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

San Tin Fishponds (and beyond), Hong Kong (1 Viewer)


Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
I've been in denial for a while about San Tin becoming my new patch. With the Magic Roundabout razed to make way for the Third Runway, and Pui O being filled in one soul destroying strip at a time, the San Tin fishponds have increasingly been my destination of choice over the last couple of years.

It's been a good site, both for me and for general birding in that time with a fine crop of extreme rarities including Hong Kong's first Small Pratincole, second Buff-breasted Sandpiper, third Booted Warbler and Water Pipit as well as other good birds such as Red-headed Bunting found by John Alcock on a Bird Race, and the three White-fronted Geese that commuted between here and Mai Po a couple of winters ago.

Today I wanted a site which I was sure would be accessible after last Sunday's mega typhoon, and so it turned out, although the lovely avenue of trees along the road from the minibus stop had taken a heavy pounding, and many were gone. The upside of this was I had a better view of the lotus pond on the western side of the road where a number of Chinese Pond Heron were fishing from the stems of the wind-blasted remnants of the lotuses.

Sadly there was significantly less activity here from the common woodland birds - Masked Laughingthrush, Eastern Great Tit, Japanese white-eye etc, which seem to have been hit hard all across Hong Kong, but I did here the jeers of a couple of Azure-winged Magpies, and both Spotted Dove and both Chinese and Crested Bulbuls were still active, and a Common Kingfisher called from cover on the Lotus Pond.

Once entering the fishpond proper I was pleased to find a White-winged Tern patrolling the first pond and a Dabchick with a near full-grown youngster in close attendance, plus the usual suite of Great and Little Egrets along with a few Black-crowned Night Herons and the odd White-breasted Waterhen. This part of the site is good for starlings and mynas - Common Myna has its Hong Kong stronghold here, and it was good to see plenty of Black-necked Starlings and Crested Mynas plus three or four White-shouldered Starlings, a rather early Silky Starling and a couple of probable Daurian Starlings over the course of the morning. They along with a host of Collared, Spotted and Red Turtle Doves compete with the Tree Sparrows for the piles of stale bread heaped onto the side of the fishponds before they are fed to the fish.

A drained pond that had performed well in August - a Temminck's Stint on 18th was a new early autumn date for HK by four days - today held Green, Wood, and Common Sandpipers, plus an Avocet, Long-toed, Temminck's and Red-necked Stints, ten or so LRPs, a couple of Common Snipe and the first of many Black-winged Stilts. I also flushed a juvenile Yellow Bittern nearby.

Turning eastwards I crossed the dangerously rickety bridge over one of the drainage channels, seeing a couple of Black Drongos and a Black-winged Cuckooshrike on the wires and a couple of Yellow Wagtails on the pond bunds. What I initially thought was a low-flying accipiter turned out to be an Oriental-type Cuckoo. These birds are very frustrating as they could by Oriental, Himalayan, and even possibly Common Cuckoo, but unless they call are just about impossible to separate - especially on distant fly-by views.

I was delighted to find some 30 Red-necked Phalaropes spread across the ponds on the eastern edge of the site. It's several years since I've seen these delightful birds up-close, but these birds were typically confiding as they puttered along the edge of the ponds chirruping occasionally to each other.

Leaving the best to last, the marquee bird of the day was a Lesser Treeduck that I had seen very briefly flying away earlier on. It had pitched into a pond near my exit route so I was delighted to connect just before leaving the site to head home. It gave me a moment of stress as it was not initially in view, while the long-staying Common Pochard lazing comfortably on the next pond had me wondering if I had been stringing the tree duck when I identified it in flight. Just as I was about to put out a "false alarm" message for my earlier (tree duck is less than annual in HK) sighting, it drifted into view behind a phalarope - saving me from looking like a plonker! The Treeduck has been seen a few times at Mai Po and the nearby Lok Ma Chau wetland over the summer, but had not been reported since early August, so it was a nice "self-find" - at least according to my self found rules! - bringing my HK total to 406.



