Po Toi Spring May

Po Toi Spring May

At last, my first migrant fall of spring, on Thursday this week. Not a large one but at least something.

The change to a NE wind on Wednesday afternoon caught both me and HKO by surprise. Along with very overcast and misty weather, this immediately brought migrants into Po Toi. On Wednesday afternoon as I was sea-watching, a Chinese Goshawk and a few Brown Shrikes came in off the sea, but many more birds arrived invisible overnight and visible flying in off the sea on Thursday morning.

Here are some photos to give you a flavour of what these movements are like. Three different Brown Shrikes on Thursday morning, one coming in high, one low over the sea and one just arrived on the rocks next to me. Plus a Grey Wagtail, a Pipit? of some kind and 4 Black-crowned Night Herons, all flying in high up.

I counted 8 Brown Shrikes coming in off the sea over one hour from 6.15am on Thursday but there must have been many more that I missed and other species as well. These were birds that had made landfall on the Dangan Islands the previous night and were island-hopping on to Po Toi. One unfortunate Brown Shrike was attacked and driven into the sea by a Black Kite which picked it up and carried it away.

Brown Shrikes and tschutschensis Yellow Wagtails make up the bulk of early May migrant falls on Po Toi – I counted 29 Brown Shrikes and 21 Yellow Wagtails during Thursday. Also the calling Pitta posted elsewhere, a Blue-tailed Bee-eater, many Pond Herons and Grey Wagtails, a few Chinese Goshawks and a Black-capped Kingfisher.

Here photos of an overflying Chinese Goshawk, the Bee-eater, Grey and Yellow Wagtails (the Grey Wagtail desperately trying to wag a non-existent tail), the first Arctic Warbler of spring, and three birds which were present all week, male Red Turtle Dove, Mugimaki Flycatcher and one of several Chestnut Buntings.

Earlier in the week I saw but failed to photograph a very pale grey (and late) Ashy Drongo, presumably the bird seen by Beetle on Sunday, a single Black-naped Oriole and a Lanceolated Warbler. The warbler was feeding on the ground around my feet, like I guess they do but you never see them doing. I thought at first it was a lizard. Pity about the photo.

Nothing much at sea, only a few terns. The Short-tailed Shearwater mentioned on Tuesday’s Birdline was a miscommunication between Richard and me. I still haven’t seen any this year, making it the latest for this species since my records started in 2006. I assume they are still on their way here – as my wife said last year, they’re getting a year older each year so it must take them longer.



Yellow-fronted Canary x1
Chestnut bunting x1
Little bunting x1
Cinnamon bittern x1
Grey streaked flycatcher x2
Brown shrike x 3 or more
Chinese goshawk x2
Indian cuckoo x 3(heard) with 1 seen

On the jouney to Po Toi:
Black naped tern x 5 or more

On the journey to Aberdeen:
Red necked phalarope x10


Second Week in May

The week started with a bang.

Tuesday was a family day and I arrived on the 3.30pm boat from Stanley. My objective for the week was to find Short-tailed Shearwaters so I headed straight off to the south point (Nam Kok) to do some sea-watching.

As I crossed the bridge by the restaurant, I noticed Y K Wong photographing a bird almost underneath the bridge. ‘Wagtail I think’ he said. Well it was wagging its tail but the upperparts showed it to be a pipit. But the underparts were nothing like any pipit I had seen before – plain cream with a very noticeable pink flush. Rosy Pipit flashed up in front of me, so I got out my book and checked off all the features – broad cream eye-stripe drooping down at the end, all dark bill, pale pinkish legs, unstreaked rump. The bird showed all the features of a summer plumage Rosy Pipit. Here are my photos, not as good as the professionals of course

We summoned all the photographers we could find still on the island (most had already left), including I’m pleased to say Mr C W So who first photographed the Black Redstart, and all six of us photographed the bird at quite short range. It was unconcerned, busy feeding off flies on the waste water channels from the restaurant. I left to go sea-watching at about 4.45pm (without any success for Short-tailed Shearwaters) but on my return at 6.30pm, the bird was still there although all its admirers had gone.  

But by next morning, the bird itself had also gone, off presumably to Wuyi Shan in Fujian province where they breed on top of the mountain. I wonder how many of these birds get passed over as Red-throated Pipits in their winter plumage.

