Sunday, 31 May 2020

Christmas Island Frigatebird and Philippine Pied Fantail

It would have been unthinkable to have invested so much time (an entire spring) in my local patch and not turned up at least one rarity by the end of it. As it happens, it took right up until the end of May for this to happen; and then two came along at once! The first was the second-year female Christmas Island Frigatebird that was flapping around the river mouth on the morning of 23rd.

Second-year female Christmas Island Frigatebird

Hot on the heels of this was the even more unexpected Philippine Pied Fantail that appeared in the woodlot on 29th. I had to pinch myself repeatedly while looking at this! What an unexpected bird to turn up on this coast! Sadly, it had gone by 30th, leaving me with only grainy record shots of it.

Philippine Pied Fantail

Other highlights (humdrum in comparison) included an adult Tiger Shrike in the nursery the same day as the frigatebird. Apparently, this had arrived on 19th, the day that the seasonal plum rains started. An Ashy Drongo and female Asian Koel were also present there the same morning (23rd).

Adult Tiger Shrike

The migration had been disappointing up to this point; May this year bringing few surprises to the woodlot and just a trickle of the usual migrants. The best of these were probably the three Fairy Pittas that turned up on 2nd, 5th, and 23rd-24th, though these were all rather skulking.

Fairy Pitta

The big day of 23rd produced two other reasonable non-passerines in the woodlot in the form of a Northern Boobook and three Asian Koels (two males and a female). A Chestnut-winged Cuckoo in there the same day I only managed to glimpse whilst at range, a shame as I have not seen this species well for several years now. Oriental Cuckoos were present on 1st (2) and 12th.

 Northern Boobook (top) and male Asian Koels (middle and bottom)

Other birds of interest included female Japanese Paradise Flycatchers on 1st, 5th (2), and 23rd. Single Ferruginous Flycatchers passed through on 1st, 2nd, 5th, and 24th, single Asian Brown Flycatchers on 1st and 24th, and single Grey-streaked Flycatchers on 12th and 23rd.

Female Japanese Paradise Flycatcher (top) and Ferruginous Flycatcher (bottom)

The most surprising of the expected migrants were the two late White's Thrushes that turned up on 12th and then from 23rd-30th. In most years, White's Thrush is quite scarce on this coast, and I think these are my first in May. A dozen Eyebrowed Thrushes (typically the only thrush in here in May) were in the woodlot on 1st, the only other thrushes recorded during the month.

White's Thrush: taken on 29th May!

Other more plentiful migrants included daily Pechora Pipits in the first half of the month and an increasing number of Arctic Warblers in the second half (with peak of 20 on 24th). Locustella were thin on the ground this spring, with Gray's Grasshopper Warblers on 3rd, 15th-16th, 23rd (3), 24th (2), 29th (3), and 30th; Middendorff's on 23rd and 24th; and a single Lanceolated Warbler on 3rd.

Pechora Pipit (above) and Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler (below)

As the frigatebird showed, more time should have been spent staring out to sea this month. Just half an hour out on the sandbar on 19th as a storm approached brought a juvenile Sooty Tern and four Short-tailed Shearwaters close inshore (a 'taster' of what else might be out there). It's rare that you get the chance to photograph either of these two, especially so from on the beach!

Juvenile Sooty Tern (above) and Short-tailed Shearwaters (below)

Sunday, 17 May 2020

Spring Arctic Warblers

May is the month for Arctic Warblers, with dozens daily in woodlots and the occasional larger fall. Many migrate by day, and it is not unusual to see individuals 'filtering' up the coast morning or afternoon (which then congregate in larger numbers wherever there are groups of trees). As the images below show, there's no such thing as a 'typical' Arctic Warbler (with variation in plumage tone, bare part colour, and number of wingbars), and no one 'type' really predominates.

A few spring Arctic Warblers

Saturday, 16 May 2020

Clear-fronted Dusk-hawker

It's been such a long time since I last posted a dragonfly of any description (indeed, it's been such a long time since I last went out looking for one). This one was not actively sought, but came as a complete surprise in my woodlot this weekend. Although I do frequently encounter Hyaline Dusk-hawkers in there, this is my first record of Clear-fronted Dusk-hawker (a male) on the coast (not an English name that has generally taken, as indeed have none: this is Gynacantha bayadera to remove any ambiguity). Such an astonishing creature! It is likely to be the only thing 'new' I get this spring now and is some consolation for a rather lousy spring bird-wise this time out!

 Male Clear-fronted Dusk-hawker

Thursday, 30 April 2020

April Highlights: Black Redstart

One of the best months for birding in Taiwan, whatever part of it you happen to be in, April this year was disappointingly average. The highlight of the month was the female Black Redstart on the Ji Xue River on 7th: a new bird for my domestic list and one which was long overdue by my reckoning!

