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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 (2 Viewers)

After missing my weekend birding due to being wiped out playing a hockey match on Friday evening I decided that the season was too good to miss out on and took this morning to head up to San Tin. Once again I started along the Main Drainage Channel and immediately started hearing buntings - always a good sign.

Scanning from the arc bridge I was pleased to find a little flock of three Black-faced and two Little Buntings, heard the first of four Taiga Flycatchers and had a Grey Wagtail drop into the channel. A little further long the road a noisy and very showy female Daurian Redstart was my first of the winter, while both the grassy banks of the channel and the trees across the road held numerous Dusky Warblers and a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers, and I was pleased to add a male Yellow-breasted Buntings, four more Black-faced Buntings and two more Little Buntings. I was pleased to pick up an Osprey crossing the northern end of the channel and to witness the arrival of a group of seven Black-faced Spoonbills. A flyover Eurasian Starling was a nice, if brief, surprise

Squeezing under the gate I started hearing Black-browed Reed Warblers and buntings around the grassy camera-killing pond , where I also picked up an adult Purple Heron, a very confiding Little Bunting and my first Black-headed Gulls (four) of the winter. Heading on I was delighted to find a rather late Yellow Bittern, two Pheasant-tailed Jacanas and six Coots in the grassy verge of the long pond along with four or five Cattle Egrets and a solitary Intermediate Egret. Two more female Yellow-breasted Buntings and a couple of Richard's Pipits kept the scoreboard ticking, as did the two Greater Spotted Eagles, the regular Black-winged Kite and a female Eastern Marsh Harrier.

Heading up to the northeast corner I flushed my only Chestnut-eared Bunting of the day, had decent views of a calling Taiga Flycatcher and a spanking male Daurian Redstart, plus a couple of Tufted Ducks on the ponds just over the fence to the north, were overflown by a Black-winged Cuckooshrike. Both Red and Oriental Turtle Doves were in their usual tree, but the highlight in this corner - and best birds of the day were the pair of Northern Lapwings hunkered down on a dry bund with just their short winter crests and heads in view. These were the same ponds that first hosted the Greenshanks last weekend, and again there were eight birds, plus a Wood Sandpiper. Looking up an adult Imperial Eagle, its pale straw-coloured head distinctive even a kilometre away, soared in company of three or four Black Kites.

A Japanese Quail - my first for three years - flushed off exactly the same patch as the Black-headed Bunting a couple of weeks earlier, but with the exception of two Red-throated Pipits another couple of Little Buntings and a Black-faced Bunting it was rather quiet in this corner except for another four Coot - making ten on the day in what is a pretty good year in recent times - with 20 reported from Fung Lok Wai yesterday. Sadly the key word in the last sentence was recent. Coot used to be recorded in the low thousands as a winter visitor and breeding was proven three times in the 1970s, but their numbers fell off a cliff and they are now rarely seen in flocks of double figures.

There was a mixed flock of 60-odd Pintail, Shovelever, Wigeon and Teal, many of which were in scruffy eclipse plumage, but brought a sense of winter's arrival, as did another arriving flock of seven Black-faced Spoonbills. The smaller ponds nearby held a variety of waders including a single Spotted Redshank and dozen Temminck's Stints. The final birds on the way out were a soaring Crested Goshawk and a couple of White-breasted Waterhens lurking suspiciously under a collapsing stilt house made a decent total of 90 species for the morning.

A perfect sunny day with a steady easterly wind to keep the temperature down set the scene for another good morning at San Tin. Rather than repeat the majority of birds from last weekend I'll (mostly) highlight the differences. I once again started along the Main Drainage Channel where I was delighted to find a Striated Heron being dwarfed by a Grey Heron by the big outflow gate.

IMG_9152 Striated Heron @ San Tin bf.jpg

While still in the same area I picked up a calling Besra the other side of the trees, while failing to get on to any of the three calling Taiga Flycatchers, continuing a rather good autumn for this species. Other heard but not seen were a couple of Siberian Rubythroats and a growling Manchurian Bush Warbler, the latter one of a very solid ten species of warblers (broadly defined to include a Common Tailorbird, both Yellow-bellied and Plain Prinias and a couple of Zitting Cisticolas) on the day.

