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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)

Many thanks Gents

It's the most immediately rewarding of any patch've worked James - most of my previous patches has been forest or scrub-based, where everything is hiding. Here there's lots of wide open space, but the reedbed species still provide the challenge of winkling out the serious skulkers.

Bright-capped Cisticola is also known as Golden-headed in some countries Tom. It does occur in Hong Kong, but usually as a grassland rather than a wetland species. I used to get them , especially in winter on my old patch, Ng-Tung Chai. In this case I simply typed in the wrong species without thinking, now corrected.

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I really enjoy your reports, Mike. Your pics are really good, so keep 'em comin'. The threesome is a really good example of how it doesn't have to be rare or unusual species or artistically composed to make me smile. It is more the candid, seize the moment, as this that I enjoy. Makes one feel like they are part of the experience.
Thanks Owen

Happy to put up more multi-species pix as this is indeed an enjoyable feature of San Tin birding.

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A late start this morning had me on site by 10am, but this seemed to be none the worse in terms of finding birds.

The new birds of the autumn were four Black-headed Gulls hunting flying insects over a pond and five Chinese Penduline Tits foraging along a grassy bund close to Lo Ma Chau, where I loitered for a while hoping to pick up the Paddyfield Warbler that had been heard singing yesterday and is one I still need for my HK list.

This end of the site also produced two adult Greater Spotted Eagles, one of which was gracious enough to fly close overhead, and a magnificent adult Eastern Imperial Eagle , and the Eastern Marsh Harrier also provided a nice low flyby as I was negotiating the now even more rickey bridge which is starting to collapse at one end. The female Kestrel also put in an appearance.

The ponds next to Lok Ma Chau also held a couple of female Falcated Duck and thirty-odd Tufties, as well as a dozen Common Teal, four Eurasian Wigeon and a couple of Shovelers. The trio of female Northern Pintails and the Coot seem to have moved on. Other ducks on site included the two Common Pochard, the Chinese Spotbill, and best of the lot, the redhead Smew which first appeared last Friday, making an impressive eight duck species on site.

The buntings and reed warblers are all but gone - there was just one Chestnut-eared Bunting on site, five Black-browed Reed Warblers, and no Oriental Reed Warblers for the first time this autumn. Dusky Warblers were also down below 20, but the Zitting Cisticolas were holding their own. More positively, I had five different Yellow-browed Warblers, and two different Bluethroats, both of which were more showy than the one that's been about for the last few weeks. While Yellow Wagtail numbers are up to a just about respectable 20 birds pipit numbers remain very low - just one each of Red-throated and Olive-backed Pipits and three Richard's Pipits.

I was also pleased to pick up a Pacific Golden Plover and two different Temminck's Stints, including one on the Main Drainage Channel, which also held 105 Black-winged Stilts, 126 Common Teal, a new high of three Marsh Sandpipers, including the leg-flagged bird JO. the usual dozen or So Wood Sandpipers, three Common Greenshanks, solitary Spotshank and three Avocets, one of which had a distinctively washed-out crown. Grey Heron were down to a much more normal dozen birds.

What did impress me was again finishing with a total in excess of 80 species. Mai Po is probably the only other site in Hong Kong where you could score so well in just a few mid-day hours.



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After fifteen visits on which I added a new species for this autumn every time this was the first day with no new species - and a drop below 80 species to a mere 72!

It seems the arrival of a cold rain-bearing front has pushed a few migrants, without being cold enough to have delivered anything new from further north. It was nonetheless still an enjoyable morning, with the Smew and the female Common Pochards still present (although the Chinese Spotbill was either hiding or had moved on), and an adult Common Starling which finally posed well enough for a reasonable record shot.

Other waterbirds included a dozen Black-faced Spoonbills, five Cattle Egrets, an Intermediate Egret on los Ma Chau, a good 200 Common Teal across the site, 35 Tufties, a Eurasian Wigeon and a couple each of Northern Shoveler.

A rather dark grey juvenile Peregrine added some variety to the usual raptors (Black Kite, Buzzard (4) and Common Kestrel).

Dusky Warblers had dropped to around ten birds but Black-browed Reed Warblers are holding firm at five, while Yellow-browed Warblers had obviously increased to seven or eight birds around the fringes of the site. Other passerines included a solitary Bluethroat and an orange-dyed Silky Starling, that was bright enough to make me wonder if I was hallucinating an Orange-headed Thrush. There were no buntings at all.