This bird is the second HK Second Record to be shown me by a photographer this spring, after the Black Redstart. I would almost certainly have walked past had Y K Wong not been there. So thanks to you guys with the big lenses.

Other species no doubt also on their way towards Fujian were Blue-tailed Bee-eaters, seen all week with a group of four passing over my head as I was sea-watching at 6.40am on Thursday morning, heading north east and feeding as they migrated.

The lagoon was the source of other expected species for this time of year, a female Schrenck’s Bittern on Wednesday with Pond Herons and a single Great Egret all week. Great Egret is an unusual species to be seen ‘on the ground’ on Po Toi, and this one has been there for two weeks now, gobbling up the unfortunate fish which are trapped by the very low levels of lagoon water during this drought.

Here a photo of the Schrenck’s Bittern, the Egret and a Pond Heron with a prawn. Schrenck’s Bittern has an unusually shaped pupil to the eye, I’m not sure what the function of this is but they all have it.

Also around the lagoon, this one-legged Wood Sandpiper which had great difficulty feeding. A very late record for Po Toi, I find that late spring records are often diseased or damaged birds for whom Po Toi is probably their last resting place

I eventually did manage to catch up with Short-tailed Shearwater, just a single bird passing through on Wednesday morning. As usual, my photo is poor, my excuse this time being an attempt to hand-focus my 300mm lens with a 2x converter – it failed.

This is the latest date for the first Short-tailed Shearwater since we started observations in 2006 – by now we would usually have seen between five and fifteen birds. The peak period from past records is this week, between 12th and 16th May but whether it will happen this year is now open to doubt. Anyway, we will be trying – Brendan will stay on Po Toi on Saturday night and I will go from Sunday through to Thursday next week. Even if we don’t see Short-tailed Shearwaters, we may get a good fall of bitterns and other land birds if we really get some rain.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 13/05/2011 07:45 ]


A pleasure as always to read you reports Geoff - and great to see another Rosy Pipit turning up.

If Po Toi was anything like Lam Tsuen there was certainly some rain last night - my wife turned off the air con to avoid possible lightning strikes!

Mike KilburnVice Chairman, HKBWSChairman, Conservation Committee


Welcome back Mike, I see you had a great holiday/working trip.

You didn't miss much either - not the best spring on record!


re the Schrenck's Bittern pupil observation: based on birds in the hand, the pupil is normal shaped adn what you seeing is actually a small dark patch on the iris.


Thanks Geoff so much for your sharing.  As Mike said, reading your posts are already our routines.  It's kind of addiction coz it keeps giving us surprises.
BTW, with the rosy pipit record, I guess the no of birds seen/found in PT is getting a step forward again?  Can we a simple update?  Thanks a lot.
Manson Tsang


Thanks Paul and Manson.

Paul, any idea what is the funcion of the iris spot on the Schrenck's Bittern? Do other bitterns or species generally have one?

Manson, the Po Toi List stands at 303 with recent additions 300 Rustic Bunting, 301 Oriental Scops Owl, 302 Black Redstart and 303 Rosy Pipit.


Thanks Geoff.  No doubt PT is a magic bird island.
Manson Tsang


I don't know what the function of the dark spot on the iris is, but I do know that it is found in other species. Check these pictures of Cinnamon Bittern for example. ... Family_ID=&p=25 ... _ID=&pagesize=1

And this isn't restricted to bitterns. Similar dark marks on the iris are found on Oystercatchers (apparently only females!): ... _ID=&pagesize=1
and Black Woodpecker: ... _ID=&pagesize=1

and quite possibly other species as well. I don't know whether it's significant that all are long-billed species, and the dark spot seems to be aligned with the bill on each.


I've just remembered where I've noticed this most often - woodpigeons show the same. See:

So that ruins my theory about long-billed birds!


Here's a recent article on Black Woodpeckers ... e-black-woodpecker/

Not every Black Woodpecker has it!


I also think the black spots would help the vision of birds. I think, more black color in the iris would help absorbing unused light ways(for visualisation). It may serve a function of filter. Pale color or the iris may reflect light ways and they may interfere the shapeness of image formed in its brain (just make a guess).

