Tuesday 30 October 2012

Tai Po Kau, Hong Kong, Oct 2012

As so often happens, the main excitement at Tai Po Kau came in the lay-by at the entrance to the reserve. As soon as I crossed the road from where green minibus 28K dropped me, birds began to show. Scarlet Minivets are my favourite bird here and were the first to be seen in small numbers. They were part of a feeding group that spent about 20 minutes in the trees at the north-west end of the lay-by.

Accompanying them were the usual suspects including Japanese White-eye, Great Tit, Yellow-browed Warbler and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch. The nuthatch is one of the denizens of Tai Po Kau that have made a home there after escaping from captivity.

Depending on how neurotic, beg your pardon, diligent, you are about your life list, it is well worth checking the field guide to confirm status of many of the Tai Po Kau songbirds. Other species that have established a population from originally captive stock include Blue-winged Minla, Silver-eared Mesia and Rufous-capped Babbler.

Thirteen of the visit’s twenty birds were seen at the lay-by before even starting up the hill, including this morning’s life bird, a Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike.

Up and into the forest I went. The coral trees have showy red flowers that attract many varieties of bird, but at this time of year they are in leaf rather than flower.


Paris Peacock Papilio paris
In the garden at the Outdoor Education Centre (Google Earth ref; 22°25'48.05"N 114°10'51.51"E), were butterflies and some dragonflies in the small pool.
Lesser Blue Skimmer Orthetrum triangulare
Red-faced Skimmer Orthetrum Chrysis 

Following the road around gives access onto the path system. I suspect that there may be an aviary or exotic collection in one of the private houses there as many unlikely calls emanated from beyond a fence.

As usual, I chose the Red Route which describes a 3 km loop through the forest. A few steps and slightly rough stretches of path exist, but for the most part, the route is easy to walk and well maintained.

Very few birds were seen for the large part of the walk, with a consistent call frustrating me. As I came full circle, the path crosses the stream and a Common Blue Jewel, Rhynocypha perforata, damselfly caught my eye. A few males were jousting above the stream’s surface while females waited provocatively.

Birds seen; 20

Black Kite 1, Spotted Dove 6, Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike 2, Scarlet Minivet 8, Grey -chinned Minivet 2, Great Tit 15, Yellow-cheeked Tit 1, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch 3, Red-whiskered Bulbul 15, Light-vented Bulbul 6, Chestnut Bulbul 2, Yellow-browed Warbler 3, Japanese White-eye 20, Silver-eared Mesia 2, Blue-winged Minla 10, Rufous-capped Babbler 3, Oriental Magpie Robin 3, Scarlet-backed Flower-pecker 2, Fork-tailed Sunbird 3, Gray Wagtail 1

Buses 102 and 106 leave from just outside the World Trade Centre on Hong Kong Island (starting just after 06.00. For a really early start try N170 from the same stop, or the 24 hour bus N122 which runs every 15 mins from the first bus stop on Hennessey Road, opposite Sogo). They run through the tunnel to Hung Hom Station and a chap could be on an East Line (formerly known as the KCR, Kowloon Canton Railway) train heading to China in moments. Using the subway system would involve 3 changes of train to achieve the same result. Returning to the island, the buses run from the first stair off the footbridge out of Hung Hom Station.

Tai Po Market Station is on the East Line. Taxis are easily available from the station and cost $HK25 (@ $HK12 = £1) at the time of writing. Green minibus 28k runs up the hill from the railway station and stops close to the lay-by. Ask the driver for Tai Po Kau (pronounced How). There is usually a steady flow of taxis past the lay-by for return, unless it is raining.

The East Line connects to the rest of Hong Kong’s transport system at Hung Hom or Kowloon Tong.

Previous posts from Tai Po Kau can be found at the links below;

Visit the dedicated Asia Page for more from Hong Kong, including; Sha Lo Tung and Long Valley.

