spot an Asian brown flycatcher, as well as an Arctic warbler, two common migrants this time of year.

Asian brown flycatcher

More impressive, however, was a flyover by a white-bellied sea eagle. I’ve only seen this rather impressive bird in Hong Kong once before, soaring very high up during one of my trips to Po Toi. Today, however, I managed to get a proper shot as it was comparatively low while I was in the field at the top of the hill.

Additionally, I managed to see a Chinese sparrowhawk, a first for me. These raptors are currently migrating through Hong Kong and can be observed primarily in the open countryside or island hills. Perhaps someday I’ll be able to get a good capture of it flying lower.

Ashy Drongo at Mt. Davis

Just a quick post today: an ashy drongo from Mt. Davis. This was the first time ever saw one, so I was very happy to get a record shot. These birds migrate south for the winter, so this one is likely passing through. However, there may be more permanent residents elsewhere in Hong Kong, as it is within their breeding range.

The species has a number of subspecies that vary primarily in color throughout their distribution. The ones furthest east in Asia ranging from about Korea to Southeast Asia are more grey colored while those to the west in the Indo-Malayan subcontinent are closer to black.

Quiet Morning at Tung Lung Chau

Tung Lung Chau is a small island off the eastern coast of Hong Kong. The island’s east faces the South China Sea rather uninterrupted, so its cliffs are rather steep and impressive (and good for rock climbing). The island is mostly barren due to a history of clear-cutting combined with the intense weather there, but some of the trees near the village and the surrounding areas are a bit more mature and have proven to provide refuge for migrants.

Today, though, luck was not really on our side. While our 8:20AM ferry was not very crowded, the subsequent ones were all packed, making for a persistent stream of people passing through the village throughout the morning. But I’m not sure what effect crowds really had, as things seemed pretty quiet to begin with. In the trees just beyond the village we found a few Arctic warblers.

Beyond the trees in the open brushland, we immediately had a brief encounter with a Siberian stonechat, which we also saw yesterday at Mt. Davis. Otherwise, we didn’t see much of note aside from the occasional dollarbird or black drongo perched on a power cable.

This one posed rather nicely on an exposed bit of brush.

We also noted a group of 3 Chinese sparrowhawks very high in the air, likely traveling together during migration. A few of these have been spotted in the territory this past week, though they are not easy to photo.

Another fun encounter was a migrating group of 15 traveling cattle egrets. I don’t often encounter large groups of birds like this in my trips (though perhaps that will change in the coming months especially in the wetlands!) so witnessing groups like these on the move is pretty special to me. Otherwise, we may have heard a pale-legged leaf warbler calling, but really nothing else.

Happily, just before the ferry arrived to take us back, we had a bit of luck at one of the large trees in the village. A dark-sided flycatcher was perched on a rope under the tree, from which it was flycatching. I still don’t have a good shot of this rather common bird this season, so I was excited to have my best chance yet. I’m still not fully satisfied with the results in terms of sharpness, but still they’re way better than nothing!

We also saw an Asian brown flycatcher together with the dark-sided at times, which is a common but always welcome guest.

Buntings and an Osprey at Mt. Davis

Well, after a long and busy week of work, I was finally able to get a morning at Mt. Davis, right down the street. Temperatures were around 26C today at the top and it was breezy, so we had perfect autumn conditions well suited for an October morning. We taxied up right away (not without some protest from the cab driver) and were immediately greeted by a little bunting, a sure sign of autumn.

We heard some other buntings calling and saw some flyovers, so I’m fairly confident that this will be a good spot for buntings as the season rolls on, which is good news for me! But it seems the best strategy is to go early and catch them when they’re exhausted and cooperative (without disturbing them too much of course).

Another concurrent visitor we were pleasantly surprised to encounter was a Siberian stonechat. I’ve only seen these before in Long Valley, which I haven’t made my way to yet this season.

In addition to the usual assortment of large-billed crows, bulbuls, magpies, and white eyes at the summit, we also saw a few pale-legged/Sakhalin leaf warblers, and Arctic warblers, one of whom was very cooperative for a photo.

As it was very windy at the summit, I didn’t expect us to see too many raptors, and unfortunately I was right—at first anyway. Eventually at the summit, we saw a besra, a small raptor, but I couldn’t get a photo. We did, however, have a number of flyovers of at least 3 different crested goshawks.

