Friday, 31 October 2014

Long-tailed Blue

Despite checking out a couple of coastal woodlots and a few other areas around Qi Gu today, I was unable to find any birds of note. The woodlots held 'Arctic' Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler and Asian Brown Flycatcher, and that was pretty much it. A look at one or two wetland areas inland up Highway 17 was similarly unrewarding, but the burning afternoon sun may have had something to do with that. On the plus side, my camera seems at least 'usable' after the frustrations of last weekend, though the image stabiliser does not seem as responsive as it was previously. With nothing really to photograph, I headed into the grass to take a few shots of some commoner small stuff, not that any of them came out too well. Below are Long-tailed Blue Lampides boeticus and Common Bluetail Ischnura senegalensis, male and female.

 
 

Hopefully there will be rather more than this to look at over the weekend. Above photos taken at Ding Shan, Tainan County 31/10/14.

Sunday, 26 October 2014

Bullshit Island

There seemed to be a bit of a 'mood' amongst the southerners this weekend for heading up north, and when the idea was suggested to me during the week it was met with a 'Yes'. The reasons were pretty obvious: south clear skies and 0% chance of rain; north cloudy and 40% chance of rain. As rain brings with it birds, the north looked like the place to be. Tian Liao Yang got earmarked as first port of call and we arrived there in glorious rain at about 08:30.


This very picturesque site at the north-east tip of Taiwan is a real magnet for buntings, and pretty much right upon arrival we'd logged both Little Emberiza pusilla and Chestnut-eared (together with Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala), and it did not take long before we hit on a more unusual species, Black-headed Bunting Emberiza melanocephala. There were several other farmland birds flying around, namely Eurasian Skylarks and various pipits, and also plenty of swallows. Such a site will always attract migrant hirundines, and there are always a few Red-rumped Swallows Cecropis daurica present in autumn, a species which is either rare or difficult to pick out in the south of the island where there are just too many Striated Swallows Cecropis striolata. However, all of the individuals present at Tian Liao Yang had unbroken and surprisingly obvious nuchal collars, which made their identification pretty straightforward.


The hoped-for clearing of the skies did not happen until late in the afternoon, and the continued drizzle eventually took its toll on my camera. When the rain finally stopped (at around 16:00), not only was my camera lens all misted up, but the image stabiliser was shot at, leaving me with about an hour of daylight to try and get some photographic record of the day with a broken camera which could not meter! Wouldn't you know it, that this would be the time that the Black-headed Bunting would pop up for its photo-call (not one, but at least two (and perhaps three)) and sit out in the open for ten minutes, and me with a camera that could not zoom or focus properly? Crappy record shots were the best that I could manage (and quite an achievement, given the circumstances).

 

Incredibly, this is the second camera that I have had trashed by the weather at Tian Liao Yang. The first was a couple of winters ago for a Long-billed Plover Charadrius placidus and, although the camera eventually 'recovered', the weather left indelible marks on the inside of the lens which were visible in subsequent photographs (so the camera had to be changed). Nor was this my first encounter with weather at this site, and indeed was as an especially mild one when compared to the nine days spent waiting for a male Japanese Wagtail Motacilla grandis in successive cold fronts, continuous downpours and temperatures of below 10 degrees in the winter of 2008! As much as I genuinely like this place, it can be an incredibly frustrating one when the rain starts as often it will not stop for days. The rest of the evening, obviously, was spent trying to get as much of 'Tian Liao Yang' out of my camera as possible in the hope that it would be fit for the trip to 'Turtle' Island the following day.


