July 28, 2022

In Melda's Marsh

Who was Melda? I have yet to find out. But she has given her name to a rather special marsh. Melda's Marsh lies at the center of Seal Bay Nature Park, on the Comox Peninsula on the East coast of Vancouver Island. Surrounded by forest on all sides, its tranquility derives from the fact that one must walk for at least 20 minutes to reach it from the nearest road. It is an ecologically rich spot: in summer, dragonflies swarm over the lily ponds and birds hawk for insects. Mature trees beside the water offer ideal habitat for Red-breasted Sapsuckers whose intermittent drumming can be heard regularly. Dead trees in the marsh provide perches for Cedar Waxwings, Olive-sided Flycatchers and Merlins. Pacific Slope and Willow Flycatchers, Yellow-rumped Warblers, Western Tanagers and Red Crossbills forage at the forest edges. On the west side of the marsh is Melda's Lookout, a raised area which allows views of the marsh. One can easily imagine Melda as a pioneering naturalist spending summer evenings here, observing and maybe sketching what she saw.

(Further research solved the mystery: "Melda’s Marsh was named in memory of Melda Buchanan who died in 2004. Melda contributed countless hours in her efforts to protect this area and in building trails to allow the public to experience the natural beauty of the marsh and surrounding forest" - Ian Moul and Wendy Kotilla, Ecological Inventory of Melda’s Marsh, 2012)

Posted on July 28, 2022 05:15 AM by stephenmatthews stephenmatthews | 22 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 14, 2022

Last of the spring migrants

eBird's annual 'Big Day', timed to coincide with spring migration, provided an excuse to revisit Mai Po in search of the last spring migrants passing through Hong Kong. Among the target species for the day, one Asian Dowitcher in rufous breeding plumage was feeding on the pond at hide no. 1. Several Spotted Redshank were in black breeding plumage, alongside Whimbrels, Gull-billed and Caspian Terns.
On the mud flats, waders included Common Redshank and Greenshank, Terek and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Eurasian Curlew and Grey-tailed Tattler. On the gei wai ponds several Yellow Bitterns were active, some of them no doubt being passage migrants.
Among the resident species, Black-winged Stilts and Little Grebes were on their nests and two pairs of Greater Painted-Snipe were active. One female Painted-Snipe was displaying by raising her wings, possibly for territorial defense but probably for courtship (since a male was present, and in this species the larger and more colourful female does the courting). Indian Cuckoos were singing and for once the reclusive Large Hawk Cuckoo was seen as well as heard.
A surprise on the way out was an Asian Barred Owlet perched in the open near the entrance to the reserve. This resident owl is sometimes active during the day. This unexpected bonus and a total of 59 species made for quite a 'big' day. A full checklist is at https://ebird.org/checklist/S109960497

Posted on May 14, 2022 09:34 AM by stephenmatthews stephenmatthews | 12 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 04, 2022

Chinese Egret and stints at San Tin

The Chinese Egret, also known as Swinhoe's Egret, once bred in Hong Kong but is now a scarce passage migrant, most readily seen in and around Mai Po between April and May. It is often found in the company of Little Egrets, and this was the case with an individual at San Tin today. The pond was half-drained, resulting in expanses of mud which were attracting shorebirds. Among the numerous Red-necked Stints was a Long-toed Stint, distinguishable by its long greenish legs as well as long toes.

Posted on May 04, 2022 09:42 AM by stephenmatthews stephenmatthews | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 01, 2022

Year of the Chinese Sparrowhawk

2022 has been a good year for spring passage of both Grey-faced Buzzard and Chinese Sparrowhawk, with large numbers passing over outlying islands such as Po Toi and Lantau. Even so, I was not expecting to see either hawk in the local park at Kowloon Tsai. Yet on April 7 a Grey-faced Buzzard was soaring overhead on its way north. Today it was the turn of the Chinese Sparrowhawk. The reason I noticed it is worth recording. I was photographing a koel for the sake of the City Nature Challenge when it emitted an unusual alarm call - more of an alarm shriek, in fact. At that moment a hawk flew past with black wing tips suggestive of a Chinese Sparrowhawk. It then perched just long enough to allow itself to be photographed before moving on. The photos show the distinctive red 'cere' like a wax seal above the beak.

