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ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia

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

MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Many thanks for the feedback - I tried to do more than simply write up the day - so its nice that it seems to have resonated.

Part 2 . . .

The next mega to appear was a white-headed leucocephala Western Yellow Wagtail on the fishponds at Lut Chau– again a mid-week discovery - just one day after I’d seen the ibises and less than a kilometre away as the ibis flies! This time I had no chance to go as the rest of a very busy week unfolded and I had even agreed to meet a friend from out of town on Saturday. More nail-biting and Weekday Worrying ensued, although the bird appeared to be faithful to one particular patch of ground at the intersection of two bunds in the northwest corner of this rather remote area of fishponds. I was finally free to go on Sunday morning and took a cab through the heart of the fishpond area - only to see a few birders wandering vaguely about rather than staring with fixed concentration on a single spot. Not a good sign!

I soon learned from the other birders that it had not yet shown. I’m not a great believer in staring at the spot where a bird has previously been, so I wandered off around the fishponds to look for it, seeing a few taivana Yellow Wagtails in various stages of pre-breeding moult, a couple of Collared Crows – a species that seem to like this especially degraded area of fishponds – but what really caught my attention was not the Copperhead Racer – an elegant and sometimes aggressive, but non-venomous copper-coloured snake with dark stripes on the rear two thirds of its body - curled up four feet in front of me and looking outraged at being disturbed before slipping silently away just before I hit the shutter. Less than ten minutes later a much darker snake oozed away through the thigh deep grass I was making my way along that could equally have been a Common Ratsnake, or . . . drumroll . . . a Chinese Cobra . . . Now that caught my attention! Two snakes in the grass, and one of them with the potential to seriously ruin my day, was one too many. I gingerly reversed my steps and continued searching for the wagtail only in places where I could actually see my feet.

Not that it did me much good. There were a few more taivana Eastern Yellow Wagtails – all yellow with a dark mask below a big yellow super and one each of the grey-blue headed macronyx and the blue-headed and white superciliumed similima. Other birds include a flock of a hundred or so Black-headed Gulls flying in tight formation over the fishponds to snag floating bread that the fish had not yet found. As I was most of the way out to the road I got interested in a very monochrome-looking Stejneger’s Stonechat. It had just dropped out of sight when a message from heaven – or at least a whatsapp bounced off the nearest transponder station – called me back – just as another two photographers who had also been looking for it drove by and gave me a lift back to the original cross bund.

This time the birders were doing it properly, huddled together along a bund and staring intently at the patch through bins and long lenses. And there it was, initially hunched beneath a pathside weed, showing a bright yellow throat and underparts beneath a chalky white head - leucocephala Western Yellow Wagtail! As it emerged and began feeding it was apparent that it had two massive white wingbars , very broad pale fringes to the tertials and a yellow back rather than the greenish tinge of Eastern Yellow Wagtail. As it flew off a major additional difference from Eastern Yellow Wagtail was the broad-shouldered and heavier-bodied jizz that was as distinctive as any plumage feature.

The only feature that did not completely fit were a few yellow feathers on the crown. The question is whether these feathers were normal aberrations of leucocephala, a result of a hybridization with another race of Western Yellow Wagtail, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, or even perhaps with Citrine Wagtail?
Thankfully it will be up to the HKBWS Records Committee rather than me to decide. A couple of minutes later I received a call summoning me back to work - (On a Sunday at that!), drawing proceedings on another successful, albeit very filthy, twitch to a most satisfying close.

Cheers
Mike
 

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HokkaidoStu

occasional moderator
Staff member
Supporter
Passed through San Tin last week Mike. Got a few interesting birds in the gloom and rain: a displaying Greater Coucal was the most striking.
 

MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Me too Tom! It's always a bit interesting at this time of year as snakes start to become more active.

Really sorry to miss you Stuart. We were probably at the airport at the same time on Sunday morning - my flight arrived at 0730. San Tin has been very good in the rain this week too - a mate got 94 species there today!

Anyway - here's part 3:

Two days later, in the middle of an unusually intense week, a phyllosc photographed on Po Toi was swiftly identified as a Wood Warbler – a third wonderful record in less than two weeks. Much to my amazement it was still present on Thursday evening, raising my weekday worrying to a fresh level. This was especially true as I Have previous form with this species. I saw a Wood Warbler at Tai O back in 2013, but didn’t get a photo of a highly elusive and only very briefly-seen bird. Disappointingly, my rather brief description was not accepted, making it likely that this individual would be accepted as the first Hong Kong record.