Now, a trip to a tourist destination such as 'Turtle' Island brings with it for me some pretty tough challenges. The most demanding of these is that it necessitates an interlude with the rest of humanity, which I find trying at the best of times. The tourist industry is an industry which I simply fail to understand, especially in the form that it exists here. It comprises, basically, groups of sheep being led around by some fella or other who talks to them in a deeply patronising manner whilst they all stare vacantly at and click away at whatever bollocks they've been instructed to stare at and click at, in the fashion of automata (and if you're a foreigner here, it is likely you will find yourself the object of the staring (What is going on with this behaviour? Why the interest? I do not understand the big interest in you when you have absolutely no interest in them (those doing the staring). I just don't get it.)). Basically, it is Dawn of the Dead without the gore. Consequently, the boat ride to 'Turtle' Island was just intolerable. My travelling companions mistakenly equated my increasingly visible unease with a dislike of the tour guide, which was not the case (I am simply allergic to bollocks). I actually felt quite sorry for the chap, who has to spend all day converting 'Turtle' Island into some ridiculous 'Magic Eye' picture where there are eyes, beaks, even hair literally everywhere, just for the benefit of the idiots he has to show around (and, to be honest, he did not himself sound very interested in what he had to say). I can imagine that, following a sufficient quantity of mushrooms, this trip might actually be quite good fun. As it stood, though, it was just prolonging the agony (especially when you want to get off the boat and start birding, but they insist on subjecting you to an avalanche of prepared tourist spiel before docking). The true depth of the idiocy involved became clear when comments such as "Those are gun emplacements" were required to explain what were obviously gun emplacements, and "Those men are fishing" needed to explain what men on a boat with fishing rods could possibly be doing. Sadly, the penchant for stating the obvious is rather ubiquitous here, and is yet another thing which drives me up the wall (as in when you walk into a place dripping wet and are told, without a hint of irony, that "It is raining", as if you might not have noticed). (The only way I have found to both cope with and make sense of this behaviour is to quote that great line from Room to Live: "And some people cannot hold their drink, they gotta tell you what they think".) No, it's not the tour guide that I have difficulty with in this particular instance, but the culture that creates the need for there even to be such an individual. I did try ear plugs on the return journey, but the tannoy system was just too loud, so I remained subjected to all the bullshit ("That's a beak-wo. Take a photo of it-a" (with horribly patronising 'a's' and 'wo's' appended to everything, like you're being spoken to in a 'cutesy' way you might use when speaking to a child of seven)). Anyway, complaining aside, 'Turtle' Island held first of all resident stuff like Chestnut-eared Bulbul Ixos amaurotis and Lowland White-eye Zosterops meyeni (almost inseperable from Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicus on plumage, but with a strongly finch-like contact call in its repertoire which is not given by Japanese, at least by those on Taiwan proper).

 

Migrants were all over the place, but my camera only started working properly in the afternoon (still wet from the previous day) just to add to the frustration, and I was only able to take decent pictures of an Olive-backed Pipit Anthus hodgsoni, a decidedly pale-looking female Siberian Stonechat Saxicola maurus and a male Chestnut Bunting Emberiza rutila.

 
 

Perhaps of greater interest were an 'odd couple' pair of Eurasian Skylarks, one rather typical-looking as regards individuals I tend to see here (with black tertails indicating pekinensis (?)), and one strikingly pale rufous, with rufous-centred greater coverts and tertials, most certainly from a different population (lonnbergi (?)). Interestingly, the rufous individual was also much stouter-billed than the the 'typical' individual, with slightly differently spaced primary tips.

 

Tour guides, tourists, broken cameras and other random complaints aside, I quite enjoyed my time on Bullshit Island and can see how it would be and excellent place for migrants (everything is pretty approachable too). At least I know now that a walkman and a blindfold would be essential items for any for any subsequent visit. You live and learn! Above photos taken at Tian Liao Yang, Taipei County 25/10/14 and 'Turtle' Island, Ilan County 26/10/14.

Friday, 24 October 2014

Amur Falcon

I wasn't really expecting much from the morning in Qi Gu today, so an adult female Amur Falcon Falco amurensis was a very nice surprise (even though I did pretty much everything possible to miss it!). The day started with a smallish raptor flying south over sand dunes to the north of Area A which I assumed, having only glimpsed it, to have been some kind of Accipiter. It seemed a bit late for Chinese Sparrowhawk Accipiter soloensis in Qi Gu, though about right for Japanese Sparrowhawk Accipiter gularis, so I was somewhat puzzled by what I thought were traces of black towards the wingtip on a silvery-looking underwing (better for Chinese, but quite wrong for Japanese). As both are common anyway, and I had seen the bird for only a split second, I wasn't too concerned about leaving it 'unidentified'. It was only later in the morning when I moved to Area A to find an Amur Falcon sitting on wires at the entrance that I realised the nature of my mistake!

 

Luckily I was able to get a couple of shots of it, but would doubtless have done better if I had realised what it was and pursued it right from the off! The problem was the local wintering Eurasian Kestrel, which began harassing the bird once it cottoned on to it. It harassed the bird right from Area A to past the lighthouse some two kilometres to the north, not allowing it to resettle. After twenty minutes or so of this, the Amur Falcon set off south and was not seen again. Incredibly, this is the third Amur Falcon I have now found in Qi Gu, and by far the least co-operative. What a disappointment that this had to be the first one that I had a camera ready for! 


