Po Toi Spring 2008

Po Toi Spring 2008

A very quiet start to the first official week of Po Toi Spring 2008. Strong easterly winds right across the South China Sea kept most migrants out of the skies.

The exception was Barn Swallow, seen each day flying in off the sea. Barn Swallows are strong fliers and are regularly seen from ships well out to sea. I have been collecting records of birds seen from ships in the South China Sea area, mostly from the archives of the Royal Naval Bird Watching Society but also other sources. I now have over 600 records for land birds and Barn Swallow is easily the largest number at just over 100. Here are maps of the sighting locations for Barn Swallow in spring and autumn

At this time of the year, birds start turning up in unusual places. I think these are birds which have wintered in the local area and are passing through Po Toi at the start of their migration. Here a Blue Rock Thrush near the ferry pier, a Common Sandpiper also and a Rufous-tailed Robin in the gully next to the pier

In the lagoon area, a newly arrived Common Kingfisher and my first ever Dusky Shrike on Po Toi, this one with white primary feathers giving it an overall black-and-white appearance

No seabird migrations this week, the wind too strong even for them.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 17/08/2010 18:32 ]


Nice to know you

Hi Geoff,

It's pleasurable to chat with you yesterday, although not a very fruitful day in Po Toi.
Hope to see you again in Po Toi in April.

See you.

Jasper Lee


Thanks Jasper.

I can promise you, it will be better in April.


Second Week in March

No new spring migrants this week because no weather systems to bring them in. So no Pacific Swifts yet this year whereas the first were on 5th March in both 2006 and 2007. It seems we are about two weeks late on spring this year.

A fine male Chestnut-eared Bunting in the South Peninsular grasslands on Thursday and Friday was a new Po Toi record. Also seen were the Bright-capped and Zitting Cisticolas wintering there. Here photos of the Bunting and a Zitting Cisticola

Wintering species still on the island include Hoopoe (same bird since November 13th 2007), Red-flanked Blue-tail, Daurian Redstart, Scaly, Japanese, Grey-backed and Pale Thrushes and Mountain, Russet and Japanese (Manchurian) Bush Warblers, now singing.

At sea, 6 Ancient Murrelet flew fast east on Thursday evening and early on Friday morning a migrating flock of 13 Large-billed Crow flew overhead towards Lamma Island. Shortly after, 9 of them returned to Po Toi but did not stay. Here a photo of the Murrelet and 5 of the Crows on the Lighthouse.

Boat watching when no birds are around - this week, two top-of-the-range boats in their categories. On a misty Friday morning, the QE2 sailed past and later in the day, Jimmy Lai Chee Ying's cabin cruiser arrived for lunch. Here the two boats and also a photo of the big man himself - it looks like he had a good lunch

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 17/08/2010 18:34 ]


Third Week in March

No doubt about bird of the week - the first winter Masked Booby seen on Tuesday evening

For more photos and comments, see Masked Booby? in the Bird Identification section.

This bird passed by in the company of a loose migrating group of Heuglin's Gulls. This photo is how migrant Heuglin's Gulls normally look from Po Toi. Also an Oriental Pratincole making a good attempt to look like a shearwater as it flew NE into a force 6 wind on Thursday morning

Only a few new spring migrants on the land - Pacific Swift (with a Barn Swallow) on Wednesday and Grey Wagtail on Thursday

Also a superb male Stonechat flew in off the sea on Thursday and later joined the male Chestnut-eared Bunting and Bright-capped Cisticola in the SE Peninsular grasslands

Also migrating past Po Toi at this time have been many colourful children's balloons - obviously on a balloon migration route, and all heading SW. This one of a smiling face was the best of a good bunch.

Hoping for more in the way of land bird migrants next week.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 18/08/2010 07:58 ]


Last Week in March (first half)

A split week for me this week - going back again over the weekend.

