Sunday, 18 March 2018

Oriental Plover

Such a boring month, March, typified only by birds leaving and precious little arriving or passing through. The only March migrant really is Oriental Plover Charadrius veredus, one of which (and an unco-operative one at that) was present at San Gu on Friday.

A few birds of note continue to linger locally, including the Island Thrush Turdus poliocephalus of last weekend. The wintering Chinese Egrets Egretta eulophotes are now starting to assume breeding plumage, but were not in the best of light Saturday.

Absent anything co-operative to photograph, I found myself photographing Little Egrets Egretta garzetta and Japanese White-eyes Zosterops japonicus this weekend. This is not really the kind of fayre you hope for from a migration hot spot like Qi Gu!

There's at least another week or so of this stalemate to go I think before the floodgates open and I can expect migrants of some kind daily. Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 16-18/3/18.

Sunday, 11 March 2018

Island Thrush

A weekend that wouldn't have been much cop, really, had it not been for a very unexpected arrival into one of my local woodlots. I'd spent all of last weekend (and much of this one) hoping to connect with whatever birds (ducks/gulls) remained in Chiayi County, only to find that the majority there had already departed. Once this happens, my attentions turn towards my local patch, which this weekend played host to a very out of range Island Thrush Turdus poliocephalus! Although a sedentary montane species, in the last two winters especially, Island Thrushes have been turning up all over the place, with one even on an offshore island somewhere in the Penghu archipelago. Being an East Asian thrush species, it was shy and favouring only the darkest spots, though it did perform rather better than the first-year male Japanese Thrush Turdus cardis that was also in there with it. The only other bird in woodlots of interest was Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis borealis, which were vocal this weekend, indicating that they will all soon be on the move.

Little else from the weekend, though, as not much is moving yet. The one exception to this is Oriental Pratincole Glareola maldivarum which is already back in some numbers inland. I got some nice photos of this striking species Sunday, though was unable to find any plovers with them as yet.

By my reckoning, Island Thush was species #349 for my local patch. The next addition to this list will therefore be a bit of a landmark one! Above photos taken at various locations, Tainan County 10-11/3/18.

Wednesday, 28 February 2018

Choshi (7): Other birds

Few other habitats so few other birds to play with in the immediate vicinity of Choshi. Other gulls around and numerous were Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris and Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus, neither of which I photographed. Black-legged Kittiwakes Rissa tridactyla were far lower in number but were nevertheless very easy to find. They were also of much more interest to me as they are quite scarce in Taiwan.

One interesting-looking third-winter bird I had to leave unidentified. This bird was strikingly pale compared to the Vega Gulls Larus vegae standing next to it, and similarly bulky. As it was altogether too large for any Thayer's Gull Larus thayeri, American Herring Gull Larus smithsonianus seemed like a good possibility (especially with that pale lemon-yellow eye). However, as the primaries were also a bit washed out-looking as opposed to black, some kind of 'Nelson's Gull' may have perhaps been more likely. Sadly, I lost this bird when it flew after a passing trawler, and was left with just a handful of rather distant, inconclusive images of it.

The cormorants were of interest at Choshi, too, with three species to play with. By far the most numerous of these was Japanese Cormorant Phalacrocorax capillatus, which lined the harbour walls in their hundreds at least. A few Great Cormorants Phalacrocorax carbo (fourth photo) did pop up from time to time and were always a bit of a surprise. This was one species I wish I had taken a few more photos of as the race in the Tokyo area (P.c. hanadae) is supposed to differ from the one found elsewhere in East Asia (P.c. sinensis), though I've no idea how. The Pelagic Cormorants Phalacrocorax pelagicus were a pleasant surprise, as these were way more colourful and attractive than the scrawny brown things I occasionally come across on the north coast of Taiwan. Red-necked Grebe Podiceps grisegena was a tick for my Oriental List, though I never got one in the best of light. I also came across both Slavonian Grebe Podiceps auritus and Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis in the harbour, though these were invariably miles away.

I found one small clump of trees just behind the harbour which allowed me to get my lifer Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker Yungipicus kizuki from the trip. Japanese Tits Parus minor I had seen just a couple of times before as vagrant to Taiwan, so I was keen to get photos of more of those. The only Japanese Bush Warbler Horornis diphone I photographed bore little resemblance to the individual wintering in Qi Gu this year. I have seen birds resembling this one (which on range must be H.d. cantans) on the north coast of Taiwan in the past, but those (very few) I have seen further south in Taiwan tend to be more grey-green-toned (and are presumably H.d. riukiuensis/sakhalinensis). Both Carrion Crows Corvus corone and Large-billed Crows Corvus macrorhynchos could be found around the harbour, and that was pretty much it for passerines.