Friday dawned with worrying brightness and light high cloud, but there was no way I could not go for it. So stopping only for the fish sculptures shaped out of waste plastic detergent bottles by the jetty, I boarded the 0815 ferry with distinctly limited optimism. As it turned out it was the limitation that was misplaced. I went straight over the the location the bird had been seen in the large trees near the village generator, climbed up the bank to where Peter Wong was sitting and immediately saw the Wood Warbler – taking a quiet time out high in the canopy with some fifty or so birders and photographers gathered below.

Being high up on the slope we had terrific views as the bird again went active and began feeding. This allowed excellent views of the full range of features – the yellow throat and supercilium above silky-white underparts from breast to undertail coverts, although this could sometimes look greyer as the plumage shifted as it moved about. The back was less obviously mossy-green than expected, but the long primary projection and the long undertail coverts both gave an impression of a rather compact bird, especially from below.

After a few minutes moving about in the same tree, during which time it caught a couple of caterpillars within ten feet of Peter and I in our raised position, it also began calling and then delivering the lovely rippling song for which Wood Warbler is so well-known. After a while it disappeared – and taking a punt I made my way along the bank towards the beach and was then favoured with some 15 minutes of superb views as the bird foraged at eye level on the far side of the tree and then on the branches which extended along the upper parts of the slope – just wonderful!

But that was far from it - the same banyan branches overhanging the granite slopes hosted several Yellow-browed Warblers, a couple of Asian Brown Flycatchers, and more interestingly a female Ashy Minivet and an actively feeding Ferruginous Flycatcher, plus a couple of White-shouldered Starlings. Lower down I was pleased to pick up a couple of Tristram’s Buntings, one of which was a fine male, and a rather brown-tinged female Daurian Redstart.

After the Wood Warbler dematerialized I headed along the higher path towards the temple at the far end of the bay, where I first picked up a Japanese Thrush and heard another thrush sp. that didn’t show. Just before the temple I picked up the first of two Little Buntings and another Asian Brown Flycatcher, and as I was looking at them a fine Hoopoe suddenly appeared on a pathside branch. I was disappointed that it flew off before I could get a shot.

Hoping for more views of the Wood Warbler I climbed back up onto the granite slope beneath the banyans, and as I emerged above it I flushed a couple more buntings. One was a handsome male Black-faced Bunting, and more exciting, the other was a female Japanese Yellow Bunting that had been found the day before, but not been seen so far that day. I began to run out of new birds at this stage, although I did add a fine male Red-flanked Bluetail, and re-found and finally photographed the Hoopoe by the Sisters Café just before jumping on the ferry, from which my last good birds of another wonderful spring day were a pair of Red-necked Phalaropes.

Cheers
Mike
 

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MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
...and we're back! the beginning of autumn migration

Apologies for the long break, which has partly been down to the arrival of summer, partly to a couple of work trips (Helsinki in April and Lima in May) and a wonderful holiday in Australia (Cairns and Darwin), and partly to somehow never getting round to writing up a couple of very good April days.

But before any of those, yesterday was the day I decided summer was over and it was time for the autumn migration to begin.

The first typhoon of the year passed close enough to Hong Kong to raise the No 8 signal on Wednesday. The tail end of it carried strong enough winds and rain to have water running freely in through one poorly sealed window on Thursday - the downside of an east-facing seaview from the top of a high rise building! There were still bands of rain about on Saturday, plus a fresh easterly and overcast skies - leading me to hope that San Tin a) might have a few migrants, and b) not be unbearably hot. the Hong Kong Observatory has a wonderful rainfall radar on its website which enabled me to time my visit for the gaps in the clouds, but meant I started relatively late - around 1030.

Unsurprising for mid-summer there were lots of young birds about with the typical bread-scavenging Crested and Common Mynas and Tree Sparrows along the first bund, the usual spread of ardeids, including eight or ten unusually active Black-crowned Night Herons and few leucopsis White Wagtails, Spotted and Collared Doves, three juvenile Collared Crows and a couple of scruffy-looking Azure-winged Magpies.

Apart from the crows there was plenty of signs of breeding success. parties of Tree Sparrows, Crested and Common Mynas and Black-necked Starlings were all teaching the next generation how to scoff bread, Little Grebes on different ponds had fully fledged youngsters, stripy-headed babies and an active nest, while a begging Long-tailed Shrike was typically querulous and three or four White-shouldered Starlings, presumably from the nest boxes in the nature reserve - seemed especially clumsy and vulnerable.

My first migrant - a Common Sandpiper - had decided that a floating platform of stale bread was a much better use for the term bread barge than the genteel piece of tableware it more usually describes.

The real quality came in the shape of two juvenile Common Terns - a patch tick and the first I have ever seen away from the sea in Hong Kong. The were hunting over one of the ponds and doing a regular circuit, making them one of the easier birds to photograph in flight. Longer-winged and more deeply forked in the tail than the more expected marsh terns, the photos also enabled me to make sure neither was either Aleutian or Roseate Terns. The race of Common Tern we have here is longipennis, which is easily distinguished from the nominate hirundo subspecies found in Europe by its all-black bill. To add to the confusion on tern ID our locally breeding Roseates have a red bill rather than the black bill of European birds.