More spring migrants arrived after the rain on both Tuesday and Wednesday mornings. First in was a Black-winged Kite which flew steadily across the harbour while I was eating my lunch on Tuesday - too fast for me to get a photo. The Ferruginous Flycatcher which arrived later that afternoon was much more accommodating

New migrants after the rain on Wednesday included Grey-faced Buzzard, Pacific and House Swifts, the first Olive-backed Pipit, Tree Sparrow and White-shouldered Starling of spring. The Grey-faced Buzzard was in really poor feather condition as you can see - also a Sooty-headed Bulbul which I now realise is a passage migrant on Po Toi


At sea the best day was before the rain (as usual) on Monday evening, with a Streaked Shearwater, 5 Ancient Murrelet and a flock of 16 Garganey, regular spring migrants off-shore from Po Toi

From the weather forecast, Sunday should be good for sea birds and Monday for land migrants.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 18/08/2010 08:00 ]


I wondered why I didn't see you on Thursday Geoff

The Ferruginous Flycatcher was also present and showing very well on Thursday, along with a Red-flanked Bluetail, two Chestnut Bulbuls and a flock of over 100 Chinese Bulbuls which zipped through without stopping, but it ws hard work.

Mike K
Mike KilburnVice Chairman, HKBWSChairman, Conservation Committee


I came back on a small boat on Wednesday afternoon.

Yes, although most of the usual March species have been seen, it's been hard work compared to the previous two years. And no Needletails, one of my favourite March species.

Still time for a good cold front to bring in something and the best month, April, is to come. I am ever optimistic with Po Toi.

Your Chestnut Bulbuls are the first record I have heard of for this year.


First Week in April

The cold front passed through Hong Kong and Po Toi early in the morning of Monday as expected

This coincided with the main period of Grey-faced Buzzard migration between the Philippines and Taiwan/SW China, late March and early April, when tens of thousands of these birds are on the move going north.
A few hundred of these were pushed west by the cold front into the Hong Kong area and started arriving in numbers on Po Toi on Tuesday. I counted 44 that day, mostly coming in from the east and moving off towards the north in small flocks of about 5. 11 roosted on Po Toi on Tuesday night and could be seen moving off to the north at about 6.30 am on Wednesday morning, followed by much larger flocks which must have roosted on the Dangan Islands and passed through Po Toi between 8 and 8.30am. My eventual total for Wednesday was 98.

Here an overflying bird, a roosting bird and a long distance view of a flock of 35 birds passing up the east coast of Po Toi on Wednesday morning

For a visual explanation of how cold fronts cause migrants flying north from The Philippines to be pushed west into Hong Kong, here are some diagrams I used in my recent talk on Spring Migration on Po Toi

The light winds before the front get the migrants moving and if the front catches the migrants over the sea, the sudden change to strong NE winds will drive them west into Hong Kong. Note the migration lines are diagrammatic - some of these migrants may have left the south of the Philippines at Palawan or even the north Borneo coastline and made a long sea crossing over the eastern side of the South China Sea.
Many birds make landfall on the Dangan Islands and gradually move north through Po Toi.

The cold front also brought in an assortment of other migrants - a White-breasted Waterhen, Kentish Plover, Japanese Sparrowhawk, Brown Hawk Owl, Brown Shrike, Ashy Minivets, and a whole selection of Flycatchers, Ferruginous, Narcissus, Blue-and-white (female and male), Red-throated, Red-breasted and Japanese Paradise.
Here are some of these species, I leave you to identify

Very few seabirds passing Po Toi during this period with strong easterly winds, a few Heuglin's Gulls and Red-necked Phalarope (which are very late this year).

But more good news for Wanchai - following the Rugby Sevens last weekend, the arrival of the US Navy Aircraft Carrier Nimitz and 7000 sailors this weekend - and some tired bodies in the bars of Wanchai next week.

The next cold front is forecast to pass through Hong Kong on Wednesday night next week so Thursday onwards should be good on Po Toi.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 18/08/2010 08:05 ]


a very friendly Sanderling 三趾濱鷸 Today make most of or focusing system not working coz it get too close to us.

Thanks Peter your foot on my first photo :


Sanderling 三趾濱鷸


Like the 3rd one, like the toes.