I did have my first Sand Martin for a few weeks and a dozen or so Red-rumped Swallows over the northern end of the reserve.

In the Drainage Channel Marsh Sandpipers had increased to four and Spotted Redshanks to two (and possibly three) and Temminck's Stints have made a resurgence to seven birds.

Today's multi-species tableau features Black-headed Gulls, Chinese Pond Heron, Common Myna and Crested Myna figuring out different ways to feed on the stale bread that had been thrown into the pond to feed the carp.



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A huge day at San Tin on which I smashed my patch record and carried on adding new species for the year.

I started late - only arriving around 09:30, but on stepping out of the cab I immediately started scoring some of the sometimes tricky species - Black-throated Laughingthrush chuckled from cover, Common Tailorbird came straight in to my pishing, with my first Pallas's Leaf Warbler on the patch this autumn hot on its heels. Other resident irregulars included a single Intermediate Egret, and pair of Large-billed Crows, two Oriental Magpies - recently split from Eurasian Magpie - poking about on the mud at the edge of a fishpond, with a pleasingly symmetrical pair of Azure-winged Magpies drinking on the far side of the same pond.

I again enjoyed the sight of Silky Starlings hanging upside-down to feed on stale bread chucked into the pond for the fish. Two of these were like the orange-dyed bird I photographed last week, and I had a strong sense that there were may more Silkys than there had been last weekend.

Heading on, I tried a new route, pushing a little further westwards that usual from the grassed over bunds holding at least 5 Black-browed Reed Warblers and the first of two Bluethroats. In the further drainage channel, where invasive sonneratia mangrove trees (which should be native no further north than Hainan) have established a firm foot hold, 40-odd Eurasian Teal and a few Shoveler flipped out and onto the nearby ponds and a typically scruffy Greater Coucal scrambled away out of the undergrowth.

A juvenile Purple Heron flushed out of the westernmost pond - another new bird this autumn, which was swiftly followed by a Yellow Bittern which flew from the far side of the long pond over the heads of a flock of 27 Tufted Ducks, one of which has me wondering whether it might be another Scaup (which I have not added to the day's total) It's the second bird on the left in the second pic. any comments gratefully received! Another occasional here was the Wryneck checking me out from a tree on the edge of Lok Ma Chau Reserve. Looking through the fence added more quality in the shape of a Great Crested Grebe - which is only occasionally found on fishponds rather than its more regular haunts out in Deep Bay.

Three Red-throated Pipits across the other other side of the thankfully strengthened rickety bridge were a new high count for this winter, as were the seven or eight Richard's Pipits. Other passerines included a single Chestnut-eared Bunting, ten Red Turtle Doves, just a single Oriental Turtle Dove, three or four White-cheeked Starlings, and two Grey Wagtails at the southern end of the Main Drainage Channel.

Following my usual reverse route I finished with the ponds close to the Main Drainage Channel, picking up two each of Common Pochard and Falcated Ducks. While watching the later I enjoyed excellent views of a Common Ratsnake emerging onto the track and eventually crossing in front of me.

The redhead Smew showed for the fourth weekend in a row among a another flock of 80 Tufties, bring the total to 225 across the site. The MDC itself held similar numbers of its regulars, although Avocet had climbed to five, as had Spotted Redshank - a new high count for me at San Tin. A female Daurian Redstart hunted from the roadside railings.

The raptors also contributed well, with Eurasian Kestrel and the same juvenile Peregrine, adult Greater Spotted and Imperial Eagles, four Eastern Buzzards, half a dozen Black Kites and last bird of the day - a fine Crested Serpent Eagle was soaring over the Lok Ma Chau Bus interchange as I approached the highway to head home with a whopping 91 species on the list!



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Hi Mike,

Your duck does look like a female Greater Scaup to my eyes. That bill is definitively different and the eye looks darker. Also doesn't have the darker front to the face. Looks to be a good match with this: https://ebird.org/species/gresca

I've only ever gotten a few migrating Tufted Duck here but this reminds me to keep my eyes open for any Scaup mixed in with them from now on.
Hi Mike, what a day! I participated in a Christmas Bird Count here and we (over 20 people spread out around the area) only recorded 71 species for the entire day. We are at a slightly different latitude, however...

91 in a day at one site is some top notch birding.

Hard to say if that's a Greater Scaup or not. Certainly could be. There is some overlap in size but Tufties tend to be noticeably smaller in the field. Put it in a cage and see what it looks like next April.
Thanks for the feedback gents - sounds like a good case of "definitely maybe"!