A very limited set from my trip to Japan, but all I went for in the first place were albatrosses and gulls. It would have been nice to have had an extra day to have taken the train inland and walked around some of the farmland there to add a bit of variety, but it is questionable whether or not I would have had the discipline to have left the harbour regardless of how many extra days I added to my trip! Above photos taken in Choshi Harbour, Chiba Prefecture 6-9/2/18.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Taimyr Gull (5)

Given the context (a recent trip to Choshi), any trip out to look for gulls locally was always going to be a disappointment. I was prepared for this, and set off towards Dung Shr Saturday with the sole intention of photographing adult Taimyr Gulls Larus taimyrensis (typical individuals, hopefully) now that they should all have finished their primary moults. For some reason, this proved to be easier said than done, and the only adults close enough to photograph all weekend were the three individuals below. These at least were typical in the few respects I was hoping they would be, chiefly the short diagonal tongue down the the underside of P10, the short (less than half the length of the feather) tongue down P9, and only the very slenderest of 'moons' between the grey tongues and black tips on the upperside of P7-6. Mantle shade and bare part colour also made these three Taimyr Gulls, but these were not the minutiae I was hoping to confirm!

I was lucky enough at Au Gu to get a close flyby from a second-winter Taimyr Gull. The flight feathers are clearly of a second-winter type, yet there is a liberal mix of adult-type blue-grey feathers in the mantle, scapulars, and upperwing coverts. I find this a useful field characteristic of immature Taimyr Gulls, as the other taxa here tend to show replacement in the mantle and scapulars only as first- and second-winters, not in the rest of the wing (all 'same age').

The oddballs were well-represented this weekend, starting with a few peculiar adults. The first bird below is probably just a Taimyr Gull, albeit one with an excessive amount of streaking on its head. The grey tongues down P10-9 are on the long side, though. The second bird is likely a Mongolian Gull Larus mongolicus. It has the big mirrors and long grey tongue down P10 of that taxon, together with pale pink legs. Something about the bird doesn't look right, though, and it was a bit dark above (though still paler than Taimyr) and lacked any black on P4. The last bird I take to be a third-winter Vega Gull Larus vegae, but blue-coloured legs are a new one for me!

The most surprising aspect of the weekend's gulling was the number of first-winter Mongolian Gulls around, and some movement has certainly occurred recently. The first birds I came across were at Dung Shr Harbour, where I took the following photo. Both birds in it are first-winter Mongolian Gulls by silvery saddles, prominent pale 'windows' on P1-4, and tail patterns. But just look at the greater coverts of the right-hand bird! All dark as in Taimyr Gull!

I would find a few others looking like this over the course of the weekend, indicating clearly that the greater covert pattern of Mongolian Gull is more variable than I had imagined! Below are a few more individuals (taken on Sunday), none of which can be Taimyr Gull on account of the strikingly pale 'windows' on the inner primaries (and wing structure, which I find distinctive in Mongolian Gull: a broad 'arm' with a short triangular-shaped 'hand', lacking the narrow tapering of Taimyr Gull).

I also found the 'perfect' adult Mongolian Gull flapping around the same fish pond as the first-winters on Sunday. This one is 'perfect' on account of all the wear on the inner primaries, which are now old (much older than in e.g. Taimyr Gull, which has only just completed its wing moult). I also noticed (not for the first time, actually) something rather interesting: The orbital skin was a deep vinous-red, not unlike that of Taimyr Gull, but quite unlike the bright orange-amber of Vega Gull. All this left me wondering just how such a distinctive form as Mongolian Gull, with its myriad differences from Vega Gull, ever came to find itself lumped with that taxon!

In between bouts of looking for gulls, I also managed to catch up with the Baer's Pochard Aythya baeri at Au Gu. I was optimistic of obtaining a very nice suite of photos in excellent light Sunday when I found it asleep at quite close range. Unfortunately, my presence attracted the attentions of some idiot who thought it might be a good idea to start pacing around, waving his arms shouting 'It's here! It's here!' at the top of his voice. The response of the bird was to promptly start swimming out into the middle of the lake, and bang went an hour-long wait of waiting for it to wake up by itself! Oh well, I guess they let anyone and everyone out on a Sunday.

Any weekend in which you see Baer's Pochard is, of course, an excellent one, and I can have no complaints with the assemblage this weekend (despite the low tally). That may well be it for gulls for this winter, and I am a bit disappointed I have been unable to find a decent one domestically. Roll on next winter! Above photos taken at various locations, Chiayi County 24-25/2/18.