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Exotic Hong Hong Trip Report

Ferruginous Flycatcher by Martin Williams

11 April: Mai Po Marshes

We headed to Mai Po Marshes Nature Reserve. First, we halted at the “access road” ponds, just outside the reserve. Here, we saw a variety of birds that favour open country, and/or are attracted by the ponds and the insects that breed in their grassy bunds, including Pale Martin, Red-throated and Richard’s pipits, and Yellow Wagtail. There were also the first of tens of egrets seen during the day, as well as Chinese Pond Herons in handsome breeding plumage.
Walking into the reserve, we added birds such as Long-tailed Shrike and Masked Laughingthrush.
We headed for a large lagoon, known as the Scrape or 16/17. This can be superb for roosting waders, and with the tide high in the neighbouring Deep Bay estuary we hoped to find large flocks gathered here.
There were hundreds rather than thousands of waders at the lagoon. But the variety was good, and as we watched many hundreds more waders arrived (this marked the start of the waders regularly using the lagoon as a roost during this spring).
We headed through the mangroves, along a wooden boardwalk, to one of the hides overlooking the Deep Bay estuary ­ arriving as the tide was falling. Successive flocks of waders arrived to land on the freshly uncovered mud; when they passed close, we heard the air “whoosh” through their wing feathers. The air rang with calls of waders. At the lagoon and mudflats, we found most of the 27 wader species we recorded at Mai Po. They included Kentish Plover, Eurasian Curlew, Spotted Redshank, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Long-billed Dowitcher and Red- necked Phalarope. Caspian and Gull-billed Terns, as well as Great, Intermediate and Little egrets, also fed on the mudflats.

Grey-faced Buzzard by Martin Williams
12 April: Tai Po Kau and the northeast New Territories

We spent the morning at Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve, which has the best forest in Hong Kong ­ albeit even here it is secondary forest. Birding can be frustrating here, but we found several of the forest species, including a Besra, a brilliant red and black Scarlet Minivet, Black- winged Cuckoo Shrike, Chestnut Bulbuls, a Hainan Blue Flycatcher (took some effort to locate a singing male, but a lovely bird), two Black- throated Laughingthrushes that came in close to investigate a whistled imitation of their song, Yellow-cheeked Tit and Buff-bellied Flowerpecker.
Then, we headed east, to halt for lunch at a small restaurant.
On from here, we moved north, to the shore of Starling Inlet ­ which like Deep Bay straddles the border between Hong Kong and mainland China. Here, we walked to the edge of a marsh, and then strolled through Luk Keng, a traditional South China village. Then, we called in briefly at Wu Kau Tang, with another fine village set amidst hills, with a good combination of farmland and woodland. We mixed culture with birding, adding Black Drongo, White-backed Munia and Fork- tailed Sunbird to the trip list; plus a Collared Crow seen from the minibus ­ a species we had missed at its more typical haunt, Mai Po.

Chest-cheeked Starlings by Martin Williams
13 April: Po Toi Island

For our final day, we headed to Po Toi Island, which in the past couple of years has been found to be a migrant hotspot, especially for migrants arriving on the China coast from the Philippines as they head towards northeast China and eastern Russia. This had not been a great spring on Po Toi and there had been quiet days recently ­ but the weather looked promising for bringing birds in, with low cloud, mist, and some rain around.
As we arrived, there was light rain, and at first this seemed like it might continue all day. But, happily, the rain stopped, and the rest of the day was fine though cloudy. The weather indeed brought some migrants; we had to work hard ­ checking and rechecking the tiny woods near the ferry pier and behind a coastal hamlet ­ but our efforts were well rewarded, and this proved to be one of the best days on Po Toi this spring.
After initially finding no migrants of note, we walked up a short flight of steps to some trees, and soon found a male Yellow- rumped Flycatcher, which is rare in Hong Kong in spring. This was brilliant yellow below, black above with a white wing patch and white supercilium, yellow on the rump. In trees next to it, a closely related male Narcissus Flycatcher was rather similar, but gleaming orange below, with an orange supercilium. An obliging male Ferruginous Flycatcher was just yards away, and we had brief views of a brown (coloured) flycatcher that others saw and photographed, and was likely a female Narcissus type flycatcher.
A handful of local birders and bird photographers were also visiting the island for the day, and we swapped information. One told us of a Chestnut-cheeked Starling ­ a rare local migrant ­ with a party of White-shouldered Starlings. We found the starlings, and saw a male and female Chestnut-cheeked Starling in the party.
A couple of times, we paused at a small café that overlooks overgrown fields, trees and hillside. The first time, a Savannah Nightjar flew by. The second time, a Grey-faced Buzzard flew close overhead, then perched on a nearby clump of bamboo, giving superb views.
Even during a seafood lunch in a restaurant at the head of a small cove, we saw birds. Two Chinese Goshawks perched in a tree, affording fine views through the telescope; a second Grey-faced Buzzard circled over the cove.
We also saw another Ferruginous Flycatcher, a Blue Whistling Thrush, a “Chinese” Blackbird, and a Common Kingfisher ­ our only kingfisher of the tour.

By Dr Martin Williams guiding for FTB

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Photos of Variegated Fairy-wren and Little Tern courtesy of Neil Fifer