Topsy-turvy weather seriously hampering Mothing!

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
June and July have been rather busy on the publishing front. First of all, I spent a lot of time compiling the Micro-moth Field Tips book for Ben Smart and got it printed and published on time (not my day job!) and then it was onto completing my sections of the Lancashire Bird Report for 2016. Fortunately, both have gone well - the micro book has been widely lauded (and is available through NHBS), the Bird Report is in the editing phase so now I've started on the "Non-avian Vertebrate Fauna of Lancashire". I think I need to retire to get all these things done!

Summer is clearly the time for the largest volume of moths in the year but the weather is fine one day and tipping it down/cold the next. If you've followed the Open golf just lately, you'll see what I mean as that's only a few miles from me.

However I've had some goodies but mainly moorland species that have paid me a visit (so they must have traveled at least a couple of miles as the moth flies). A rather bedragled Marbled White Spot and today's pristine Scarce Silver Y have been highlights for me.
Scarce Silver Y
Birding has been interesting as it's been the turn of the terns. An Elegant Tern on the south coast in June gave Bernie and I an ideal excuse for a weekend away around Chichester. A splendid bird which remained distant but we got good views. There was a supporting cast of Red-footed Falcon, Woodlark, Goshawk, Dartford Warbler and several Red Kites in the South Downs and New Forest. Then it was a Caspian Tern that turned up at the unlikeliest spot - a reservoir on the moors - but then departed to be picked up again at Leighton Moss. That was a Lancashire first for me!
Elegant Tern - Pagham Harbour
We've also managed to squeeze in a trip to see our son in Munich and angst over several wedding cakes in the making! All in all non-stop in the Bickerton household but so glad I'm working four days a week. I need that time!
Dark Sword Grass, a migrant moth

Donacaula forficella, a moth of the reeds (some on the nearby canal)

Small Square Spot or is it Fen Square Spot based on the appearance date between the two batches of SSS that I get - the debate continues!
Marbled White Spot


A break on the Ayrshire coast

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
It's been a while but we're back in Girvan helping with the gardening and enjoying the mixed weather! The first nights were warm and so I put the moth trap out in our very coastal location...
View of Ailsa Craig from the living room window! Kintyre peninsula in the background.
Shark
I was delighted to get two new species for me - Shark and Tawny Shears in a catch of 30+. It seems that no-one has really recorded moths in this area so all records will be useful. the following morning I got a Marbled Coronet. We'll see what tomorrow brings!
Tawny Shears

Marbled Coronet
Today we did a little walk along the beach at Maidens and up towards Culzean Castle. A reasonably sized flock of waders contained 50 or so Dunlin and 30 Ringed Plovers. I'd had a couple of juvenile Ringed Plovers on the beach at Girvan - clearly local breeders - but were this flock still moving through to higher latitudes?

The fields next to the beach had several Yellowhammers singing, a song I rarely hear back in Lancashire. A few Gannets fished offshore but there were few seabirds on view. We had planned to go out to Ailsa Craig however the boat was full so something we'll do next time. A couple of Black Guillemots were very active at Girvan harbour but just a single female Eider there - most of these ducks will be forming large moulting flocks at various places along the coast one of which we could see whilst driving between Girvan and Turnberry.

Anyway, the trap is out again tonight though is is rather breezy. Currently it's 10:15pm and still light!

Pallid Harrier? Give me a singing Wood Warbler any day!

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
Well it is a little tongue in cheek. Last weekend's unexpected delight was a fantastic male Pallid Harrier which had taken up residence on the Bowland Fells where there should really have been a few Hen Harriers. Sadly none of the latter but the Pallid gave us some superb views and aerial displays together with several Ring Ouzels. It's really got to be one of the most exquisite visual spectacles I've seen in the avian world.