There were minor consolations to be had in the woodlots in the form of a male 'disappearing act' Blue-and-White Flycatcher and a new male Daurian Redstart. Not bad all told, and I wonder what else the weekend will bring? Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 24/10/14.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Martins

A decidedly odd weekend started well on Saturday with evidently some migration taking place. I found that a large sand dune to the north of Area A was, for some unknown reason, attracting migrant swallows, and it looks like I might now finally have a spot in Qi Gu for visible migration (at least when the weather conditions are right, and not that anything necessarily hangs around). Friday had produced an Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus at this spot (a rather whitish one, hence probably migrant dasypus), together with a handful of Pale/Sand Martins, and Saturday kicked straight off with a lagopodum House Martin Delichon (urbicum) lagopodum. Although seen clearly, the bird was already gaining height when I picked it up and, as my cheapo camera is no match for birds like these, I only managed a disappointing record shot of it (which shows practically nothing). The bird was followed by about a dozen or so Pale/Sand Martins in the first couple of hours of daylight, but no more House Martins. Only a female Eurasian Kestrel Falco tinnunculus was willing to volunteer itself for photography in the early part of the day.

 

There were other passerines following the coast, however, and an Asian Paradise Flycatcher which flew into the small woodlot adjacent to the sand dune a little later in the morning proved to be much easier to photograph. This same woodlot also produced my first Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus of the autumn, a cracking and quite confiding male. 

 
 

The remainder of Saturday was simply bizarre, with a brief cameo from the long-staying Hair-crested Drongo, which flew across the road in front of us as we left the woodlot for lunch (never to be seen again), and a very skulking late afternoon Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata, which was behaving more like a Locustella than a bunting in very high afternoon winds along the coastal embankment south of Area A. The bunting remained in view long enough for me to snap off one crappy image of it 'at range', but a Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis flushed from the same place just flew straight off (a shame as, together with the lagopodum House Martin, this was another first for Qi Gu (though they winter on the Tseng Wen River just inland from here)).


So, although I had predicted a poor weekend, I had in fact added two new birds to my Qi Gu list and come away with one or two decent photos. Unfortunately, my prediction would prove accurate for Sunday, with just three Asian House Martins and a single Pale/Sand Martin from the vis mig spot and absolutely nothing in the woodlots. As Sunday looked to be offering nothing more than heat and a severe burning from the sun, I turned tail and fled and was back home in bed long before the morning was out. Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 18/10/14.

Friday, 17 October 2014

The big lull

The autumn migration seems to have entered its annual lull at the moment, and is unlikely to pick up at least in the south-west of the island until the weather changes. This is due to the dry season starting, and it probably won't now rain until the first of the cold fronts comes in November (which will bring new 'arrivals' of birds). I tried two spots in Qi Gu today, which produced only 'Arctic' Warblers and a single Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus, then Qi Pi (where no dusk-hawkers) and Xin Hua (where no butterflies I could photograph). All I could get from the day was some kind of big 'writing spider' at Qi Pi, probably quite common but something I haven't noticed before.


With such limited fare on offer, things do not really bode well for the weekend! Above photo taken at Qi Pi, Tainan County 17/10/14.

Sunday, 12 October 2014

Himalayan Swiftlet

The prize for the worst photo of the year seems destined to go to the one I took of Himalayan Swiftlet Aerodramus brevirostris this afternoon, on which you can just about make out that the bird is brownish rather than blackish if you make the effort to squint at it hard enough! After the excesses of the previous two days, I had quite a lie in on Sunday and did not really know where to go having waited until the afternoon to venture out. I decided on Qi Pi, but would not make it there after spotting what was obviously a Himalayan Swiftlet (pale brownish-greyish below, brownish-greyish rump) feeding adjacent to the road just before the village of Da Jhou. I got wonderfully close views of it from the road, but by the time I parked up and had fished my camera out of my bag it was already against the sun and I couldn't really focus on it properly. It did a second flyby a few minutes after the initial sighting, but then I had overhead wires in the way and was only able to focus on those. Imagining that the bird would return, I hung around Da Jhou all afternoon hoping to get better photos of it to shove on this blog. It did not return, however, leaving me with only the one rubbish effort below to show for an afternoon's patience!

