Birding Hong Kong or What a grey day!

Yesterday I had a day in the field with one of Hong Kong’s most esteemed birders. We started at NSW. NSW has nothing to do with NSFW (not suitable for work) or even NSU Wankel rotary engines but stands for Nam Sang Wai. This is one of Hong Kong’s hidden treasures as I shall try to illustrate below. The key to finding NSW is to ignore the signs saying Nam Sang Wai and follow the aforementioned birder, Mr. John Holmes, instead. John, together with his wife Jemi,  has been photographing birds in Hong Kong for many a long year. Do visit his blog, a link to which is found at the foot of this page.  To find NSW in the future you may simply need to follow the road signs to the latest horrendous residential development as it is under threat. Say hello to more “sustainable development”. This is one of the great oxymoron’s of the HK developer’s vocabulary. For now however it remains a prime spot to observe and photograph water birds.

John and I pitched up around 8.30 on a grey January morning. A few others had arrived before us but the light was poor and nobody was expecting much photographically. We spent an hour or so here before moving on to Tai Sang Wai / Lut Chau to explore the fishponds and then finally we moved on to Mai Po for the noonday tide. Here are some images from the day. Due to the poor light I was shooting at high ISO (typically 1600) to get a shutter speed of around 1/1000 so there may well be some graininess in the images. Most are taken at F5.6 or F8.

The first is a Northern pintail. To demonstrate how close they come to the photographer’s vantage point, a concrete slipway, this is full frame. With an 800mm lens admittedly.

Anas acuta - male

And here is Mrs. Anas acuta:

Anas acuta - female

A Hong Kong specialty, the Black-faced spoonbill. This was at NSW but later images are from Mai Po, where a small group was trying to trap a BFS to fit to it a satellite tracker. Understanding the movements of this species is critical to helping it survive. Increasingly its habitat is coming under threat.

Platalea minor

One of yesterday’s amusement’s was watching the cormorants fighting over a fish. Major fights broke out several times and John and I speculated that it may have been the same poor fish on each occasion. It was clearly too big to swallow but in its determination to wrest the fish for itself one pesky pisces predator grabbed a competing bird by the neck. A fine move worthy of Mick McManus himself but ineffectual as he had the wrong bird by the throat. I was mildly flattered when a Flickr contact wrote of the upper image that “It needs a lot of experience to obtain this kind of image.” Actually what it needs is a very long lens, a camera body that will shoot at 9 frames per second and a fair chunk of luck.

A catch worthy of the great Bobby Simpson.

Phalacrocorax carbo

NSW is also a decent place for large gulls. My eyes glaze over when I try to identify large gulls but I am reasonably confident this is Larus Heuglini, Heuglin’s gull. Note the absence of a mirror on P10, the outermost primary.

Larus heuglini

Awaiting ID

I suspect this is a  first-spring /summer Heuglin’s but I am ready to be corrected. I referred to Gulls of Europe, Asia & N. America by Olsen and Larsson (Plate 55).

I took few images at Lut Chau but this is a passable shot of a Richard’s pipit. This is bordering on being in the ‘arty-farty’ bucket but what the heck.

Anthus richardi

We finished at Mai Po. It was a humbling spectacle. Thousands of  birds on display from the smallest wader to the raptors they so fear. The incoming tide pushes the waders and gulls towards the hides and as the mudflats become covered the birds may move on to the scrapes. Yesterday’s tide however was about perfect for us as the birds stayed and as the tide dropped they carried on feeding. We picked out a few with leg-flags on and recorded their numbers for tracking purposes. White over yellow is Hong Kong.

White over Yellow. HK leg-flags

John drew my attention to an osprey reasonably close to the hide we were in. I was unsighted but moved right and was able to get the lens on the bird at a very acute angle.

Pandion haliaetus

A handsome beast indeed. And you really don’t want to be a fish looking at those talons.

Hang in there reader. We are almost done. But I couldn’t resist this egret illustrating why the aigrettes were so desirable to the fashion bunnies of the past. Don’t you agree they look better on the bird?

Egret aigrettes

Finally……… as we walked back to the car park the eagle-eyed Mr. Holmes picked out not one but two  Eurasian spoonbills to go with the BFSs we laud so much. These are not full frame shots but, hey, they are good birds anyway. Can you spot leucorodia amongst the minors?

Spoonies on parade

Spoonbill bush dispute

Well that’s it for today. Not a sprint but a marathon and thank you if you stayed with me so far.

Remember, birding is good for the soul. And even if you can’t take stunning photos like Mr. Holmes, its more fun than building another block of residential accommodation to sell at prices that would pay off the debt of a small European country.

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