Sunday 28 October 2012

Mai Po, Hong Kong, Oct 2012

The Hong Kong chapter of the WWF (that’s the World Wildlife Fund, not the World Wrestling Federation), have joined the Hong Kong Transport System in baiting Redgannet to see if he would crack. My permit application had not been received and entry was denied. It might have been possible to get a permit at the gate, but I had not brought my passport. For future reference, a passport is essential, even with a pre-approved permit.
Though…..the young lady at reception hesitated to suggest it, but I might be able to join a group tour, only it would be conducted in Mandarin. It turned out that the beautiful leader, Apple, had a good turn of English and I signed up to walk with Mr Li, his wife and his mother.

Mrs Li Senior, despite using a pair of pink plastic binoculars pulled the first bird out of the bag with a red-letter Oriental Stork. It was seen beyond the multi-storey hide at gei wai 11(?). Unfortunately, I had come straight from Long Valley and my focussing problem was still bothering me. You should not have to be exposed to pictures like this, but a lifer is a lifer and let’s be honest, you must be used to it by now.

We were on a timer and headed straight out towards the mangrove boardwalk. A flycatcher along the way had us vascillating between Asian and Japanese Paradise Flycatcher. In the end, the darker back pushed me towards the Japanese form. It was now that it suddenly occurred to me that I had just bought a new UV filter for my lens. This proved to be the cause of the focussing problem.

From the mangrove hide, the water was hundreds of meters away, but a Little Egret, a few Marsh Sandpipers and Common Redshanks fed in the shallow water of a small inlet to the north. Way out, hundreds of Great Cormorants were waiting for some depth to return to the bay while a few Common Greenshanks stalked Mudskippers on the flats.

There were plenty of distant Lesser Sand Plovers. A few, noticeably larger, were Greater Sand Plovers.
Common Kingfishers were seen a few times as well as a couple of White-throated Kingfishers and a single Black-capped Kingfisher.
The tide was due to reach its height at 16.30, but we had to leave slightly before this to get back to the centre and end our tour before dark. The tide was still a very long way off. At only 1.6 – 1.8 meters, it was never likely to push the birds as far as the hides. Mr Li had scoped a Black-faced Spoonbill and I had become ridiculously excited by a young rail-like Eurasian Moorhen, but we had to leave.

A pair of Ospreys made a flypast as we walked back along the control fence. This is the fence that restricts passage to or from the mangroves and Deep Bay. It is a throwback to pre-1997 when Hong Kong was governed by the British, but it is still scrupulously maintained.

Birds seen; 43

Little Grebe 6, Oriental Stork 1, Great Cormorant 500, Grey Heron 30, Great Egret 20, Little Egret 25, Chinese Pond-heron 12, Black-crowned Night-heron 20, Black-faced Spoonbill 1, Osprey 3, Eastern Marsh Harrier 1, Spotted Eagle 1, White-breasted Waterhen 4, Eurasian Moorhen 3, Lesser Sand-plover 150, Greater Sand-plover 4, Little Ringed Plover 1, Black-winged Stilt 1, Common Sandpiper 4, Common Greenshank 10, Marsh Sandpiper 8, Wood Sandpiper 3, Common Redshank 15, Eurasian Curlew 3, Spotted Dove 40, Asian Koel 2, Greater Coucal 3, Common Kingfisher 3, White-throated Kingfisher 2, Black-capped Kingfisher 1, Long-tailed Shrike 4, Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Eurasian Magpie 2, Collared Crow 1, Barn Swallow 6, Light-vented Bulbul 80, Japanese White-eye 6, Masked Laughingthrush 3, Oriental Magpie Robin 4, Black-collared Starling 6, White Wagtail 1, Eurasian Tree Sparrow 6, Nutmeg Mannikin 8.
Mr Li very kindly sent me one of his pictures of the Oriental Stork to make up for my fuzzy one.

For more posts from Mai Po, follow the links below;

Visit the dedicated Asia Page for more from Hong Kong, including; Tai Mo Shan and Victoria Peak.

Saturday 27 October 2012

Long Valley, Hong Kong, Oct 2012

It seemed as though the Hong Kong Transport System was toying with me this morning and I would swear that I spent more time waiting for buses than bird watching. It was already light when I arrived at Yin Kong and the ladies were busy tending their crops, seemingly too busy to point and laugh as is their custom.