 

The waiting around did produce yet another Eurasian Hobby for the autumn, together with a pair of Peregrines Falco peregrinus and a couple of Eurasian Kestrels Falco tinnunculus. There were also one or two Pale/Sand Martins flying around the nearby river and a Grey-capped Pygmy Woodpecker Dendrocopus canicapillus popped up for a brief photo opportunity. The Himalayan Swiftlet must have been migrating and simply moved on immediately after I had seen it, as it was not doing any kind of circuit of the area. Although it is considered a great rarity in Taiwan, I usually see more than one a year; its rarity only reflects the fact that nobody here looks through flocks of Hirundines, migrating or otherwise. Above photos taken at Da Jhou, Tainan County 12/10/14.

Saturday, 11 October 2014

Two new darters

A cursory glance in Area A on Thursday morning revealed nothing more than a single flighty Northern Boobook, which was about all that could be expected given that the weather was settling into a pattern of 'dry and windy' for the foreseeable (or at least forecastable) future. I had been pretty much set on going up to the north coast on Friday anyway (10/10 being a national holiday), but when I was offered a lift on Thursday morning the plan became definite. The reason for the interest in the north was dragonflies, with three migrant species (Spotted Darter Sympetrum depressiusculum, Long-tailed Darter Sympetrum cordulegaster and Red-veined Darter Sympetrum fonscolombii) all having been present for most of the week at a small pond just outside of Keelung (known as Nei Liao). (The north was also the only part of the country getting any rain, which might prove better for birding.) We arrived at this pond shortly after first light on Friday and immediately saw (or at least I did) a small falcon Falco SP heading quickly west over the hill in front of us. About two minutes later, a juvenile Eurasian Hobby did pretty much the same thing. Surprisingly, later on in the morning, two further small falcons together with a third loosely associating with them also flew quickly west overhead (with views of them being partially obscured by buildings, hence brief). Although I had logged one definite Eurasian Hobby in amongst this movement, I couldn't recall having seen this species migrate in groups before, and fancy something better might well have been involved (though all birds were 'Hobby-like'). However, given the brevity of the views, there would be no way of knowing for sure, and I had to spend the rest of the morning with the uncomfortable feeling that I had probably missed out on something. Falcons aside, though, the first of our three target dragonflies was quick to show up at Nei Liao. First a female (unfortunately too high in a tree to photograph well), then two confiding male Long-tailed Darters.

 

Despite an intensive search (of a tiny area), neither of our other two targets could be found at Nei Liao, but this area did hold other things of interest, including a few new butterflies: White-banded Flat Daimio tethys, Grass Demon Udaspes folus, and Long-banded Silverline Spindasis lohita, the third of which I understand is quite scarce.

 
 

With dragonflies not showing at our first port of call, we moved late morning to Chou Hong Lake on the other side of Keelung to try our luck there. Our luck was in as the first thing I found was a cracking male Red-veined Darter right at the entrance to the lake.

 
 

Despite looking hard for most of the afternoon, no other migrant dragonflies could be found, and it looked as though we were going to dip on Spotted Darter (which would turn out to be the case). Although this was by far the rarest of the three, I was more than happy to accept a hit rate of two out of three for the day as I knew it could have easily been a lot worse (see Saturday). We still had the remainder of the weekend to go at, and this could begin at Yeh Liu on Saturday morning (where we were lucky to get in as the park got closed shortly after we were admitted due to high waves). I was especially happy as, not only was I able to connect with a Radde's Warbler Phylloscopus schwarzi, but I was also able to photograph it, which is an achievement given the camera I use!

 

As there seemed to be little else on Yeh Liu, we returned to Nei Liao to search again for dragonflies. Although we did find one female Long-tailed Darter, this proved difficult to photograph as the branch it was sitting on was being blown around in the strong wind. With nothing else on offer, we moved on to the wetland at Qing Xue (Jin Shan), where a juvenile Pied Harrier Circus melanoleucos would present greater challenges to my camera than had the Radde's Warbler.

 

There were other raptors moving through Qing Xue, which included at least two further Eurasian Hobbies. However, although there was reasonable visible migration, reports of 'nothing' from Chou Hong Lake, no dragonflies at Nei Liao, and no new birds on Yeh Liu (the Radde's Warbler had already been there several days), together with a weather forecast for more of the same (meaning that Yeh Liu would probably be closed for a second day), meant that the smart money would be on returning to Tainan (and hence avoiding the traffic of Sunday). Above photos taken at Nei Liao and Chou Hong Lake, Keelung County 10/10/14, and Yeh Liu and Jin Shan, Taipei County 11/10/14.