Posted on May 01, 2022 11:05 AM by stephenmatthews stephenmatthews | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

April 15, 2022

Cuckoos at Kowloon Catchwater

By mid April several species of cuckoo have arrived in Hong Kong as breeding visitors. The Large Hawk Cuckoo and Plaintive Cuckoo have been singing at the Chinese University, and today the Chestnut-winged Cuckoo and Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoo could be heard along the Kowloon Hills Catchwater. Including the hoot of the resident Greater Coucal, four species of cuckoo could be heard (but remained unseen, as is often the case). Also calling prominently were Great Barbets, one of which showed itself in a bare tree, and a few Chestnut Bulbuls.
A pleasant surprise: at least at this location, the macaques are no longer a nuisance. It would appear that fines of up to 10,000 HKD with occasional enforcement have finally induced locals to stop feeding the monkeys, and they are no longer threatening or trying to steal from passers-by.

Posted on April 15, 2022 09:57 AM by stephenmatthews stephenmatthews | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 26, 2022

The Ho Man Tin Playground

Whatever its attractions as a children's playground, the Ma Tau Wai Reservoir Playground in Ho Man Tin is certainly a playground for birders and bird photographers. A small green oasis perched above the urban Kowloon peninsula, it is evidently on the migration route for several species.
In spring the main attraction involves the migrating flycatchers, and the colourful males in particular. A male Blue-and-White Flycatcher was drawing crowds this morning, while a drab female was not getting so much attention. This species passes through Hong Kong regularly on spring passage: after wintering in Southeast Asia, they migrate up the coast to breed in Northeastern China, Siberia, Korea and Japan.


Posted on March 26, 2022 05:28 AM by stephenmatthews stephenmatthews | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 07, 2022

Barbet time at Tai Po Kau

The Great Barbet is resident at Tai Po Kau and other montane forest areas in the New Territories. David Diskin notes that 'it may take many visits before you actually see the species even though you may hear it regularly'. Which is quite a British understatement: it took me about 20 visits to see one. The best opportunity is in spring when they at their most vocal. On March 7, 2022 their calls could be heard throughout the valley and at least four perched prominently in bare branches above the Outdoor Education Centre. In addition to its usual "coo-ee" call, one produced a rasping 'karr!'

Also prominent were the resident Crested Serpent Eagles, calling in flight over the valley, while one looked down disdainfully at the assembled photographers from a favoured perch.

Posted on March 07, 2022 12:06 PM by stephenmatthews stephenmatthews | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 25, 2022

Forest of the porcupines

It was a sunny afternoon at Tai Po Kau, quiet in terms of both birds and visitors. Great Barbets were calling, but as usual remained well out of sight in the treetops. Among the more active birds were Yellow-crested Tits and Velvet-fronted Nuthatches, both introduced species which are established in and around the nature reserve. Orange-bellied Leafbirds and Fork-tailed Sunbirds were feeding on the the Rhodoeleia blossoms.

I took the short cut across the stream to the Red Walk, leading to the scenic Blue Walk loop as recommended by David Diskin in his invaluable guidebook, Hong Kong Nature Walks: the New Territories. As usual, David's recommendation was spot-on. Soon after embarking on the less-travelled Blue Walk, I encountered a 'bird wave' including Huet's Fulvettas, Grey-Chinned Minivets and various unidentified leaf warblers. While I was attempting to photograph the phylloscopi for further research, two East Asian Porcupines came ambling onto the path, intending to cross it at exactly the spot where I was crouched. They were larger than I had imagined - especially at a range of around 3 feet - and I got as much of a shock as they did, stopping dead in their tracks before trundling off into the forest.

Posted on February 25, 2022 11:48 AM by stephenmatthews stephenmatthews | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

August 05, 2021

In the Sibelius Forest

The Sibelius Forest (Sibeliuksen mestä) lies just to the north of Hämeenlinna, the Finnish town where the composer Sibelius grew up. A nature trail follows places where he liked to walk in his youth and was inspired to compose pieces such as Finlandia, which gave the Finns their memorable national anthem. The climax of the walk comes at the top where a rocky outcrop gives a spectacular view onto Lake Aulanko far below. Today a family of black-throated divers could be seen on the lake and woodpeckers could be heard drumming. Pine trees held crested tits and some other shy passerines which remained unidentified. Another rich habitat is along the lakeshore near the car park for the Forest, where birds included a Lesser Whitethroat and a Tree Pipit.

Posted on August 05, 2021 06:42 PM by stephenmatthews stephenmatthews | 5 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 20, 2021

The terns of Sai Kung

The islets and seafood-rich waters of Sai Kung harbour offer excellent habitat for terns. On spring passage, Whiskered Terns are commonly seen, sometimes with white-winged black terns. In summer they are replaced by Black-naped and Roseate Terns, sometimes harrassed by Lesser Frigatebirds. Today Black-naped and Roseate Terns were using the channel marker off Sai Kung Pier as a convenient fishing platform. Both species breed on the islets of Mirs Bay to the east of Sai Kung.

Posted on June 20, 2021 09:13 AM by stephenmatthews stephenmatthews | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment