Sunday, 18 November 2018

Greenish Warbler (2)

Surprisingly perhaps, the Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides of mid-week remained in my woodlot into and through the weekend. Although not difficult to track down, it was very challenging to photograph, being active and flitty and choosing to spend all of its time deep in foliage. I got a cleaner sound recording Friday than I had done on Tuesday (here), but failed to improve much on the photographs I had already taken (despite spending the best part of three days on it).

There were one or two other birds in the woodlot over the weekend, including the bunting that had eluded me on Tuesday. This turned out to be a female Yellow-throated Bunting Emberiza elegans, somewhat expected as the call I had heard Tuesday had comprised a 'string' of 'sit' notes in quick succession (making it either Yellow-throated or Rustic). I thought that the Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva had also chosen to stay after hearing 'it' again on Saturday morning. However, when I managed to see it Sunday it was obviously a second individual.

It is interesting that both the Greenish and the (second) Red-breasted Flycatcher had the same 'bedraggled' look to their plumage. This seems unlike conventional wear somehow and looks more like these birds have had to 'ditch' in dirty water or wet sand at some point. This is something I see frequently on migrants in my woodlot, and it leads me to wonder if they really do quite literally only just manage to make it there! Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 16-18/11/18.

Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Greenish Warbler (1)

The long-awaited mega finally arrived Tuesday morning, and it took the form of a Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides. Although this is now the third I've found in Taiwan (and the second in this woodlot), it for me at least retains 'mega' status as I haven't heard of there being too many (indeed, any) others during my time here. I thought the day might turn out to be a good one when I passed a Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus en route to my woodlot. As this was flighty and unco-operative, I decided very quickly to leave it alone. Once in the woodlot, a calling Ficedula flycatcher attracted my attention, but before I had tracked that down I heard the characteristic sweet 'vi-su' of a Greenish Warbler coming from elsewhere in the woodlot and immediately changed course to go after that. The bird was easy to record (here), but a nightmare to photograph, and four hours of following it around resulted in me getting a mere two photographs of any real value!

Occasionally, it found itself associating with a second 'Arctic-type' warbler which I fancied looked peculiar and had a more slurred call (here) than normal (though this lacked the hard grating quality of Kamchatka Leaf Warbler). I guess this was just an 'excited' Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis, perhaps (like me) thrilled by the company it had with it that morning!

The Ficedula flycatcher turned out to be a Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva. Nothing too exciting about that, but when I finally tracked it down I discovered that it was an adult male. It was a really gorgeous bird, and I had no choice but to take a 'time out' from my frustrations with the Greenish Warbler to make sure I got at least a few record shots of it!

There were a couple of Bramblings Fringilla montifringilla in the woodlot, too, and I managed to photograph a male. The only bird (knowingly) to give me the slip this morning was a calling bunting of some kind, which I failed to clap eyes on (though didn't really look for).

This is precisely how my woodlot should be in autumn: a handful of migrants each visit, occasionally some which are more noteworthy. There have been some long gaps between arrivals this autumn (with numbers of some birds, especially Arctic Warbler, remarkably low), but the arrival this morning has done a great deal to improve the overall species composition. Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 13/11/18.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Lesser White-fronted Goose

I guess every bird has its own story, and the Lesser White-fronted Goose Anser erythropus that 'turned up' this weekend on the Jiu Xue River is no exception. For some reason, this bird was frequenting a commercial duck pond (which wild birds do occasionally do at Mai Liao), and the photos that were appearing of it online were remarkably good (suggesting that it might be quite tame). Desperate for something to photograph after a miserable week in Qi Gu, I was more than happy to twitch it when Da Chao Lin suggested going for it Sunday. Once at Mai Liao, however, it was instantly apparent that there was more than just a little 'not quite right' with this bird!

The story in circulation on site (which likely contained much truth but which may have become exaggerated as it got passed down) was that the bird had been present at Mai Liao for over two years! It had arrived as a wild bird with a serious wing injury, which had rendered it flightless. Indeed, it had apparently been caught and even clipped during its first season there (though not subsequently as its primaries had regrown). Though capable of flight (which to me did not look 'strong'), over time it had become domesticated and had itself chosen not to leave. 

I'm ashamed to say that the flight photos are the result of the constant harassment of the bird (entirely for the benefit of the photographers) by the duck pond owners. However, the bird never chose to fly far (just across or around the pond) and it always returned (it seemed 'naturalised' into this duck flock). I'm also very happy that this was not my first Lesser White-fronted Goose in Taiwan, as I would certainly have serious qualms about ticking this (or indeed any) bird in such 'artificial' circumstances! However, I am glad I twitched it, as I'm unlikely to get more opportunities to get such good portrait shots of such a rare bird as this one any time soon!

One thing that had added to the initial 'credentials' of the Lesser White-fronted Goose was the ongoing 'invasion' of Greater White-fronted Geese Anser albifrons into Taiwan (with over 100 up and down this month). There were five to the north of Mai Liao at Shen Gang on Sunday, and these got twitched in order to see both 'whitefronts' within the one day. These birds (probably a family party) were behaving much more in the manner of wild geese in always remaining distant and wary. This shows in the photos I got of them, of which I was only really happy with one.