IMG_9161 Little Bunting @ San Tin bf.jpg
On entering the site it was clear that this was not a day of passage as Tuesday had been. Also there were hardly any egrets. I think this is because their favourite roosting spot in the middle of the site has been clear - I think to make way for more papaya trees. I did eventually pick up all four species, but I normally expect to see well over 100 Great Egrets (and sometimes many more) but I didn't get out of single figures today. Curiously Grey Heron numbers seemed to be about the same, and I was pleased to pick up both adult and juvenile Purple Herons on two fo the less disturbed ponds. A Chinese Blackbird flew over tooting towards the Lok Ma Chau reserve and overhead a Greater Spotted Eagle completed the eagle double as the adult Imperial Eagle was earlier soaring over the southern end of the patch.

The quality of the day came elsewhere - the Japanese Quail flushed again from the same area, and a fabulous Yellow-legged Buttonquail astonished both of us by not panicking away, but walked slowly across the mud behind a giant bulldozer - even allowing the opportunity to grab a couple of pix - my first ever of this typically shy species.

IMG_9169 Yellow-legged Buttonquail @ San Tin bf.jpg IMG_9171 Yellow-legged Buttonquail @ San Tin bf.jpg

On a good day for waders I was pleased to see one of the Pheasant-tailed Jacanas on the same grass-fringed pond that also held the same four Coot, a dozen Avocet, twenty Black-winged Stilts on an almost drained pond that also held a nice mix of eight Black-headed Gulls and a mixed flock of ducks that included 40 Eurasian Teal, 20 Northern Pintail, a dozen Northern Shoveler and eight Eurasian Wigeon.

The day's oddest bird was an extremely dark Oriental Pratincole that I had dreams of turning into a Black-winged Pratincole. But as I improved my views it was clear that it had chestnut underwings, eliminating Black-winged, and that there was some oil damage on the neck and breast.

IMG_9241 Oriental Pratincole (dark) @ San Tin bf.jpg

As I headed back I was pleased to pick up a calling Azure-winged Magpie, and waiting at the bus stop a calling Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker was my 92nd bird of the visit, opening the prospect of my first ever 100 species day in the next few weeks.

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Thanks Tom and Owene.

IMG_9264 Common Kingfisher @ San Tin bf.jpg

Highlights from a couple more visits in late November included:
  • a female Yellow-browed Bunting that, like my first patch record back in March, disappeared before I could raise the camera.
  • a couple of groups of heard but not seen seen Chestnut Bulbuls - I always enjoy getting them away from their regular forest habitats - autumn is the best time for this
  • Better numbers of Black-faced Spoonbills and a couple of Eurasian Spoonbills
  • a female Greater Scaup with a couple of female Tufted Ducks
  • a Wryneck popped up briefly in the scrub next to the flood alleviation pond.
  • an annoyingly elusive unstreaked acro with no black above a broad supercilium refused to show.
  • a Pheasant-tailed Jacana showed on both days, as did a Black-shouldered Kite
  • the first winter Pied Harrier allowed itself to be photographed.
  • 12 Eurasian Coots, including a flock of ten on the jacana pond, was a new personal high count for San Tin
  • 3 eclipse Falcated Ducks were my first of the winter
IMG_9259 Coot @ San Tin bf.jpg IMG_9256 Black-shouldered Kite @ San Tin bf.jpg

IMG_9272 Common Greenshank @ San Tin bf.jpg

Now I've replaced my dead camera normal service will resume shortly.

A wet and chilly morning on the first day below ten degrees this winter seemed the perfect opportunity for hunting biggies at San Tin. I stared along the San Tin Main Drainage Channel. Birds by a manky-looking outfall included Green and Common Sandpipers, a loudly calling Common Greenshank and a very colourful Grey Wagtail, but apart from a noisy Manchurian Bush Warbler and a couple of Daurian Redstarts the approach was otherwise quiet until the first of four Black-faced Buntings dropped down into the ditch along the northern edge of the patch. The same area, which I was able to cover because the bund has been cleared all along the boundary, held a male Siberian Rubythroat, a turdus thrush that called but declined to show, Dusky, Yellow-browed and Pallas's Leaf Warbler, a Taiga Flycatcher that bounced up into the treeline from a grassy pond that also held a couple of Black-browed Reed Warblers.

