Sunday, 28 September 2014

Yellow-browed Bunting

The weekend did not produce the 'mega' I was hoping for (and think is about due), but could not be said to be bad either. It began on Saturday with a highly elusive first-winter Black-naped Oriole in Area B which could not be photographed in there due to all the dense foliage. There was little else in this woodlot, so I moved on to Area A, but was deterred from entering by the outrageously large number of cars that were parked up at the entrance to it. The vast number of people was doubtless due to the Asian Paradise Flycatcher of the previous day, and I remain at a complete loss as to why this species (together with Japanese Paradise Flycatcher) sparks such a mad panic amongst photographers (who often travel from quite far afield to see it/them). Rather than join the chaos I imagined in there, I instead contented myself with birding a few random clumps of trees/bushes up and down the coast and this turned out to be quite productive, producing firstly a Yellow-browed Bunting Emberiza chrysophrys, an annual but rare passage migrant in Qi Gu.

There were plenty of 'Arctic' Warbler-types around as well, though none that I could photograph. The other species to have arrived in significant numbers was Asian Brown Flycatcher, which was present in most of the woodlots I visited on Saturday.

Sunday saw me pounding much the same paths I had trodden the previous day, albeit with a short sojourn in Area A. There were one or two birds in there, including a Siberian Blue Robin which I did not manage to see. I did manage to connect with Asian Stubtail Urosphena squameiceps and like the photo I got of it as it feels to be a very representative shot rather than a pretty one. A wave of 'Arctic' Warblers came through at noon but disappeared almost as soon as they had shown up. Otherwise, the place was inhabited only by Brown Shrikes, of which there were again many.


The final bird was a first-winter male Blue-and-White Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana which was hanging around the entrance Area B, together with more Asian Brown Flycatchers. This popped up long enough for me to click off one shot of it, but was otherwise quite elusive.

An examinandus 'Arctic' Warbler (Kamchatka Leaf Warbler) was calling from somewhere within Area B, but was too distant to attempt to record it, especially in the strong afternoon wind which was by this time blowing with some fury. Still, this does leave me with something to do on my next visit there I suppose! All photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 27/9/14 and 28/9/14.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Asian Paradise Flycatcher

Well, the good news is that Area A emerged largely unscathed from the recent tropical storm, which means that there is still hope of it producing a few good migrants this autumn. Indeed, it did so today, with a first-winter Asian Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone paradisi being the pick of the crop of the new arrivals there this afternoon (the others being a Black-naped Oriole Oriolus chinensis and an unidentified cuckoo Cuculus SP, both of which were highly elusive and 'glimpsed' rather than seen). It is a pretty straightforward task to separate the fairly rare Asian from the more regular Japanese Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone atrocaudata as they are somewhat larger with a blue-glossed crown and strongly demarcated border between blackish throat and paler grey breast (at least in race incei, which is the race that occurs here as 'drift' migrant). Asians furthermore have pink/orange-toned undertail coverts, lacking in Japanese Paradise Flycatchers, except for those of race periopthalmica which occurs on Lanyu (on which the undertail coverts are strongly pink/orange-toned). As ever, I'm happy with any images of birds I can get with my crappy camera, and some (though sadly not all) of these identification features are apparent in the photos below.


The bad news is that a paradise flycatcher of any sort quickly attracts 'every man and his dog' into Area A, and they come as noisily as possible and en masse. All peace and tranquility quickly dissipates and a crazed atmosphere of 'headless chicken-style' running around whilst banging and clattering all manner of photographic apparatus instead emerges. Whilst this is all well and good in itself, it ceases being fun for me as the kind of boorish middle-aged male that turns up is not the kind of individual with whom one would necessarily want to associate. Firstly, being repeatedly referred to as 'adogga' (an offensive racial slur) is upsetting in itself, but when the majority of those present seem to be surprisingly at ease with such casual overt displays of racism, it is actually quite disturbing. Secondly, any conversation is predictable. You are asked (when it becomes clear you can speak Chinese) if you can speak Taiwanese. When you answer 'no', your interlocutors immediately start talking to one another in Taiwanese, thereby excluding you from the conversation they themselves began! I've never figured out what exactly is going on with this. Is it some bizarre kind of weird piss-take? Or is it just the result of a lack of manners? If it is just ill-mannered, you would have to say that it is quite breathtakingly so! Sadly, I meet with both of these 'bugbears' with such high frequency that I am quite paranoid about their occurrence (and indeed encountered both today), so I elect to leave Area A when I see the general rabble starting to arrive. I slipped away to the quiet of Area B today, and found a few further migrants in the form of a Pechora Pipit Anthus gustavi, a Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta and an Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa latirostris. Unfortunately, the only thing I could photograph was an immature Malayan Night Heron Gorsachius melanolophus, which may or may not (more likely) have been a migrant.

