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ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

Ng Tung Chai, Hong Kong (1 Viewer)

Thanks Tom - its always great to go back - and since most birders don't like the steep stairs it always feels like my patch - even after 7 years away.



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Hoping for a last hurrah I was back at Ng Tung Chai today. In retrospect it was not a smart decision as the cloud, which was already low, dropped lower and then began drizzling, and didn't stop for a good couple of hours.

Unsurprisingly the forest was rather silent, except for the exuberant flock of Back Bulbuls right above the village and a mixed flock of Mountain and Chestnut Bulbuls close to the Lower Falls, where I turned round and headed back down.

Taking a different path through some old flower fields that were now bare except for a low cover of grass I first flushed fifteen or so Olive-backed Pipits, then a female Daurian Redstart and a Stejneger's Stonechat and a little further on what turned out to be 14 Little Buntings and a Chestnut Bunting. It's a long time since I've had so many Little Buntings in a single flock so this was a real pleasure. Also here were a couple of Chinese Blackbirds, the second of twoGrey-Backed Thrushes and a flock of around 100 Scaly-breasted Munias.

Just below Chai Kek village a small group of starfruit trees delivered a pair of Red-flanked Bluetails and a Dusky Warbler, but it was the action overhead that made the day - as two House Swifts accompanied by a Lam Tsuen patch tick Himalayan Swiftlet provided a nice late reward for my efforts, bringing my Lam Tsuen list to 225.

Best wishes to everyone for great birding in the New Year.



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Almost a year on I was back in Lam Tsuen on Sunday in hot pursuit of a bird I should have caught up with in the valley many years ago. There have been only two previous records of Grey-backed Shrike in Hong Kong, but one of these is a bird that returned for two winters to Ng Tung Chai village where it was seen on and off by John Allcock throughout the winter. For reasons I don't properly understand I dithered about going to see it and predictably failed once its appearance had been more sporadic.

Dylan and John had between them seen it briefly and badly since the end of November but on Friday last week it finally succumbed and showed itself well enough to be confirmed as a juvenile Grey-backed Shrike. Similar in size and structure to our resident Long-tailed Shrikes it is separated principally by having an all-grey rather than rufous back, no white spot on the inner primaries and a brown rather than black tail.

Having arrived on site on Sunday morning there was no sign of the bird so I went for a wander, almost immediately picking out an adult Long-tailed Shrike, which showed beautifully as if to remind me what I wasn't looking for. Other bits and pieces included a gaggle of half a dozen Hair-crested Drongos, which not unreasonably were noisily unappreciative of the attentions of an adult Crested Goshawk that was lurking and chasing them through the stand of Chinese Hackberries they like. This stand has been good to me in the past as its also hosted both Chinese and Japanese Grosbeaks - the latter one of my favourite winter birds - in past winters.

Having walked a one hour circuit I had precious little else to show for my efforts until returning the to same stream side carpark where I'd started there it was perched up on some bamboo bean canes about 20 yards away and showing beautifully. As the pictures how it was a distinctive grey and buff bird that lacked any hint of rufous on the back or the scapulars but did show a brownish scalloped rump. Even Juvenile Long-tailed Shrikes show a black mask, while this bird's was a much less contrasting grey.

So mission accomplished and my HK list moves on to 484 species with the addition of two other species - White-faced Plover and Kloss's Leaf Warbler being admitted to the Hong Kong list that I had not yet included.



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So impressed was I by the Grey-backed Shrike that I went back a few days later to see what I could do with the phonescoping setup.

What I learned was that good light it essential to getting quality shots.

IMG_2870 Grey-backed Shrike @ Lam Tsuen.jpgIMG_2886 Grey-backed Shrike @ Lam Tsuen.JPGIMG_3051 Grey-backed Shrike @ Lam Tsuen.JPG

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Some very good results indeed, Mike. Your phonescoping setup is working well. In the vast majority of phonescoping pictures I have seen the quality is quite bad, but you seem to have it figured out.
Thanks Owen. The combination of a good scope with a new phone and an adapter designed for that specific model of scope and phone are the key components. I have a separate thread which shows some more shots and outlines what works for me:


You will see from the later posts that I have also been experimenting with video, which has also produced some better than expected results.

