Sunday, 12 November 2017

Rufous-faced Warbler

One of those 'miscellany' posts as the find of note this weekend was more of a peculiar one rather than a rare one. I'll start with the male Yellow-throated Bunting Emberiza elegans which spent at least three days this week in Area B, although it took me until Wednesday to photograph it. Eurasian Siskins Spinus spinus and Bramblings Fringilla montifringilla have also been arriving in low numbers this week, indicating that we are in a 'finch year' (after a two-year absence in the case of Eurasian Siskin). These are all flying over, though, and I've yet to train a camera on one.

Friday morning brought the first weird event of the weekend, with the bizarre spectacle of a Streaked Shearwater Calonectris leucomelas flapping around a fish pond close to my coastal woodlot. I picked this up off my scooter (when overhead), but by the time I caught up with it to photograph it, it was at range in private fish ponds where it ultimately manged to give me the slip.

With both woodlots empty Friday, I went looking for waders. The pools around the one which hosted the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea two weeks ago are now stiff with waders, offering some hope that this mega might show up again. I could not locate it Friday, but was not unhappy for some reason to spend my time snapping away at Pacific Golden Plovers Pluvialis fulva. If I've aged these two correctly, then there's a winter adult and a juvenile below. The adult is moulting its primaries (which juveniles of this species do not do), so its age is certain. The juvenile has neat grey barring on its flanks and is not in moult. It is perhaps 'mildly' interesting as it has a bit of dark cap, a contrastingly bright (though short) supercilium, and lots of white fringes above (characteristics of American Golden Plover Pluvialis dominica). However, the tertials-tail tip-wing tip ratio is totally out for anything more unusual, and individuals like this one are not difficult to find.

Saturday morning started with a pretty obvious migration of finches, buntings, and warblers along the coast, though everything was moving in very low numbers. My coastal woodlot held the most unexpected find of the weekend: a Rufous-faced Warbler Abroscopus albogularis! This may have simply descended in altitude from breeding areas nearby, though with visible migration in evidence Saturday I suspect that it probably did arrive overnight from the mainland.

Both Pallas's Leaf Phylloscopus proregulus and Yellow-browed Warblers Phylloscopus inornatus were also present in my woodlot, though these were far trickier to photograph. Surprisingly, a Cisticola SP. I photographed on my way out to my woodlot Saturday morning proved to be of greater interest to me than did these, as it exposed just how much I have neglected Bright-headed Cisticola Cisticola exilis over the years! I only ever look at these when they start singing in April, and quite embarrassingly had no idea (until I began reading about them) that non-breeding birds have a completely different tail shape (long and tapered) to breeding-plumaged ones (short and square)! This on its own is sufficient to explain why I have never seen one in winter (I even had the 'scolding' call of Bright-headed Cisticola down as common to both species as birds giving it did not have short tails) though admittedly I spend virtually no time in winter in areas they frequent. To cut a long story short, I revisited the area Sunday with a view to photographing both cisticolas (which I did), but had the settings on my camera wrong meaning that the resulting images would be poor. Basically, Bright-headed Cistiocla can be easily told from the similar Zitting Cisticola Cisticola juncidis by its long dark tail with a buffy tip (as well as by its call). I will want better photos of both of these at some point soon to make amends for this very embarrassing oversight!

With the same birds in my woodlot Sunday as on the previous day, I chose to head up for the recently returned Nordmann's Greenshanks Tringa guttifer at Jiang Jun in the afternoon. I've never fared well with these two, but astonishingly one would come quite close on Sunday, allowing me to finally get decent shots of this fantastically rare species, albeit at the umpteenth attempt!

So all in all a top weekend, really, with returning megas, a first for Qi Gu, and an embarrassingly large amount of 'learning' going on, even at this late stage! Above photos taken in Qi Gu and Jiang Jun, Tainan County 8-12/11/17.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Gaoxiong Plastic Park

A dip to end the weekend with Sunday, when a trip to Gaoxiong Plastic Park failed to produce the Japanese Grosbeak Eophona personata that had been present for much of the week. A couple of old blokes fighting was probably the highlight, otherwise just the usual uncountable plastic was on offer in the form of numerous Zebra Doves Geopelia striata, a pair of Vinous-breasted Starlings Acridotheres burmannicus, and a rather comical Chinese Hwamei Garrulax canorus.

All the sounds in the Plastic Park are different to those in the rest of Taiwan, and going there you have the feeling of being overseas. You have to wonder what effect so many invasives are having on the resident avifauna (also abundant there are Asian Glossy Starling Aplonis panayensis, Chestnut-tailed Starling Sturnia malabarica, and Javan Myna Acridotheres javanicus), but at least they don't seem to be bothering the local Grey Treepies Dendrocitta formosae.

It didn't take long to realise that nothing was going to show in the Plastic Park, so we returned to Qi Gu to search once more for the Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea. This was nowhere to be found on a largely empty and rapidly drying fish pond, but a close and decidedly obvious Little Stint Calidris minuta was suitable consolation for the effort.

Despite the dip, any weekend in which you see Spoon-billed Sandpiper is always going to be the best one of the year. The gauntlet is now well and truly thrown down to the remainder of the year to produce content anything like as good as this last one! Above photos taken at Wei Wu Ying Metropolitan Park, Gaoxiong City and Qi Gu, Tainan County 29/10/17.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

Spoon-billed Sandpiper!

