New Patch: Wolmido Island 월미도

There’s a curious patch of green in the midst of a heavily industrial area on the coast of Incheon: Wolmido Island. Historically, the island has been very important, being, for example, the site of the naval assault by the South Korean and UN forces to re-take Incheon from North Korean forces. Now though, it’s a lovely spot to spend the day. On the coast of the island is a lovely waterfront with many seaside shops and restaurants. In the middle of the island is a heavily wooded forest park that leads up to an observatory on top of the hill. On the inland side is Wolmi Traditional Park, a perfectly lovely and peaceful garden park.

The park area is not heavily wooded, but it does have a number of areas that managed to hold a few birds even in the heat of summer. I definitely plan on returning during migration season.

The most ubiquitous bird at the park was the azure-winged magpie, pictured above. Unlike their even more ubiquitous cousins, the oriental magpies, these birds seem to have a slightly lower tolerance for urban settings, and their calls filled the air throughout the park.

There were just two other species of note that I was able to capture. The first was a pair of grey-faced woodpeckers–male and female. I had actually nearly given up on finding anything more exciting than the magpies at the park, especially given that it’s the wrong season, but my heart nearly skipped a beat when I heard the male woodpecker calling, and managed to spot him on a tree.

After chasing him around a bit, I managed to sneak up on him and his misses as they popped down to the forest floor to do a bit of foraging.

The other birds of note were an adult and juvenile grey-backed thrush. I suspect the adult was the parent, though I suppose there’s no way to know for sure. They were hanging out together at a little clearing next to a stream.

Overall I’m convinced that Wolmido Island will be a great patch to explore in the future!

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.

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!

Good records at Sai Kung

A friend and I journeyed to Sai Kung once again on 5 September for a late afternoon birding-cum-herping trip. The trail we take goes along a small stream for most of the way, which suggested that it would be a good spot for herping. But alas, while our bird luck was decent, our herping luck was not.

Immediately when we arrived, we spotted a small bird-wave that included an Amur paradise flycatcher. Among them was also an arctic warbler, two or three Japanese tits, and of course some chestnut bulbuls. I only cared about the flycatchers….woops!

As we moved along, things got quiet until we found another small bird wave. This one also had one or two more flycatchers, but equally impressive were two birds that I haven’t yet had good encounters with: one black-winged cuckooshrike, and one female orange-bellied leafbird. Both were hanging around a fruiting tree on the trail.

Orange-bellied leafbird (female)

I don’t think I’ve ever recorded an orange bellied leafbird yet, so this was a real treat. I hope to some day see the male bird with its striking blue cheeks.

The black-winged cuckooshrike put on quite a show devouring a praying mantis—a slightly less common bird devouring a slightly less common insect!

Waders in Deep Bay

Grey-tailed tattler

I got up around 6AM this morning to get ready and head out to my usual spot on the shore of Deep Bay (Hong Kong side), knowing full well that I’d have to wait a bit for the tide to go out no matter how early I got there. I find that I have the best luck during the outgoing tide at this spot, but only for a few hours. There’s a crucial point shortly after high tide where the waders will come in fairly close to shore as the shore expands. After about 2 hours or so, however, the shoreline, along with the waders, is too far out to really expect good shots, so it’s important to be timely.

Unfortunately I arrived far too early and had to wait about 2 hours for the tide to get low enough for any waders to even attempt to start bopping around on the sandbar. Normally this would be fine, and I would have just come later, but the other major factor was heat, which was why I was keen on meeting the tide exactly. By midday we had temperatures of 34C, which, aside from being unpleasant to the point of dangerous in the wrong place, forces a photographer to reckon with image distortion caused by heatwaves.

In my experience, heatwaves are strongest close to the ground, which, unfortunately, is where you want to be for waders. However, while some of my shots were noticeably affected, others happened to turn out okay. Perhaps because the beach was so freshly uncovered by the tide, the ground was still cool enough to not throw off very much heat. Either way I’m happy that not all of my shots were ruined by heatwaves.

As for the birds, I saw the usual greater sand plovers, though not in very great numbers; I only counted 5. With them was a lone lesser sand plover, hugging the shoreline, as well as 3 kentish plovers. The smaller plovers stayed very near the shoreline and well away from me, while the greater sands were more characteristically fearless.

One of the greater sand plovers was very diligently grooming itself in the same spot for quite some time, fluffing itself up even. (I think this one is a juvenile due to the more varied patterning on the wings.)

Most entertaining, however, were the 22 grey-tailed tattlers scurrying about the mudflat, along with 4 very grumpy Eurasian whimbrels. I’ve seen whimbrels at this spot before, but they didn’t behave like the ones I saw today. These ones were clearly interested in feeding at this spot, and had even waited on the beach with me for the tide to go out for some time until one of the locals walked by.

When out on the mudflats, the whimbrels were very territorial and would routinely chase each other off, shouting alarm calls at each other, flying over to the next beach and returning, chasing one-another on foot–it seemed like they just couldn’t stand each other’s company, totally unlike the 8 whimbrels I saw weeks ago who all stayed very close to one another while resting and foraging. If I were to guess, I might think that the group of 8 were too tired from a long journey to bother one another, while the visitors here are more well-established and have their preferences.

Equally entertaining were the tattlers scurrying around trying to stay out of the way of the bickering whimbrels. In one photo I managed to catch 11 of them (count and double-check) keeping cool under the mangroves while the whimbrels foraged first.

One cheeky bird even took a bath! If you ever wondered how tattlers take baths, well, this is it.

This is probably the closest I’ve gotten to a tattler before, and maybe ever will. The last time I was almost this close, the shot was ruined by heat waves. This time though the water in between us definitely kept things cool enough to not throw off any heat, so that was some very good luck indeed.

Otherwise there I didn’t notice anything else in terms of waders aside from 2 shy common sanppipers. There were no little ringed plovers to be found, nor did I see the common greenshank from last time. Hopefully the next time the tide swings back around to coincide with earlier hours, some other migrants will arrive.