DSC00683 Common Greenshank  @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC00696 Black-browed Reed Warbler @ San Tin bf.jpg

Another three Black-faced Buntings preceded me down the track as I went round the far end and came back along the central channel, and I was delighted to pick up a couple of White-headed Munias among some Scaly-breasted Munias, single Little and Chestnut-eared Buntings and a Bluethroat right by the bridge to the southern part of the patch. A drained pond came up trumps with a biggish Ruff, six Temminck's Stints, a couple of Wood Sandpipers and LRPs. Ducks here included a few each of Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler and Pintail, with a couple of Common Teal and two female Garganeys, while three or four Buff-bellied Pipits, a scattering of leucopsis and ocularis White Wagtail plumages and a couple of Eastern Yellow Wagtails were typical drained pond passerines.

DSC00711 Ruff @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC00700 White-headed Munia @ San Tin bf.jpg

There were three more of a fine total of 15 Black-faced Buntings as I headed down to the northeasternmost corner, one of which posed beautifully with raindrops on its head and wings. I'll post the pix separately. Just seven of the previously 12-strong flock of Coots were on their usual pond, but there was no sign of the Pheasant-tailed Jacana. Sixty-odd Red Turtle Doves and a half dozen Oriental Turtle Doves loafed on their usual trees. White-shouldered, Silky and White-cheeked Starlings were keeping the neighbourhood noisy along the edge the Lok Ma Chau reserve, and a couple of Northern Skylarks were in the far corner, and a second Bluethroat lurked in the high grass as I headed back.

DSC00740 Foraging waterbirds @ San Tin bf.jpg

Just over the bridge a pond that had just reached acceptable wading depth held a good mix of ardeids, including a couple of dozen Black-faced and two Eurasian Spoonbills, which were hunting in the grassy shallows along with several Great and Little Egrets, a couple of Chinese Pond Herons, five Tufted Ducks and an incongruous pair of Pintails. Also on the way out Red-rumped Swallows were hunting low over a couple of ponds, which held both Richard's and Red-throated Pipits around their edges. In en epic last hurrah along the exit road I added Azure-winged Magpie, Black-crowned Night Heron, Cinereous Tit, Japanese White-eye, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, a calling Chinese Blackbird and a fine female Verditer Flycatcher - an unexpected 215th patch tick to make a solid 90 species( not all of which are listed) for the session.

DSC00744 Verditer @ San Tin bf.jpg

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While winter plumaged Black-faced Buntings are no-one's idea of a spectacular bird, I was delighted to see a personal record of 15 in the rain on Monday. Amongst these was this very friendly individual that perched nicely to be photographed.

DSC00735 Black-faced Bunting @ San Tin bf.jpg

DSC00733 Black-faced Bunting @ San Tin bf.jpg
Hi Mike, I will withhold comments about you calling below 10 degrees chilly.

Hong Kong seems to be the place to be in December, some great East Asian species and fantastic photos as well. I especially enjoyed the winter plumaged Black-faced Buntings - good memories of those.
Many thanks Tom - Hong Kong has been good winter - even if we've only had one day in the "chilly" zone. Having finished my birding year (the highlights are summarised here) with a wonderful afternoon at Mai Po, where I picked up two Hong Kong ticks, I decided to start the year at San Tin with an attempt to see 100 species on the site for the first time. It has been done before - Chris Campion's best is I think 112 - but I have never got closer than 91. Long story short I finished with an excellent 102 species, smashing my old record to smithereens and cracking the big target like a boss! It was not a day of outstanding wonders, but more a day of leaving no gaps in the the expected species. That is not to say there were no goodies - there were:

