Po Toi Spring 2010

Po Toi Spring 2010

First Week in March

The usual quiet start to spring this week but with some good birds.

Most thrushes and wintering Chinese Bulbuls and Japanese White-eye have left Po Toi over the past week, taking advantage of the regular southerly winds. Both Pallas’s and Yellow-browed Warblers are now singing, joining the Manchurian and Russet Bush Warblers so it can get quite noisy (by Po Toi standards).

Bird of the week was an adult female Siberian Blue Robin which I disturbed when doing my rounds on Wednesday morning. This bird had some blue on the tail as well as the rump but it was the long pink legs which gave it away. Unfortunately, it didn’t pose for photos – this is my fourth Blue Robin on Po Toi and I have yet to get one photo. I guess this bird must have wintered somewhere in the Hong Kong area and was just starting its migration.

More photogenic was the Hoopoe which I first saw on Tuesday evening and then again throughout the week. Hoopoes are regular early spring migrants on Po Toi, often in late February. Another regular early spring migrant is Large-billed Crow and a pair flew high over the South Peninsular and off out to sea on Thursday morning with the local resident pair eyeing them carefully to make sure they didn’t come back. Here photos of the Hoopoe and one of the wintering Mountain Tailorbirds.

Spring is definitely in the air. Mr Big has been joined again by Mrs Big (she got a very frosty reception at first) and this pair of Reef Egrets are about to take the plunge

It was misty all week and this seems to stop seabird migration, so nothing moving at sea.

The first cold front of spring is scheduled for Sunday, a bit early but maybe it will bring something in.



This question's about the single female Blue Robin the author saw in Po Toi. Is that normal for her to come to HK all by herself? I thought all migrants travelled in groups, no?


There is no clear-cut answer to this question, it depends on the species. However, larger birds normally migrate in flocks whereas smaller birds normally migrate as individuals or at most pairs.

Small birds do form flocks or groups while in flight, this can happen simply because of concentration of numbers and will very often be mixed flocks of different species. However, each bird is migrating as an individual and the flocks break up when the birds land.

Amongst larger birds, egrets, ducks, waders, gulls and terns usually migrate in flocks. Some raptors also migrate in flocks, e.g. Chinese Goshawk and Grey-faced Buzzard whereas others such as Falcons are usually singles. Examples of small birds which often migrate in flocks and remain in flocks are swifts and swallows and some odd species like Ashy Minivets. But most warblers and flycatchers are singles or sometimes pairs. Brown Shrikes often arrive in Hong Kong in large numbers but each bird is migrating as an individual. Siberian Blue Robin normally migrates as an individual even where it is commoner, but in Hong Kong it must be an individual simply because of its rarity.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 5/03/2010 15:55 ]


Second Week in March

There’s no other word for it. Tuesday was without doubt the coldest night I have spent on Po Toi. Even my son, visiting from England and staying with me on Po Toi, had to admit it was cold – and he lives in the north of England!

As news of the Philippine Duck spread around Hong Kong on Tuesday, we were sitting under cover at my place on Po Toi, waiting for the cold drizzly rain to stop and wondering whether we had made the right decision to carry on. But for me, it never really was a decision – Po Toi or nothing.

The rain did eventually stop at about 1pm and we were able to get out. On the way back from the South Peninsular after a very quiet sea watch, we were surprised, first by a Hoopoe on the rocks, obviously just arrived, and then by a male Blue-and white Flycatcher in the first large tree it could find, again presumably just arrived on the South Peninsular. Both these birds relocated to the main area and could be seen there for the rest of the week. The Blue-and white is my earliest spring Po Toi bird by two weeks but there is a February record in Avifauna from 1961.

But bird of the week came on Wednesday morning. We had just passed the Upper School going up the concrete path when my son, who was a few yards behind me and is unfamiliar with Hong Kong birds, said ‘What’s this bird?’ I retreated a few paces, saw some movement in the trees and was amazed to find myself looking at an adult gorsachius Night Heron crouching along a branch at eye level about 10 yards away and staring at us with a yellow eye and large dark centre. It stayed for a few seconds, long enough to check it over with binoculars – no obvious black on the crown or nape, so maybe a Japanese rather than a Malayan? As I reached for my camera, the bird flew off and we couldn’t find it until early afternoon when I disturbed it again in the same area. This time I could only helplessly watch it fly away as I had my camera in hand. No sightings on Thursday but I think this bird is still somewhere on Po Toi, so any weekend visitors please look out for it especially in the heavily wooded area just to the right above the Upper School.