I left my woodlot almost in tears Friday morning as all I had seen was an Asian Stubtail Urosphena squameiceps which flatly refused to be photographed. Pretty much every finch you could name had been recorded during the week in the north (with obviously some kind of invasion going on), but where I was it was blowing a gale and I had absolutely no idea of where to go next (as passerines do not turn up in tiny woodlots in such conditions). I settled on Ma Sha Gou, but en route stopped at a fish pond which held a large number of waders and I thought might be worth a quick once over. This particular fish pond held both good and bad memories for me, as I had seen a Spoon-billed Sandpiper Calidris pygmaea on it (at about this time) last year, but had seen it (albeit clearly) for such a brief instant and so wanted photographs (it was fumbling for my camera that caused me to lose the bird in the first place) that I decided not to count it. The first bird I looked at on the fish pond had its head stuck deep in the mud and was feeding 'a bit like one', but was structurally always just a Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis. The second bird I looked at, however, was immediately different in being much stockier and was frantically 'bulldozing' the mud with its large, square, and much whiter head than any Red-necked Stint: an obvious Spoon-billed Sandpiper!

Mindful of not wanting to make the same mistake twice, I watched it for long enough see a clear 'spoon' and take note of its feeding behaviour. This took all of ten seconds, after which the frenzy began and I dove straight into my bag for my camera (as Spoon-billed Sandpiper was without doubt #1 on my 'most wanted' to photograph list). The bird was around for most of the day (though at one point did disappear for over three hours), but sadly never really came close.

All day Friday on the bird quickly turned into all day Saturday, but the circumstances that day were very different. The bird showed up for a total of just three minutes: two at 09:00 and a further one at 11:00. Otherwise, it was absent from the rapidly drying out fish pond and seemed to leave it to fly 'Heaven knows where' at 11:00. (We never saw it leave as, frustratingly, we had to give way to a vehicle on a single track road, the only vehicle to pass us all day long. This was a large noisy wagon, which chose to pass us right at the point when the bird was at its closest!) Despite a six hour wait the other side of 11:00, the bird never reappeared, and with the fish pond seemingly losing over half its water during the day, it may have left altogether when it flew off at 11:00.

Obviously, I would have liked better shots of this incredibly charismatic little bird. However, getting anything at all of this species now is no mean feat and I am thrilled to have what images I do have. This is only the third Spoon-billed Sandpiper I have seen in almost twenty years in Taiwan, the other two being an individual miles away in a 'scope and the aforementioned 'glimpse' (of probably this individual) last year. As such, getting to spend the best part of a day with one was a real privilege, and more than I could have ever expected when I left my woodlot miserable and grumbling on Friday morning! Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 27-8/10/17.

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Yellow-bellied Tits

I was knocked for six on Thursday when I learnt that a flock of Yellow-bellied Tits Pardaliparus venustulus had turned up at Jin Shan. You would think that this would have meant me chasing them Friday, but when Friday morning came round I entered into a lengthy period of procrastination and ultimately ended up leaving them till Saturday. A risky gamble, but one that ultimately proved to be the right decision, as Da Chiao Lin's arm didn't take that much twisting Friday meaning that I could get after them in comfort rather than having to deal with the faff and expense of public transport. The birds were not difficult to find, having an entourage of approaching fifty people when we arrived (a number which grew as the morning progressed). I got more than acceptable pictures of them, but really have still yet to master using my camera in overcast conditions.

We saw three out of a reported five birds, two first-winter males and a 'female'. The males were in post-juvenile moult, with extensive black emergent in their mantles and crowns and what looked like some new greater coverts; the 'female' appeared essentially juvenile, being rather uniform greenish-greyish above and 'washed out' on its face. According to the tit monograph, post-juvenile moult in Yellow-bellied Tit is a protracted affair, with much individual variation as regards its onset. There is therefore a bit of guesswork involved in calling this a 'female'; its sex being essentially 'presumed' (however likely). There were plenty of Eurasian Siskins Spinus spinus around Jin Shan, too, a bird I have not seen in Taiwan for over two years. These were awkward against a gloomy sky, and rather disappointingly I only managed one female-type anything like in focus.

With the tits in the bag, we spent Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning out at Tian Liao Yang in heavily overcast and blustery conditions. It was really good there, with Sunday morning being the pick of the two days with a flyby Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo and a good twenty Red-rumped Swallows Cecropis daurica (all of which had a thick cluster of streaks at the neck sides, largely unstreaked hind flanks, and were not in wing moult), together with a Common Rosefinch Carpodacus erythrinus and a Pallas's Reed Bunting Emberiza pallasi on the ground. It was almost impossible to photograph anything in the grass in the strong wind, though, and all I got of the rosefinch was its wingbars (which is still a lot more than I got of the bunting).

A family party of Black-headed Munias Lonchura atricapilla was a big surprise, as I've only seen a lone individual there in the past. Like everything else in the grass, these too were awkward!

With an unexpected lifer from the weekend there really can be no complaints (and I did enjoy the tits, crowd or no crowd). With the Blue-cheeked Bee-eater Merops persicus of April being a tick only for my domestic list, this is my first out and out lifer this year in Asia! Above photos taken at Jin Shan and Tian Liao Yang, New Taipei City 21-22/10/17.