DSC00884 Manchurian Reed Warbler @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC00884 Manchurian Reed Warbler crop @  San Tin bf.jpg
  • Best of the bunch was one of the two Manchurian Reed Warblers that called and showed rather well - allowing me to capture both px and video of it foraging and giving its distinctive buzzing call.
  • I was astonished with the focus tracking abilities of my new Sony RX10iv in capturing this amazingly sharp photo of a Japanese Quail in flight. I've seen this bird a couple of times in the same area over the last few weeks so when it dropped in front of me I set up the camera to the birds in flight setting and as it came up again from just a couple of feet in front of me I pressed the shutter and pointed rather than aimed the camera in the direction of flight and hoped for the best!
DSC00893 Japanese Quail @ San Tin bf.jpg
  • A singing but invisible Russet Bush Warbler was my first confirmed record for the patch.
  • Five different Siberian Rubythroats always sounds good on a list. And for the most part that is exactly what they did - sound good ... from deep in cover. On my way out I did finally get a view of one deep in a bush that did not realise it's stunning throat was showing.
  • Osprey is far from regular on site so the two birds that came over from Lok Ma Chau were a nice addition.
DSC00831 Osprey @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC00833 Long-toed Stint @ San Tin bf.jpg
  • Its always a pleasure having both Eurasian and Black-faced Spoonbills on site together.
  • This Purple Heron hunched on the edge of a grass-filled pond had me wondering about Eurasian Bittern on first sight, but good sense eventually prevailed.
DSC00835 Black-faced & Eurasian Spoonbills @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC00802 Purple Heron @ San Tin bf.jpg

  • The Long-toed Stint presenting itself as a patch of pebbles was my first for a few months.
  • a singing Fork-tailed Sunbird was my 102nd species, just ten minutes from stepping on the bus to head home.
The full list (excuse the eccentric numbering, which is to make it fit in two columns) is as follows:

  1. Great Cormorant
  2. Little Grebe
  3. Black-faced Spoonbill
  4. Eurasian Spoonbill
  5. Great Egret
  6. Little Egret
  7. Intermediate Egret
  8. Cattle Egret
  9. Purple Heron
  10. Grey Heron
  11. Chinese Pond Heron
  12. Black-crowned Night Heron
  13. Imperial Eagle
  14. Greater Spotted Eagle
  15. Black Kite
  16. Black-winged Kite
  17. Pied Harrier
  18. Osprey
  19. Eastern Buzzard
  20. Northern Pintail
  21. Shoveler
  22. Common Teal
  23. Eurasian Wigeon
  24. Tufted Duck
  25. Moorhen
  26. Coot
  27. White-breasted Waterhen
  28. Japanese Quail
  29. Pied Avocet
  30. Black-winged Stilt
  31. Common Snipe
  32. "swintail" Snipe
  33. Common Greenshank
  34. Marsh Sandpiper
  35. Green Sandpiper
  36. Wood Sandpiper
  37. Common Sandpiper
  38. Temminck's Stint
  39. Long-toed Stint
  40. Little Ringed Plover
  41. Black-headed Gull
  42. Pied Kingfisher
  43. White-throated Kingfisher
  44. Common Kingfisher
  45. Greater Coucal
  46. Koel
  47. Feral Pigeon
  48. Collared Dove
  49. Spotted Dove
  50. Oriental Turtle Dove
  51. Red Turtle Dove
  1. Crested Bulbul
  2. Chinese Bulbul
  3. House Swift
  4. Barn Swallow
  5. Red-rumped Swallow
  6. Sand Martin
  7. Grey Wagtail
  8. Eastern Yellow Wagtail ( taivana and macronyx)
  9. Amur Wagtail (leucopsis and ocularis)
  10. Richard's Pipit
  11. Olive-backed Pipit
  12. Red-throated Pipit
  13. Buff-bellied Pipit
  14. Northern Skylark
  15. Eurasian Wryneck
  16. Black Drongo
  17. Long-tailed Shrike
  18. Black-throated Laughingthrush
  19. Oriental Magpie Robin
  20. Daurian Redstart
  21. Stejneger's Stonechat
  22. Bluethroat
  23. Siberian Rubythroat
  24. Yellow-browed Warbler
  25. Pallas's Leaf Warbler
  26. Dusky Warbler
  27. Manchurian Bush Warbler
  28. Russet Bush Warbler
  29. Black-Browed Reed Warbler
  30. Manchurian Reed Warbler
  31. Zitting Cisticola
  32. Yellow-bellied Prinia
  33. Plain Prinia
  34. Common Tailorbird
  35. Taiga Flycatcher
  36. Cinereous Tit
  37. Japanese White-eye
  38. Fork-tailed Sunbird
  39. Tree Sparrow
  40. Scaly-breasted Munia
  41. Black-faced Bunting
  42. Common Myna
  43. Crested Myna
  44. White-shouldered Starling
  45. Silky Starling
  46. White-cheeked Starling
  47. Black-collared Starling
  48. Large-billed Crow
  49. Collared Crow
  50. Oriental Magpie
  51. Azure-winged Magpie