Here photos of the Hoopoe, Blue-and-white Flycatcher and one of the Red-flanked Blue-tails still on Po Toi

Note the difference in wing pattern between this week's Hoopoe and last week's

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 13/03/2010 18:20 ]


Third Week in March

A quiet week this week for land birds. Most of the wintering birds have left and all but the earliest spring migrants have yet to arrive. The gorsachius Night Heron from last week was not seen and the Blue-and-white Flycatcher had also gone but the Hoopoe was still there. New land birds this week included Red and Oriental Turtle Doves, both rare on Po Toi this early in the season, and large flocks of Pacific Swifts and Barn Swallows hawking the insects brought out by the warm weather on Thursday.

The most notable feature of the week was the visible migration of Barn Swallows, particularly on Tuesday afternoon when more than 50 passed my sea-watching point in less than one hour. All these birds were moving south-east to north-west low over the sea, in small flocks of up to 11. The evidence continues to mount that most of the migrants seen on Po Toi in spring have their origin in the Philippines/ north Borneo area, and have crossed the South China Sea. A wind-assisted swallow flying at 40 kph should make the journey in around 24 hours and the HKO Weather Chart for 8am on Monday was

Light south to east winds across the Philippines make it a perfect time to start migration. As the birds approach the coast of South China they meet the cold front coming down from the north, which forces them down to sea level where the adverse winds are not so strong.

Other species seen among the swallows were single Asian House Martin and Pacific Swift, with single Great Egret and Striated Heron 24 hours later (slower flyers).

Also migrating, but in the opposite direction, were Large-billed Crows. Thursday was a calm, warm day, perfect to start a migration flight, and 14 Large-billed Crows in four separate groups flew off the South Peninsular heading south-west. Perhaps they had wintered somewhere in the Hong Kong area to the north of Po Toi.

Here photos of part of one group of eight Large-billed Crows, together with one of those orange-coloured Red-billed Starlings which turn up in Hong Kong occasionally.

Red-breasted Mergansers are very consistent in their migration timing. Previous records have been on 16th March 2007 and 12th and 14th March 2009, then this week 3 on 16th March and another 2 on 17th March. Now that Red-breasted Mergansers seem to have deserted Deep Bay and its surrounds as a wintering area, probably the only way to see them in Hong Kong is on spring migration through southern waters.

Here are the first three of this week’s birds, two males followed by a female, together with a pair of Ancient Murrelet which are regular migrants past Po Toi in March. I saw four this week.

My photographer friends would call these record shots, but for sea-watching off Po Toi, they are as good as you get.

Surprisingly, no Red-necked Phalaropes as yet this year – now about two weeks late.

The pace of spring migration should increase next week with the first flycatchers arriving. The cold front late next week seems an ideal time for them to arrive.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 19/03/2010 08:03 ]


Here's 5 Ancient Murrelets I saw from the Po Toi ferry on 13th March, just off Po Toi.


[ Last edited by cgeoff at 19/03/2010 17:56 ]


Fourth Week in March

This week was a question of waiting until the cold front passed through and seeing what it would bring. I wasn’t disappointed.

Tuesday and Wednesday were quiet although a single Grey-faced Buzzard on Tuesday following another seen from the ferry was a surprise. Both Green and Wood Sandpipers put in brief appearances but no other new migrants. Thursday was different. Cold, windy, cloudy and birdy - all due to the cold front on Wednesday night.

As is usual immediately after a cold front passes, birds were arriving during the morning so you have to make several trips round to keep up with the latest arrivals. Final count before the ferry left – four species of flycatcher, Asian Brown, Ferruginous (at least two), Blue-and-white male and Narcissus male, plus a male Tristram’s Bunting and several newly-arrived Grey Wagtails as a bonus.

Here photos of the Asian Brown, Ferruginous and Blue-and-white Flycatchers. I missed the Narcissus but saw some great photos of it.