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Nice shot of the pond-heron, Mike. And good find on the whistling-duck.

Shame about the roundabout, tho. I always hoped to see it someday, just for fun.
Glad to see you still have a productive go-to sight. I understand your feelings about Pui O as one of my favorite sites is being filled in as I write this. Excellent shot of the C. Pond Heron!
Sorry to hear about the round-a-bout Mike. The new patch certainly looks watch-worthy. What a great opening post. Enough there to keep one busy for a while. No frigatebirds after the typhoon?!
at sunset of Mid-autumn day,I took my son downstairs to ride his bike and saw two Grey Nightjar flying higher and higher over our apartment and thought they might start their migration at night toward HK?
So interesting for me to see your pics and read about the different species in the area. Before seriously taking up birding, around 30 years ago, I used to live on Lantau at Discovery Bay. Was that anywhere near? Would I have seen any of these species?
Mike, sorry to hear that you too are suffering the patch-loss syndrome so common here in China. (Visiting Qinhuangdao this summer, I didn't even want to look at old areas and feel the deep sense of loss - some places in Beidaihe would have been okay I guess, but others... not sure.) But, it's great to see that you have staked out (!) a new patch, and fun to hear how much there was to see!

I agree, love the heron pic, and congrats on the duck!
Many thanks everyone for your kind words - it was an unexpected bonus to start with the Chinese Pond Heron, but otherwise a pretty typical visit during this period in autumn. Sad indeed to lose the Roundabout.

Hi Julian I now live in Discovery Bay. It's not great for birds, but in six years in residence I managed about 108 species, with the highlights including a fabulous Brown Fish Owl on a lamppost in Central Park on a couple of evenings in December, White-bellied Sea Eagle and Osprey out in the bay, Chinese Francolin and Bonelli's Eagle on the edge behind, and Savanna Nightjar

I was back again on Tuesday and had another full post all ready to go and then stupidly closed Safari and lost the lot, so here's the Mark II version...

This time I started at the gate which is accessed along the San Tin Main Drainage Channel (MDC) in order to have the sun at my back. I've attached an annotated map to provide some context for the site. With a cool easterly breeze I was expecting a suite of broad front migrants as well as the usual fishpond suspects - the seven regular starlings and mynas, the six regular ardeids and other mixed regulars including Amur Wagtail, Tree Sparrow and Scaly-breasted Munia, Moorhen, White-breasted Waterhen and Little Grebe. Pied, Common and White-breasted Kingfishers are also seen on most visits.

My first Great Cormorant of the autumn flew over soon after my arrival - up to 11,000 winter in Deep Bay - and will arrive steadily over the coming months to peak in January or February. The Common Pochard was again on the large open pond one row in from the gate but before getting there I was pleased to find the first of more than 20 Red-necked Phalaropes were still in residence on the first weed-choked pond, which also held the first three of a dozen burly Oriental Reed Warblers, a Dusky Warbler and a Stejneger's Stonechat.

A slow walk along the northeastern edge, where some typhoon-ravaged trees were making the best of still being alive, produced a surprising collection of passerine migrants, including an elegant juvenile Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Yellow-browed, Arctic and Dusky Warblers, plus a lurking group of Oriental Turtle Doves. The ponds in this corner mostly have nothing more than bare soil on the bunds, making it attractive to waders who don't want to be sneaked up on. Newly in were a fine trio of Pacific Golden Plovers, and the 200-odd Wood Sandpipers had obviously increased in numbers over the last few days. Among them were a quartet of Common Redshanks, sixty-odd Black-winged Stilts a couple of Common Greenshank which flew off giving their lovely "tyu . tyu" call.Three or four Long-toed Stints were meandering through the flock and another pond little further along held five Temminck's Stints. Both of these are likely to stay through the winter. My first Temminck's for the autumn, a single back on 18 August, was a new early date for Hong Kong by four days.