Although access to San Tin is becoming more complicated - there is now security full time on the drainage channel side of the site , I'll use this list as the foundation for my San Tin Year List 2022. By way of reference my full list for San Tin stands at 216.

DSC00807 Collared Doves @ San Tin bf.jpg

Off-site but a nice addition to my Hong Kong Year List, a Red-billed Blue magpie, tail streaming like a comet, flew over the minibus on the way home, making 103 species to kick off the year. My thanks as ever for checking in and commenting on this thread, and best wishes for some great birding in 2022.

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Wow, what a great kick off to 2022! Good thing the reed and bush warblers sing.... Not too many flight shots of Japanese Quail that sharp around indeed. Congrats on a full and complete thrashing of your old record. I tried for 100 species on one 8km stretch of road 2 springs ago in a day and had 99 with 3 hours left in the field. Ended the day at exactly 99.
That's an absolute killer Tom! As I generally enter a different habitat walking back to the road I generally have a shot at adding one or two extras and was delighted to find at the end of the day thatI'd undercounted. Still shocked with the Japanese Quail shot every time I look at it!

A return visit starting early at 0730 on Saturday morning thankfully revealed no security guard so I enjoyed a decent few hours walking the whole northeastern side of the site. The best bird was one of the first - an Asian Barred Owlet (103) giving the low rolling variation of its song rather than the more common 'po po po popping'. Unfortunately it stayed deep in cover - obviously unimpressed by my poor impression - in the same edge woodland of pioneer acacias as the Russet Bush Warbler, which was again in song. Other new patch birds in 2022 from my previous record-setting visit included the long-staying Chestnut-eared Bunting (104) on its usual bund by the drained pond that attracted the Long-toed Stint (which I could not find), a flyover Crested Goshawk, (105) at least 3 Eurasian Starlings (106) in company with the big flocks of Silky, White-cheeked and White-shouldered Starlings loafing and swirling round the trees just inside the Lok Ma Chau Reserve Boundary, and a female Falcated Duck (107) in company with a couple of Eurasian Wigeons.

DSC01568 Falcated Duck @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC01569 Eurasian Starling @ San Tin bf.jpg

In the milder weather, with temperatures back in the high teens, it was unsurprising that bunting numbers were down - I had just three Black-faced Buntings, but more so that Red Turtle Doves were down to ten or so and I saw just one Oriental Turtle Doves. Conversely, Tufties had climbed to a shade over 80 and the numbers of Black-headed Gulls loafing on the site to the high hundreds - way beyond the couple of hundred that has been usual in previous winters.

DSC01383 Black-winged Stilts @ San Tin bf.jpg
Additions for the year apart, the highlights of the day included the ongoing mix of waders, ducks and wagtails on the drained pond. Among the usual Avocets, Black-winged Stilts, LRPs, Common Greenshanks, Common and Wood Sandpipers, Eurasian Teal and Shovelers were five uber-elegant drake Northern Pintails in pristine breeding plumage that treated me to a dramatic low level fly-by, . Although I could not find any Buff-bellied pipits among the Richard's Pipits, the variously plumaged Eastern Yellow and White Wagtails, this pond remains my designated spot to find my own Water Pipit - a big gap in my Hong Kong list.

