Sunday, 23 April 2017

Terek Sandpiper

After the very promising build-up, the weekend (with its much anticipated overcast skies and small amount of overnight rain) turned out to be a bit of a damp squib, really. My coastal woodlots were once more empty throughout, and were quite literally so on Saturday, leaving me with just the sandbar to go at (where just one or two rather restless Sanderlings Calidris alba to play with).  

Sunday was little better, with flybys from a Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes and a close Short-tailed Shearwater Ardenna tenuirostris breaking the deadlock and making the effort worthwhile.

Bird of the day, somewhat surprisingly, was a Terek Sandpiper Xenus cinereus, which came ridiculously close whilst hunting crabs and caught one less than ten metres in front of me. It was quite wonderful to sit watching this thing clowning about dealing with its meal! It looks like it's the body of the crab that it's after, and the legs need first removing before this gets swallowed.

Not quite what I had had in mind from the weekend, but enjoyable nevertheless. It has been several years since I spent the whole spring in Qi Gu and just watched all the common migrants come through. After the excesses of last year, an average one this time round will do just fine! Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 22-23/4/17.

Friday, 21 April 2017

Swinhoe's everything!

I was all primed to hit the north coast this weekend on a quest for dragonflies (to the point even of procuring a decent flash to get better shots of said insects), but on Wednesday morning something quite unthinkable happened: I entered my woodlot to find it packed with migrants! First up was a cracking Rufous-tailed (alternatively Swinhoe's) Robin Larvivora sibilans! Unfortunately, these are not the easiest of birds to shoot, and there seemed always to be something in the way of this one! 

Consolation for lousy shots of the robin came in the form of several flycatchers in the woodlot itself, the most showy of these being an approachable Ferruginous Flycatcher Muscicapa ferruginea. This was joined later on by a far less approachable adult male Japanese Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone atrocaudata and a real split-second job Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina. Although female Narcissus Flycatchers are notoriously hard to provenance, this scruffy individual seemed to have the look of an owstoni about it for some reason.


I had chosen to leave my flash at home Wednesday, something I would come to regret when I stumbled across a nice male Hyaline Dusk Hawker Gyncantha hyalina. After clearing a bit of foliage, the built-in flash on my camera proved sufficient to cope with things (once the output had been set to max) and at least allow me a record shot of this admittedly very common species. A few nervy Eyebrowed Thrushes Turdus obscurus were also frequenting the same area. 

Obviously, I was straight back in the woodlot Thursday morning to find pretty much the same birds present. Unfortunately, the most desirable of these (the male Japanese Paradise Flycatcher) had departed overnight. However, it had been replaced by a female Swinhoe's Minivet Pericrocotus cantonensis, a far rarer bird in the context of Qi Gu (only my third). Although this was always rather awkward, I did manage  a few shots of it, just not the clean portrait shot I was after!

I was surprised on my way home to find several birds out on the sandbar for a change. The best of these was an approachable Chinese (alternatively Swinhoe's) Egret Egretta eulophotes, but the most impressive the many hundreds of Whimbrel Numenius phaeopus that were resting on the sand whilst the tide was out. These continued north once the tide pushed them off the sandbar, and one or two Common Terns Sterna hirundo gave flybys in the absence of anywhere to land.

Things had returned to normal a bit Friday, with most of the birds in the woodlot having departed. Although the diversity had fallen, as many as three Ferruginous Flycatchers were now present, and I also found a group of three Pechora Pipits Anthus gustavi creeping around in a shady area.

I was kicking myself a bit Friday for not having taken my scope, as the conditions early morning looked excellent for a seawatch. With pretty much 'everything Swinhoe's' bagged over the last few days, you would think that the storm petrel must have been flapping around offshore somewhere! With thunderstorms forecast for the weekend, it might make for a decent time to look! Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 19-21/4/17.

Sunday, 16 April 2017

Forest Jewels

Nothing in the woodlots Friday meant further time to be spent with waders. The Little Stints Calidris minuta remained at Ding Shan, and of course I was once more obliged to photograph those. Whilst there were still one or two atrifrons Lesser Sand Plovers Charadrius mongolus present on the same pool, only a nominate race individual would come close this time. This is fair enough, as the resulting photos do at least provide images that can be compared with the atrifrons of my last post. En route back to Qi Gu (where I would once again depressingly find the sandbar crawling with fishermen), an empty fish pond produced a few surprise Great Knot Calidris tenuirostris, one I rarely get the opportunity to photograph at close range.

The drive back along the embankment produced a relatively confiding (if only for very brief periods) Richard's Pipit Anthus richardi, another bird I rarely get the opportunity to photograph well. This individual did not seem like a 'classic' one at the outset, as its bill was anything but 'strong' and 'thrush-like'. The rest of the bird was certainly all Richard's (rather than something else), though, e.g. straight-looking hindclaw, prominent supercilium, poorly-marked scapulars, contrastingly white belly etc. I'm assuming that this one is a first-winter as it has retained, worn, and white-fringed lesser and outer greater coverts, together with old innermost tertials.

Saturday produced nothing other than a female Ashy Minivet Pericrocotus divaricatus, which I was unable to photograph at all until Sunday. Having wasted the previous day in woodlots, I settled on a change of tack Sunday and headed inland to look at dragonflies immediately the penny dropped that the coast was going to be poor. This proved to be the correct decision and even produced a few birds, including singing White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus (two males on a 200 metre stretch of stream) and Emerald Dove Chalcophaps indica, both of which I was more than happy to photograph. Shamas have spread like wildfire through this particular area, and their beautiful songs made for pleasant background noise whilst I was pottering about on the stream.

It proved to be still too early for the dragonflies I wanted most (Black Riverdarter and Dog-legged Clubtail), but a couple of other targets were available. The first of these was Orange-backed Threadtail Prodasineura croconota, a widely-distributed and common species, but a highly attractive one nevertheless. The second was Lineated Orange Jewel Libellago lineata, restricted in range to the south of Taiwan, but fairly common where it occurs (especially so around Xin Hua). I was chuffed that I could get flying dragonflies with my camera 'upgrade' (although I've had it over a year already, today was the first time I've tried seriously to use it with dragonflies). I was also chuffed to find one or two females, which are generally a lot harder to find than are males.

I called in at Da Jhoa en route home to see if any Little Curlews Numenius minutus had dropped in. A flock of around twenty were busying themselves feeding in the farm fields there, and it looked as though I would be able to get very nice shots of them. However, this proved to be easier said than done, as they were more or less a perfect match in terms of colouration for the background! This made focusing on them hard work for any camera!

So, a very tolerable and pleasant Sunday at least, made so by the change of scenery i.e. the jaunt inland. It is a shame that my once spectacular coastal sites seem now too small to produce migrants with any regularity. This will probably mark this year out as another dragonfly one for me, but, once that's done, what then? Above photos taken all over the place, Tainan County 14-16/4/17.