There were tons of egrets moving south late afternoon, and I have a sneaky feeling that this weekend might just produce something! Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 26/9/14.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Tropical Storm Fung-Wong

An exceptionally dull weekend this one thanks to the tropical storm. Saturday set the tone with reports of 'nothing' from all of the local coastal hot spots pushing me out to Qi Pi yet again in search of Little Dusk-hawker. Yet again I would draw a blank, with just a handful of Hyaline Dusk-hawkers as compensation. I returned to the coast in the afternoon but (after a fine soaking en route) could find nothing too unusual in amongst the dwindling numbers of regular waders at either San Gu or Tu Cheng. I took to photographing whatever was there to be had, which meant an old female Blue Percher Diplacodes trivialis and a worn Zebra Blue Leptotes plinius, both as common as muck but the butterfly at least was something new.


Sunday was even worse. Some typhoons bring mostly wind, rough up the sea, and offer a very good chance of some decent seawatching (with the occasional Pterodroma petrel). Others whip through the island quickly, with conditions clearing up in the afternoon, providing the opportunity to get out into coastal woodlots and look for passerines. This one, however, just sat there all day with the wind being uncomfortably strong and the rain, whilst not particularly heavy, uncomfortably stinging and heavy enough to wreck anything electrical you might produce in it. From the forecast, it will have cleared the island for Tuesday, meaning whatever birds it brought will 'show' when everyone is back at work!

I battled the crappy conditions for a couple of hours or so, and did find a couple of Long-billed Dowitchers at Tu Cheng. However, as it was pissing down with rain, I elected not to photograph them and instead admitted defeat and returned home. Above photos taken at Qi Pi and Tu Cheng, Tainan County 20/9/14.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Batten down the hatches

A sneak peek at Areas A and B today produced nothing more than more (three and one respectively) non-calling 'Arctic' Warblers. A lot of sea water has penetrated the southern part of Area A, probably due to higher than usual tides with the steady approach of Typhoon Fung-Wong. This typhoon is coming in at very much the wrong angle for this woodlot and will doubtless cause significant damage to it. It's always 'fingers crossed' going out after a storm anyway, hoping that some of this woodlot survives, but the 'ten metres per year' of erosion at this site looks likely to occur over this weekend.


San Gu held few waders today, with much of it now dry. At least this area should fill with water again and, if the storm brings enough rain, extend the wader season there somewhat. The only bird of note today was a scruff of a Red-necked Phalarope which was quite approachable, but wouldn't sit still for long enough to get that nicely composed shot.


Anyway, looks like it's time to dig out the waterproofs for the weekend! All above photos taken in Chi Gu and San Gu, Tainan County 19/9/14.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Better for Pale Martin

I re-checked a few of the places I'd been checking recently today, starting with my snipe site near San Gu. I drew a blank here, so headed to my martin site at San Gu itself. As there was just a single martin sitting on the hoops (rather than the usual fifty or so), I thought that I was probably going to draw a blank here too, until I actually looked at the single martin and found it to be a Sand/Pale Martin. The bird was presumed to be an adult based on a moult contrast in the primaries, and was decidedly paler than the adult seen a few days before. As it was on its own, there was a good chance that it might be approachable, and that I might be able to get good quality photographs of its legs. This indeed turned out to be the case with this quite confiding bird.


From what I've learnt about Pale Martin after trawling the internet for information over the last few days, it appears as though only two field criteria might actually be of any use in separating a potential one from Sand Martin. The first of these is structural, with wings exceeding the tail in length in Pale Martin and falling just short in Sand Martin. The second relates to the amount of feathering on the legs, with Pale Martin having a clump of feathers above the hind toe and a comb of feathering along the rear of the tarsus which merges with the feathers of the thigh. On Sand Martin, the rear of the tarsus is bare. On these two counts, the individual at San Gu was clearly a better fit for Pale Martin than for Sand Martin. It furthermore had a strong greyish cast to the feathers of the crown and mantle, which might also be better for Pale Martin. 