DSC01415 Northern Pintail @ San Tin bf.jpg

The top left corner again produced two Manchurian Reed Warblers, a couple of Black-browed Reed Warblers and another singing acro that I never got eyes on that I would very much like to be another of my target species - Paddyfield Warbler. The grassy bunds here are a favourite spot for the first winter Pied Harrier which drifted almost directly overhead and allowed me to get a decent set of shots for comparison with the rather dark Eastern Marsh Harrier that has also been around since the autumn, but did not show today.

DSC01547 Pied Harrier @ San tin bf .jpg DSC00621 Eastern Marsh Harrier @ Mai Po bf.jpg

I also spent time trying to get shots of what eventually turned out to be a young male Fork-tailed Sunbird quietly scouring a bauhinia tree in the abandoned plant nursery. There have been two (of a total of just three) records of Olive-backed Sunbird in Hong Kong in the last year - one of them with a distinctive dark cravat on the breast as it grew in its breeding plumage - so a bright -looking bird with some dark patches on the breast caught my attention. The photos confirmed that the patches are red, and where should be on a male Fork-tailed Sunbird, but I did explore a range of, lets call them 'ambitious', possibilities including Mrs Gould's (scarce winter visitor) , and Crimson Sunbirds (resident in western Guangdong, but no HK records) before reluctantly settling for the simplest explanation. I should be delighted hear from anyone who would like to add fuel to the fire of any of the above fantasies!

With significantly less effort, and without covering the other parts of the site I still managed 88 species on another enjoyable day that for the record also included both Imperial and Spotted Eagles, Eurasian Coots holding steady at 11 birds, and at least three, and possibly four, Bluethroats across the site.

DSC01522 Pied Harrier @ San Tin bf.jpg

Love the comparison pics of the two Harriers! That needs to be in a book somewhere.

Something I never realized or hadn't thought that much about Hong Kong - you have your residents, migrants from the north, AND the possibility of tropical species from the south such as Olive-back Sunbird and the Thick-billed Green Pigeon on your other thread. Very nice!
Thanks Tom - I'm sure there are books that cover both - but the side-beside comparison really helps me.

My last visit was mostly a repeat of the various species. The Tufted Duck flock climbed up to 94 birds, and I'm searching hard and hopeful for HK's first Ring-necked Duck amongst them. I'm further encouraged by pix of China's fist record discovered retrospectively from a 2014 photo of a female in Qingdao and the amazing record of six birds together on an underwetched coal pit pond in Wales this week. The pic is more useful for showing the views to the north - of Shenzhen and the cross-border railway station that the Lok Ma Chau reserve is compensation for. Out of shot to the right is the Red Turtle Doves' favourite roosting tree. It usually also holds Oriental Turtle Doves but they have been significantly less common this winter, perhaps because there is less fish food to scavenge. One of the overwintering Eastern Buzzards also likes it but doesn't like me getting too close.

DSC02076 Tufted Ducks @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC02071 Red Turtle Dove @ San Tin bf.jpg

I was pleased to find the female Falcated Duck on the drained pond by the entrance gate along with the usual mix of waders and ducks, plus a daytime roost of Grey Herons, Great Egrets and a solitary Black-faced Spoonbill. The pix below show the setting of the pond, plus a range of snapshots of different birds using it. Now that it's grassing over winkling out the pipits and the Bluethroats is a bit harder, but the excitement of the mystery of what it might hold continues to draw me to it.