A run of very strong easterly winds for over a week now has halted a lot of migration though the onset did bring in a few Black Terns. Only now are we starting to see a few Swifts and House Martins in the village. There have been several good birds on the coast and so I paid Marshside a visit yesterday and jammed in on a very obliging Wood Sandpiper as well as a Ruddy Shelduck and a very orange-breasted Swallow.
Swallow

These birds together with my first singing Reed Warblers of the year together with a singing Lesser Whitethroat and passage of a few Swifts kept me occupied for a couple of hours. Unfortunately, the recent Spoonbills weren't playing ball and neither was a local Dotterel.

This-morning, Bernie and I headed to Moor Piece where a Wood Warbler had taken up residence. In the time-honoured fashion I wound my windows down and we could hear the sweet trilling before we'd slowed to pull in to the lay-by. It's got to be one of may favourite songs if not the favourite. (Woodlark a close second though I don't hear either of them all that regularly!)
Moor Piece Wood Warbler habitat
There was a wonderful selection of song to compliment the Wood Warbler - Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Goldcrest, Treecreeper and Pied Flycatchers all singing away. Siskins and a lone Redpoll called over head too. Blackcaps were very much in evidence. Indeed, last week there were lots a Brockholes Quarry joined by the first arrivals of Garden Warblers providing those who like a challenge the opportunity to distinguish them.
Male Blackcap from the garden
Pine Beauty

Goldenrod Pug
The cold winds have really put paid to much mothing so far this year. Easterlies also hampered ringing activities but I've managed to ring and control several Redpolls. Birds initially ringed in Kent, the Midlands and Greater Manchester have ended up in my garden and a Siskin I ringed last year was taken by a cat in Highland - I hate cats! I've also had lots of returning birds so it's nice to know I'm on the map as far as Redpolls are concerned.


Good Friday farewell to Hong Kong with some excellent birds

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
Having enjoyed a few days sightseeing and birding around Hong Kong, it was to 'work' for me and the preparation for the Hong Kong 7's tournament followed by a trip to a factory in Dongguan, China. I've got to say that our preparation for the event must have been good as everything went as planned and Bernie and I got some splendid views of Red-billed Blue Magpies from the back of the Stadium as well as a fleeting glimpse of a Blue Whistling Thrush as it dived for cover. We also managed to watch quite a bit of Rugby 7's too! :)
Box seats weren't too bad ;)
Bernie had headed back to England whilst I was in China but upon my return to HK, I had a day before my flight so arranged with Matt for another day's birding. I hadn't done any forest birding at all before - just had headed for Mai Po - so the promise of Tai Po Kau's established forest was an instant draw.

Matthew kindly collected me from my hotel in Kowloon - the roads were quiet on a holiday morning as we made good time to the foot of the valley. I should have realised that this was going to be a bit of a steepish walk up along the road to where the forest tracks start. Immediately we were hit with the song of birds - Great Barbets were calling in the distance (but didn't see them) and the ubiquitous Japenses White-eyes were buzzing along with Silver-eared Mesias. I didn't have my camera so I'll refer to Matthew's blog for the pics! (http://matthewkwanbirding.blogspot.co.uk/2017/04/three-days-of-excellent-birding.html)
He's got a bigger lens than me - and a steady hand. Matthew photographing Eagles.
As we wandered along, more and more calls came from the forest and the tall trees around us - we eventually got some excellent views of several species including Chestnut-winged Cuckoo, the dazzling Hainan Blue Flycatcher and the equally impressive Orange-headed Thrush. We had excellent views of Crested Serpent Eagles as well as a Mountain Tailorbird and Plain Flowerpecker - the latter being the rarest and dullest of the three flowerpeckers that I hadn't seen.  Huet's Fulvetta, Fork-tailed Sunbird, Blue-winged Minla, Chesnut capped Babbler, Scimitar-billed Babbler (belter of a bird!) and Chestnut Bulbul all made their way onto the day-list. We also heard Yellow-cheeked Tit, Pygmy Wren Babble and Black-throated Laughing Thrush. It was just wonderful and I could have stayed a lot longer but we had other places to be.

