Po Toi Winter 2009

Po Toi Winter 2009

A very wintry feeling to this week. Still quite high species counts, but the numbers are falling and most of those species which remain are likely to stay for at least the first part of winter. I’ve noticed in previous years that when species counts are high in November (e.g.2007), they stay high for the winter whereas low counts in November (e.g. 2008) mean a poor winter.

No sign of either male or female Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher from the weekend (why ‘gorgeted’ and not ‘gorgetted’? – English can be a difficult language sometimes). Bird of the week was a superb male Plumbeous Redstart which arrived on Wednesday at lunchtime and spent the afternoon near to the demolished house but was gone by Thursday. The bird was seen by several locals, with cries of ‘liang, liang’.

I have been hoping to see one of these on passage through Po Toi since I saw a female on the beach at Tung O, south Lamma Island on Christmas Day 2006.

Of the wintering species, thrushes are well represented as usual, with Pale Thrush being the most common again this year and Grey-backed the most difficult to find. Also Japanese, Scaly and a single Eyebrowed Thrush this week.
Here photos of the Eyebrowed and a first winter Grey-backed.

Also this week, a pair of Common Rosefinch and at least three species of bunting, Chestnut, Little and Black-faced. Unfortunately, I missed getting a photo of the male Rosefinch.

Photographers nightmares, at least 3 Brownish-flanked Bush Warblers, 2 Mountain Tailorbirds and up to 5 Russet Bush Warblers are on Po Toi at the moment and probably for the winter. You can locate them all by call, but seeing and photographing them is another issue. I was lucky with this Brownish-flanked Bush Warbler but didn’t quite get the focus right.
Here the photo plus a recording of the call which Richard Lewthwaite memorably described as ‘like a Geiger counter’.

Next week will be my last to stay on Po Toi this year, probably until March next year.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 4/12/2009 06:07 ]


Thanks, Geoff, but it wasn't me who coined the "geiger counter" phrase. It was maybe Mike Chalmers or Clive Viney.



Many thanks for another year of my favourite regular update on the web.

Mike K
Mike KilburnVice Chairman, HKBWSChairman, Conservation Committee


Pale thrush and Little Bunting I took yesterday.
3/12/2009. Po Toi

Chestnut Bulbul

[ Last edited by Tony at 4/12/2009 18:25 ]
Tony Hung


Second Week in December

Thanks Mike. Looking forward to next March and the start of spring migration.

A very quiet week on Po Toi this week, most of the birds seen are probably winter visitors. Best sighting was a Burmese Python in the small reservoir at the top of Green Pigeon path, the second sighting of a Python there. I think one lives in the surrounding rocks and catches unsuspecting birds coming down to the reservoir for a drink.

Best bird was a female or first winter Common Rosefinch on Tuesday. Among the winter visitors, three species of Bush Warbler – Mountain (Brownish-flanked), Russet and Manchurian. Here photos of all these four species in that order

All good things come to an end and I think it’s safe to say that autumn migration has finished on Po Toi for 2009. Which gives me the chance to introduce my Top Ten for what was a very good autumn. In order of appearance

Orange-headed Thrush.  Probably bred on Po Toi this year. One or two out of 2 adults and 2 juveniles seen on many dates between Aug 20th and Oct 15th. A photo of one of the juveniles.

Tiger Shrike.  A first winter, Sep 3rd

Silver-backed Needletail.  Following Typhoon Ketsana on Sep 29th. The first autumn record in Hong Kong since 1992.

Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher.  Oct 8th

Small Niltava.  A male on Oct 29th

Yellow-throated Bunting.  An unprecedented invasion of this species in Hong Kong, seen on Po Toi between Nov 7th and 26th with a maximum of 8 on 16th

Japanese Robin.  A male on Nov 19th, a second record for Po Toi. Always a good species to see but rather overwhelmed by the Red-throated Thrush seen on the same day.

Red-throated Thrush   A first winter female on Nov 19th, and a first record for Hong Kong. Photo by Eling Lee.  

Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher    2 birds, a male and a female, on the weekend Nov 28th to 29th. Photo by Owen Chiang

White-spectacled Warbler    Dec 5th. A first record for Po Toi. Photo by Koel Ko.

The best bird, undoubtedly the Red-throated Thrush which will almost certainly be Bird of the Year on Po Toi.

A personal favourite of mine is the Tiger Shrike. An enigmatic species for Hong Kong, almost all historical records have occurred in a short period in early September with the species only being seen in two years since 1996, 2006 and again this year. I was particularly lucky to see this bird which was moving through Po Toi and did not stay long.