DSC01964 Drained Pond @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC01951 Drained Pond @ San Tin bf.jpg
DSC01966 Northern Pintail @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC01953 Falcated Duck @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC01967 Black-winged Stilts @ San Tin bf.jpg

The "top left corner" continued to hold single Japanese Quail, and Japanese Skylark as well as a single Manchurian Reed Warbler. None of them were particularly co-operative, and I was too focused on failing to photograph a different Bluethroat to notice the Greater Spotted Eagle zoom low overhead, although I did grab a shot of an immature Eastern Imperial Eagle, which if not of the same quality as the harriers in my previous post is nonetheless clearly identifiable as an individual. On the way out I enjoyed four Black-faced Spoonbills loitering on the path near a backhoe that was resting after scooping a few tonnes of fish poo out of the bottom of one of the ponds. My Twitter post on the same photo turned out to be a pretty good summary of why working fishponds are so attractive to birds. I also admired the chutzpah of the Grey Heron that had positioned itself so as the be perfectly framed by the doorway of the abandoned duck shed behind it.

DSC01976 Imperial Eagle @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC02112 Grey Heron @ San Tin bf.jpg

DSC02093 Black-faced Spoonbills @ San Tin bf.jpg

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A funny old day at San Tin, with two diversions to Mai Po on what is likely to be one of the last cool days of this spring.

I was surprised how generally quiet the site was, but with more fencing preventing tenant fishpond operators from running some of the ponds the numbers of egrets, and starlings especially has reduced significantly. However, with the arrival of Spring there were a few new birds for the year list, starting with a calling Plaintive Cuckoo (108) as soon as I arrived, a Large Hawk Cuckoo (109) calling on and off throughout the day and a couple of flyover Oriental Pratincoles (110). I was pleased to find a Japanese Quail in the usual corner, but surprised not to pick up a single Oriental or Black-browed Reed Warbler, let alone anything I could string into a Paddyfield Warbler. Three Eurasian Coots remained on the long pond, but the Tufted Ducks had dropped to just four while 24 Eurasian Teals were the only other ducks.

DSC03207 oriental Pratincole @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC03193 Oriental Pratincole @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC03202 Oriental Pratincole @ San Tin bf.jpg

I did a bit better for waders racking up 11 species including 20+ Temminck's Stints, three Marsh Sandpipers, nine Common Snipe and a Common Greenshank among the more usual species, but I was surprised not to find greater variety given the number of drained and semi-drained ponds. I also had some raptors, seeing a Peregrine (111) stoop and shoot across the ponds at high speed, as well as a lingering Common Buzzard and the overwintering Pied Harrier that performed so well back in January, as well as the usual Black Kites.

As I was heading out I heard from Tim and Thelma Woodward that the Tree Pipit - Hong Kong's first - was still showing at Mai Po and I went over to look for it only to be denied entry because my annual permit had expired and the replacement had not yet been issued. As I headed back to the road I was pleased to enjoy a Large Hawk Cuckoo calling in the trees above the old Tam Kon Chau police post and the group of Little Egrets building their nests in the rather exposed tree at the corner of the Mai Po Access Road in Mai Po Village.

DSC03417 Little Egrets @ Mai Po bf.jpg DSC03418 Little Egrets @ Mai Po bf.jpg

As I got back to the bus station a message came through that Tim and Thelma had found a male Black-headed Bunting (112) at San Tin! Gripped by the photos I turned round and headed back, arriving at the village in a heavy downpour. Tim and Thelma were just finishing lunch in the restaurant and were able to send me in the right direction once the rain passed over.

DSC03338 Black-headed Bunting @ San Tin bf.jpg

I was delighted to find the bird down the central track within 50 metres of where they had seen it, and for the next 45 minutes I had the most fantastic views that culminated with it letting me sit within 8 feet of it for a good ten minutes after going through a range of different habitat backgrounds including perching on a rusty old duck shed, feeding on floating bread put out for the fish, and and foraging along the path. Looking at the pix afterwards it seemed like it was just switching between backgrounds on a green screen! No bird has posed better since the Black headed Bunting that appeared here in October.

DSC03266 Black-headed Bunting @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC03361 Black-headed Bunting @ San Tin bf .jpg DSC03219 Black-headed Bunting @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC03278 Black-headed Bunting @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC03312 Black-headed Bunting @ San Tin bf.jpg

The killer views allowed me to capture the progression of its moult into full breeding plumage, with the bright yellow underparts set off against the fresh pale-edged breeding feathers on the back and rump (chestnut) and the rear crown and mask (black). It still retained a scruffy brown fore-crown and the coverts and tertials looked rather worn. A couple of bonus birds that appeared while I was watching it included four Oriental Pratincoles and several Red-throated Pipits in the surrounding drained ponds, and a Eurasian Skylark that walked out behind the Black-headed Bunting as it foraged along the bund near the duck shed.