The most impressive encounter today was in my opinion the one osprey we saw just as we began our descent. I was very surprised by this, since although they do occur in Hong Kong sporadically, I’ve only ever heard of reports from Mai Po. To see one hanging out at the top of Mt. Davis was definitely a treat.

I’m very pleased with our findings today and I’ll definitely be returning to Mt. Davis in the coming weeks as the fall migration continues.

Bust at Sai Kung, but Ho Man Tin saved the day!

This past week was my first week of online teaching, and I was (and unfortunately will be) quite busy with class prep, so today was the day for me to try.

Sai Kung

With the first round of autumn migrants well on their way through the territory, I returned to Sai Kung to try my luck. Last weekend we didn’t see any Amur (or Japanese) paradise flycatchers, so I had assumed that they had all left by now were it not for a few sporadic reports of sightings throughout the week. But alas, none were to be found today either.

What’s worse is that I failed to find any bird waves, instead hearing a symphony of mostly residents, as well as a few calls I couldn’t identify. I did manage to spot a single, very shy dark sided flycatcher, but alas the photo is no good. Other records included two emerald doves, fairly common but extremely shy forest residents, and the unmistakable call of a bay woodpecker. Perhaps one day I’ll be able to see it.

I do wonder if the presence of the paradise flycatchers encourages bird waves at all. They seem to be numerous, prominent, and well-accompanied when we were used to coming across them. For local forest residents, i still think that this is one of the better places in Hong Kong to visit, but without the draw of such VIPs as the paradise flycatchers, I may try and explore somewhere else next weekend.

Ho Man Tin

Rather disappointed with my trip to Sai Kung, (and also frustrated by the traffic back to Mong Kok), I found the initiative to give Ho Man Tin a try, as there were some good reports this week, in particular of a Taiga/red-throated flycatcher. I did manage to spot the bird very briefly, but thankfully it was also enough to get a record.

I saw a pale-legged leaf warbler as well, another rather common migrant over the past few weeks, but the real prize was a clear shot of an Asian brown flycatcher. I’ve seen them at Ho Man Tin before, and last week saw one at the very same spot at the top of the hill, although I could never get a shot. Even though they are rather common visitors and lack an exciting plumage, I was still very happy to finally get a decent shot of this lovely bird.

Interesting Residents at Sai Kung

Well, considering today’s trip as well as reports from yesterday, it seems that the paradise flycatchers I got so used to seeing this month have left. Indeed their absence was very much felt on the trail this morning, which boasted a handful of resident species, as well as some migrants. The autumn migration should replenish shortly, though, with a new round of flycatchers passing through the territory from around now through October and November, as well as buntings. Regular winter visitors should also begin to arrive soon as well.

The most photogenic of them all, however, was a lovely female orange-bellied leafbird, perhaps the same from the other day. It was singing with a very high-pitched whistle for a short while, confusing us at first.

Another slightly less common resident was a grey-chinned minivet couple—one male, one female. I’ve often struggled to get decent shots of these birds in spite of how common they are in Hong Kong’s mature secondary forests.

In the past, the females have been more cooperative subjects than the males, but today I was fortunate to get a very handsome and confident male bird showing off for a few seconds, while the female, wisely perhaps, kept her distance.

We also recorded the call of a bay woodpecker, perhaps two, as well as a single but very distant dark-sided flycatcher, and a single female yellow-rumped flycatcher. The usual crowd of chestnut bulbuls, white-bellied erpornis, common tailorbirds, fork-tailed sunbirds, and Japanese tits also kept us company on our walk.

Fairy Pitta and more at Ho Man Tin

I visited Ho Man Tin this morning to try and find a tiger shrike that’s been there for a few days. Instead, however, I was greeted by a juvenile brown shrike, whose slightly barred plumage on the front and lack of a prominent black eye-stripe possessed by adults did in fact have me fooled at first. Still though, it was a cooperative subject, and I’m glad to have gotten a few record shots, the following being my favorite.

In the next photo, you can see a bit of the patterning on the chest and neck, which should disappear I believe as it grows up.

The real prize from this morning, however, was a surprise appearance by a fairy pitta. These gorgeous ground-dwellers are indeed fairy-like in terms of their elusive behavior. When I left this morning, however, a group of interested birders was indeed forming, and I suspect it will be a star if it decides to stick around. Likely, it will be baited, so I suspect others will have better photos than the one record shot that I managed.

Definitely a special encounter with a special bird. I wish it luck on its journey, and I hope it isn’t held up too long here in Hong Kong!

Other records included a female yellow-rumped flycatcher as well as one or two Asian brown flycatchers. I spotted up to 5 arctic warblers as well.