This row of ponds the runs along the northern edge of the site - hard up against the Lok Ma Chau wetland reserve, which was established in part compensation for the impact of filling in several ponds to build Lok Ma Chau Station. Warblers love ponds where the grass has been allowed to grow both into the water and on the bunds. There are a couple of these on this northern edge of the site and they delivered wonderfully - more Oriental Reed Warblers, a couple of Black-browed Reed Warblers and two Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers. The first pond after crossing the rickety wooden bridge also had emergent vegetation along its edges. There was another Red-necked Phalarope here, along with the Lesser Treeduck, which did not hang around but disappeared in the reserve. Even better was a third Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler which was obviously suffering from some sort of genetic deficiency as it failed to dive into the deepest possible cover, but popped up on a bare stem, tail cocked and peering over its shoulder at me, before turning round to give me full frontal views on its well streaked threat and breast. Best views ever!

I had one more in some more tall grass on the way out and finished up with three Whiskered Terns that were hunting over a fishpond, until one dropped onto a fish feeder at close range, posing beautifully.


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Making the most of the cooler weather I was out at San Tin again on both Saturday and Sunday mornings.

While many of the birds were the same a the big highlights over the weekend included a surprise Yellow-legged Buttonquail flushed near the rickety bridge on Saturday. This is a pretty scarce bird in Hong Kong these days with not more than four or five records per year - and the first I've seen for well over decade.

Not quite in the same class but nonetheless giving me plenty of scope to search for a biggie were excellent counts of 35 and 48 Oriental Reed Warblers and half-a-dozen Black-browed Reed Warblers on both days. This is peak season for Manchurian Reed Warbler - a bird I've only ever seen in Hong Kong in the hand - and dipped horribly on my old patch when I missed a WhatsApp message and the finder did not mention it when calling me a few minutes later! Other possible accros include Blunt-winged, Paddyfield and Blyth's Reed Warblers. Despite not finding a biggie this time It was wonderful to see so many Oriental Reed Warblers popping up and sitting in view - sometimes three or four in the same small bush.

Bothe the Lesser Treeduck and the Common Pochard continued to perform. New arrivals on the duck front included a rather dingy Garganey and a similarly subfusc Eurasian Wigeon, both on the northern ponds. Other migrants included the comfortably ensconced Grey-streaked Flycatcher, an Arctic Warbler, and couple of Dusky Warblers lurking in some rather bedraggled-looking acacias on the same northeastern corner. the tres hang over a weedy ditch - a site that looks promising for Siberian Rubythroat in the next visit or two. Other good passerines have been two very briefly seen Yellow-Breasted Buntings on Saturday and an ultra flighty Little Bunting on Sunday. Less common in wetlands, a Black-winged Cuckooshrike was a nice surprise on Saturday morning and a fine golden yellow Black-naped Oriole flew out of threes along the edge of the Lok Ma Chau Reserve.

The big disappointment so far has been the lack of raptors. Other than a few Black Kites the only variety has come from a fine pair of Crested Serpent Eagles on Saturday and and more distant singleton on Sunday. Most of the waders had also obviously moved on, with Wood Sandpipers down from 200+ to single figures, and Red-necked Phalaropes peaking at 35 on Saturday and dropping to 25 on Sunday. I could only find a single Temminck's Stint. On the plus side a flyover Spotted Redshank was a new arrival.

And finally . . . two helicopters, presumably from the local PLA contingent flew right over my head on Saturday morning. I've posted pix on the Birds and Planes thread for ID here



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Nice reports Mike. I must confess the google earth photo of your new patch looks very similar to the Jinshitan Sea Farming Ponds from a few years ago for me. I hope it continues to produce. You picked a great time of year to start counting on a new patch! I'll be following the reports closely.
Thanks Tom.

Very much hope it does continue to deliver, but there’s no reason why it shouldn’t.

Hoping to get there again tomorrow.