Thank you for sharing!


Po Toi spring 2008

Below is a (probably incomplete) list of birds found by a group of about 10 birders on Po Toi and from a boat in southern waters today (5 April).

Birds on Po Toi island:

Chinese Pond Heron 3
Reef Egret 1
Cattle Egret 1
Grey-faced Buzzard 1
Sanderling 1
Common Sandpiper 1
Greater Coucal 4
Lesser Coucal 1
Brown Hawk Owl 1
Pacific Swift 2
Common Kingfisher 1-2
Grey Wagtail 1
White Wagtail ocularis 1-2
Ashy Minivet 5
Chinese Bulbul √
Crested Bulbul √
Sooty-headed Bulbul 1
Red-tailed Robin 1
Daurian Redstart 2 (m, f)
Red-flanked Bluetail 1
Grey-backed Thrush 1 (+ several thrush sp)
Masked Laughingthrush √
Common Tailorbird 2
Pallas's Leaf Warbler 2
Yellow-browed Warbler 4
Red-breasted Flycatcher 1
Narcissus Flycatcher 2
Ferruginous Flycatcher 5
Black-faced Bunting 1 (+several bunting sp)
Crested Myna c 12
Chinese Starling 5
Large-billed Crow 2 (seen carrying nesting material)

Seen in southern waters:

egret sp 3
Black Kite √
White-bellied Sea Eagle 2
Eastern Curlew 1
Red-necked Phalarope 30
Black-legged Kittiwake 1 (at one stage attacked by a Long-tailed Skua & forced to disgorge)
Aleutian Tern 1
Arctic Skua 3
Long-tailed Skua 40 +
Pomarine Skua 1-2

Also, at least 5 Finless Porpoises seen.

All in all a very enjoyable trip!



Arctic Skua forced the Black-legged Kittiwake to disgorge, a typical parasitic behaviour of a Skua.

Great Stuff!!



I only saw it flying off, as I was below decks changing my camera card, but as we said at this time, this was an Arctic Skua (Parasitic Jaeger) which kleptoparasitised the Kittiwake.

Along with the Red-breasted Flycatcher, a little bit of East coast of Britain birding come to Hong Kong!

Mike Turnbull


Wonderful pix of one of my all-time great moments in HK birding!

Thanks to all for a great day!

Mike K
Mike KilburnVice Chairman, HKBWSChairman, Conservation Committee


Second Week in April

A disappointing week. I thought the weather change early on Thursday morning would bring in some new birds, but only a few came in and I can now see from the weather chart on 10th April that the cold front passed far to the east of Hong Kong, which must account for the lack of migrants after the weather change.

There was one spectacular moment. On Thursday morning at about 7am, a thick fog descended on the east coast and I was forced to give up sea-watching. Walking back, I had just reached the gully which separates the south rocks from the main island when I saw a Fairy Pitta flying down the gully from the lighthouse area. It flew straight past me about 10 metres away and carried on down the south rocks where I lost it from view. I had excellent views, an extraordinary shaped bird with long, broad and rounded wings, almost no tail and a thick black bill and eye-stripe. I searched for about an hour but failed to find it again, although I did disturb another extraordinary shaped bird from the same area, a male Japanese Paradise Flycatcher with a huge tail. Both birds were presumably migrating past Po Toi when caught by the fog. No photos of either, I'm afraid.

Some photos of other birds in a frustrating week. A Collared Scops Owl in a hollow tree, a Grey Nightjar lying along a branch, the first Chinese Goshawk of the year on Friday, one of the many Ashy Minivets on show during the week, one of the few flycatchers, a male Narcissus on Saturday and finally one of two Buff-bellied Pipits on the south rocks also on Saturday morning.

No seabirds at all until Saturday morning, when a small movement of terns (Aleutian and Great Crested) and skuas (Pomarine and Long-tailed) flew NE early in the morning. Here a misty view of Pomarine Skua and Great Crested Tern, typical of the sort of seabird views on a misty day.