In the mood for martins, I took shots of a few more that were approachable. First, a Grey-throated Sand Martin, and second, a Pacific Swallow Hirundo tahitica.


Somewhere in all the excitement of the day I broke my sunglasses, and had to drive into nearby Jiali to get them fixed (no sunglasses in a sun this bright means a surefire migraine in the afternoon). This meant I missed a phone call whilst driving, which was to inform me that Area A held Siberian Blue Robin Luscinia cyane. I missed it whilst it was at its most showy, but got there in time later in the afternoon to get poor record shots of it (a first-winter male by the looks of things).


The robin was a nice end to the day and effectively to the summer. With the semester starting up tomorrow, time for birding will become a bit more limited. However, I'm always looking to try and make more of it! All above photos taken in San Gu and Qi Gu, Tainan County 14/9/14.

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher

It was almost as if today existed solely to prove the points I made yesterday. First of all, here is Area B, all overgrown and wild and looking like prime migrant habitat (though today's tally in there amounted to nothing more than two non-calling 'Arctic' Warblers). Dare you enter, given what might lurk underfoot?


And secondly, here is Area A, lying right on the coast where it is subject to erosion (and now about a tenth of the size it was from when I started birding it), and all piled up with whatever detritus has washed ashore that morning. There used to be good paths in here, and it was easy to wander around in it all day. Now, if you don't watch where you put your feet, you can spend most of your time in there flat on your arse.

So, I mentioned that Area A 'still produces', which is evidenced by today's bird tally: umpteen Brown Shrikes (nothing unusual there) and one Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher Rhinomyias brunneatus. Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher has 'mega' status in Taiwan, as it averages less than one record a year. I can personally recall five (and saw four of these), all but one of these birds in Qi Gu, and there haven't been too many 'others' in the last ten years. As if to push the point about Area A 'producing' still further, this is actually my second in this woodlot this year, as there was also an individual in spring. As I usually fair pretty badly at photographing passerines in my woodlot (autofocus meets branches), I'm pretty happy with the results I got today, so am sticking two photos of the bird up (though they may look the same, they are in fact different).

I left Area A around lunch time pretty chuffed and decided to go north to Bu Dai and Au Gu for one or two targets up there. First, Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus, two of which have been hanging around Bu Dai since late winter (and are now more pinky and worth photographing). I saw them, but they were miles away, so I pressed on to Au Gu, where I was hoping for a few 'hawker' dragonflies. I didn't see any, and had to content myself with the ubiquitous Dingy Dusk-darter Zyxomma petiolatum, pretty much the only dragonfly on offer. The drive home (which could not be described as disappointing after having seen a Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher) took on a surreal quality as I passed one of the murals painted on the main road just outside Au Gu: Just what the Devil is involved in a 'beautiful accident'?

I got home without any accidents, thankfully, and am now hoping Leeds United's new Brazilian signing can stick one or two past Birmingham this afternoon. All above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County and Au Gu, Chiayi County 13/9/14.

Friday, 12 September 2014


With my premier coastal woodlot ('Area A') not yet firing on all cylinders, I opted to take a look at my 'back-up' woodlot ('Area B') this afternoon. The situation in Area B is quite different to that found in Area A. Area A, being right on the coast, is fast being eroded by the sea, and vast quantities of sand (and bamboo and garbage) that have been heaped up on it over the years have buried all of the low-level vegetation, hence there is now virtually no cover in there for small stuff that might like it either on or near the ground (that said, it does still 'produce'). By contrast, Area B (which is off the coast and which once had a small road into it) is now completely overgrown, with dense foliage, waist-high grass, a few marshy patches, and no easy access. Although this sounds perfect for migrants (and it is, and it will 'hold' them), Area B is quite literally full of Chinese Cobras Naja atra! In spring (when some paths remained), I would see at least one on pretty much every visit, as often as not almost standing on the damn thing. Whilst I dared enter this place when I could clearly see my feet, I find waist-high grass a bit more off-putting! I birded the outer edge of it today, and quickly found a juvenile Dollarbird Eurystomus orientalis, which hung around for long enough to let me take a few snaps of it, albeit strongly backlit. The only other migrants were Brown Shrikes (ten a penny) and a single non-calling 'Arctic' Warbler. With nothing else around, I started taking pictures of Red Collared Doves Streptopelia tranquebarica, which goes to show just how bored I must have been.