I'd got another permit booked for Mai Po and as the tide was relatively early, there was no chance of me seeing it come in over Deep Bay so we made our way to the scrape hides where we were met with a wonderful sight of hundreds of Black-tailed Godwit in amongst which were several Asian Dowitchers.
View from the main scrape hide - birds continue left and right and well into the distance.
What can you say - the sight of so many wader species all relatively close at hand being occasionally spooked by a Peregrine and an Eastern Marsh Harrier as well as Black Kites was wonderful. Loads of Greenshanks, Marsh Sandpipers and Curlews with the odd Far-eastern Curlew, Nordmann's Greenshank, Terek Sandpipers, Mongolian Plovers and a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Not to mention the Great Knots in their beautiful breeding plumage.

Great Knot in amongst the Black-tailed Godwits
We moved around to another vantage point to get closer to a few birds - an Intermediate Egret posed nicely as well as more obliging waders.
Intermediate Egret
It's not just size that separates Far-eastern Curlew from Eurasion as the latter can be just as big and long-billed. Look at the spots on the vent feathering - Eurasian are clean white.
Far-eastern Curlew
Nordmann's Greenshank



Then we heard the call of a Large Hawk Cuckoo. It was something we'd heard on several occasions and it sounded relatively near. I was sure it would be visible and my mimicry was perfect! We searched for ages from the raised viewpoint of the hide but didn't see anything - then I looked a little farther away and saw an interesting blob in a tree a few undred yards away. I got the scope on it an - et voila! Matthew had never photographed one so he managed to sneak up to the tree a little later to add that missing piece to his collection.
Large Hawk Cuckoo (Iphone7 through Swarowski ATX95)
It seemed I wasn't the only one who didn't see these birds even though they're big and common as a procession of locals had a gander through the scope.

It was nearly time to head to the airport so we made our way back past several Dusky Warblers.
Dusky Warbler
Our last stop was the "Magic Roundabout". Now I'm an aficionado of the "Magic Hedge" in Chicago but this? Essentially, it was the only bit of greenery and trees in the Airport complex - an area 'discovered' by a birder who took his breaks from working at the airport and found several good birds here. Matthew parked up and we made our way past the massed ranks of taxis into a becalmed area - Long-tailed Shrike, Hair-crested Drongo, White Wagtail, Olive-backed Pipit and an overflying flock of Oriental Pratincoles was a nice end to my sojourn to Hong Kong.

I hope to be back again in the not-too-distant future, whether with work or on a long-haul to somewhere else but there are certainly good birds to be had with a little planning. If anyone is looking for a guide, then I'm sure Matthew would be happy to help; his expeditions are taking him all over SE Asia and I'm sure that guiding will be one of the many strings to his bow. Add Hoiling's passion for moths and how could you go wrong?

Now it's back to a UK spring and masses of Redpolls and Chaffinches in the garden. The Blackbirds are singing (not quite ".... in the dead of night") - birdsong I recognise again :)

Po Toi Island

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
On our continued desire to explore off the tourist beaten track, we took an early morning ferry from Aberdeen to Po Toi, a migration hot-spot for Hong Kong in the company of Matthew again and his girlfriend Hoi Ling.
Daurian Redstart


The ferry across was generally uneventful apart from a fly-past Red-necked Phalarope. The ferry was very busy as it was a public holiday ("Tomb-sweeping") and the day was fine - not ideal for migrants.
Indeed much as we tried, there weren't many birds to be seen but we did see a few goodies - Crested Goshawk, Besra, Grey-headed Buzzard, Daurian Redstart, Pacific Swift and the main rarity, a Brambling!
Brambling twitch

Return to Mai Po

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
Following on from last July's trip to China, I had a follow-up trip planned for April combining it with the Hong Kong Rigby 7's tournament for which my company, Kukri, do all the merchandising. Of course, such a trip gives me the opportunity to do some birding in unfamiliar surroundings with unfamiliar (and some more recognisable) birds. So I decided to go a little earlier with my wife, Bernie, to explore the area.