My main target of the day was migrant waders, but with the heavy rain filling many ponds there were not many drained ponds about, and I had to cover a fair bit of ground to come up with a humble eight species. Little Ringed Plovers and Black-winged Stilts breed either on-site or very close-by, and one pair of stilts had four juveniles - easily identified by their brown-scalloped wings. Of the rest Wood Sandpipers - at about 20 were the most abundant, with six Common Sandpipers, four Greenshanks, three Greater Sandplovers and singleton Common Redshank and Green Sandpiper completing the set.

Other good birds were either two or three Yellow Bitterns, which breed on-site, and another patch tick - a fine Striated Heron - is a bird that I occasionally see after heavy rain.

All told I managed 46 species in in about 2.5 hours, which is a decent return in one of the quietest months of the year. Its good to be back.

Cheers
Mike
 

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MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
A few more pix - of the Common Terns. There were four birds by the time I left.

Cheers
Mike
 

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MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Today was as hot a day as I can remember while birding in Hong Kong. Indeed it was so hot that I zipped round San Tin in a little over two hours, principally looking for waders as Western Sand and White-rumped Sand have been found in Japan in the last couple of weeks and I harbour an as yet unfulfilled ambition to find a Neartic wader during the hot days of early autumn passage.

I started of with four or five Common Kingfishers on the first couple of ponds, but was then delighted to find at least 3 Oriental Reed Warblers along the same bund that has been good for accros over the last couple of year; my first passerine migrants of the autumn, and the beginning of my usual search for the gold among the commoner species, with Paddyfield Warbler a particular target as its the only accro on the HK list I am yet to reliably see. The same area also held three Stejneger's Stonechats and the first of two flyover Eastern Yellow Wagtails.

A pond beyond the bund that is often good for waders also held eight Common Sandpipers, the first of five Wood Sandpipers five Black-winged Stilts, and my first snipe of the autumn a smallish dark bird that looked pretty good for Pintail, but as ever will only go down as Swintail Snipe, and a black-breasted Pacific Golden Plover flew over towards Mai Po, calling as it went. The large triangular pond just over the now rather overgrown and increasingly rickety bridge had been drained and produced a rather streaky-breasted juvenile Common Redshank with legs that were yellow enough to have me wondering about Greater Yellowlegs - before it took off in a blaze of white trailing edges and shattered the dream. While there was not much in the way of quantity one each of Kentish Plover, Greater Sandplover and a rather grey-looking Long -toed Stint added to the numbers along with three or four Little Ringed Plovers, a couple more Common Sandpipers and a solitary Green Sandpiper. Greenshank was a surprise absentee.

Other bits and pieces included a single Yellow Bittern, a couple of Collared Crows and the first nursery flocks of young Chinese Starlings, plus a large rail that was flushed by dogs and dropped into the reeds before I got a decent view, but gave a strong impression of being a Watercock that got away . . .

The 48 species seemed like a decent return for a short, baking hot visit.

Cheers
Mike
 

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MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Hi Pyrtle

This is a juvenile Greater Sandplover. if you are viewing on a laptop the ID should appear when you roll the cursor over the image.

Cheers
Mike
 

MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
With rain overnight and cooler weather promised I was eager to get back to San Tin this morning. It was still pretty close when I started, but the wind gradually picked up and I was in and out of drizzle and light rain for the whole of my visit. I was surprised not to find any marsh terns but I did pick up a nice bright Eastern Yellow Wagtail on a grassy bund, where a Common Sandpiper perched slightly ridiculously on a beanpole standing upright at the edge of the pond.

Sixty-odd Cattle Egrets were mixed in with similar numbers of Little and Great Egrets on the ponds near the big banyan in the middle of the patch. The same bunds that held the Oriental Reed Warblers yesterday today delivered my first Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler and them as thirty or so Scaly-breasted Munias and Tree Sparrows feeding on the bund ahead of me finally got fed up and took off a longer tailed bird going with them perched up on landing proved to be a Yellow-breasted Bunting, and apparently this is the earliest ever autumn record. The broad black stripes and two clear but abraded wing bars suggest this could be a first winter male. The same area held one more typically shy Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler which scrambled silently out of the lowest vegetation and crashing into the weeds growing in the pond before.