Another weather system is due in the second half of next week, maybe it will be better.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 18/08/2010 08:07 ]



It is always enjoyable to read your interersting report on Po Toi every season.
Thank you very much for that Geof.  



it's getting better after the rain stopped today, with the most lovely Male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher.

Flycatchers i saw also include Blue&white, Ferruginous, and a very shy japanese paradise (short tailed).

Another surprise were two (or 3?) chestnut-cheeked(?) starlings, mixed in a flock of white-shouldered starlings.

The Chinese Goshawk and a grey-faced buzzard still seen on island.


This is only the third Yellow-rumped Flycatcher ever in spring in Hong Kong, as far as I am aware. And also a stunning male.

Yes, at least two Chestnut-cheeked Starlings.

It looks like things got much better after I left. Rain is often good news on Po Toi.


Third Week in April

Strange weather this year in April - no cold fronts and now a typhoon. The result is, some quality birds but the quantity is missing - no big falls.

Quality bird this week was the Blue-winged Pitta, what a great photo by Maison. I nearly got a photo on Friday morning but the bird was too fast for my camera skills. It looked like a giant kingfisher.

My best photo was a Swinhoe's Egret which flew close to my seawatching station on Thursday morning, the same day as birds appeared at Mai Po. Also photos this week, a Black-crowned Night Heron which flew in off the sea on Wednesday and an Eastern Marsh Harrier which came in on Friday with the wind about force 6.

A good week for raptors - an Osprey, several Grey-faced Buzzards, Chinese Goshawks and Japanese Sparrowhawks as well as the Harrier.

Also seen coming in off the sea but photographed later on land, this Red Turtle Dove and one of several Brown Shrikes, together with a Magpie which shows these birds also move around at this time of the year (there are no resident Magpies on Po Toi at present)

The typhoon winds were really something - force 7 north-east changed to force 7 south in ten seconds on Saturday afternoon. At the height of the storm when the winds were ripping panels off the newly constructed opera shed, terns appeared and started fishing at the harbour entrance - 4 Little and 10 Whiskered.

Many sea birds brought into the Hong Kong area by the weather on Saturday, left on Sunday morning flying east past Po Toi. Terns and Skuas.
Here one of the Little Terns at the height of the storm, with a Long-tailed Skua and a Great Crested Tern leaving on Sunday morning

Finally, odd photos of the week. First, a yellow coloured White-shouldered Starling. Second, a police commando assault on a large container ship, using a helicopter and 4 fast patrol boats - an exercise, or the real thing?

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 18/08/2010 08:10 ]


That yellow White-shouldered Starling sure looks wierd, I first thought it was an Oriole!! Wrong size obviously...But there seems to be a few records of these strange morphs, first the orange Silky Starling and now this yellow White-shouldered Starling!!

Does any one knows what causes these morphs?? Food?? Or is it simply just another nature's neat trick?? :roll:
As The Crow Flies- a Hong Kong Birding Blog


24 April 2008 Thursday
The island is surprisingly full of Brown Shrikes today.

maybe >1 Grey-streaked Flycatchers, and the Chinese Goshawks still present.

A Dollarbird was also seen, but it only stopped for a very short moment and so i couldn't get a record photo.


Fourth Week in April

A much better week for bird numbers following the cold front on Tuesday night. I recorded my highest number of spring migrant species this year to date on both Wednesday and Thursday, 29 species. But this is well below my highest for spring 2007 which was 40 species in a day.
This graph comparing number of species seen each day in 2007 (pink) and 2008 to date (blue) shows 2007 was a much better year than this year, because there were more cold fronts in March and early April last year.