As other birders arrived and the bunting became a bit more flighty I decided to have one more try for the Tree Pipit as it was showing just outside the reserve boundary My third and fourth walks along the Access Road were finally rewarded, fist with an unexpected flyover Chinese Spotbill and then the Tree Pipit, which flew up from some reeds and landed pretty much infant of me on a grassy patch, allowing instantly diagnostic views of its streaked back and crown just a few feet away! I was pleased to grab some shots of an Olive-backed Pipit for comparison purposes, and this male Black-faced Bunting showed off outrageously nearby! I was especially happy to see the Tree Pipit as I had stuffed it up ten days earlier, failing to string a rather streaky Buff-bellied Pipit and never catching a sniff of the real McCoy.

DSC03382 Tree Pipit @ Mai Po bf.jpg DSC03400 Olive-backed Pipit @ Mai Po bf.jpg

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Many thanks Owen - it's a real privilege to bird in Hong Kong with so much diversity so easily accessible - and always nice to get positive feedback!

Thanks Jos. With the clock now ticking on a move to Australia (Sydney) I'm keen to enjoy the patch while I can.

A couple more spring visits to the drained pond at San Tin have produced an excellent maximum of 58 Oriental Pratincoles. The early morning visits offered better light and a couple of the birds posed nicely among the piles of fish manure that make up the bottoms of all drained ponds.

DSC03593 Oriental Pratincole @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC03602 Drained Pond @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC03591 Oriental Pratincole @ San Tin bf.jpg

Other good waders here included six Sharp-tailed Sandpipers (113), a Long-toed Stint and several Temminck's Stints, half a dozen Pacific Golden Plovers(114), two Curlew Sandpipers (115), a Swintail Snipe plus the usual Wood, Green, Common and Marsh Sandpipers, plus Common Greenshanks, Avocets and Black-winged Stilts. The Little Stint (116) pix come from an earlier visit on 27th March.

DSC03422 Little Sint @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC03425 Little Stint @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC03595 Temminck's Stint @ San Tin bf.jpg

An Osprey eating a fish atop a piece of timber was my first on the deck at San Tin and a Eurasian Sparrowhawk (219 and 117) was a welcome and overdue San Tin patch tick. Other good raptors on the day included a distant Crested Serpent Eagle (118) and a Besra (119) that zipped through as I was heading outWith so many ponds taken out of operation numbers of egrets, spoonbills and cormorants are way down, so I was happy to fight eight Black-faced Spoonbills on a drained pond and this gathering of breeding Little Egrets and Chinese Pond Herons on the nearest pond to the entrance, along with this ultra composed Black-winged Stilt.

Lingering winter visitors included a young Purple Heron, Eurasian Skylark, a Bluethroat, a solitary Oriental Turtle Dove and a few Red Turtle Doves, one ocularis White Wagtail and a few taivana Eastern Yellow Wagtails. As for other migrants I was annoyed not to clap eyes on any of the acrocephalus warblers singing in one of the ponds, but Akki (who also picked out the Eurasian Sparrowhawk) got eyes on a couple of Oriental Reed Warblers (120), but at least the Large Hawk Cuckoos (121) were competing well with the Koels.

DSC03573 Little Egret & Chinse Pond Heron @ San Tin bf.jpg DSC03605 Osprey @ San Tin bf.jpg
DSC03574 Black-winged Stilt @ San Tin bf.jpg

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San Tin has indeed attracted a lot of stints this spring. I also saw a Citrine Wagtail there.

Could you please indicate the location of the Red Turtle Doves' favourite roosting tree?

A lovely read Mike, so glad I stumbled to your records of San Tin as I'm researching for hotspots around HK, helps a lot with getting an idea of what habitat and species to expect.

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