Monday, 15 January 2018

Common Gull

A weekend spent once more in the company of gulls, and thank Heaven for it! I got my weather all wrong this weekend (or rather the CWB did) as the forecast was for gales on Saturday. I thus chose Friday to head north into Chiayi county gulling, only to meet the gales head on and to find them all passed come Saturday! The day was nevertheless an interesting one, with more big gulls around than usual; the best find in amongst them being a first-winter Common Gull Larus canus. As the upcoming Malling Olsen guide will seemingly choose to treat 'Kamchatka Gull' as a distinct taxon, it's going to be worth investigating with care precisely which one of the two this one is (as both heinei and kamtschatschensis could occur here). However, that's a big pile of reading which will have to wait until some point in the future before it finds itself getting done!

Other gulls around were Taimyr Gulls Larus taimyrensis (obviously), and a bunch of essentially juvenile birds chose to move through the area late afternoon on their way to roost. The two below I've photographed already this winter (the bird with the nick in its right wing being readily recognisable). These birds were followed by any number of adults (or near-adults), all still moulting.

There was a brief moment of excitement when a new Mongolian Gull Larus mongolicus showed up. This one really did appear to have streaky wingtips and an all-white tip to P10; pointers towards something better! However, it transpired that the apparent streaks were just unusually pale shafts; a shame as this bird really does have limited black in its wing (to P5 rather than to P4 as is usual). (Note also how the tips to P5-4 are worn, suggesting they have been 'on' for some time.)

After the cold and wind of Friday, I spent Saturday locally and it was rubbish, so on Sunday I returned to Dung Shr for yet more gulls. It was a surprisingly nice day, sunny and with little wind, and this seemed to result in there being fewer gulls present. The Common Gull remained, though, but getting photos of it seemed more difficult for some reason.

The best thing about Sunday was finally getting clear photos of a large gull that has been bothering me since the day it arrived, but has never come sufficiently close to get shots of its upperparts. This curious individual seems to show features of both Taimyr and Mongolian Gull, though I do not believe it to be a hybrid. In favour of Taimyr Gull are the unmarked greater coverts and rather dark window on the inner primaries. However, in favour of Mongolian are the early scapular moult (all are replaced), the rather worn wing (including tertials, which have broad crescent-shaped tips rather than narrow and more even pale fringes), the tail pattern (with narrow tail band not reaching the uppertail coverts and wavy 'inner' bands), and the wing shape (very broad with short triangular 'hand'). The bulk and size would also seem to suggest Mongolian Gull, which is what I believe this bird to be (and have indeed been calling it such since it arrived).

As my camera was rapidly filling up with images on Sunday and I did not want to spend yet another evening deleting unwanted photos, I chose to head south before I took any more shots and stopped on the Tseng Wen River for the wintering Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus. As this had been on the south side of the river late Saturday afternoon, I chose to try there instead of the north side. Wouldn't you know it? It was on the south side, but chose to fly directly across to the north side the moment I showed up! Still, I did manage at least some record shots of it.

I've got plenty of experience of birds such as this one (which delight in playing 'silly buggers') and took this as a not so subtle hint to leave it alone. This may well now happen, though I'll not be doing the same with gulls, which will now likely clog up this blog until the winter comes to a close! Above photos taken at Dung Shr, Chiayi County, and on the Tseng Wen River, Tainan City 12-14/1/18.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Japanese Bush Warbler

A quite wonderful weekend, this one, reminiscent of 'days of old' with its continuous string of semi-rarities and altogether very nice birds. What with 'gulling' and doing 'big years', it has actually been quite some time since I spent a weekend just flogging the local area seeing what I could find. In years gone by, this approach has rewarded me handsomely, and this weekend felt like a bit of a return to form in that regard. I'll start with Wednesday's Great Bittern Botaurus stellaris which I stumbled across during an early morning foray out onto the Tseng Wen River. Not a rarity by any means, but always a mad scramble for the camera when one does come flapping past!

I did have my heart set on gulling once more this weekend, but a miserable weather forecast put paid to that idea as I really could not face the drive north to Chiayi County in rain. Fortunately, come Friday, there was something decent to twitch locally, a Grey Phalarope Phalaropus fulicarius that had unexpectedly turned up inland at Guan Tian. This looked delightful in amongst the green of the rice paddies, but sadly refused to come close enough to get the kind of images I would have liked of it. I assume from the blackish-brownish rather than greyish tertials that the bird is a first-winter (and the upperwing coverts seem similarly dark); these should all be grey if adult.

I was happy enough to give up on this bird when perhaps the most remarkable bird of the weekend came flapping by: an unseasonal Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris! I'm quite familiar with these things now, and this one looked typical (though it did seem to have a more deeply forked tail for a few heart-stopping moments, and decidedly unmarked undertail coverts). I've still to photograph one of these well, and the grey skies of Friday did not help matters much.

There was more rain Saturday morning, and grey skies throughout the day, so once more I remained in Tainan. I had half a mind to re-twitch the phalarope, but stopped on the Tseng Wen River en route and found myself a Brown-cheeked Rail Rallus indicus. It took all day for it to show well, though images of this one too were grainy in the gloom. However, I got the next best thing in a sound recording (here), unfortunately not song, just a few squealing 'stuck pig' notes. A further surprise Saturday was a female Greater Scaup Aythya marila, sat unexpectedly out on the river.

Sunday was similarly gloomy early doors, and a five-minute look in Area C was more than enough to convince me I would do better elsewhere. Much to my surprise, there were a few gulls sitting out on the sandbar, so naturally I drove out as fast as I could for a look at those. The light was completely wrong by the time I got there, and all the gulls decided to leave shortly after I turned up. Perhaps the only one of interest was a presumed 'near-adult' Taimyr Gull Larus taimyrensis, though interesting only inasmuch as it had completely finished its primary moult.

The day picked up somewhat when I ran into two wintering Chinese Egrets Egretta eulophotes. Although regular in winter, these were quite showy and allowed me to run off a few more snaps of winter-plumaged individuals for the album. Both were trying to feed in a shallow bay apparently claimed by a resident Little Egret Egretta garzetta, this much to its chagrin!

The weather had picked up markedly by noon, tempting me into heading north for the high tide at Dung Shr Harbour to pick up some gulls for the weekend. However, being quite content with what I was finding, I elected to stay put and continue birding locally, and had a look in some of the local woodlots. This brought arguably the best bird of the weekend, a Japanese Bush Warbler Horornis diphone, a bit of a mega in the context of Qi Gu! Though far from rare nationally, this is only my third locally (and indeed they do seem to be scarce away from the north coast). There seem to be two types that visit Taiwan in winter: a more familiar smallish one with at least some rufous in the crown which I've always taken to be cantans, and a greyer-headed one with olive or even greeny tones to its upperparts that I take to be sakhalinensis/riukiuensis. This latter type are totally different from the familiar Manchurian Bush Warbler Horornis borealis that winters ten a penny along the south coast in lacking all of its rufous tones. Indeed, they are much more likely to be confused with Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis (with which they are more similar in size) on a brief view.

I closed this excellent weekend back out on the Tseng Wen River with a distant and wholly unco-operative female Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus that I had seen briefly on Friday. This bird did not show at all on Saturday, and seems to spend very lengthy periods down in the grass refusing to fly! Still, at least this does present me with something to play with for the remainder of the winter!

In the end, this potential 'write-off' of a weekend turned out to be a quite delightful start to the year all told, with all the goodies local and by-and-large self-found. Perhaps this may be the way to go for the rest of the winter! Above photos taken at various locations, Tainan City 3-7/1/18.