Encouraging to see that 3 of these photos are by others. Po Toi is much better watched now, so more birds are being seen and presumably fewer are being missed.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 11/12/2009 06:02 ]


Third Week in December

I visited Po Toi on Tuesday and Thursday this week, but no stop-over.

Tuesday was quiet but at least two good birds were brought in on Thursday by the latest cold front, another Rufous-gorgeted Flycatcher, the third of this autumn/winter, and a male Tristram’s Bunting. A photo of the Flycatcher appears under Flycatchers, I failed to get a photo of the Bunting.

So, in the absence of any other photos or things to say about this week, I thought I would look back on the autumn and show some of the statistics to compare with previous autumns.

It was a good autumn, the best since I started going to Po Toi in 2006. This chart compares each year on counts of species and numbers of birds (all for non-resident species).

The number of (non-resident) species seen in autumn 2009 was the highest of any year, 142, just one above 2007 which was also a good autumn. But autumn 2009 was far better on number of birds seen. This was reflected across most species as this detailed chart of some selected species shows

Good numbers for
        Quail, both Japanese and Yellow-legged Button-quail
        Chinese Bulbul
        Brown Shrike
        Chats, especially Red-flanked Blue-tail
        Japanese and Pale Thrush
All types of Bush and Grass Warblers including Prinias, Cisticolas and Dusky Warbler
        Grey-streaked Flycatcher
        Yellow-throated and Little Buntings

And Poor numbers for
        Raptors, especially Japanese Sparrowhawk and Amur Falcon
        Oriental Turtle Dove
        Hoopoe (none seen for first ever year)
        Grey-backed Thrush

As always in Migration, the weather played a great part in influencing numbers of migrating birds. This chart shows the Daily Temperature in Hong Kong by Day, compared with the Average for the period 1971-2000

Temperature is not the main influence on migrating birds, the main influences are wind direction and strength and rain. But wind direction and strength affects temperature so by looking at the temperature chart, you can see the major influences and periods of weather

August to early September – hot, light winds allow early migration with lots of early and earliest records

Two major typhoons on 15th and 29th September (see fall in temperature) cause some wind-blown migrants to arrive (e.g. Brown Shrike) but interrupt normal migration

October is generally calm with normal migration

Two major cold fronts, on 1st and 15th – 18th November, bring in lots of migrants. The second cold front is the coldest in November since 1981, and results in two new records for Hong Kong, Northern House Martin and Dark-throated Thrush, plus an invasion of Yellow-throated Buntings and other commoner species

Here is a chart showing my daily species counts for 2009 (in yellow) compared with previous years (other colours) and an expected value (pink).

This shows the high species numbers in August/early September relative to previous years, the average numbers in October and the very high numbers in the second half of November with a peak of 50 on 25th November.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 19/12/2009 06:22 ]


Fourth Week in December

Fourth Week in December

Two good birds this week. A very late Black-headed Bunting on Thursday near the helipad (other photos elsewhere) and one of an increasing number of Chestnut Bulbuls.

It appears a small invasion of Chestnut Bulbuls is happening again this winter - the last time this happened was in winter 2006/7.

Apart from these two, a normal winter selection of species including Crested Goshawk, Besra, Red-flanked Blue-tail and Daurian Redstart, six wintering species of thrush (Blue Rock, Scaly, Japanese, Blackbird, Grey-backed and Pale), Manchurian, Mountain and Russet Bush Warblers, Bright-capped Cisticola and Little Bunting.

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 25/12/2009 07:56 ]


Last Week of December

Nothing unusual this week, so it’s the time for a review of the year 2009, my fourth on Po Toi.

A very mixed year. A total of 225 species seen with 12 additions to the Po Toi list, now at 290 species. Spring was the poorest, and autumn the best on record.
Here is the daily chart comparing actual numbers of (non-resident) species with my ‘expected’ number for the same date, for each of the 113 days I spent on Po Toi

The signature bird species on Po Toi must be Flycatchers, and this was a great year for them – 20 species seen and all photographed, out of the 25 on the Hong Kong list – Brown-chested Jungle, Grey-streaked, Dark-sided, Asian Brown, Ferruginous, Verditer, Yellow-rumped, Narcissus, Green-backed, Mugimaki, Rufous-gorgeted, Red-breasted, Red-throated, Blue-and-white, Small Niltava, Hainan Blue, Grey-headed, Black-naped Monarch, Asian and Japanese Paradise. Quite an impressive list for less than a square kilometer of space.