When the Greater White-fronted Geese went to sleep at noon, we returned to the Jiu Xue River to try and get shots of the wandering adult Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus (which had also ended up in a duck pond) in better light than the morning had offered. This species has been dropped from the Taiwan List in the most recent update, which is a bit surprising as personally I thought the case for it being a genuine vagrant was quite strong.

The only birds (although I did see five Oriental Storks Ciconia boyciana and a Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris) to try for on the Jiu Xue River late afternoon were Eastern Marsh Harriers Circus spilonotus as they came in to roost. None came close, probably due to too much movement on the dune on which we were standing, but I did get a reasonable shot of one juvenile.

A good finale to the week provided by Sunday (after a very poor time of things for the rest of it). The bird assemblage has more of a winter feel to it now and I eagerly await the next big cold front! Above photos taken at Mai Liao, Yunlin County and at Shen Gang, Changhua County 11/11/18.

Friday, 9 November 2018

An early Taimyr Gull

I was so unimpressed by what I found in Qi Gu Friday morning (one Chinese Cobra) that I decided to head up into Chiayi to look for gulls whilst still early. I hadn't been expecting any, really, and was surprised when five Taimyr Gulls Larus (?) 'taimyrensis' dropped in at Dung Shr Harbour. As I failed to photograph any of them well, I too headed north when they did and ultimately found myself at Au Gu. Four birds transited Au Gu late afternoon, though only one came close enough (or, rather, low enough) to photograph. This was a pale-looking individual (the paleness accentuated by the white blaze mid-wing present due to missing greater coverts), but the replaced P1-3 were much darker and bluer than the rest of the wing (hence the apparent 'paleness' was all down to wear). The primary moult still had some months to go (being only at P4); this at a time when mongolicus is finished. Despite a slightly rounded (rather than diagonal) tongue on the underside of P10 (shown anyway by some taimyrensis), the sparse head markings, dark underside to the secondaries, black to P4, and (albeit 'washed out') yellow toes take care of any Vega Gull Larus vegae.

There's always so much more to look at in gulls than with any other kinds of birds that I find the same individual interesting no matter how many times I look at it. This sentiment is likely harbinger of yet another winter of solely gull-related birding to come, which may (as Qi Gu has been woeful this autumn) be set to start early! Above photos taken in Au Gu, Chiayi County 9/11/18.

Thursday, 8 November 2018

Something to chew on

I've no idea what this Chinese Cobra Naja atra had found itself to eat, but it certainly looked pretty disgusting! Its behaviour was bizarre; moving around slowly and carefully sniffing the ground, obviously searching for something. I can't imagine snakes such as these will scavenge, so can only guess that it was looking for something part-digested it had for some reason regurgitated earlier. So intent was it on finding the various parts of its meal that it failed to notice me standing just a few metres away. Sadly, a telephoto lens is not the best for photographing at such distances, and all the grass didn't help at all. Still, I was at least pleased to see it make an effort to chew its food!

No birds around this week, just lethargic-looking cobras in both woodlots (it's colder now at night). Better than nothing, I suppose. Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 8/11/18.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

Familiar faces

A few new birds around this weekend, but precious little in the way of new species. A (presumed new) Northern Boobook Ninox japonica was pretty much all there was on Friday, though this had chosen to sit in the only spot in its preferred tree that would not allow a direct line of sight onto it. Still, it proved more co-operative than the female Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina that was also present Friday, as this would not permit my camera a line of sight onto it of any kind.

Area B hosted a few late flycatchers Saturday and Sunday, with both a first-winter Amur Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone incei and a gorgeous male Narcissus present. Neither was especially easy to photograph, and I was ultimately lucky to come away with any kind of record of either.

A lean weekend all told, despite the initial promise of more brought by the rain that fell Friday morning. This seems to be in keeping with the autumn in general this year which, although it has brought plenty of interest to other parts of the island, seems almost to have overlooked Qi Gu altogether. Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 2-4/11/18.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

Northern Boobook

It's been such a long time since I last had the opportunity to photograph a Northern Boobook Ninox japonica locally that I was really quite pleased with the one I got today. These used to be very easy to find and photograph in Area A with its tall trees, but invariably prove awkward and flighty in the much smaller trees that characterise my remaining woodlot. This one just appeared in front of me and had clearly not seen me standing there when it alighted. Although much of it was obscured by twigs, one movement by me and it would have been off, so I had to make do what shots I could get of it from where I was standing. In the end, the results weren't all that bad really.

I wonder if the nictitating membrane that protects the eye against adverse weather might also serve to protect against UV, as it seemed to get deployed when strong sunlight penetrated the canopy. If so, I'm envious, as I'm forever losing sunglasses and would not object to a 'built-in' pair!

Other than the boobook, it was a relatively poor weekend all told. A strong and dry northerly was blowing throughout all of it, creating my least favourite weather conditions (windy, hot, dry, cloudless). A first-year male Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceus was also present Sunday, but elusive, as was a first-year male Blue-and-White Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana. All of this was at least a great improvement on the previous two days, in which I had managed only to put an Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica onto my camera (remarkably, my first locally all year).

In the end, a nice smattering of birds in spite of the slow pace this weekend, although this year's mega (generally doled out to me at a rate of one per season) still refuses to show. Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 26-28/10/18.