The first couple of days were spent acclimatising and doing some of the touristy bits, enjoying the Star Ferry and some of the parks amongst the stunning skyline. Bernie was surprised about how hilly and verdant the territory was. Common birds in the parks were the ever present Chinese and Red-whiskered Bulbuls alongside Oriental Magpie Robin, Crested Mynas, Black-collared Starlings and Masked Laughing Thrushes. We got some decent view eventually of Red-billed Blue Magpies at the HK Stadium but the bird that we came across all over the place was Yellow-browed Warbler - calling everywhere!
Oriental Magpie Robin
I had organised permits for Mai Po on Monday 3rd April and we arranged to meet up with Matthew Kwan (unfortunately his dad couldn't make it). Thankfully, though it was warm, the weather was nowhere near as hot and humid as last July but certainly warm enough.

Stejneger's Stonechats and a White-breasted Kingfisher along the access road was a nice start whilst the car park held the usual Azure-winged Magpies, Bulbuls and several YBWs calling. We collected our permits and entered the reserve almost immediately coming across a Black-faced Bunting and Long-tailed Shrikes. Plain and Yellow-bellied Prinias were very ugh in evidence everywhere we went.
Chinese Pond Heron
The pools had many Egrets and Herons and a few sandpipers (Common & Green). We made our way through to the main scrapes where there were good numbers of waders. A few Oriental Pratincoles dropped in but the numbers of Greensanks and Marsh Sandpipers were amazing. In amongst them were Spotted Redshanks and Wood Sandpipers as well as large number of Avocets and Black-tailed Godwits.

We worked our way to the security fence area, passing lots of Dusky Warblers checking in the undergrowth. We also came across an Olive-backed Pipit bring back memories of last autumn at Spurn.
Deep Bay looking towards Shenzen, China
One area I hadn't visited last time was Deep Bay as the tide wasn't right. This day it should have been so we passed through the fence and made our way over the floating boardwalk through the mangroves out to the hides. As we got to the farthest one, we soon realised we should have been there about 30 minutes earlier as the extent of mud was getting very limited. We still had good views of Terek Sandpipers and the Black-faced Spoonbills as well as several species of Gull - Hueglin's, Vega, Mongolian and Black-tailed.
Black-faced Spoonbills, Caspian Terns, Mongolian Gulls, etc
As the water flooded the area, we made our way out of that hide and back to the one at the head of the bay but again the water had reached there and most birds had moved away. Still we got an immature Saunders Gull and some great views of the waders.
A very large 2cy Vega Gull with Heuglin's in foreground
So back to the scrape and an amazing site greeted us with hundreds of Black-tailed Godwits and Avocets covering the water. We also had more Greenshanks and in amongst them some Nordmann's Greenshank - quite difficult to tell apart but eventually I got my eye in on their jizz; lower in the water and rather pot-bellied as well as the curvier bill. There were also many Great Knot, Red-necked Stints, Broad-billed Sandpipers and Greater Sand Plovers. We also had Far-eastern Curlews in amongst the more numerous Eurasian Curlews as well as the odd Grey Plover and Pacific Golden Plover.
Black-faced Spoonbills
Through the day we recorded 105 species with that huge variety of shorebirds. A splendid day all round.