The polymophism in black woodpecker may indicate that sharp vision is not as important as in bitterns (migrant vs non-imgrant?) the trait without the black spot could be retained.

I just try to make the story complete, because that is a very interesting topic!



Thanks Geoff.


粉紅胸鷚 Rosy Pipit-SCW_1950.jpg (189.44 KB)

13/05/2011 18:32

粉紅胸鷚 Rosy Pipit-SCW_1950.jpg


Geoff I think the photo of the Short-tailed Shearwater is in focus.  I imagine this image is heavily cropped and as such there is no way to maintain good sharpness.


Geoff, I must have missed news of the Oriental Scops Owl on Po Toi. When was it? Thanks, Richard


25th November 2010.

I pished it from a tree next to the gravesites above the school - see here ... &extra=page%3D1

Fourth Week in November

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 14/05/2011 22:15 ]


Swinhoe's Egret,  14/05/11,  Po Toi


IMGL0749s.jpg (146.54 KB)

15/05/2011 23:42


IMGL0752s.jpg (178.49 KB)

15/05/2011 23:42



14 & 15 May

Stayed over on Po Toi Saturday night.

On Saturday a Yellow and Cinnamon Bittern were on the lagoon. Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Arctic Warbler, a Little and Chestnut Bunting, a thrush species (possibly Eyebrowed), a Pale Martin, and a Blue-tailed Bee-eater were also around. Heard a Savannah Nightjar call at dusk on Saturday.

Was impressed with the number of Brown Shrikes. On my way to sea watching Saturday evening on the south peninsula counted 45 in the scrub. When one considers that Po Toi is almost completely scrub, there must over one thousand Brown Shrikes on the island.

On Sunday a 3 or 4 more Yellow-bittern arrived over night. Bee-eater and Cinnamon Bittern were still around.  There were one each of Red-billed and Silky Starling which feel quite late to me. Two or three Chinese Goshawks are still hanging around which also feels late to me.  

Missed seeing both the Swinhoe's Egrets and Burmese Python which Jen had some magnificent shots squeezing a Pond Heron.  I ran up to the reservoir to see it but it had already slithered away with it's prey.

Quite dark and rainy for sea watching.  Counted 42 Aleutian Terns but think some of the distant groups of terns might have been Bridled Terns so maybe not that many. Also about a dozen Bridled Terns, 7 White-winged Terns, 2 Greater Crested Terns, and 2 Little Terns.  No hoped for Short-tailed Shearwater.


Third Week in May

This was intended to be the week for counting Short-tailed Shearwaters, the peak week for numbers over the last 5 years. Brendan stayed over the weekend and I was there from Monday to Thursday with John Holmes, all to count the numbers of shearwaters. Our total for the week was – zero, none at all.

So, where are they this year? A question only they can answer. Are they just late, or not coming at all? A question for the next few weeks to answer. I think they are just late this year, but I have been wrong before with this species.

Some compensation at sea were seven species of terns, Whiskered, White-winged, Common, Black-naped, Aleutian, good numbers of Bridled and a few Greater Crested which I think may be nesting somewhere in our area. Also this juvenile Lesser Frigatebird which turned up very early on Tuesday and Thursday

Also a good number of migrating land birds seen coming in over the sea, particularly Brown Shrikes all week, six Pechora Pipits on Monday, and a few surprises – here a Purple Heron which almost landed on our noses, a Brown Shrike in the grip of a Black Kite, Arctic Warbler on the rocks and a species I have never seen migrating before – Crested Mynah.

Also a photo of John Holmes testing his skills on Pacific Swifts which were often around us when sea-watching (just to prove to Jemi he really was there)

Another vagrant seen was Katherine Leung taking time off from Mai Po on Thursday.

An interesting and very varied week on land following the rain on Monday. Brown Shrikes everywhere, a maximum of  75 on Tuesday, good numbers of Arctic Warblers, Grey-streaked Flycatchers, migrant Tree Sparrows and Japanese White-eyes and the following on photo – a Swinhoe’s Egret around the harbour all week, a very colourful Cinnamon Bittern, Blue-tailed Bee-eaters until Wednesday, an Eyebrowed Thrush, three amazingly late Siskins on Monday and Tuesday, with an almost equally late Red-billed Starling and an Ashy Drongo on Wednesday

Also seen but not photographed, Yellow Bittern, Chinese Goshawk, Brown Hawk Owl, Dollarbird, Pale Martin and Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler. Plenty to keep the punters (and Mr J Holmes) happy, but nothing really gripping.

