Birds for Yvonne

I don’t do as much bird photography these days. I don’t like the standard since I gave up heavy tripods and long lenses. Everything is a compromise so I just do my best and accept the body is weak even if the spirit is willing. Nevertheless I promised Yvonne I would post some bird shots and here goes:

Starting with Dusky Thrush, taken locally last month.

Turdus eunomus - Dusky Thrush

Verditer Flycatcher, taken in Malaysia in October

Verditer Flycatcher - male

Dark-sided Flycatcher – actually not too bad because the bird was happy for me to approach to within a few metres

Dark-sided Flycatcher

Bull-headed Shrike, another local long stayer

Lanius bucephalus - Bull-headed Shrike

And last but not least Streaked Spiderhunter from my Malaysian (mothing) trip

Arachnothera magna

Oh go on then, one more – Sultan Tit. I struggled to see this species for ages but typically once I had seen one I found them everywhere!

Sultan Tit

Happy 2020, Yvonne.

Hong Kong walking

So we made it.

Hong Kong has made us welcome with uninterrupted perfect weather. Perched in our eyrie we look out over the urban landscape of Hong Kong Island. Centre stage, the rugby posts adorning the geometric splendor of the Bank of China Tower. Not a curve in sight. Below it the HQ of HSBC and the smaller and less eye-catching Standard Chartered Bank tower. The haze is just as bad as when we left in February 2015. The hills of Kowloon are infrequently visible when the net curtains are tugged briefly to one side. Most days though we can watch the Star Ferry chugging its diminishing route between Central and TST. The only birds sounds that float up are the screeches of the Yellow-crested cockatoos. Occasionally a Black Kite will drift past.

To the rear we have the wooded hillsides below The Peak. At night orange lamps show the path winding steeply up Old Peak Road. Atop the ridge some of the world’s most expensive real estate gazes scornfully at the hoi polloi below. That’s us.

I promised myself that I would do some walking if I could find reasonable paths to amble along. To my surprise (and even more so the surprise of my creaking knees and tugging hamstrings) there are several that I find manageable.

To get to the Peak plateau, where the tourists congregate to be disappointed at the invisible view, I have a choice. Chatham Path is a stone stairway that winds up to Barker Road. It is called The Central Green Trail. Just off the main path above May Road is a small, immaculately kept temple. Beyond the path winds through dense jungle on one side and steep slopes to the other, giving the typical panorama of the island. Small cascades suggest there ought to be more wildlife than is visible on my walks. A Pallas’s Squirrel tolerates me briefly then scuttles up the tree trunk and away as hikers approach behind me.

I like this path but to get to the Peak the walk along Barker Road is unappealing. Construction work is everywhere in HK. Build, pause, knock down, rebuild. Creative destruction. Or destructive creation. Barker Road is a classic example. So generally I take the other route up.

At the end of Tregunter Path a narrow hairpin bend loops you onto Old Peak Road. Trees on one side and on the other steep, scrubby slopes. The first few hundred meters are extremely tough on the calf muscles walking up and even harder on the quads walking down. Locals have a couple of solutions. Some try walking in a zig-zag and some walk backwards. The steep section gets the heart rate up. Fix your eyes firmly on the second orange litterbin. This is where the incline starts to lessen and the heart can beat less rapidly.

In the morning the helpers walk the dogs (or vice versa) and the joggers pant up and down, lycra-clad, dripping in perspiration, checking their wrist monitors for heart beat, distance travelled, altitude change and of course the latest stock and property prices. This is after all Hong Kong.

I am constantly checking the environment for my usual birds and bugs. All the way up. It takes me about 25 minutes, including the ritual exchange of greetings with the path sweeper. Sometimes I pause to divert into the men’s toilet. The lights are on all night and it is a good place to check for moths. I suppose it looks a bit odd but it is perfectly innocent.

At the “top” a further choice awaits me. There is a further walk on up to Victoria Peak Garden. This is not extensively used but there have been good birds found up here so its worth an occasional visit.

Or I can walk the roughly 3km around Lugard Road. Flat, easy and the small waterfall offers birds and butterflies if the sun is shining.

Finally I can walk down to Pokfulam Reservoir. This is busy and quite enjoyable but at the end it is either a bus ride back or turn around and walk all the way back up.

So my preferred route now is about half way around Lugard Road and then off to the left. This takes me into Lung Fu Shan country park. According to AFCD, “Lung Fu Shan Country Park was designated in 1998. It is the smallest country park in Hong Kong covering 47 hectares. “

More choices here: A straight walk down Hatton Road to where it approaches HK University. A detour along the LFS Fitness Trail and Pinewood Battery. Or another route down to Pokfulam Reservoir.

I normally do a mix and then follow the path straight back up. Birding is hard here if only because the trail is so popular. Slowly I am starting to get some decent photos and sightings. Pinewood Battery is good for butterflies. The birds need a lot of work and can be very frustrating. The morning light is not especially favourable for photography. I want to write more about Lung Fu Shan but that must wait for another day. I hope you will follow my trips.

Muscicapa sibirica

Urocissa erythroryncha

Eurema hecabe

Epiphyte

Callosciurus erythraeus

New year, new bird

I remember now why I hated the British Winter.  Endless dull days. Probably colder and drier than now but still dreary. I used to do a new year’s day bird count if the weather  was cold, crisp and sunny (not often) but yesterday we hardly left the house. So miserable.

Today I could see the water settled all over the lawn and even the rose bed is waterlogged in one corner. I went out to see how bad it was and slung a pair of bin’s round my neck, just in case. The light was already poor but you never know. And so it proved today. Some high pitched bird calls attracted my attention and I eventually managed to find the owners. A pair of tiny featherballs sporting a crisp, broad, white supercilium. Unmistakeable. Firecrest.

When I left Hampshire the latest Avifauna described it as “A scarce breeder, passage migrant and winter visitor”. The 2014 Hampshire bird report describes it as “A moderately common and increasing resident and passage migrant”. It is also described as under-recorded. So its distribution and frequency have changed. I clearly need no longer go to the New Forest to search for them. They come to me.

There were 2 maybe 3 birds. I had a sighting on the other side of the garden from the first pair but can’t be sure one had not looped around. The birds were inquisitive and confiding. If I had had a camera with me and if it had been significantly lighter I would have been able to take good photos – easily close enough with a 400mm lens. And that will be my goal for tomorrow. Better light please and the birds lingering. I wonder if they will stay and breed as the Goldcrests do.

I have some oddities on the garden list already but plenty of common birds missing. Tawny Owl woke me on new year’s morning. Grey Heron flew over the same day and a Dunnock was around the pond. I don’t see them very often here. But Firecrest is my most unexpected and welcome bird so far. Certainly the Winter seems brighter for its presence. A good start to the birding year.