Sunday, 5 October 2014

Hair-crested Drongo

Well I stayed down south in the end and elected to bird my local patch instead of heading north, and had what can only be described as a very good weekend. It began Saturday with an early morning visit to the area which had produced Ashy Drongo the day before as this area does look like one which might constitute 'first landfall' for migrants arriving in autumn. The Ashy Drongo had gone, but pretty much the first bird seen was a first-winter Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus, a more than adequate replacement! The bird was actually very close and quite confiding, but in the gloom of early morning I could only get very grainy shots of it at a very high ISO level. When the bird flew away, I was left with about twenty or so very poor images of it, so elected to search the area to try and get better. Whilst searching (still very early at this point), I found the second bird of the day, a Eurasian Woodcock Scolopax rusticola, which flew in off the sea and plonked itself down pretty much in front of me in the same small channel that the drongo had been favouring. I tried to get into a position where I could see the whole bird, but it flew off, and (imagining it to be tired) I chose not to pursue it further. I found the drongo again, but by this time it was further away and sitting in a leafy bush where it was almost totally obscured by leaves and branches. In the very high winds of this morning (probably related to a nearby typhoon), it was going to be difficult to get any kind of improvement on the photographs I already had, so I moved late morning to Area A, where a Northern Boobook Ninox japonica was waiting for me.

 
 
There were few other birds in Area A, but a newly emerged Pale-spotted Emperor Anax guttatus was something of a surprise. Area B held a Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike Coracina melaschistos which I only photographed badly, and further dragonflies in the shape of a female Evening Skimmer Tholymis tillarga (very common in there at this time of year).

 

On to Sunday and the first bird again was the Hair-crested Drongo which surprisingly had not left overnight. I again managed only poor early morning shots of the bird before it disappeared, and there was no 'supporting cast' in the area (unlike the day before, when Eurasian Woodcock), so I moved off to Area B (picking up one Oriental Honey Buzzard Pernis ptilorhyncus en route). I discovered that I had missed a juvenile Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo early morning, but saw yet another Chinese Cobra right out on the path, though this moved quickly away into grass before I could photograph it. I spent the rest of the morning bouncing between the drongo site and Area A trying to get photographs of something from the day. It was after lunch that I would succeed in this regard, at a time when the Hair-crested Drongo finally decided to become quite showy (saving me from having to post all the rubbish shots I had taken of it over the last two days). To cap the day off, a juvenile Eurasian Hobby flew south over the drongo site early afternoon (presumably a different bird from the one early morning) albeit at speed, but at least I was also able to catch up with this species for the autumn.


The most astonishing event of the day for me, though, was the behaviour of the photographers. All of them to a man (which amounts to a lot of people) left Area A in the morning claiming that they had seen Claudia's Leaf Warbler. Despite looking for it, none of the group I was with could find it (it actually left Wednesday) and, when photographers who had claimed to have taken pictures of it were asked, they were only able to produce pictures of 'Arctic' Warbler (of course saying that these birds were Claudia's). I have heard of this kind of phenomenon occurring on twitches in the UK (whereby people see what they twitch, invariably, whether the bird is actually there or not), but never witnessed it whilst I was there as there was tacit acceptance (and great fear) of the fact that you do indeed 'dip' from time to time, especially amongst those I was fortunate enough to be birding with (who had their emotions 'anchored' in the real world). It seems that nowadays, though, nobody dips, and that you see exactly what you go for whenever you twitch it. This kind of approach to life must be of interest to psychologists as it is evidently delusional, and those who engage in it are simply lying to themselves (and have their 'anchors' lowered into some kind of weird bird-filled fantasy). Exactly what function bullshitting your own mind has in respect of the human psyche (and why one might engage in such activity) I should actually quite like to know! It also goes to show that the newcomers to Area A have neither knowledge of, both in terms of identification and especially status (Claudia's is a very big rarity), nor respect for, birds, otherwise they would not be quite so flippant in their identifications. What a bizarre group these strange newly-arrived individuals are, casually bullshitting themselves into all kinds of delusional states of mind on their nice day out at the seaside (but doubtless going home quite happy for it). The only expertise that they possess, it would seem, lies in basic motor skills (pointing and pressing), and that does seem to be all! Anyway, that's enough ranting. Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 4/10/14 and 5/10/14, making use of my own weak motor skills!