Next week – rain early may bring a fall of bitterns, and I’ll also be after those elusive Short-tailed Shearwaters


Yes, I'm a vagrant indeed! Third record on Po Toi over the past 5 years!

Also add to the "non-vagrant" list:

Schrenck’s Bittern at the stream
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher near the primary school.



Apus pacificus (kanoi ?)

Here's a Pacific Swift "shot" from Po Toi on May 19th 2011

ID MkIV + 400mm f5.6

If they are breeding around here, then I presume they're not the nominate race (pacificus, obviously) that migrates through Hong Kong.


Apus_pacificus_7778_jjh.jpg (78.5 KB)

22/05/2011 12:58



Fourth Week in May

Great photo John. These birds are breeding around Po Toi and are regular sightings around the lighthouse and south point in the mornings and evenings.

A good week for the last week in May – 36 non-resident land bird species is a good score for so late in the migration season. The wet weather over the weekend brought in more migrants and kept them in place.

The Swinhoe’s Egret was there all week – I wonder how long it will stay? It’s not in full breeding plumage so I suspect it won’t breed this year. Although it’s a bigger bird than the Little Egret, it’s completely intimidated by them, being chased away by any Little Egret that cares to bother. What a wimp!

Little Egrets are still migrating in small numbers, always coming in from the south east which indicates to me they are coming from The Philippines. This one was completely exhausted by the flight and flopped into the sea within sight of safety. It couldn’t get back up again and I’m afraid it must have drowned – this is the price of migration and survival of the fittest.

This is the time of year for small bitterns and they can appear anywhere on the island. This Schrenck’s Bittern was in the gully near the south Peninsular, and the Yellow Bittern was just standing on a rock almost at the south point. I guess it had just arrived and was trying to figure out what to do.

Fully exposed like this, you can see their extraordinary shape – small body supported by huge legs and feet – a bit like a baby with size 12 feet.

Another new arrival was this Curlew Sandpiper which I saw fly in and drop down on the beach. It looked exhausted and had probably just arrived from a long flight – even possibly non-stop from northern Australia.

Pechora Pipits are usually fly-overs on Po Toi but I was lucky to find this one on the ground – or at least in a small tree. A really smart-looking bird and not at all shy

Another good find on Thursday was this Little Bunting – probably a week later than the previous latest Hong Kong spring record.

Also seen during the week, but without photos, a Chinese Goshawk flying over, at least two Brown Hawk Owls, a hepatic Oriental Cuckoo - another very late bird, still a few Brown Shrikes, Arctic Warblers and Grey-streaked Flycatchers as well as lots of migrant Tree Sparrows, mostly at the lighthouse. Most of these will leave now the weather has cleared up.

And now for something completely different. Two regular ‘species’ at this time of the year are Yellow-fronted Canary and Taiwan Racing Pigeon.

Yellow-fronted Canary come to Po Toi each year to breed. Mark Brazil mentions ‘seasonal migration’ in Taiwan in his book ‘Birds of East Asia’ and I’m sure the same is happening here. Taiwan Racing Pigeon is not a migrant as such, but one of the hundreds of thousands lost each year during the Taiwan Racing Pigeon season. Several of them turn up on Po Toi every spring, this one has been here for about a week. You can tell it’s a Taiwan bird from the ring markings.  

At sea, no Short-tailed Shearwaters again. Regular readers will know these are my favourite spring seabirds and I’m still not sure what’s happened to them this year. My previous spring totals for this species are between 20 and 38 birds – this year, only one. One possible reason is that this year has been reported as a poor breeding season for the birds in Tasmania, Australia where most of them breed but I need to find out more.

One new seabird species this week – four Roseate Terns on Thursday. This is a typical earliest date, they don’t seem to migrate past Hong Kong unlike other terns which breed in the same area of the south/east China coastline but just arrive to breed. Another puzzle.