Migrants on Po Toi arrive according to a timetable. The timetable for land birds in spring is roughly
Swifts, swallows and martins, Grey-faced Buzzard
Early April
'Colourful' flycatchers, cuckoos, minivets
Late April
Chinese Goshawk, Brown Shrike, Yellow Wagtail, Arctic Warbler, brown flycatchers, waders and egrets
Mid May
Small herons and bitterns

For sea birds, it is
Gulls and wintering birds
Skuas and terns
Final tern movement, shearwaters and petrels

If you miss seeing a species at the time you should, you are unlikely to see it later. This year I have missed out on species like Silver-backed Needletail, Asian House Martin, Mugimaki Flycatcher, Oriental Cuckoo, Japanese Yellow Bunting

We are now in late April, here are some photos of the birds now on Po Toi. Brown Shrike (many, 48 counted on Thursday including this one without a tail), Yellow Wagtail (all tschuchensis), Arctic Warbler (photographed by the lighthouse), Grey-streaked Flycatcher, Curlew Sandpiper and Red-necked Stint together, migrating Curlew and migrating Intermediate and Little Egrets

Also some 'odd-balls' - Grey Heron, White-breasted Waterhen and Chestnut-winged Cuckoo (in the gully by the lighthouse)

Early May next week, my favourite time for sea birds now starting

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 18/08/2010 08:13 ]


Boat trip to Po Toi & southern waters, 27 April 2008

An initially disappointing trip turned into a big collective high for everyone on the boat with stunning views of a Great Frigatebird.

Birds seen in southern waters:

Great Frigatebird 1
Great Crested Tern 1
Common Tern c. 8
Aleutian Tern 6
Gull-billed Tern 45
Black-naped Tern 30
Little Tern 10
Red-necked Phalarope 3

Birds seen at Po Toi:

Chinese Pond Heron 2
Little Egret 1
Chinese Goshawk 6
Japanese Sparrowhawk 1
Dollarbird 1
Common Kingfisher 1
Yellow Wagtail 10
Grey Wagtail 4
Brown Shrike 8
Blue Rock Thrush 2
Eyebrowed THrush 5
Grey-streaked Flycatcher 3
Narcissus Flycatcher 1
Arctic Warbler 8
Black Drongo 5
White-shouldered Starling 1
Chestnut Bunting 15
Little Bunting 2
Black-faced Bunting 2
Large-billede Crow 1

Big thank you to Peter & Michelle for arranging the trip & to Paul for finding the frigatebird.


Southern waters:
Black-naped Tern 6
Red-necked Phalarope 2
Cattle Egret 35

Po Toi:
Cattle Egret 16
Chinese Pond Heron 6
Indian Cuckoo 1
Dollarbird 2
Barn Swallow 4
Brown Shrike 1
Little Bunting 1
Black-faced Bunting 2
Black Drongo 1


Transition Week, April to May

This transition period between April and May is often quiet, this year also.

Most noticeable was the egret and heron migration towards the end of the week in light winds. In spring, egret flocks come past Po Toi from two different directions, from the south west (coastal route) and the south east (what I call the 'direct' route).

I think those on the direct route may be at the end of a long distance flight over the South China Sea from south Philippines or north Borneo, perhaps a two day journey. They fly direct past Po Toi and on up the East Lamma Channel as though they know exactly where Mai Po and the Wetlands are - and maybe the experienced birds do know. Here is a mixed flock of Great, Little and Cattle Egrets on this route

This spring 'direct' route is complemented by October sightings of large flocks of Great Egrets heading in the opposite direction, also I think just starting the same long distance sea crossing. In October the flocks appear about 1 hour after dawn on days with light winds, having left the Wetlands at dawn. They fly direct, right over any obstruction such as hills etc.

As we start to learn more about spring migration routes in Hong Kong, we may well find that many species including smaller birds like flycatchers and wagtails regularly make these long South China Sea crossings as well as the egrets.