I was intending to stay an extra day and come back on Friday by small boat, but the wind was so strong I decided it was too risky. Hopefully, weekend birdwatchers and the HKBWS Boat Trip on Sunday will pick up all the later migrant arrivals as well as those already mentioned. As usual, the best areas are the tall trees around the ferry pier, the helipad and further down towards the temple.

At sea, only a small flock of five migrating Garganey (id thanks to John Allcock), a Curlew and a single Common Tern. No gulls and still no Red-necked Phalaropes. Maybe the boat trip will be better.


Transition Week March into April

All last weekend’s flycatchers had gone by the time I arrived on Tuesday and I only saw one male Blue-and-white during the week. This was compensated by the Yellow-throated Buntings, which were present throughout the week. I’m not sure how many were involved, certainly at least five and probably more, including a spectacular summer plumage male

Also seen during the week, a single Grey-faced Buzzard on Tuesday, the first migrant White-breasted Waterhen of the year on Wednesday, a single Ashy Minivet on Tuesday and Wednesday, with an Oriental Cuckoo, Eastern Crowned Warbler and a Brambling on Thursday. Here photos of the Buzzard, Waterhen and Brambling.

Many Red-tailed Robins are singing now on Po Toi, as are the Pallas’s and Yellow-browed Warblers. Yellow-browed Warblers are reaching the peak of their numbers but Pallas’s are already getting fewer and will soon be all gone. The Eastern Crowned Warbler looked huge by comparison with these birds.

More action at sea this week. Another Ancient Murrelet and a fly-by wader looking very much like a Sanderling on Tuesday, a flock of 39 Garganey and the first migrant flock of egrets, seven Little, on Wednesday. Here photos of all of these.

A good seabird movement on Thursday included the first skua, a Pomarine, a single Greater Crested Tern and 66 Heuglin’s Gulls including one flock of 55. These are now mainly adult or near-adult birds, the immature birds having left earlier at the end of February.

With the closure of Mai Po, I’ve no doubt Po Toi will be a popular destination for bird-watchers and photographers this long weekend. The rain forecast should bring in some more flycatchers. But please be tolerant of the birds and careful of the infrastructure – don’t stand on the precious water pipes and take care if crossing the newly planted agricultural fields.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 2/04/2010 08:45 ]


"Po Toi News" is STILL my favourite series of postings on the internet -

and Geoff - can you get those Ancient Murrelets to stay around for a while ?

I still "need" them !



Don't worry John. I'm sure one will fly up the Beas River some day.


Not a large number of migrants at Po Toi today (4 April 2010) but still a good spread of species seen:

Grey-faced Buzzard 4
Brown Hawk Owl
Brown Shrike
Red-tailed Robin 9+ singing
White's Thrush
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Ferruginous Flycatcher
Narcissus Flycatcher
Blue-and-white Flycatcher
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher
Yellow-browed Warbler
Little Bunting
Yellow-throated Bunting 4
Pallas's Leaf Warbler
Pale-legged Leaf Warbler
Eastern Crowned Warbler


Other species seen included:

Pintail Snipe
Pacific Swift
Red-rumped Swallow - 1
Ocularis white Wagtail - 2
Grey Wagtail
Common Kingfisher

Mike K
Mike KilburnVice Chairman, HKBWSChairman, Conservation Committee


Also obvious migrants were

Chinese Pond Heron x 4
Cattle Egrets  x 2
Oriental Pratincole x 1
Barn Swallows 10 - 20 over the island and out to sea

also seen Large-billed Crow x 2  (not sure resident or not)


some photos of the birds taken on 4.4.2010


1a.jpg (179.37 KB)

5/04/2010 19:19

灰鶺鴒 Grey Wagtail


4.jpg (142.2 KB)

5/04/2010 19:19

黄喉鵐 Yellow-throated Bunting


5a.jpg (142.45 KB)

5/04/2010 19:19

白鶺鴒 White Wagtail


棕尾褐鶲 Ferruginous Flycatcher.jpg (147.79 KB)

5/04/2010 19:19

棕尾褐鶲 Ferruginous Flycatcher

棕尾褐鶲 Ferruginous Flycatcher.jpg

18a.jpg (164.37 KB)

5/04/2010 19:19

牛背鷺 Cattle Egret