Another clear morning with steady mild easterlies at San Tin showed more evidence of passage staring with a bird that has been a target for the last month - a female/imm Pheasant-tailed Jacana which helpfully perched up on top of a small bush in the water in the phalaropes favourite pond near the drainage channel (DC) entrance. There were only ten Red-necked Phalaropes - a sharp drop from the 35 here last Sunday, but I'm actually surprised they've stayed this long.

It was one of six new species for the autumn, and four of them were either on or close-by the same pond. The first was a rather dull-plumaged Eurasian Teal in the same emergent vegetation as the Jacana, closely followed by a female Eurasian Kestrel which spent the whole morning quartering the area, which was itself closely followed by a Richard's Pipit picking its way along the rutted bund-top.

As I had arrived at the site some sixty-odd Black-winged Stilts had flushed off the DC and settled on a bare earth bund. And as they started to triple back I they brought a Marsh Sandpiper with them. Other waders included the usual smattering of Long-toed and Temminck's Stints, 20 Wood, one Green and a dozen Common Sandpipers, including two of the latter locked in furious combat for no readily discernible reason, plus a couple of LRPs, a Common Greenshank and both Common and Swintail Snipe.

There were very fews starlings - just five White-cheeked - and surprisingly no White-shouldered or Silkys, and a single Oriental Turtle Dove. But Red Turtle Doves had either increased or emerged out of the woodwork - a fine flock of 25 zipped passed at high speed, as had Black Drongos - ten were hunting in two widely separated groups of five, and Stejneger's Stonechats - at least 15 birds were a big increase on the five of a week ago.

Once again there were plenty of warblers to search through for a biggie - forty Oriental Reed Warblers, a season-high 15 Black-browed Reed Warblers, three Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers an increase to 25 Zitting Cisticolas and, new for the season - five different Lanceolated Warblers. The trees on the fringe of the site held two Yellow-browed Warblers, a rather vocal Arctic Warbler and several of the 25-odd Dusky Warblers, which still have some way to go to hit last autumn's peak of 95 in a morning.

I was pleased also to see my first two Red-throated Pipits of the autumn amounts some 25 Eastern Yellow Wagtails on the northern edge of the site, where I also had an infuriatingly elusive large dust-coloured biting with showed some streaking but very little other contrast in between giving me an exasperating runaround. The Little Bunting feeding atop a bund earlier in the morning was significantly more cooperative. The Yellow-legged Buttonquail that flew up and away into the Lok Ma Chau reserve did have the grace to show contrasting yellow patches on the forewing.

Other bits and pieces included a pair each of Large-billed and Collared Crows, a Greater Coucal, a flyover Crested Serpent Eagle, two different Yellow Bitterns including what I presume was sickly bird that was uncharacteristically tame. Despite being unable to fly it was sadly mobile enough to stop me catching it to be taken into care, and my photos show it had lost the tip of the lower mandible, which might have impeded its ability to feed. the total of species for the morning was a new peak for this season of 73 species.

In the spirit of full disclosure the day's nadir was putting my foot in a Red Fire Ant nest. Thankfully I realised and went into full panic swatting mode to try to get them all off my shoes and legs before they bit me. Thankfully there was no-one else about as the site of me first rolling up my trouser legs and swatting like a lunatic, and then taking them right off to check that there were none of the little buggers hiding inside - displaying elegant pale blue boxers to the light of day - would probably have got me arrested. Some five minutes later - excited by more warblers popping up and dropping down on the same bund I stepped in another nest - and had to repeat the whole ridiculous exercise again!

Hopefully my next visit will be a little more dignified!

Pix to follow

Wow Mike, I laughed out loud at your fire ant incident report! I've done it before and quickly waded out into a pond to get them to stop biting. The photos coming are of birds or the pale blue boxers?!
A really great sounding patch! Other than the fire ants of course. Awaiting those pics.

One good thing about being on the mainland would be that, other than my pale white legs attracting curiosity, striping down to the boxers wouldn't really be anymore unusual than the kind of thing one sees commonly with no one paying any attention to it.
Glad you enjoyed the story gents - and thanks for the reminder Owen that assessments of what is weird are almost always relative!