Herons moving this week included several small flocks of Black-crowned Night Herons and two Striated Herons which flew in off the sea on Wednesday and Thursday mornings. Also more waders, this time Ruddy Turnstone on the south coast rocks. I think the male Ruddy Turnstone must be among the most attractive of waders

On the land, the Blue-winged Pitta made a surprise re-appearance on Thursday afternoon after 13 days unseen. Also seen but unfortunately not photographed, a Pechora Pipit, a Savanna Nightjar (in the lighthouse gully), a Common Greenshank (new species for Po Toi) but my favourite of the week, a Pale Martin (new species for Po Toi) hawking with the Swallows in the lighthouse gully on Tuesday evening

At sea, the first Short-tailed Shearwater of the spring on Wednesday morning, exactly the same date as the first last year, a mystery shearwater (see Shearwater sp) and 8 species of terns, Whiskered, White-winged, Gull-billed, Caspian, Common, Black-naped, Aleutian and Great Crested.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 18/08/2010 08:15 ]


First Week in May

An interesting week this week. Bird of the week was the raptor seen arguing with a Large-billed Crow on Saturday morning - a second year Brahmini Kite, I think (later - now identified as a Common Buzzard). For photos, see 'Raptor sp' elsewhere on the website.

The week opened on Tuesday (for me) with a big fall of Brown Shrikes after the previous night's rain. I counted 53 but there must have been several hundreds around, birds in almost every bush. One bird in particular stood out - a red-headed bird looking nothing like the standard lucionensis, a superciliosus I think. Unfortunately, the only photo I could get was blurred but you can see the brown crown (actually much more red-brown than the photo) and the broad white supercillium going down to the bill and a clean demarcation between the two - very unlike lucionensis.
On Wednesday I had 4 Brown Shrikes flying in off the sea from the Dangan Islands, always a sign of a big fall. Here are two of these birds, together with the superciliosus?

Species of small bitterns started arriving on Tuesday also, eventually Yellow, Schrenck's, Cinnamon and Black Bitterns were all seen during the week (I missed seeing the Schrenck's). The Cinnamon Bittern had walked into a fish trap and had to be released (it could have just turned round and walked out the way it came in but this never occurred to the bird!). Here are the first Yellow Bittern, the Cinnamon Bittern in the trap and the Black Bittern on Thursday.

Also on Thursday, 2 Black Bazas were seen distantly as they flew north up the east coast early in the morning (tempting to think these may be the same birds as at Long Valley on Saturday?), a very photogenic Pechora Pipit which delighted many of the photographers on Thursday and two very late Asian House Martins on Saturday.

Also common Hong Kong birds on the move this week. Japanese White-eye, Crested Myna and Chinese Bulbul flocks seen migrating, a pair of Black-faced Laughing Thrush on the south coast rocks on a misty Friday morning were obvious migrants and on Saturday at dawn, a flock of over 150 Tree Sparrows at the lighthouse later spread themselves all over the island in small groups. Plus a snake - can anyone identify the species?

Finally, at sea, 3 Short-tailed Shearwaters including this bird which came as close as they ever do at Po Toi

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 18/08/2010 08:19 ]


The snake seems to be a Taiwan Kukri Snake (Oligodon formosanus)



Thanks Hey.

Is there a good snake book for Hong Kong?



Probably the best for snakes in the Territory is:

Karsen, S. J., Michael, W. N. Lau, A. Bogadek. 1998. Hong Kong Amphibians and Reptiles (2nd Edition). A Provisional Urban Council Publication.

,though AFCD have publsihed a venomous snake guide too.

I think you can order it off of the Gvernment Bookstore Webpage or pop into the Governemnt Bookstore in Admirialty.



Second Week in May

It’s back – a Yellow-fronted Canary has returned to Po Toi for the third year in succession. Arrival dates for this bird (presumably the same bird) are 14th May 2006, 15th May 2007 and now 16th May 2008 – which shows it is getting slower as it gets older, a problem I also have. If it lives long enough, it will become an autumn migrant rather than a spring migrant.

Here is a photo taken on Friday, together with another interesting arrival on Wednesday, a rather handsome but sleepy Budgerigar.

An unusual start to this week’s report so let’s get back to normal.

Bird of the week was the Brown Crake which I flushed from a patch of grass on the South Peninsular on Saturday. A surprisingly large bird (around the size of a Spotted Dove), it flew away in typical crake fashion, fluttering with legs dangling. No photo I’m afraid. Also this week, a Russet Bush Warbler in the same area where I last saw one in March, at least 2 Chestnut Buntings and a pair of Yellow-billed Grosbeaks as well as the usual Brown Shrikes, Arctic Warblers and Grey-streaked Flycatchers. Also a dead Japanese Sparrowhawk on the South Rocks, apparently the victim of a Peregrine.