The approach to the lettuce fields had already brought Red-whiskered Bulbul, Nutmeg Mannikin and an Asian Koel which was strangely subdued this morning. The camera was playing up again and struggling to gain focus. Even using the Live View function with the 10x magnification focussing facility, the pictures were soft and fuzzy. A Light-vented Bulbul, greeting the dawn with a lusty song, looked great in the Bushnells, but proved to be a big disappointment through the Canon.

Motacillas were abundant this morning with (White-faced) White Wagtails being the most numerous. I would usually have photographed the pipits for later perusal, but the indistinct supraloral stripe and a relict shade of red on one of them made the identification of the Red-throated Pipit straightforward.

It would not help to describe a route through the agricultural plots of Long Valley.
The bunds are higgledy, the paths are piggledy and it is quite easy to lose one’s sense of direction (the area is only small and surrounded by either river or exit, so the chances of actually getting lost are minimal). A large expanse of tall grass had been cut since my last visit and the boggy result was seething with birds. Little Egrets, Chinese Pond-herons and Wood Sandpipers were all greatly outnumbered by wagtails in various plumages. Dusky Warblers "Tchacked" their way through what was left of the standing vegetation at the top end.

I hesitate to use the word flock for a group of Oriental Skylarks, as I have never seen them grouped together before. Larks are often referred to as an exaltation, but these birds were sitting quietly on a dry patch in the middle of a boggy mess, not really living up to the billing. The collective term, ‘slump’ came to mind.

A Common Snipe was big enough in the frame for the focussing problem to be not too apparent, but the Common Kingfisher felt like a missed opportunity.

Deep into the fields is a chain-link fence bordering a couple of fallow ponds.Growth here has overgrown the fence and provided an effective hedge which gave cover to a young Slaty-breasted (Banded) Rail. It lurked in and out of cover, coming out into the open and I was cursing my inability to focus at less than 10 meters.

An Oriental Greenfinch stopped by. It was only later that I realised that it might provoke an eBird email, but it would not have made a good picture today. The yellow windows in the wings were clear to see as it flew and the green body with a grey head were enough for me to be sure.

I did manage to fix my camera later, by removing the UV filter. It was new and supposedly a genuine Hoya filter, but I have grave doubts about that now. As soon as the filter was removed, focus became sharp again. If only I had thought of it earlier!
Birds seen; 37
Little Egret 6, Chinese Pond-heron 15, Slaty-breasted Rail 1, White-breasted Waterhen 4, Little Ringed Plover 3, Black-winged Stilt 22, Common Sandpiper 1, Wood Sandpiper 12, Common Snipe 30, Greater Painted-Snipe 3, Spotted Dove 25, Asian Koel 1, Common Kingfisher 1, Long-tailed Shrike 3, Collared Crow 2, Skylark 1, Oriental Skylark 5, Barn Swallow 6, Red-whiskered Bulbul 8, Light-vented Bulbul 35, Sooty-headed Bulbul 5, Dusky Warbler 20, Common Tailorbird 2, Yellow-bellied Prinia 1, Plain Prinia 1, Japanese White-eye 10, Oriental Magpie Robin 5, Stonechat 12, Crested Myna 40, Western Yellow Wagtail 25, White Wagtail 50, Red-throated Pipit 6, Black-faced Bunting 3, Oriental Greenfinch 1, Eurasian Tree Sparrow 30, White-rumped Munia 20, Nutmeg Mannikin 40.
To reach Long Valley at Yin Kong, Take Bus 76K from Sheung Shui Rail Station on the East Line. Ask the bus driver for Yin Kong, on Castle Peak Road (Google Earth ref; 22°30'17.11"N 114° 6'39.78"E). If the bus stops immediately after a right turn, you have passed the entrance to the lettuce fields. Retrace your steps for about 400m. If the bus tries to drop you on the edge of a motorway, you are about 200m short of the turn. To access the East Line via the MRT from Hong Kong Island can be a bit convoluted.  Bus N170 runs all night from outside the World Trade Centre in Causeway Bay. Using this bus allows you off the island before the MRT starts up in the morning.
Follow the links below for more posts from Long Valley.
Visit the dedicated Asia Page for more from Hong Kong including, Mai Po and Tai Po Kau.