Last Sunday - having done my duty to San Tin the day before, I decided to go back to my old stomping grounds in Ng Tung Chai for some forest birding.

My decision to start at Kadoorie Farm initially looked like a bad one as the upper farm was closed for post-typhoon road repairs. However I visit to the flamingo pond to see if a Striated Heron might be wintering again came up trumps as a fabulous adult in full long-hackled plumage offered a fantastic show at ridiculously short range. I also heard but did not see Scarlet Minivets calling below me (despite the tedious sound of jackhammer repairing the roads a little bit up the hill.

Other birds in the lower half of the farm included a trio of Pallas's Leaf Warblers and a female Verditer Flycatcher, a couple of Blue-winged Minlas and a grey wagtail on the stream. Since I still had a few hours off the leash I heard over to Tai Om in search of more forest species and connected with Rufous-capped Babbler, five Chestnut Bulbuls, two Ashy Drongos, a second female Verditer Flycatcher and an Asian Stubtail which gave me a very thorough once over - craning its neck and trying hard not to to look like the near spherical blob it really was. Other bird and pieces included a couple Mountain Tailorbirds, three more Pallas's Leaf Warblers, a nicely vocal Black-throated Laughingthrush and a few secretive buntings in the grassy area near my old place at Ping Long that never showed properly. A bit further down the valley an area of fields which has been good in the past delivered a couple of Hair-crested Drongos, an amazing calm pair of Hwameis sitting on the concrete path crossing a bridge a flyby Chestnut Bunting and three or four Chinese Blackbirds.



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Mike, the duck in post #49 is a female Tufted.
Scaup should have more white on the face, especially the bill base, and should be notably larger/bulkier than Tufted. Also the tip of the bill is extensively black across the entire width - on scaup the black should be restricted only to the nail.

The Black-throated Laugher at San Tin is a good record - they're still pretty rare in the Deep Bay area but are gradually spreading through HK.
Thanks John. I held off on claiming it as Scaup because it was the same size and the head shape did not look quite right, but it was significantly paler than all 200 other Tufties seen that day, especially on the head

Unfortunately the Black-throated laugher at San Tin is a typo - I mean't Masked.

Yesterday was my last session of the year at San Tin.

It was an unseasonably hot day - 25 degrees and bright sunshine with little wind. Whether it was the weather or just a quieter day, but there were certainly fewer birds.

The redhead Smew was again the best bird. This time it was fishing on its own on a small pond, but on seeing me swiftly joined the flock of 60-odd Tufted Ducks on the same pond. This flock held one of the two long-staying Common Pochards, and I'd seen the other earlier in another Tufty flock of 98 birds. Other duck were limited to twenty odd-Eurasian Teal and three or four Shovelers.

I was pleased to find a second or third year Eastern Imperial Eagle circling over Lok Ma Chau,as well as the regular adult Eastern Imperial andGreater Spotted Eagles, and the juvenile Peregrine and the female Common Kestrel .

With a couple of ponds being drained there were a few Black-faced Spoonbills looking for the opportunity to feed on the trash fish and other invertebrates left behind after the commercially valuable fish had been removed, but overall it was quiet on the ponds.

As I left the drainage channel also showed a reduction in numbers, with four Temminck's Stints and a very distant and possibly imaginary Northern Lapwing that mysteriously disappeared in the few seconds it took me to find and count the stints being the highlights.

My last patch addition for the autumn was a rather friendly Brown-flanked Bush Warbler, which tacked away in the undergrowth across the road from the drainage channel along with the last of four different Manchurian Bush Warblers.

It would be remiss to mention that I picked up a mere two Red Fire Ant bites - one on the top of my calf, and the other much more worryingly, at the top of my thigh just below my butt - getting dangerously close to my unwhisperables!



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Interesting coincidence in that on the same day I had my first true total shutout. 45 minutes or so and about 2 kilometers with a total zero. Not even the ubiquitous Magpie or Sparrows.

Merry Christmas and may you have good weather and plentiful birds in the new year! :t:
Sorry to hear that Owen.

I'm learning about birding in the cold this week and next week as I'm spending Christmas and New Year in Japan - Hokkaido and central Honshu. There's lots of snow here (and a chilly -6 degrees here - and finding birds is certainly harder work. I'll post a new thread in the trip report section soon.

It's been almost a month since I posted.