December Thrushes bring 2016 to a stupendous finale

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
2016 has got to go down in the birding annals as one of the best years ever. A scintillating autumn with perpetual easterlies brought hundreds if not thousands of waifs from east of the Urals. My previous post was drooling over the run of birds on the east coast - finally, the west and middle England got in on the act.
On 5th November, as I was tidying up the garden, I heard my first Waxwing of the autumn flying overhead - the unmistakable trilling call was to become even more familiar over the coming weeks as small flocks started to infiltrate this side of the Pennines with double figures in Blackburn and recently large counts in several places around East Lancashire.
Waxwings in Blackburn 27 Nov
On 20 November, I went to see this little beauty - a Desert Wheatear on St Annes beach - my third along this stretch of the coast and a fitting end to the autumn, or so we thought

Desert Wheatear, St Annes, Nov 2016

But there was more. News broke in mid December of a Dusky Thrush in Derbyshire and after much nervous anticipation, we decided to put the Christmas Shopping on hold to see this bird and though it gave us the run-around we did get some excellent if distant views. The bird is still there!
First-winter female Dusky Thrush, Beeley, Derbyshire 10 Dec 2016
Then there was the Masked Wagtail, an eastern race of White Wagtail and first for the UK, that turned up in Pembrokeshire - such a smart bird was well worth the effort.
Masked Wagtail, Camrose, Pembrokeshire 11 Dec 2016
Ringing in my garden produced an early Brambling and several Redpolls but no meallies - yet.
Brambling
So that was that? No, the news of a Blue Rock Thrush in Gloucestershire got us going again - a bird I missed when in Spain earlier in the year! Like the Wagtail and indeed the Dusky Thrush, it was hopping around the houses in a small semi-rural estate having been identified from images on social media.
Blue Rock Thrush, Stow on the Wold, 29 Dec 2016


And to cap the trip off, a female Black-throated Thrush showed itself fairly well at St Asaph having also been in the area for a couple of weeks. Thrushes galore and seven new birds for me in Britain this year - five of them lifers. I had none in 2015.

  • Penduline Tit (2) 24 Jan, Gloucester.
  • Pallid Harrier 18 Feb, Norfolk
  • Purple Swamphen, 5 Aug, Minsmere
  • Black-browed Albatross, 5 Oct, Bempton
  • Siberian Accentor, 14 Oct, Easington
  • Dusky Thrush, 10 Dec, Beeley
  • Blue Rock Thrush 29 Dec, Stow on the Wold.

A truly amazing birding year. I need my football team to have one next year! :/

East Yorkshire birding at its best

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
Normally I have one or maybe two trips to the east coast in the autumn, especially if south-easterly winds are blowing. These past two weeks, a high pressure system has sat over northern Scandinavia and drawn winds from central Russia across northern Europe and across the North sea; at this time of year, these winds influence the migration of thousands of birds. Normally a light south-easterly is all that we require but we've had really strong easterlies for several days. So I, like many others, looked to do some birding on the east coast with the hope of bumping into one or two scarce and rare birds.
I have a few favoured spots but even a died-in-the-wool Lancastrian like me has to admit that East Yorkshire is the best place to be in these conditions so last Wednesday John Wright and I decided we'd have a days birding around Flamborough Head. The news of Britain's third Eastern-crowned Warbler at Bempton late on Tuesday certainly gave us a target to start with having seen the first a few years ago near South Shields.

Wednesday 5th October
We arrived at the Bempton car park around 8am and soon had some reasonable views of the Eastern-crowned along with Yellow-browed Warblers and a host of Goldcrests and Song Thrushes. It was all set up to be a good day when news of an Albatross seen off Filey 10 miles north set the pulses racing. The assmbled throng of around 60 birders legged it to the cliff-top observation viewpoints. Within five minutes I clasped eyes on it and with an expletive, got everyone else onto it. Unbelievable - a Black-browed Albatross making its way slowly along the coast - finally caught up with this species, one that I first dipped on forty - sheesh, forty! - years ago.
Immature Black-browed Albatross
Immature Black-browed Albatross
Immature Black-browed Albatross
Once the bird had passed, we continued searching the hedgerows for any more waifs - several YBWs and a Spotted Flycatcher in amongst the Goldcrests, Chiffchaffs and Redwings which seemed to be arriving all the time.