Friday 19 October 2012

Qurm Park, Muscat, Oct 2012

The recent improvement in my capacity to cope with extreme heat has suffered a setback. Although it was very warm in Muscat today, the heat was not extreme for this part of the world, but I felt very uncomfortable and even a little distressed at times. I had ventured out to the Qurm Natural Park (Google Earth ref; 23°37'15.01"N 58°28'17.83"E). The road runs along the north-eastern edge, separating the mangroves and the beach. Three bridges allow the tide to run back and forth into the mangroves and make for good vantage points. The big drawback here is that the early mangrove observer will be looking into the sun all morning, but the good news is that viewing out to sea gives perfect light conditions.

The tide had almost reached its height as I arrived at 07.30. This was by luck rather than any forethought. Birds were resting up on the sand bars inland from the bridge. There didn’t appear to be very many until a Marsh Harrier appeared in the distance and all the birds began to move. Before then Kentish (Snowy) Plovers had tucked themselves into footprints made in the dry sand and I had missed them.

They quickly disappeared along with the Greater Sand Plovers and the Lesser Sand Plovers. Altogether, fifteen shorebird species were seen including Eurasian Curlew, Ruff, Pacific Golden Plover and Greenshank.

The taxi dropped me at La Mer restaurant, by the first bridge on the south-western end of the road. This end is dominated by the Hotel Intercontinental, Muscat and most of the action took place at this end. I walked the length of the road to the cliff on which the Crowne Plaza sits finding Purple Sunbirds and Green Bee-eaters on the fence which protects the reserve and forces viewers to watch from outside.

A Western Reef-heron was seen at the far end with a Squacco or Indian Pond Heron which took flight so suddenly and was gone so quickly that I couldn’t decide which it was. Both light and dark forms of the reef-herons were seen today with the dark ones favouring the beach and the light ones in the mangroves.

A Booted Eagle found a thermal and quickly gained height spurred on by a falcon that may have been a Lesser Kestrel.

As the tide began to run back out, an Osprey flew over and took a few exploratory plunges into the current flowing out from the mangroves. The bridge would have made the perfect place to wait for a photo opportunity, but the heat drove me on and I ended up having to take shelter under the bridge.

Looking down onto the beach from the promenade, the sun was over my shoulder and made photography more appealing. Slender-billed Gulls and the Heughlin’s form of Lesser Black-backed Gull were seen here, but they were all very shy and flew quickly as I drew level with them.
Birds seen; 35
Grey Heron 8, Western Reef-heron 4, Black-crowned Night-heron 5, Osprey 1, Eurasian Marsh Harrier 1, Booted Eagle 1, Red-wattled Lapwing 18, Black-bellied Plover 2, Pacific Golden Plover 18, Lesser Sand Plover 35, Greater Sand Plover 6, Kentish Plover 15, Terek Sandpiper 8, Common Sandpiper 5, Common Greenshank 7, Whimbrel 4, Eurasian Curlew 8, Bar-tailed Godwit 3, Little Stint 3, Dunlin 4, Ruff 2, Slender-billed Gull 25, Sooty Gull 6, Lesser Black-backed Gull (Heuglin’s) 15, Sandwich Tern 1, Laughing Dove 12, Rose-ringed Parakeet 8, Common Kingfisher 1, Green Bee-eater 6, House Crow 40, Barn Swallow 3, White-eared Bulbul 2, Common Myna 50, Purple Sunbird 6, House Sparrow 100.
A previous post from Qurm can be seen at the link below;
Visit the dedicated Middle East page for more posts from the region including Ras Al-Khor in Dubai and Green Island in Kuwait.

Wednesday 17 October 2012

Vancouver for the last time? Oct 2012

In this post, I say goodbye to Vancouver. Rising fuel prices are crippling profits, so in an attempt to reduce fuel burn, the company have transferred this route to a younger and above all, lighter fleet of crew. The heavy weight of experience carried by us old-timers burns no extra fuel and in the absence of Vancouver flights, will be put to use on the Boston flights which have come full circle and are to be welcomed back to the Heritage Fleet rosters.