A tantalising visit to Ng Tung Chai on 25th April produced frustratingly brief views of one of my best birds of the spring - a male Siberian Thrush that lurked briefly in fruiting tree with three or four Eye-browed Thrushes.

DSC00774 Mountain Bulbul @ Ng Tung Chai.jpg
There was little else in the way of migrants but I did see Crested, Chinese, Chestnut, Black and Mountain Bulbuls, plus a good array of other resident forest birds including the briefest of views of a loudly calling Bay Woodpecker, lots of Mountain Tailorbirds, Greater Necklaced and Black-throated Laughingthrushes, a Lesser Shortwing and several singing Pygmy Wren Babblers belting out their descending "three! ... blind!... mice!" song.

DSC00770 Black-throated Laughingthrush @ Ng Tung Chai.jpgIMG_4297 Middle Falls  @ Ng Tung Chai.JPG

One Pygmy Wren Babbler was lurking around the small stream in the valley next to the top falls. I was able to get within three metres of it without disturbing it, but as I got settled a gaggle of hikers chattered past, stopped, chattered louder, stopped again - you get the picture - and the bird stopped singing. Simmering with frustration I played the first two notes of the song and the bird popped out on an open branch, woodlouse dangling from its bill, looked at me in outrage for a few seconds a and then moved back out of view, again singing loudly and persistently. I'm not proud of myself, but I did learn how addictively powerful playback can be. However I do feel the photos are compromised by the manipulation of the bird, and this takes away from the satisfaction of photographing birds as they behave, and runs the risk of causing significant disturbance. I don't believe that happened on this occasion but I am interested to hear other views on this difficult topic.

DSC00790 Pygmy Wren Babbler @ Ng Tung Chai.jpgDSC00791 Pygmy Wren Babbler @ Ng Tung Chai.jpg

My descent was made significantly more interesting by finding a extraordinary split-tailed skink sp. and what I think is a new damselfly tick - Yellow-spotted Shadow Damsel, both of which posed very nicely on a stretch of path I call the ballroom stairs, for their majestic breadth.

DSC00825 Yellow-spotted Shadowdamsel @ Ng Tung Chai.jpgDSC00822 Fork-tailed Skink @ Ng Tung Chai.jpg

Hi Mike, some nice photos of what looks to be a beautiful area to bird.

I too am more of a "purist" in that I prefer the challenge of finding interesting things to observe during my outings while making as minimal of an impact on nature while so doing. I like the "Leave nothing but footprints and take nothing but memories" philosophy, with my photos being classed as memories. In my own mind, a tick on my list doesn't fully count until I have at least one good quality ID photo. Hence though the temptation is often huge, I try to stick to my principles and avoid feeding stations, recording playbacks and the like. I even don't like using a tripod as I have too often encountered the nuisance of trying to get by a group with tripods cluttering up the walkway without tripping over things. After much consideration, I have decided that hides are alright as they actually reduce the effect on wildlife while allowing greater opportunities for viewing shy subjects. All that being said and reality applied, I would say that very limited, judicious use of recording playbacks to draw out that really special subject can still be done in a responsible manner. All in all, we each have to decide what is or isn't appropriate for our own personal behavior in each circumstance.
Thanks for the feedback Owen. Our views are rather similar. I see plenty of stunning pix of hard to capture forest birds which are either meal-wormed or taped in and It doesn't sit quite right. For me, to get a pic of a wren babbler or other skulker without the taping is really a worthy ques - even if it may take years, or never happen!

Ng Tung Chai is really a beautiful spot - a well-forested valley along a boulder stream with several waterfalls. I lived in the village a the foot fo the valley for five years until 2007 and always enjoy going back - even if it is a bit of a climb - 300 metres of elevation to get above the top falls!