We moved on to Flamborough Head picking up Redstart, a few Wheatears and a lone Tundra Bean Goose but most everything else was being kept down by the wind. Returning to Bempton, we got brief views of a phyllosc that was purported to be a Greenish but later identified as an Arctic Warbler. Some final views of the ECW and we headed back after a great day.
Chiffchaff
Chiffchaff
Sat/Sun 8/9th October
I returned to Spurn with Bernie for the weekend as the winds continued to come from the east. We started at Easington by the old Bus Station where some nice birds had been reported. There were at least three YBWs as well as lots of Chiffchaffs and Goldcrests. We also had a Red-brested Flycatcher there that was very elusive at times. We meandered down towards the cemetery south of the village where more goodies had been seen. There were hundreds of Redwings and Song Thrushes in the fields. Flocks of Bramblings and Chaffinches mingled with the resident Tree Sparrows - there were birds everywhere and the most ubiquitous were Robins.
Goldcrest
The news of an Olive-backed Pipit at the Gas Terminal decided the next place we'd visit but unfortunately there was no sign. We headed for Kilnsea, parked at the Blue Bell and went for lunch - I wish they'd been a bit quicker with the bacon butty because as we left we bumped into Graham Jones and Gavin Thomas who informed us that the Rustic Bunting was showing in Church Field. We arrived at the gate just as a many were leaving - just flown off - grrrrrr. Ah well, there were more YBWs to enjoy and Goldcrests to search through.

After wandering around the 'Triangle' picking up several shorebirds, Woodcock, Black Redstart, Jack Snipe and the like, we made our way to Sammy's Point but soon after we arrived, news that the OBP was back at the Gas Terminal came out. What an obliging bird in the dimming evening light!
Olive-backed Pipit
What was even better was it staying to the following day when I could get an image in better light....
Olive-backed Pipit
Sunday brought us lots more birds - the buntings still eluded us though (both Rustic and Little). Great Grey Shrike at Sammy's was a long way off! A couple of male Ring Ouzels gave great views alongside Wheatears and more Redstarts.

Pallas' Warbler is a special bird, so one behind the White Horse was a very welcome addition to the day's birds. Though elusive at times it showed very well (when I didn't have my camera of course!)

Then it was back to the cemetery where another Red-breasted Flycatcher was posing.
Red-breasted Flycatcher.
Three great birding days on the east coast in the space of five days, yet there was more to come....

On the Sunday, news broke of a Siberian Accentor on Shetland - there were several goodies up there the following days but there surely had to be a mega on the mainland. Friends who were staying at Flamborough for the week were having an amazing time with some great birds but on Thursday afternoon, all hell broke loose. A Siberian Accentor at Eastington (not 50 yards from where the OBP had been!)

A hastily arranged day off was arranged and John and I headed east once again.

Friday 14th October 
We fully expected a large number of birders in the area - must have been a few hundred in the vicinity with parking all along the road into Easington. Such was the rarity and event, the invasion of birders caught the news headlines.

The bird was very confiding, hopping around the moss-laden tarmac of the old school yard nonchalantly tossing leaves aside to pick up tiny morsels underneath. Everyone was well behaved I'm glad to say.
Siberian Accentor
Siberian Accentor
With the target bird safely under our belts, we then headed out to do some proper birding to see what we could find. We headed to the Blue Bell car park where we managed to find a spot and as we got kitted up, a Shore Lark landed nearby. This bird eventually stayed all day in the same spot allowing everyone a great view.
Shore Lark
Shore Lark
There were birds absolutely everywhere - many more Fieldfares than the previous weekend and a few flocks of Redpolls (judging by the size and call, probably Meallies) moving south. There were Bramblings and Siskins overhead too.  Next though was the news of a Dusky Warbler trapped in Church Field which was subsequently shown off to around a hundred birders.
Dusky Warbler
There weren't many YBWs around though we heard one or two and then got to grips with a cople of Firecrests. As we made out wat around Cliff Farm, a flock of around 65 Russian White-fronted Geese flew over the humber and circled once before heading off. We saw Woodcock too. There had been an OBP near the Blue Bell and a Pallas' Warbler in the Crown and Anchor Car Park  so we headed back there but I soon decided to wander down to the canal scrape area and search for something else. I eventually met up with John again who'd seen the Pallas' and we went for a gander at an immobile Jack Snipe on the scrape. Next were the triangle bushes - I went one side and John the other - plenty of Goldcrests and a few Chiffchaffs and As I got to the Canal Bank I wondered where JW was - I then saw him waving to get my attention - a minute later we were enjoying good views of a very obliging Dusky Warbler 'tchack'ing away.