The middle of May has had the highest numbers of Short-tailed Shearwaters in the last two years, and this year followed the same trend. 15 Short-tailed Shearwaters on Thursday is a day record for Po Toi and would have been higher had I returned to sea-watching earlier in the afternoon. Here some photos of 5 different Short-tailed Shearwaters showing the colour variation, from dark brown to light brown, not just due to different light conditions. All those close enough to photograph seem to have the right Short-tailed structure and under-wing pattern.

These birds can fly amazingly fast into a force 5 E wind earlier in the week, using the wind and waves without much wing flapping, but for some reason I see more birds when the wind is lighter, force 3 or less, as it was later in the week and they have to use more flap and glide.
I think they must come from the western-most Australian nesting grounds and migrate up the coast of Western Australia before entering the South China Sea. They are heading north to the seas off Japan for their winter.

Also this week, Arctic and Pomarine Skuas and 8 species of terns, here the Arctic Skua and Aleutian, Common, Great Crested and White-winged Terns.

The weather change next week will probably be the last chance for another migrant fall this spring.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 18/08/2010 08:22 ]


Third Week in May

(This entry was written on 23rd May)

This week was all about weather and its effect on migrating birds.

The migrating birds in question were mostly small bitterns and herons. Mid May is the main spring migration time for them when I believe they are making long crossings of the South China Sea from North Borneo and South Philippines into South China. Here is the 8am HKO Weather Chart for Monday 19th May.

Weather conditions in the southern part of the South China Sea are perfect for a long northerly migration – light southerly winds. So the birds set off on say Sunday evening. Nearing the coast of South China on Monday night, they encountered the NE winds and heavy rain of the depression. The depression stayed throughout Tuesday (there was heavy rain in Hong Kong on both Monday and Tuesday) so the birds had to fight their way through to reach the South China coast. Many would not have made it and drowned in the sea. Those that got through (‘the fittest’ – Darwin’s Theory of Evolution) will survive to produce the next generation.

On Po Toi, it was obvious on Tuesday that birds were arriving in large numbers but the weather was too bad to do much bird-watching. The rain stopped about 3am on Wednesday morning. Wednesday was dry, perfect for watching birds and with 37 species of spring migrant, it was easily the best day of this spring. The numbers of birds were terrific – of the small bitterns and herons, a Grey Heron, 33 Cattle Egret, 7 Striated Heron, a Malayan Night Heron, 44 Yellow Bitterns, 29 Schrenck’s Bittern, 2 Cinnamon Bittern and 8 Black Bittern with some of most species seen flying in off the sea from the surrounding islands and one amazing flock of 22 Schrenck’s Bittern which flew up the east coast of Po Toi at 6.40am.

Here some birds flying in (four birds from the Schrenck’s Bittern flock and a pair of Black Bittern) and some on the land (Striated Heron, Yellow, Schrenck’s, Cinnamon and Black Bittern. As you can see from the photos, bitterns could be found anywhere on the island, beaches, fields, trees and the lagoon and some did not survive even though they reached land.

Also other lands birds seen, Chinese Goshawk, Greater Sand Plover, Red Turtle Dove, Oriental Cuckoo, Brown Hawk Owl, Himalayan Swiftlet, Dollarbird, Pale Martin, Pechora Pipit, Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike, Ashy Minivet, 89 Brown Shrikes on Wednesday, Brown-headed Thrush and some other thrushes, Lanceolated and Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler as well as the regular Arctic Warbler and Grey-streaked Flycatchers.

Here photos of the Himalayan Swiflet, Pale Martin, and Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike

Many bitterns could be seen flying off on Wednesday evening and Thursday morning after only a very brief stay and by Thursday afternoon the numbers were well down on Wednesday. Most will be gone by the weekend and with no more weather systems forecast for next week, this may well be the end of Po Toi Spring 2008. But what a way to go!