This was partly due to a terrific two week trip to Japan for Steller's Sea Eagles, the "snow monkeys" that come and bathe in a hot spring in winter, and a bunch of other winter birds, which you can find here:

Eagles and Snow Monkeys: Japan in the Polar Vortex

Since coming back I've been on site three times. Ten days ago I clocked up a decent total of 79 species on a horribly polluted day, with the highlights being the overwintering redhead Smew amongst a terrific flock of 488 Tufted Ducks. I also had just my second Osprey of the winter, two Greater spotted Eagles and an Imperial Eagle, a Bluethroat, two Red-rumped Swallows and a Taiga Flycatcher. The photographic highlight was a very self-confident taivana Yellow Wagtail, an in-your-face Plain Prinia, and I also enjoyed an Azure-winged Magpie, who was far less willing to be immortalised on BirdForum.



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Great trip report Mike. Sounds and looks like a fantastic winter experience for you. A woodcock there in January? Loved the Slaty-backed photo and all the eagle shots. I've always wanted to visit Hokkaido in the winter. Quite a few east Asian eagle species for you in the last weeks!

Always wanted to get Steller's Sea Eagle on my China list. They are reported in small numbers in eastern Jilin in the winter as we've discussed before I believe.

Take care,
Many thanks Tom.

I too have always thought getting Steller's on my China list is something to aspire to! I can imagine combining it with a winter owling trip ... one day ...

Nearly finished with my Japan trip, but last weekend at San Tin is a new source of excitement.

A far cry from the hot and polluted weather of the previous weekend last Saturday was cooler and sunny with a nice easterly breeze and the whole site seemed to have more of a spring in its step. I saw a few more species - 83 vs 79 - but various common birds were more visible - including Common, White-breasted and Pied Kingfishers, big flocks of Silky Starlings, a few more White-cheeked Starlings and Red-rumped Swallows had increased from two to eighteen and were very much in residence rather than stopping briefly on their way elsewhere.

Eight Temminck's Stints were foraging around the potholes created by catfish in a mostly-drained pond. The Pied Harrier I've not seen for a good few weeks put in an appearance and a couple of female Falcated Ducks were on the grass-fringed pond next to San Tin. It got extra scrutiny as pictures emerged from an overseas visitor to Mai Po of what looks like Hong Kong's first Hen Harrier! Three Eastern Buzzards were thermalling over Lok Ma Chau with a Greater Spotted Eagle, and another Eastern Buzzard was chased off by a very persistent Collared Crow.

I was delighted to see that Tufty numbers had risen to an amazing 650 birds on the pond just southeast of the rickety bridge (and 722 altogether across the site), and among them were a couple of female Scaup, and my first two Garganey for a few months.

Things became really exciting when a dark, long tailed dove with a contrasting grey head and neck flew past me. I immediately thought of Barred Cuckoo-Dove and was delighted and amazed when it landed on an overhead wire right next to an obviously paler and shorter-tailed Spotted Dove. I immediately grabbed a shot to document it - as I was aware that some Spotted Doves can be significantly darker - and the second shot below proved that I was not hallucinating! There are less than ten records of Barred Cuckoo Dove in Hong Kong and there is no good reason why a forest dependent species should appear on a fishpond wire. My amazement was tempered by that fact that Paul Leader had seen a one drinking from a rainwater puddle in mid-November at Lok Ma Chau, but when it was not relocated we presumed it had moved on.

It obviously hadn't, and the reason why became apparent a few minutes later when it dropped off the wire to feed with a couple of Spotted Doves on the stale bread dumped into a fishpond to feed the carp and mullet. There's a short clip on my Youtube channel (here). It was somewhat shocking to see this most elegant of forest aristocrats slumming it in such fashion. But presumably even aristocrats need to eat, and it had clearly decided that a full belly of stale bread was better than a dignified starvation. After a few minutes it flew off westwards leaving me to celebrate an amazing patch tick.

Carrying on I headed for the northeastern corner to try to nail all the doves on site. I was pleased to find four Red Turtle Doves in their favourite tree and an Oriental Turtle Dove shot out of the drainage channel between Lok Ma Chau and San Tin. I was also surprised to find a winter male Yellow-breasted Bunting sat on a bare bund nearby and grabbed a couple of shots of a friendly Red-throated Pipit with some leucism on the crown.

There's more to come (lots!) but my bed beckons, and I'll post pix, and the rest of the weekend's birds in the next day or so.



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