We eventually left the to the crowd that had gathered and went to complete the triangle but hadn't gone far when we noticed nine Bean Geese on the saltmarsh edge. One had a very yellow bill but as it was a similar size to the rest we assumed all to be Tundra Beans.

After a deserved cuppa, we had a last look at the Shore Lark and then back to the Accentor where there were now only around 30 birders. It gave great views but the light was rather poor. So having sated our appetite for views of this bird, we checked the Goldcrests around and found another Firecrest. And then the one that got away - I pick up a flycatcher silhouette on the back edge of the trees but lost it as it flicked up into the canopy. We searched for quite a while but could only find more crests, a Blackcap and Chiffchaffs. Ah well. We headed to the chippy in Patrington and gleefully scoffed a celebratory fish supper!
Siberian Accentor
What a week and to be present on 4 out of nine days on the east coast in that weather was fantastic - migrants all over the place and one of the best birding periods I've had.
Dark-bellied Brent Geese




Tai Mo Shan with Matt

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
Sunday morning and I set off to dump my bags at Kowloon Station in order that I could spend the rest of the day unencumbered by them. I had planned to meet Matthew and his father around 12:30 and sure enough, bang on time they were at the front door of the hotel. We started to get to know each other on the trip out to Tai Mo Shan, HK's highest point but one that was shrouded in cloud so we weren't all that confident of what we'd be able to do. I had to be at the Airport in four hours so we decided to go for it and as we reached the car park, it was clear that it wasn't as bad as feared. It was certainly a little cooler up here and there were lots of hikers, joggers and walkers. 

Matt immediately picked up on Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler a that was singing in a nearby bush which eventually gave itself up. Brown-flanked Bush Warblers were singing all the way up with a few tantalising views of a rather dull-looking bird.

Birding in the afternoon is never all that productive. Add that to it being hot, mid July and in heavily vegetated areas, birding was going to be challenging and indeed we heard a lot more than we saw - Lesser Shortwing for example had a lovely loud song but is your typical skulker.

We reached the 'birding area' - an area of upland grassland with disused buildings and fences. Almost immediately we heard a Chinese Grassbird close by - Matt's target bird. However, like most things, it skulked away and never gave a view of what is a very difficult species to get. A few Richard's Pipits called overhead - weird but a few do remain to breed.

Matt's dad suddenly picked up a call of a Chinese Francolin - something that we talked about on the way up in that it was a morning bird. We crept forward slowly and then there it was, sat on a rock calling its head off. We spent the next ten minutes appreciating it and gradually getting nearer to such an extent that it was the Kwan's closest encounter ever!
Chinese Francolin (Courtesy of  Matt)
We then searched in vain for more Grassbirds and heard some Vineous Parrotbills. I picked up another skulking warbler in a nearby bush that turned out to be a juvenile Russet Bush Warbler - another very good find. A showy Long-tailed Shrike completed the list as the Chinese Hwamai and Mountain Tailorbirds were just not for showing!
Russet Bush Warbler (Matt)

We did plan a brief stop somewhere else but traffic was stopped so we headed to the airport where we said our goodbyes with great thanks for a splendid afternoon searching out birds in unfamiliar surroundings. Must do it again sometime!