More good records from Sai Kung

Last Saturday, 12 September, was a very productive morning in Sai Kung. The early Autumn migrant season is indeed in full-swing, with reports of flycatchers and warblers throughout the territory last week. We saw the usual amount of Amur paradise flycatchers during our walk, but also came across a few unexpected surprises in our bird waves.

One such surprise was 3 Hainan blue flycatchers. I’m not sure how much longer they’ll stick around, as they’re mostly here in the early summer for breeding purposes, but it was nice to finally see one this season and even get a record photo.

Equally welcome was a female yellow-rumped flycatcher, a bird with many records at Ho Man Tin and elsewhere, but one I hadn’t actually yet seen. Unfortunately my photos were no good, but at least it’s a clear record.

Perhaps the most special bird of all, however, was a Japanese paradise flycatcher mixed in with the Amur paradise flycatchers. They’re a bit difficult to tell apart, as they were considered to be the same species until re-organized in 2015, but the Japanese paradise flycatcher’s outer plumage is a bit darker overall compared to the brighter reddish of the Amur. Additionally, the Japanese paradise has a noticeably lighter eye-ring, as well as a lighter colored, uniform beak compared to the Amur’s black-tapered beak. I’m very pleased that I managed to snap a record shot.

Another special encounter was with some much welcome residents, including two bay woodpeckers and a speckled piculet. These elusive residents are a sign of the health and increasing maturity of Hong Kong’s secondary forests. Sai Kung is definitely proving to be a reliable and worthwhile place to visit this season!

On Baiting Birds

I wrote up a permanent page on the controversial practice of baiting birds. The intro paragraph is below, followed by a link to the full page.

Baiting is the practice of using bait—generally food—to attract wild birds. Sometimes it’s done fairly innocuously, while at other times, it can be both excessive and damaging. In Hong Kong, unfortunately, the latter is usually the case, and so I’m afraid that I’ll have to here defend the uncompromising view that baiting birds should not be done in Hong Kong…

Click here to continue reading….

Unfortunate Changes (and some waders) at Long Valley

It seems that the long arm of urban development has finally reached Long Valley. Once-hailed as an oasis for migrating waders and buntings, this quaint and invaluable stretch of farmland and shallows is beginning its long and unfortunate process of development.

Why just a few weeks ago when I went to visit the visiting Asian dowitcher, there was overgrown farmland adjacent to its favorite pond that is now fully demolished and excavated. Last year as well I saw a plaintive cuckoo in this very field of what I believe was okra. What a shame to see such a fragile and valuable ecosystem being so encroached upon.

The entire road to the entrance point that I usually use is walled-off as well. Currently workers utilize that access point, but I’m not sure for how much longer I will be able to use it. I really don’t know much about what or how Long Valley will be developed, but no matter what I imagine things will be tougher for birds, birders, and farmers alike during this fast-approaching autumn bunting migration season.

(Added 14-9-2020: It turns out that much of the development of the main farmland patches at Long Valley are largely ecological. The farmland and valuable patches of wetland will be largely preserved, but access in the future will be limited to certain areas. This is ultimately better for the birds, though it may make certain records more difficult to make with limited public access. Ultimately, I’d say it’s a good thing. Details on the development of Long Valley can be found here.)

Adding to the unpleasantness of the experience were looming thunderstorms–a real worry if you’re romping around in Long Valley’s open fields with a tripod!

In terms of birds, there was only one noticeable addition to last time. In the first place, there were many more black-winged stilts. I counted nearly 30, a marked increase from last time’s mere handful.

I don’t really have much luck with taking photos of stilts. Their plumage makes them rather difficult to expose properly, and they’re rather loud and annoying when they notice you and plan to flee if you get too close. Either way, I’m still happy to see them in decent numbers here.

Among the stilts though was also a solitary common greenshank. They’re also not the most exciting of waders to see, but it’s the first time I’d seen one at Long Valley.

The most numerous birds were the wood sandpipers. Personally I counted at least 30, and I’m sure there were others hidden in the far reaches of the ponds.

I noticed these birds last year when I visited Long Valley for the first time later in the season, though I don’t recall them being so numerous. Perhaps this really is the peak of their migration through Hong Kong. If so, I hope they enjoy their stay, and I”m happy that I got to take at least a few somewhat respectable record shots.

Wood sandpipers, black-winged stilts, and common greenshanks each have corresponding entries in my Hong Kong Bird Log.