Here are my top ten birds of 2009, in order of appearance
Red-breasted and Green-backed Flycatchers (both March), Blue-winged Pitta (April), Malayan Night Heron (May), Tiger Shrike (September), Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher and Small Niltava (October), Yellow-throated Bunting and Red-throated Thrush (November) and White-spectacled Warbler (December).

The last two photos by Eling Lee and Koel Ko respectively.

Bird of the Year – undoubtedly the Red-throated Thrush, with the invasion of Yellow-throated Buntings just behind.

2009 was also the end of the decade 2000-2009, a decade which saw Po Toi rise in the birding world from the shadows. Eight new species for the Hong Kong list with Red-throated Thrush no doubt still to come, in one form or another.
But my personal Bird of the Decade for Po Toi was only an ‘honorary’ Hong Kong first, the first twitchable Chinese Thrush. A stunning looker which stayed long enough to be seen by almost everyone, here is the first photograph I took of this bird, at 1.23pm on Thursday 16th February 2006 – just 30 minutes before the ferry left

This bird started the ball rolling for Po Toi and I’m not sure it would have happened without it.

A close second for Po Toi Bird of the Decade was nowhere near a Hong Kong first, but was the first overseas ringing recovery made by photograph – the Japanese Yellow Bunting photographed by Owen on 27th November 2007 and traced back to northern Honshu, Japan where it had been ringed as an immature bird just 34 days before.

Photo by Owen Ow

In the absence of anything to report, this thread will now close down until spring arrives in March – unless, of course, we get another February like 2006 – where did that Orange-breasted Green Pigeon go to?

By way of farewell to 2009 and welcome to the new year and decade, I give you probably the most extraordinary discovery of all in 2009

Good Birding to all in 2010

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 1/01/2010 08:02 ]


Fourth Week in February

The end of a quiet winter on Po Toi, my fifth on the island. A total of 48 non-resident species seen since the beginning of January, the highest total of any year although this is probably due more to my increasing experience with Hong Kong species.
38 species wintered or partly wintered, 5 were casual visitors for one day only and 5 were early spring migrants.

Unusual wintering species this year included a pair of Japanese Quail on the South Peninsular, a pair of Olive-backed Pipits in the central area and a Besra. Chestnut Bulbuls were present throughout the winter for the first time since 2007 and Blackbirds wintered for the first time. Two pairs of Bright-capped Cisticola stayed on the South Peninsular. Of the wintering thrushes and chats, Red-flanked Bluetail were in good numbers, as were Japanese and Pale Thrushes. Three species of Bush Warbler, Manchurian, Brownish-flanked and Russet, all wintered as did a pair of Mountain Tailorbirds and also Mr Big (Grey Heron), unfortunately now without Mrs Big so no chance of becoming a grandfather again.
Manchurian and Russet Bush Warblers are now singing which makes them much easier to find.

Casual visitors included a winter-plumage male Black-headed Bunting on 7th January, the best land bird of the winter, a Green Sandpiper on 14th January and a Tree Sparrow on 12th January, a first winter record for this species on Po Toi. Early spring migrants started with Barn Swallow on 9th February followed by a Common Kingfisher from 23rd and two Pacific Swifts on 24th, both earliest ever spring records.
Migrant Black Kites are now passing through, 18 birds in the air together at the lighthouse on 24th February where normally there is only a resident pair.  

Here photos of the Black-headed Bunting, Fork-tailed Sunbird (a regular wintering species on Po Toi) and some of the migrant Black Kites

No seabirds were seen until 18th February when the first Heuglin’s Gulls appeared in the East Lamma Channel. Heuglin’s Gull migration started early this year, with 101 moving NE on 23rd and 95 on 24th. Mixed in among the Heuglin’s were several Black-tailed Gulls, a Slaty-backed Gull, the first Ancient Murrelet of spring and a winter-plumage adult Black-legged Kittiwake on 23rd. The same or another adult Kittiwake appeared again on 25th.

Here photos of the Kittiwake and a Black-tailed Gull.

Spring 2010 starts next week. Regular visitors to Po Toi will notice some paths and scrubby areas have been cleared by the locals, either for graves, firewood or vegetable plots. On the whole, this makes it easier to find and see birds.

PS PCCW have installed a taller mobile phone mast above the temple, so mobile phone reception is much better around the island – progress?

[ Last edited by wgeoff at 26/02/2010 06:34 ]