Which brings me to the end of spring 2011 for me on Po Toi. I’m not going next week, it will be too hot, not much around and I have other things to do. But I will produce a summary of spring and post it next week.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 27/05/2011 06:55 ]


Your comments on Yellow-fronted Canary are interesting. I have noticed that in the Deep BAy area they tend to turn up in mid/late winter, feeding on the fruits of Casuarina trees. I wonder whether they may be making localised movements within Hong Kong rather than true large-scale migration.


Well done for another Spring's hard work- I enjoy reading the reports every Friday!


Required reading

I second what Dylan said - Thanks, Geoff, for all the gripping weekly reports !

It must be summer with no more "Po Toi Spring" installments to look forward to.

Sniff !


Many thanks for another season of Friday morning reports Geoff - a real pleasure to read, as ever and while it might not have been the best of springs there certainly looked like some rewards for the effort you put in.

Enjoy the summer break

Mike K
Mike KilburnVice Chairman, HKBWSChairman, Conservation Committee


HKBWS has been sponsoring Geoff's bird watching activities in Po Toi in the last few years.  A small sum only, not really a big amount.  I will raise this to the executive committee to continue this.

HF Cheung


Summary of Spring 2011

Thanks for all these comments, particularly the last one. It’s always nice to get paid for doing something you really enjoy. I have to confess that going to Po Toi each week is not hard work for me. As I tell my wife, it’s my form of drug – without it I’d be impossible to live with (quote - ‘even with it, you’re not much better’). Writing the week up on this website is an essential part of the enjoyment – I need to have someone to tell the story to.

Another spring over, my sixth on Po Toi and regrettably following in the tradition of not being as good as the previous year. Once again, I scored a lower land bird species count than the previous year (97 versus 102 in 2010, 104 in 2009, 117 in 2008 and 119 in 2007, no count made in 2006). This year the seabird count was also down on previous years.

So, what’s behind this downward progression? Last year I wondered if it was land degradation in the Philippines where many of the spring migrants come from. But this year, I can definitely say it was the weather, at least for the land birds. The weather in the key month of April was simply too good this year – good for the migrants, not good for the bird-watchers. Only one cold front, a weak one with no rain on 4th April and a weak depression on 18th April. Normally, we would have 2 to 3 strong cold fronts and at least one strong depression in April, all with some rain. By the time the bad weather arrived in May, it was all too late.

Why does the weather have so much effect in spring? As I explained in my recent article in Bulletin number 219, it’s all to do with how the birds are migrating. In spring, they arrive in Hong Kong either by crossing the South China Sea from the Philippines or around the south China coastline from south China, Hainan or east Vietnam. If those crossing the sea meet a front with rain when over the sea, they are drifted west into Hong Kong and arrive exhausted on the coastline.

In good weather, they reach land to the east of Hong Kong in Taiwan or around Fujian province or if they do land in the Hong Kong area, they overfly the coast.

So this year we had very few of the Philippine winterers that usually pass through in April – flycatchers, early warblers, Grey-faced Buzzard, Chinese Goshawk, Eyebrowed Thrush and many others. We did get normal numbers of some of the May ones, Grey-streaked Flycatcher and Brown Shrike but April is the key month for spring.

It’s no surprise that the best birds of this spring were south China winterers – Black Redstart and Rosy Pipit.

But why a poor year for seabirds? – Heuglin’s Gulls, Ancient Murrelet, terns, skuas and my particular favourite, Short-tailed Shearwater, all in low numbers this year. This I don’t really know. It’s difficult to see any connection with land birds, but maybe there is some other phenomenon behind it – La Nina peaked at end 2010, maybe this had an effect across the South China Sea/western Pacific Ocean. I really don’t know.

So, my top ten species for spring 2011 is a bit thin. Firstly, the land birds

Brambling, 23 March
Black Redstart, 5 April – photo by C W So
Red-breasted Flycatcher, 19 April
Rosy Pipit, 11 May
Siskin, 16 May
Pechora Pipit, 25 May

Fairy Pitta calling, 5 May

and seabirds

Red-breasted Merganser, 30 March
Short-tailed Shearwater, 11 May, the only one
Lesser Frigatebird, 19 May

All this means I have to go back to Po Toi next spring to break the sequence. I can’t finish on a low note.
That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 3/06/2011 12:59 ]


Great posts, Geoff!
Always very interesting and informative. Thanks a lot for sharing!