Sunday, 28 December 2014

Goodbye 2014

A weekend of grey skies, relatively cold temperatures and miserable drizzle produced a first for me (perhaps ever) on Sunday: I elected to stay at home and get on with some work! This is perhaps not too surprising given Saturday's 'haul', which comprised a few common field birds like Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis, Richard's Pipit Anthus richardi and Oriental Skylark Alauda gulgula, in the unpleasant meteorological conditions outlined above. Capture of the day was a Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus, which goes some way to explaining the extraordinary malaise experienced on Sunday!

I can have no complaints with the year, though, which saw seven additions to my Taiwan List, and many more to my Oriental Asia List from a productive trip to Malaysia in the summer. The Taiwan additions were Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis, Greater Flamingo Phoenicopterus roseus, Glossy Ibis Plegadilis falcinellus, Purple Swamphen Porphyrio (porphyrio) poliocephalus, Siberian White Crane Grus leucogeranus, Brown-breasted Flycatcher Muscicapa muttui and Blyth's Pipit Anthus godlewskii. Incredibly, I managed to photograph them all (some better than others), and all my 2014 Taiwan lifers are shown below (from my own camera!).

There were obviously tons of other great highlights this year (far too many to deal with here), which included Chinese Penduline Tits Remiz consobrinus on Kinmen, a giant White-tailed Sea Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla on the Jiu Xue River, and a Philippine Duck Anas luzonica at Kending during the mid and late winter periods.

Also cool during the winter period were the gulls (my absolute favourites), which included a confiding Slender-billed Gull Chroicocephalus genei at Bu Dai, a returning wintering Sabine's Gull Xema sabini on the Pu Zi River (found by me the year before), and a big February roost of big gulls on the Qi Gu sand bar, which brought some cracking (and close) adult Slaty-backed Gulls Larus schistisagus into camera range, together with a massive first-winter Nelson's Gull Larus ?

Aside from the completely unexpected Brown-breasted Flycatcher, a relatively quiet spring in Qi Gu produced only a Thick-billed Warbler Iduna aedon out of the ordinary (the first photographed for Taiwan, but actually my fourth (in this woodlot, even)). I picked up a few dragonflies in spring, which included Japanese Skimmer Orthetrum japonicum, Four-spot Midget Mortonagrion hirosei, and Seepage Clubtail Fukienogomphus prometheus from very enjoyable trips to the north of the country. Late summer added Three-horned Clubtail Asiagomphus perleatusa much bigger rarity.

Autumn was more about dragonflies, too, with Slim Darter Sympetrum nantouensis (and Beak-tailed Hawker Polycanthagyna ornithocephala) photographed well in Nantou, and Long-tailed Sympetrum cordulegaster and Red-veined Darters Sympetrum fonscolombii on the north coast.

The autumn and winter (with the exception on of the Siberian White Crane) was actually pretty poor, but I did get a Hooded Crane Grus monacha for my birding efforts.

Every year is good in Taiwan, and to be honest I cannot recall having a bad one (at least as far as birding is concerned). Next year will doubtless bring more, and the only resolution that springs to mind is to enjoy the thing to the full (whatever that might entail), for next year I will of course be doing a lot more birding! So, here ends my review of 2014, and I can only wish the four-or-so readers that read this rubbish a Happy New Year and good birding/browsing into 2015! Above photos taken all over the place, Taiwan, some time way back in 2014.

Sunday, 21 December 2014

Common Gull

A total ball-ache of a weekend this one, especially after the delights of the last one, with a somewhat depressing return to normal on rather more than one count. First of all, there was little in the way of birds to be found on Saturday, despite checking numerous locations that are usually productive at this time of year. Bu Dai held the two Greater Flamingos, but they were so far away I could not be bothered to take my camera out and make any effort to photograph them. Further north, the Pu Zi River held a few hundred Black-headed Gulls Chroicocephalus ridibundus, but nothing else more exciting that I could see. This excellent river sees by far the highest concentration of small gulls island-wide during the winter months, and invariably there is at least one good one mixed in with them (last winter it was Sabine's Gull Xema sabini!). However, right now, the mangroves are much taller than they have been in previous winters and the gull flock is difficult to view, meaning that you find yourself leaving there not entirely happy that you have seen everything that is actually present. Feeling not happy that I had seen everything that was present, I pressed on to Au Gu, where at least there was one decent gull in the form of a first-winter Common Gull Larus canus. This bird was always too far to get nice shots of, but can be seen to be kamtschatschensis (by my reckoning the most usual form here) from the large amount of retained juvenile feathers on the neck sides and below and mixed-in with the feathers of the mantle. Common Gulls are usually quite easy to find (though are strictly coastal) in February, but are by no means 'common' at any time before then.

With nothing else at Au Gu, and nowhere else to go, I began snapping away at 'whatever there was' just to have something to show for the day. This amounted to a few Northern Shovelers Spatula clypeata and an immature Cinnamon Bittern Ixobrychus cinnamomeus. I returned to Pu Zi later in the evening to find a first-winter Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris, one or two 'Heuglin's' Gulls Larus (?) taimyrensis and an adult Mongolian Gull Larus (?) mongolicus, but the light was so bad at the only spot they could be viewed from that attempting to take pictures was quite pointless.