There is a postscript to yesterday’s report. A few minutes after pulling on my socks and shoes on Sunday morning prior to heading out again I felt a sharp bite on my right shin– one of the b**st*rd fire ants had obviously come home with me (maybe hiding in my shoelaces) and bided its time until it had the scent of flesh in its nostrils before striking again in memory of its squashed comrades – leaving me with three more fresh and infuriatingly itchitating bites. Gaaah!

Anyway here's the pix - without my sky blues!



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Sorry to hear about the last ant Mike. Good thing the original attack didn't occur on that rickety bridge. I once exterminated an entire colony nesting in the ceiling of a bungalow in Thailand using only my young daughters sandal. Those things are evil! I do admire its courage to wait until your foot was in your shoe again. The price you pay for having such a lovely green patch. I always look at your photos with jealousy at this time of year. I always seem to live at the wrong latitude. Love the photos, especially the Pochard in habitat.
Thanks Tom - I'm really getting to dislike the little buggers! You should plate that flip flop in gold and display it as a badge of honour!

Sunday’s visit was reflected the same broad trend for slow transition as the day before. Saturday’s high count of 73 species was bettered by two, and again several new species for the autumn appeared for the first time. Before a the new birds I enjoyed the sight of a whole bunch of waders and a few Common Teal spread out to feed along the Main Drainage Channel. Of these only Pacific Golden Plover was of note, but I always enjoy the sight, and dream that a Lesser Yellowlegs lurks among the Wood Sandpipers!

The first of the new arrivals was a fine female Chestnut-eared Bunting that popped up right by the gate and settled in plain sight. The interestingly streaky bunting seen yesterday may also have been Chestnut-eared. I never got enough to confirm it and it behaved equally badly today - flushing long distances and only sitting up long enough to tantalise without offering the chance to properly resolve its identity.

A female Eastern Marsh Harrier drifted over shortly after I relocated the Pheasant-tailed Jacana, on the same pond where it appeared fro the second time the day before. Between these two new arrivals I’d spent more than an hour trying to persuade myself I’d heard a Manchurian Reed Warbler and waiting and waiting and waiting for it to appear. During this time I learned that a soft Oriental Reed Warbler sounds more than a little similar, and since I’d never actually seen the suspected Manchurian calling, and there were several oriental Reeds popping in and out of cover with the Black-browed Reed Warblers, I suspect I’d sold myself a dummy. Rather irritatingly Dave Diskin found a genuine Manchurian Reed Warbler on the Mai Po Access Rd fishponds the next day!

The time was not completely wasted as I found a couple of Arctic Warblers in some wind-blasted acacias and seven of the day’s ten Red-necked Phalaropes were puttering about on the same reed-filled pond, and the female Common Pochard was again on the next pond over.

The ponds along the northern edge were again productive – delivering my first Wryneck of the autumn and another Arctic Warbler in the trees and another gathering of Wood Sandpipers and Black-winged Stilts, plus a couple each of Red-necked, Long-toed and Temminck’s Stints, Greenshank, plus a single Green Sandpiper and a smattering of Common Sands, Fantail Snipe, Swintails and LRPs.

A Japanese Quail which flushed for a bund showed well enough for me to be certain that the previous day’s Japanese Quail was in fact a Yellow-legged Buttonquail. Another Chestnut-eared Bunting was in the same area, along with three Richard’s and two Red-throated Pipits, which are now presumably here for the winter.

Dusky Warblers continue to increase – to about 30 , while Oriental Reed Warblers seem to be holding their ground at around 40 – 50 birds.



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I really enjoy the drainage channel Tom - as you say it holds lots of birds on the 1km length I can easily cover, and I always feel in with a shout of finding a monster rarity! The Drainage Services Department were in there this morning scouring away the accumulated muck so the birds were a bit wary - even round the corner from where the bulldozer was working. Even so I had nice flight views of a Grey-headed Lapwing, which will probably now stay for the winter, a couple of Swintail Snipe, a Green Sandpiper and a Common Greenshank as well as the usual Black-winged Stilts and Wood Sandpipers.