Back at San Gu, the martin site was a hive of farmer activity, so none were perched on the 'hoops' that had held so many just two days before. San Gu still boasted plenty of waders, however, with Broad-billed Sandpiper perhaps being the most interesting for me (though it is abundant). Most birds seemed to be bright juveniles, but I did find one exceptionally dark individual which I take to be a worn adult. This bird was really tiny, and was being bossed around by Little Ringed Plovers. Maybe its belated moult has some relationship to its 'runt' status.


The heat is still pretty much intolerable and there seem to be no weather systems on the way. This does not really bode well for the weekend! Above photos taken in Qi Gu and San Gu, Tainan County 12/9/14.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Sand Martin

I 'created' some free time today, and had several goals in mind in respect of its use. First of all, I wanted to check out a small pool near San Gu which had held in excess of half a dozen quite 'showy' snipe, but in poor evening light, the night before. Secondly, I wanted to take a look in my coastal woodlot as I had not done so for a few days. And thirdly, I wanted to try and relocate a mouting adult Sand Martin Riparia riparia that I had photographed poorly the night before to see if I could get better photos of its legs (to see if it might be Pale Martin Riparia diluta). I'll start with yesterday's photos (which are poor), and simply say that this Sand Martin was a small individual (barely larger than Grey-throated Sand Martin Riparia chinesis), but rather dark and with wings which seemed be about equal to the tail in length (apparently better for Sand Martin), and had at least two pronounced 'spurs' of feathering above the hind toe on the back of the tarsi (OK for Sand Martin, but I could not really be sure if there was any more feathering in addition to this).


So I began by bouncing between the two San Gu sites (snipe/martin) and drew a complete blank after two visits to each spot. Off to the coast, then, to my woodlot, which held a bunch of Brown Shrikes and one Blue Rock Thrush, hence was yet again disappointing. With only these to show for the entire morning, I sought out air conditioning at the nearest 7-11, where I had an early lunch and a nap. I thought about throwing in the towel, but elected to persist and returned to the snipe site for a long vigil as it looked like it might rain. When I got there, only Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius would pose for a photograph.  

Around mid-afternoon, a few snipe did start appearing out of the long grass. In total, there were four or five 'swintail' and two Common Snipe. One of the former did venture close enough to give me the opportunity to take yet more pretty portrait shots of snipe, and I rather fancy from the cold tones of this bird and narrow white fringes to everything that it was most likely a Pin-tailed Snipe.


I felt a bit more contented that I had gotten at least something from the day, so elected to return to the martin site, and on to yet another nasty and pretty much impossible 'species-pair'. Unlike earlier in the morning, when there had been almost no Grey-throated Sand Martins around, there were now hundreds, many of them conveniently sitting on 'hoops' that farmers had put in place (either as some sort of trellis or perhaps to allow whatever they had planted to be easily covered over later on), and a quick scan of these hoops revealed at least three Sand Martins in their midst. Unfortunately, they were all just that bit too far away, and I had to hang around for a while before I could get any closer. First to draw nearer to 'camera range' was a juvenile.


This juvenile was rather scaly above (as one might expect), was very dark on its face (ear coverts strongly contrasting with the very white throat, with the border between them being defined), had a large dark smudge centre-breast (a good T-bar) and had wings and tail which seemed to be about equal in length. So, a good Sand Martin on my own (very limited) knowledge. After looking at this bird for a while, I was able to relocate the adult of the previous day.

I couldn't escape the feeling that the adult was somehow smaller than the juvenile, but obviously any accurate assessment of size where the differences are so slight is all but impossible to make anyway, and it lacked much of a T-bar. I could not get better photos of the legs, unfortunately, but left thinking that the combination of structure, a very dark crown and rather dark-coloured breast band should also make the adult a better fit for Sand Martin rather than anything else. That said, I could quite easily be wrong! All above photos taken at San Gu, Tainan County 9/9/14 and 10/9/14.