With news emerging of a Thick-billed Green Pigeon at Kadoorie Farm - which doesn't open until 0930 - I decided to make an early start at Ng Tung Chai in the hope of finding some winter visitors. There has been a good spread across other forest sites in the last month or so, so I was hopeful of adding some of Alstrom's Warbler, Kloss's Warbler, Small Niltava, Hill blue Flycatcher or Rufous-faced Warbler to my patch list.

It wasn't to be, but as I arrived in the village a Bay Woodpecker screaming like a car provided a cheerful welcome, especially as it sat in the bare branches of a tree with half a dozen Black Bulbuls, and female Scarlet Minivet, while Chestnut, Crested and Chinese Bulbuls gorged on the Jujube trees which gives Ng Tung Chai its name.It was a misty morning, and with visibility low finding birds was not easy. Pygmy Wren Babblers and Lesser Shortwings sang unseen from deep cover and I eventually managed to see three of the six Rufous-tailed Robins, a couple of Mountain Bush Warblers, Rufous-capped Babblers and Rufous-necked Scimitar Babblers and lots of Blue-winged Minlas.

As I passed the former orchard half a dozen Olive-backed Pipits were lingering under the big gateway and a Mountain Bulbul perched briefly at eye level right next to the path. Phylloscs were disappointing - I had just Yellow-browed and Pallas's Leaf Warblers - while Tai Po Kau has had up to 11 species now that the spectacled warblers have been reassigned to phylloscs! with the morning being so quiet I turned round at the Lower Falls, but scored little else until getting close to the village where a fruiting tree on the edge of the farmland attracted a fine male Japanese Thrush, a White's Thrush flushed off the ground beneath it and a female Red-flanked Bluetail showed for a moment before flitting into the forest. This added some lustre to the visit as each were my first of the winter.

DSC01604 Daurian Redstart @ Lam Tsuen bf.jpg

as I don't much like standing around at twitches waiting for the bir to appear I decided to start walking down the valley to look for farmland birds. A male Daurian Redstart just below my old flat was the first of a rather slim return, although I did enjoy a black-billed male Common Kingfisher perched on a rock in the stream and a female Grey Wagtail picking her way along the steep edge of the weir below.

DSC01608 Grey Wagtail@ Lam Tsuen bf.jpg DSC01606 Common Kingfisher @ Lam Tsuen bf.jpg

I had just failed to connect with a a promising-looking brown passerine which was possibly, but by no means certainly, a Common Rosefinch when a message appeared on the WhatsApp group that the Thick billed Green Pigeon had reappeared. A five minute bus ride dropped me just too late to connect but the bird was not thought to have gone far and after the obligatory 20 stressful minutes of wondering if I'd dipped it was relocated on the other side of the flamingo pool where it was sat ridiculously tame, presumably to digest the figs with which it had just stuffed its face.

DSC01614 Thick-billed Pigeon @ KFBG bf.jpg

Seeing very rare birds super close always makes one wonder how wild they are, but the close views of such an intricately beautiful bird were just fantastic, and the shots show just how approachable and unworried it was. They also show something of the delicacy and beauty of the scalloped profile of the bright yellow covert fringes, bright cherry red feet, the eponymous thick bill with a red cere and ivory tip, and the tiny wrinkles in the bare pale green skin that forms the eyering.

DSC01619 Thick-billed Pigeon @ KFBG bf.jpg DSC01631 Thick-billed Pigeon  wing detail @ KFBG bf.jpg DSC01620 Thick-billed Pigeon @ KFBG bf.jpg

Looking for a more 'normal' view I went back round to the other side of the pond and found it could be seen well enough from 25-odd metres away, sunning itself on the outside of a low tree, where it showed the blue-grey crown, green neck and back, the partially developed reddish maroon mantle of a young male bird - and the mossy-green rump, which it fluffed out to increase its exposure to the sunlight, and the rather short tail. I did not wait to see it feed as I need to be home for lunch, but nonetheless enjoyed the couple of hours the bird was in view.