Hong Kong Birding – Mai Po

Posted on - In Dave's Birding Blog
Much to my shame I've not kept up with my blog posts for a considerable time. However, a recent opportunity with work to visit our supplier in China gave me the opportunity to do some birding in Hong Kong. I started searching for information on birding sites and things I'd likely see in July (typically the worst month for birding) and came across Matt Kwan's blog (http://matthewkwanbirding.blogspot.co.uk). I contacted Matt on the off-chance that he could point me in the right direction and before I knew it he was suggesting an afternoon's birding! Great! More of that later.
I had already made enquiries about Mai Po, a place I'd read about and wanted to visit at sometime. There was a lot of confusing information out there talking about annual permits, scientific study etc but I eventually found the WWF site where you could book a place on a tour. Unfortunately, there were none in English on the day I had to visit but I also found the link to apply for a solo overseas visitor permit (numbers are strictly limited!). I filled out the forms and scanned the relevant documents and sent it off but hadn't heard anything for a week. Fortunately my ringing trainer, Richard du Feu knew someone there through his wader ringing exploits and emailing her certainly helped - they hadn't got my original application for some reason - slightly worrying.
Across one of the Fish ponds towards Shenzen, China
So after a week in China, I arrived back in Hong Kong and the following day took a train to Yuen Long and a taxi from there to Mai Po visitor centre where my permit was waiting. It was very hot and humid so I knew that birding was going to be difficult but I was there so I was going to make the most of it. The tides were wrong for the Deep Bay Area so I contented myself with a walk around the main part of the reserve which is like Leighton Moss on steroids.
Fortunately the paths had shelter from the sun!
I got my permit stamped at the warden's nicely air-conditioned chubby-hole and set out on the paved path around the reserve. Azure-winged Magpies were rather showy as was a Long-tailed Shrike with a juvenile. Amazingly there were NO nuisance insects but plenty of butterflies and dragonflies.

Chinese Pond Herons, Little Egrets and Great Egrets were very much in evidence wherever I went. To complete the herons, there were a couple of Intermediate Egrets alongside Eastern Cattle Egrets, Striated Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Grey Heron and Yellow Bittern.

Black-collared Starlings are very sizeable compared to the starlings I'm used to - they're common around HK. White-shouldered Starlings were also evident. I didn't see many small things other than Plain Prinia and Japenese White-eye but medium sized birds were quite vocal if not all that easy to see. Asian Koel and Greater Coucal showed reasonably well and there were a couple of flocks of Masked Laughing-thrush making one hell of a racket!
View from one of the hides
The first channel I came to held a few waders on the muddy fringes of the mangroves - Green and Common Sandpiper, Spotted and Common Redshank. There was also White-breasted Waterhen darting back into cover. Further along I took the paths to the hides which were oven-like I've got to say but in milder times would be spectacular. Nothing much was on show other than the interesting looking local race of White Wagtail but then a bird flew across my line of sight - Grey-headed Lapwing that shouldn't have been here at this time of year.

Thankfully, the paths were lined with trees that provided ample shade from the sun and there was a breeze that was difficult to find but when I did, I remained there for five minutes to try and cool down.

Meandering down towards the border fence, the main open water area had plenty of Herons and a flock of Avocets but the bird I really hoped but didn't expect to see was sat in front of the furthest hide - in fact two non-breeding Black-faced Spoonbills; a bird of extreme rarity! Marvellous!
Black-faced Spoonbills
After some lunch I continued back to the visitor centre picking up White-breasted and Eurasian Kingfishers along the way together with Black Drongo and Crested Mynahs.


I only met one other person on the whole of the walk - I must come back at a sensible time of year! A total of 45 species of which many were lifers of course. The centre ordered me a taxi and the return trip to my hotel in Kowloon was simple. I finished off the day with a trip on the Star Ferry across to HK Island for dinner.