Female Black Redstart

Having given up on a year list, like last autumn, I spent pretty much all of my time flogging my local patch of Qi Gu. The highlight of doing this was the Chinese Crested Tern that appeared with Greater Crested Terns on the sandbar on 5th. Although I am now in the habit of finding these things at this time of year, the excitement on doing so only seems to increase with each additional one!

 Adult Chinese Crested Tern with Greater Crested Terns

Trips out onto the sandbar also gave me the opportunity to rattle off shots of some of the more regular terns, including Greater Crested Terns, which are around in their hundreds throughout April.

Adult Greater Crested Terns

Common Terns also pass offshore in their thousands this month, with flocks constantly streaming north and some alighting on the sandbar. The race predominating here is longipennis, which can show red at the base of the bill and develops an attractive pinkish flush below pre-breeding.

Adult longipennis Common Terns showing variation

Other treats out on the sandbar during this month include the occasional flocks of migrants, chiefly waders and terns. Common Terns predominate (with Roseate and Black-naped Terns not arriving in numbers until May), as do Eurasian Whimbrels and Bar-tailed Godwits.

Common Terns (top), assorted waders (middle), and Red-necked Phalaropes (bottom)

There are always Chinese Egrets on the estuary in April, too, with a peak this year of three on 19th.

Adult Chinese Egrets (with Little Egret in the second photo)

In the woodlot, bird of the month was the occasionally vocal male Japanese Tit that was present from 2nd-7th (although I was quite sure I heard a tit of some kind in there on the last day of March). This was only my second in Qi Gu in twenty years, so a great rarity locally.

Male Japanese Tit

A second highlight was a long-staying male Japanese Thrush that was present with a mixed thrush flock from 3rd to 11th. This flock also included a male Grey-backed Thrush that was even shyer (and consequently seen far less frequently) than the Japanese Thrush. Other thrushes included small numbers of Pale and Brown-headed Thrushes in the first half of the month and rather larger numbers of Eyebrowed Thrushes from mid-month onwards. The wintering White's Thrush was last seen on 17th. All exceptionally shy, photographing any of these birds was quite a challenge!

Male Japanese Thrush

Only a handful of raptors were seen during the month, the best of these being the Black Kite that drifted south inland from the woodlot on 1st. Otherwise, Grey-faced Buzzards flew over on 10th (1), 13th (2), and 26th (1), Chinese Sparrowhawks on 17th (3) and 21st (2), and (single) Japanese Sparrowhawks on 13th, 14th, 17th, 19th, and 21st. Of these, only the Japanese Sparrowhawks spent any time in the woodlot, where they enjoyed terrorizing the local prinia population!

Male (above) and female (below) Japanese Sparrowhawks

The woodlot proved remarkably good for Phylloscopus warblers this spring, with Eastern Crowned Warblers on 3rd-7th and another on 25th; Pallas's Leaf Warblers on 1st, 3rd (when an exceptional 4 birds), 4th-5th (3), and 7th (2); Yellow-browed Warblers on 3rd-14th (1) and 25th-28th (5); Pale-legged Leaf Warblers on 18th and 25th-26th; and a Sakhalin Leaf Warbler on 25th-28th. A Two-barred Warbler on 28th caused me all kinds of problems on account of its rather bright appearance and atypical calls (more here). The wintering Dusky Warbler remained until 17th and the two wintering Arctic Warblers started being joined by migrants from 25th onwards.

Pallas's Leaf Warbler (top), Sakhalin Leaf Warbler (middle), and Two-barred Warbler (bottom)

Other birds of note included a handful of buntings, with Tristram's Buntings on 2nd-7th (2) and 10th (1), a male Chestnut Bunting on 2nd-7th and a male Yellow Bunting on 3rd. Pechora Pipits were seen regularly at the back end of the month, with most flying over but the occasional bird landing in the woodlot. Ferruginous Flycatchers arrived on 17th, 26th, and 28th.

 Male Chestnut Bunting (above) and male Tristram's Bunting (below)

Away from Qi Gu, Jiang Jun held waders all month, though large crowds, long waits, and distant birds put me off spending any real time at the site. I saw the Nordmann's Greenshank again on 2nd, and put a few close Greater Sandplovers onto my camera on other visits.

 Nordmann's Greenshank (top) and Greater Sandplovers (bottom two)

A drive around farm fields just south of Jia Li on 19th also produced a small flock of Little Curlews (4). These are easy to find in the right habitat at the end of April (I drove inland specifically to find Little Curlew, and did so at the first time of asking), but are entirely absent on return passage.

Little Curlew