IMG_5240 Photogs @ Thick-billed Pigeon @ KFBG bf.JPG DSC01641 Thick-billed Pigeon @ KFBG bf.jpg

This was just the eighth Hong Kong record of Thick-billed Green Pigeon, but it was neither a Hong Kong nor a patch tick as I'd seen a male above Tsuen Wan (November 2004) and a female in the now gone Golden Triangle at the other end of the Lam Tsuen patch boundary in January 2006.



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Thanks The_Fern These shots are taken with the Sony RX10iv - I just upgraded from the RX10iii and am loving the improved performance.

I am especially blown away by its capabilities for birds in flight. I was astonished with the ability of its autofocus tracking to fix and retain focus ona super fast bird against a busy background, as it did with the Japanese Quail in this post.

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I am also quite impressed with the pictures you've been getting with that Sony! Keeps getting better and better, so I guess your getting more familiar with it. Your posts and the winter weather make me wish I could get some straight answers from the Entry/Exit Police here as to whether returning from Hong Kong would be a problem with my visa or not.
Fantastic post and a great bird Mike. They must stay more tropical as they are quite common in SE Asia as I'm sure you know. I echo the other comments about your new camera and the operator of it.
Many thanks Tom and Owen.

I can't help with the visa Owen, but do let me know if you ever find yourself here on a whistle-stop visa visit and you are free from quarantine.

Yesterday I went back to Ng Tung Chai with a new birding mate - Will. Our arrival in the village was more subdued than last time as there was no Bay woodpecker screaming its head off about goodness knows what, but we did quickly find a leucogenys Ashy Drongo atop one of the jujubes, Will picked out his lifer Black-winged Cuckooshrike lurking in the foliage and a Russet Bush Warbler sang from the other side of the stream. We heard a few and saw one Rufous-tailed Robin, and also heard Pygmy Wren Babbler and Lesser Shortwing, had great views of a Mountain Tailorbird and a patch first Kloss's Leaf Warbler. This warbler was finally sorted out in Hong Kong just a couple of years ago and is now seen in numerous well-wooded sites. The smallest of the Blyth's-type phylloscs it has a similar short-neck and short-tailed jazz to Pallas's Leaf Warbler, but a yellow lower mandible, clear but soft-edged central crown stripe and no yellow rump.

Other birds in the first included foraging flocks of Blue-winged Minla and Silver-eared Mesia, Chestnut Bulbuls on a fruiting tree, briefly seen Grey-chinned Minivet and Rufous-capped Babblers and as we emerged from the forest and descended through the village a nicely confiding feeding party of five Black-throated Laughingthrushes.

DSC01937. Black-throated Laughingthrush @ Lam Tsuen bf.jpg

We continued down the valley, adding half a dozen Pallas's Leaf Warblers in the fung shui woods below Chai Kek, a male Scarlet Minivet and a Grey Wagtail in Tai Om , a fine male Verditer and solitary Hair-crested Drongo and Ashy Drongos in the bare trees in the grassy area atPing Long. a Green Sandpiper was on the well-turned marsh with a Little Egret and a Stejneger's Stonechat at Lung A Pai, as a Crested Serpent Eagle and a Crested Goshawk drifted overhead as the sun finally came out.

IMG_5334 Lower Falls @ Ng Tung Chai bf.JPG DSC01944 Verditer @ Lam Tsuen bf.jpg

We tried in vain to persuade a takking bush warbler to show at Tai Che Tai, but did see a second Crested Serpent Eagle perched on the edge of the fung shui wood and confirmed the long-standing recognition of Crested Mynas in the valley from the painted panel above the door of an abandoned village house.

DSC01945 House art Crestd Mynas @ Lam Tsuen bf.jpg

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