On entering the fishponds I failed to connect with a flighty bunting sp., but immediately began seeing and hearing Dusky, Oriental and Black-browed Reed Warblers and a couple of Black Drongos. The long-staying Pheasant-tailed Jacana was back on its regular pond, but only gave flight views before flipping over the bund and into a patch of veg in the next pond. The even longer-staying Common Pochard was also safely in place, but much more interesting was the Ferruginous Duck on the adjoining pond where four of the thirty-odd Red-necked Phalaropes that were wrecked by the typhoon were still hanging out. Fudge Ducks are less than annual in Hong Kong so this is a great addition to the patch list - and to my self-found HK list. A quick check of the latest Hong Kong Bird Report also shows this is the earliest autumn record by 19 days.

Having said that, the initial views against the light were a little confusing - especially as it was set low in the water and very effectively concealing its white undertail coverts, and it was not exactly the the most flaming red it might have been. This set me to wondering if it might be a Baer's Pochard in an odd plumage or perhaps a horrible hybrid. Fortunately it flew a couple of laps of the pond, allowing me to see that it was predominantly a red-tinted brown. Graham Talbot nailed a terrific flight shot, and Yann Musika got another one that showed the UTCs were in
fact white.

In between figuring out the Fudge Duck and hoping to pry a Manchurian Reed Warbler out of the reeds another movement among the emergent vegetation caught my eye. I almost ignored it as another Moorhen, but a quick look revealed a stripy-headed female Garganey, and close behind it a typically demure and elegant female Mandarin! Not happy at being seen they scared each other into flight and disappeared. Only the Garganey returned, so there are no corresponding fabulous images from the others.

A walk round the pond that had held last year's Northern Skylarks produced my first Siberian Rubythroat, a large black and disconcertingly close snake that I suspect was a Chinese Cobra and views of some 70 of the eventual total of around 150 Red Turtle Doves The next corner by the rickety bridge delivered six Yellow-Breasted Buntings as well as a fine mix of Red-throated Pipits and Yellow Wagtails in a range of plumages, and a further scattering of Black-browed Reed Warblers (35) , which outnumbered Oriental Reed Warblers (25) for the first time this autumn.

A cheerful and persistent call overhead had me scouring the skies, where a loose feeding flock of 24 Blue-tailed Bee-eaters were moving steadily west towards Mai Po. They were part of a wider set of active migrants that day which also included a dozen Pale Martins, eight Barn Swallows and 20-odd Black Drongos. Further interest above were a rather dark Pied Harrier being teased by a couple of Black Kites, my first two Ospreys of the autumn and the female Kestrel which has been in here for the last couple of weeks.

The northeastern corner held 30-odd Oriental Turtle Doves feeding voraciously on a fruiting tree, while the scruffy stand of acacias that has formerly been productive again delivered, producing a second Siberian Rubythroat, an Arctic Warbler, a rather noisy Wryneck and a surprise Black-naped Monarch which disdainfully refused to approach in response to my pishing.

And that was pretty much it. I couldn't find the stints, any starlings except Black-collared and White-cheeked Starlings or either of the magpies. A potentially interesting Pipit sp. twice flushed without calling, and had me wondering about Blyth's. My final good bird was a Little Bunting which brought my list to a new record of 78 species for the day, of which the two ducks and the Black-naped Monarch were new to the patch, and Osprey, Pied Harrier, and the bee-eaters were new arrivals this autumn.

Only one Red Fire Ant pierced my defences, and its removal did not require my boxers seeing the light of day



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Inspiring report on a great site, Mike! I wish the Chinese government would take Hong Kong as a model to aspire towards in how population density doesn't have to mean total trashing and destruction of the environment.

Overall species counts are still decent here, but I'm becoming concerned about numbers of individuals seeming to be drastically down this year here in DongBei.

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