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 18/08/2010 08:25 ]


Fourth Week in May

(This entry was written on 31st May)

The last week of spring. Very quiet this week, migration has come to a full stop on land and sea. A few birds left over from last week, plus the species which will stay on Po Toi for the early summer such as Indian Cuckoo, Koel, Pacific Swift and Black Drongo.

Some of the spring migrants seen this week are obviously in too poor condition to continue their migration and Po Toi will be their final resting place. Several Yellow Bitterns, a Black Bittern and an Oriental Turtle Dove will not go any further. This is ‘survival of the fittest’ in action.

On a more positive note, three species of terns have returned to the area, Black-naped, Bridled and Roseate. Also Pacific Swifts and the pair of Yellow-fronted Canaries seen in each of the past three years. The Canaries seem to arrive separately and join up on the island, but I don’t usually see them after the first week in June. Where they come from and where they go? - a migration mystery.

Some other unusual species on the move this week – a beautiful white Dove on the beach of the South Peninsular on Friday had no rings so is probably not an aviary bird. A flock of over 230 Tree Sparrows at the lighthouse on Saturday morning were migrants of some sort. Also seen flying off the island, a few Chinese Bulbuls, Crested Mynas and Black-faced Laughing Thrushes. Some of the most resident Hong Kong species are also partial migrants. Here the Dove and part of the Tree Sparrow flock.

The heavy rain on Friday caused huge clouds of flying termites to take to the skies, much to the appreciation of Bulbuls and Drongos. Even the local Black Kites joined in the feast, grabbing the insects in their talons and transferring them to their beaks. This behaviour has been previously recorded in the 1989 HKBWS Annual Report ‘Birds Feeding on Termites’ by Anthony Galsworthy. Here part of the termite flock, Black Kites feeding on termites and part of the 1989 article.

This is my last report for 2008 Spring although I will do a spring summary next week. I’m taking the summer off Po Toi this year, I expect to be back on the island in early September.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 18/08/2010 08:27 ]


Spring 2008 Summary

Another spring migration over. This is my third on Po Toi and probably the least interesting, not just for rare species but also for large falls of migrants which I find the most exciting part. All because the weather did not serve up as many days which create migrant falls as in 2006 (the best year so far) or 2007.

March and April were quiet which made it a poor year for the early species, swifts and hirundines, cuckoos, ‘colourful’ flycatchers and buntings. But May was good, as shown in this daily species number chart comparing 2008 with the equivalent day in 2007.

The fall on 21st May was easily the largest of this spring and one of the largest I have ever had on Po Toi. Not just for small herons and bitterns, which you would expect in mid May, but also some late species such as thrushes and grassland warblers.

Disappointment of the spring was the April typhoon, Typhoon Neoguri, which failed to bring in any land birds and only a few sea birds. The only explanation can be that it came from the ‘wrong’ direction (SW) and passed to the north of Hong Kong.

The highlight of 2008 Spring (particularly for those who saw them) must be the two species of Pitta, Blue-winged and Fairy, together on the island on the same day and almost in the same place (Fairy Pitta photo by C O Wong).

There were some other great moments, the Masked Booby in March, the male Yellow-rumped Flycatcher (photo by PWMK) in April and the flock of 22 Schrenck’s Bitterns in May come to mind.

It’s a long wait until Spring 2009.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 18/08/2010 08:29 ]


Typhoon Neoguri and the Blue-winged Pitta

Having re-examined the weather maps for Spring 2008, it may be unfair to suggest that Typhoon Neoguri did not bring in any land birds. Here is the HKO weather map for 17th April 2008 (and very similar to the map for 16th April also)

This is the day the Blue-winged Pitta was found on Po Toi.

It is quite possible this bird was making a more westerly crossing of the South China Sea from North Borneo (where they winter) towards Vietnam, was caught up in the strong westerly winds at the south end of the typhoon and was forced well to the east of where it would normally travel, ending up in Hong Kong. There was a small fall of other species on Po Toi that day.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 18/08/2010 08:29 ]