Grouse Mountain was shrouded this morning, so I returned to an old favourite in Stanley Park. This is a place that I will greatly miss until the transient management decision-makers change their minds again. Lost Lagoon was, as ever, covered in Canada Geese and Mallard. Glaucous-winged Gulls, a few Wood Duck and Great Blue Herons were also seen on the water with American Robins, Song Sparrows and a Northern Flicker in the trees and bushes away from the bank. I moved quickly through to the outdoor swimming pool area. A Bald Eagle was perched at the end of a rocky breakwater, but took flight at my approach.

The seawall route around the park is one-way, anti-clockwise, for bicycles, so I had to return back past the lagoon to conform. As I passed the totem-poles, a Bald Eagle swooped down from its vantage point on a tall pine tree and tried to take something from the water. All I could see out there were Mew (short-billed)Gulls and Glaucous-winged Gulls which were making a terrible fuss about the eagle.

Different populations of Bald Eagle specialise in different prey, often showing a preference for fish or fowl. I have not seen a successful hunt in Vancouver and am not familiar enough with them to say which they favour. I am still none the wiser after this miss, but it returned to its perch at the top of the tree to pose for pictures.

Beaver Lake is becoming more and more clogged despite the beavers’ attempts to raise the water level by blocking the drains. Mallard and Wood Duck came close, hoping to be fed.

Black-capped Chickadees, Chestnut-backed Chickadees and Dark-eyed Juncos are used to free hand-outs here and have been acclimatised to expect food from people, even taking food from their hands.

During a walk around the lake, a flock of Pine Siskins were seen feeding in the Alders. A Pacific Wren and a couple of Ruby-crowned Kinglets were also seen picking through the lower tangles.

Back on the seawall, I continued my circuit, passing under the bridge where a flock of Brandt’s Cormorants were resting on the base of the support. More were seen on the cliffs on the land side of the wall where a shower of feathers betrayed the presence of a Peregrine Falcon plucking its lunch.

A Red-necked Grebe was seen beyond the iconic, Siwash Rock and moments later a Harlequin Duck whooshed past, fast and low across the water.

Previous reports from Vancouver have featured the astonishing gluttony of the Glaucous-winged Gulls and their determination to eat anything that they can get down their throats. This week it was a small flat fish (Starry Flounder?) that just would not fit.

The tide had been low during the morning, but had been ripping through the straight under the bridge. It was rising quickly now and some Black Oystercatchers that I had seen from further back, were now marooned on their rocky roosts.

I clambered down onto the beach to get a closer look and found a flock of Pine Siskins which appeared to have come down to the water’s edge for a drink. Is it usual for a bird to drink salt water when there is plenty of fresh water available nearby?

My full circle brought me back to the swimming pool which had been closed to the public on Labor Day (5 weeks previously). Since then it has become the domain of gulls and the North-western Crow.

The crow has been responsible for making a fantastic mess. They prise mussels from rocks during low-tide and carry them high before dropping them onto the hard surface of the pool surround. The shell cracks and voila! Moules tartare!

 Birds seen; 37
Canada Goose 345, Mute Swan 3, Wood Duck 12, American Wigeon 24, Mallard 162, Harlequin Duck 2, Surf Scoter 9, Hooded Merganser 1, Horned Grebe 2, Red-necked Grebe 1, Brandt's Cormorant 30, Double-crested Cormorant 17, Great Blue Heron 3, Bald Eagle 3, Peregrine Falcon 3, American Coot 17, Killdeer 1, Black Oystercatcher 5, Mew Gull 40, Ring-billed Gull 12, Thayer's Gull 9, Glaucous-winged Gull 100, Northern Flicker 2, Pileated Woodpecker 1, Northwestern Crow 145, Black-capped Chickadee 8, Chestnut-backed Chickadee 6, Pacific Wren 1, Ruby-crowned Kinglet 4, American Robin 15, European Starling 4, Spotted Towhee 4, Savannah Sparrow 9, Song Sparrow 12, Dark-eyed Junco 9, Red-winged Blackbird 3, Pine Siskin 80.