The second return to normal occurred Sunday, when a blown fuse meant no birding until it could be replaced. Should this happen on any other day, fixing it is a matter of minutes given how many bike repair shops there are dotted around all over the place. However, on Sunday, they're all shut, so there's plenty of pushing involved before you find one that's open. To then find that it's not just the fuse, but the voltage rectifier that's kapput means getting a part, so the day is effectively over. Though I left the house at 0800, it was 1300 before things were fixed and I was on the move again. I shouldn't have even bothered, as I was anyway back home at 1500 having seen absolutely nothing! Above photos taken at Au Gu, Chiayi County 20/12/14.

Sunday, 14 December 2014

Siberian White Crane

An astonishing weekend this one, which left me just speechless (and simply glancing at the entry title will explain why). It began on Saturday with a 'get yourself out of bed' call from a local photographer with the offer of a lift for a Black Bittern Ixobrychus flavicollis. Not really in the mood, I declined, but got up anyway and went out in search of the Hooded Crane. Like last week, I found it straight away, resting on an area of undisturbed ground which it seems to have made its roost. Again, like last week, it was mega-distant at this spot, so thus began the waiting game of waiting for it to make some kind of move. It eventually flew onto a fish pond a short distance away where, absent any other herons, it was somewhat less flighty and more approachable than it had been the previous week. I managed to get some better shots of it this time round, but they were still not especially great thanks to the bright and hazy conditions.


The bird did not seem to do much whilst on this fish pond, other than drink. It hung around with the small number of egrets that were present there for about half an hour or so, after which it attracted the interest of the local bunch of stray dogs. After being chased around for a while, it again flew towards its roost site, which effectively meant that taking pictures of it was over for the morning.

With no better ideas of what to do, I headed out to the coast and into local woodlots again just to see what was around. The answer would be nothing more than the by now familiar assemblage of wintering birds, with (as in previous recent visits) only Daurian Redstart willing to offer itself up for photography. I found a somewhat tired-looking Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis along the causeway, hence was able to add that species to my 'photographed' list. 

The main event of the day, however, was not a bird, but news of a bird received by phone call. Whilst in the woodlot, I received a call informing me that 'that Siberain White Crane is now in Jin Shan', my reaction to which was puzzlement and shock! What Siberian White Crane? What the Hell are you talking about? Apparently, a juvenile Siberian White Crane Leucogeranus leucogeranus had been found recently on an island to the north-east of Taiwan (Peng Jia Yu), and this bird had left that island on the recent cold front and evidently arrived on the north coast of Taiwan proper. In something of a frenzied state, the rest of the afternoon was spent making plans of just how on Earth to get to Jin Shan for the following morning! Fortunately, one (and surprisingly only one) of the local photographers was interested and willing to drive, which meant that the journey could be done by car and we could find ourselves at dawn the following morning, quite aghast, staring at a ridiculously confiding juvenile Siberian White Crane!

The bird, although tired-looking, spent most of the morning and early afternoon feeding, which can only be seen as a 'good sign'. However, it was also quite oblivious to, and sometimes literally only 'at arms'-length' from, the assembled crowd, which was a bit more worrying. Its confiding nature, though, made it easy to rattle off plenty of shots of it, even though the bird itself was quite active.  

This clearly very young bird was obviously completely lost and, being a sociable and gregarious species, did spend time looking for others with which to associate. It chose the assembled crowd of photographers, and would emit 'contact' calls when at its closest to them (which quite literally meant one metre), seemingly hoping for some kind of response. The response it did get was most of the more professional photographers running away as their lenses were way too big to cope with the bird at such ridiculously close range! This was not a problem for those of us armed only with pocket cameras (even a phone), though, allowing for decent head shot portraits to be taken!

Despite the very memorable circumstances of the day, it was impossible not to feel quite sad for this bird as it really did have a 'lost child' look about it. I would not know what its chances of survival might be given that large, long-lived birds like these learn a lot about survival (and migration) by associating with the parent birds for quite some time. Absent a parent (which it was clearly looking for), its chances might not be all that good. Obviously, I do hope it survives the winter and somehow manages to correct itself. Siberian White Crane was a species I simply could not have imagined would ever have reached Taiwan, and so it quite comfortably receives the award for 'Bird of the Year' for this year. It is just a shame that the day had to have a slightly maudlin aspect to it, which takes a little bit of the shine off. Whatever will come next? Above photos taken in Tu Cheng and Qi Gu, Tainan County 13/12/14 and Jin Shan, Taipei County 14/12/14.

Sunday, 7 December 2014

Back to normal

There was no sign of the Hooded Crane today, though it was probably somewhere out of view rather than gone from the area. With no ideas of what else to do, I again partook of the customary traipse around coastal woodlots, where there was nothing other than the usual suspects 'in' for the winter. A first-winter male Pale Thrush and a female Daurian Redstart popped out for photographs, but the rest of the cast (Manchurian Bush and Japanese Leaf Warblers) would not co-operate.


Still under the weather from the combined effects of a cold and a bee sting, I went home tired much earlier than I would otherwise have done. This proved to be not such a bad decision as at least there was a decent cricket match on. I never reckon that much to December anyway, and grow increasingly anxious for 'next year' to start. Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 7/12/14.