The big drained pond initially looked likely to disappoint as there was some kind of drilling work going on on the far bank but a closer look revealed a silvery Red-necked Stint with a nice long primary projection and a rather long bill and a couple of Little Ringed Plovers. A meandering route among the ponds next to the Lok Ma Chau Reserve began unproductively before the long pond up to where the less friendly dogs hang out provided a Wood Sandpiper, a drop-in Green Sandpiper, and even better a tidy-looking Lesser Sandplover puttering along the edge was another new one for the autumn. As the rain came down I couldn't resist another look to see if anything had dropped in, and found yesterday's Greater Sandplover - obviously larger and more angular than the Lesser Sand, and two hyperactive Long-toed Stints.

A final walk up towards the gate delivered a soaring Crested Goshawk, a first Grey Wagtail of the autumn, aSwintail Snipe four or five more Yellow Bitterns and six or seven Red-rumped Swallows, 25 Whimbrels flying East, and an Intermediate Egret that was clearly determined to get on the day list as it flew low over my head in a tight circle before disappearing again. Less enjoyably A scramble through waist high grass and then down into a waist high ditch filled with water meant that I came home completely drenched with 54 species and two ticks - unfortunately of the bloodsucking rather than the list filling variety.

Pix to come...

Cheers
Mike
 

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MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Saturday 31st August

Overnight rain once again encouraged me to get out to San Tin with the hope that a week would be a long time in early autumn. I started by picking up several of the unreliable residents; Koel, Greater Coucal, Eurasian Magpie and Common Tailorbird – all of which were valuable additions towards my target of 60 species for the day. More interesting were eight or ten Eastern Yellow Wagtails – now well and truly in, a couple of Whiskered Terns – one capped and one paler headed – and a rather plain-faced and early Zitting Cisticola. I was disappointed to pick up only two Oriental Reed Warblers after some very tough grinding through consistently knee-high, often waist-high and occasionally head-high grass.

With no-one working along the bund my designated mega pond did hold a few more waders. Where there had been ones and twos of Red-necked and Long-toed Stints, Common Redshank, and Greater Sandplovers there were now fours and fives. I had my first Common Greenshanks for a couple of weeks and trios of both Marsh Sandpiper and Avocet were my first of the autumn, with numbers made up by a few LRPs, Common Sandpipers and Black-winged Stilts and Wood Sandpipers plus singleton Lesser Sandplovers, Green Sandpiper and a very-deep-keeled Swintail Snipe for a creditable but hardly spectacular fourteen species.

Other goodies included my first Great Cormorant of the autumn, a welcome return by the Striated Heron and a round half-dozen juvenile Yellow Bitterns which, with all the more regular species, only delivered the desired 60th species when a White-rumped Munia flew overhead trailing a long stem of grass for a rather late nest.

Cheers
Mike
 

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MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Having badly sunburned myself on the chest and neck two weeks ago I had a weekend off - a decision made easy by the blistering heat - I had to wait until today to get back to San Tin. An early start got me there at 0800 - and it was still pretty hot, but just the hint of an easterly kept it bearable.

I was pleased to start with my first Arctic Warbler of the autumn in a roadside tree as I walked along the access road and another one giving its "dzzik" call as I passed the flood relief pond before turning into the fishponds proper, where the first half-a-dozen of what eventually became a total of 35 Whiskered Terns were foraging actively and giving me another opportunity to do a bit better with photographing birds in flight. They make a terrific subject as they patrol the same route over a couple of ponds, mostly ten to twenty feet up and very willing to fly right overhead. For the first time ever I jacked up the shutter speed, and a couple of these is definitely better than any of my previous efforts.

Also in the same area were a flock of nine ducks that took off the from second pond at high speed and headed off towards Mai Po - three Garganeys with pale forewings among half-a-dozen Common Teals. A few more Yellow Wagtails had also arrived, perhaps fifteen birds across the site including a gaggle of brown and white juveniles and a simillima-type adult, but on a hot day with light winds it was largely disappointing for passerine migrants - just five Oriental Reed Warblers and a couple each of Stejneger's Stonechat and Zitting Cisticola.

The big wader pond had been refilled but a couple of others together held my first Common Snipe of the autumn and two Swintail Snipes, plus singles of Common Redshank and Marsh Sandpiper, two Common Greenshanks
plus the usual Wood, Green, and Common Sandpipers LRPs, Black-winged Stilts, plus flyover groups of nine Avocets and six Whimbrels. I was disappointed to get no stints and no other plovers after doing so well with both the last couple of weeks. Other bits and pieces included a family of Little Grebes - several pairs breed on-site - and just a single juvenile Yellow Bittern.

In the end I was surprised to have scored so poorly - 58 species seemed low now we're into mid-September - even if the final birds as I was leaving the site were an unexpected male Chinese Blackbird, which looked tatty enough to be a car-worn parent with a hungry brood to feed, and my first Cinereous Tit since the spring!

Cheers
Mike
 

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ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Columbia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia
ZEISS. Discover the fascinating world of birds, and win a birding trip to Colombia

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