Thursday, 30 April 2015

More flycatchers

Returning to Qi Gu after the bonanza of Dongyin was always going to be something of a somewhat deflating experience, but the place does do its best and keeps producing migrants. They're all of the same stamp, though, with yet more Ferruginous Flycatchers and Japanese Paradise Flycatchers arriving, including a nice long-tailed male today to add to two other birds seen earlier in the week. The Japanese Paradise Flycatchers of this week have been interesting, as they (the males) have generally been redder-backed than the first male seen earlier in the month, and I wonder if this difference is racial (with illex involved somewhere)?

In addition to flycatchers this morning, a flushed unidentified pitta Pitta SP. refused to play ball in one of my woodlots, as did the rather large number of Pechora Pipits that were present there (with visible migration of this species going on overhead until mid-morning). Surprisingly, the only other species I managed to photograph was Arctic Warbler (one or two of which were in song). This is surprising as these are usually amongst the toughest of birds for me to deal with. The current crop of migrants seem to be rather grey on the head, noticeably dirty-breasted, double wing-barred, and have rather a lot of yellow below. Initially thought to be xanthodryas, the rapid delivery of the relatively even 'ji-ji-ji-ji-ji-ji-ji-ji-ji' song suggests that they are in fact a form of borealis.

So, there's still plenty of migration going on and a lot still left to come. Qi Gu still awaits its mega for this spring, though. Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 30/4/15.

Monday, 27 April 2015

The rewards of Dongyin (3)

The final morning on Dongyin was in stark contrast to the two days before. The conditions were clearer (still cloudy), with some blue sky poking through the clouds. The change in the conditions was reflected in the number of birds present (or absent), as far fewer birds were around than on either Friday or Saturday. The nicer conditions gave me the opportunity to once again play around with my camera, and I snapped off one or two more shots of what migrants remained before I was due to sail home. Jiang Jun Temple held a nice male Blue-and-White Flycatcher Cyanoptila cyanomelana (with all of the males over the last few day seemingly of the intemedia form) and a nearby reservoir a Black-capped Kingfisher Halcyon pileata. Traipsing around some of the open areas at the highest point of Dongyin produced a trip tick in the form of a Eurasian Wryneck Jynx torquilla, though this always remained somewhat distant.

I returned mid-morning to look for the Chinese Leaf Warbler, but this had not been seen all morning. Fortunately, a nice male Taiga Flycatcher that had been present in the area the previous day was still hanging around and proved reasonably approachable if you were prepared to wait. It was also nice to hear this bird (and two other males found over the weekend) calling with the hard and diagnostic grating call of the individual seen at Xinju earlier in the winter.

The Taiga Flycatcher was the last bird I photographed on Dongyin, and just the return journey by ferry remained to be undertaken. The sea trip produced nothing terribly unexpected, just a few Aleutian Onychoprion aleuticus, Common Sterna hirundo and Bridled Terns Onychoprion anaethetus. Skuas were represented by two Arctic Stercorarius parasiticus and three Pomarine Skuas Stercorarius pomarinus, the latter of which were pretty close and I even managed to get shots of myself (no mean feat armed with just a Canon Powershot).

So, another trip to Dongyin completed and this time a great success, with one lifer, two new birds for my Taiwan List and a hatful of year ticks. My trip list totalling 116 species can be found below.

Dongyin (April 2015) Trip List (2): Click here

I rather think there might still be time in the spring yet for yet another sortie in that direction! Above photos take on Dongyin, Lienchiang County and from the Tai Ma Ferry 26/4/15.

Sunday, 26 April 2015

The rewards of Dongyin (2)

My second day on Dongyin was just utterly astonishing! I awoke very early to windy, chilly and gloomy conditions, with very dark skies threatening rain. This had done wonders for the migration, with a visible passerine migration the likes of which I had only ever seen before at Falsterbo (and with grackles and blackbirds at Long Point). The passage was not as strong as at Falsterbo, but strong nevertheless, with pipits, buntings, minivets, flycatchers, and quite astonishingly Phylloscopus warblers arriving continuously and in large groups off the sea throughout the first two hours of the morning. I started the day at Miao Pu, where Yellow-browed Warblers Phylloscopus inornatus were constantly arriving, feeding quickly and occasionally singing, before moving off up the hillside and seemingly continuing with their migration, albeit in 'filter' fashion (i.e. not gaining any height). Given the pace at which birds were arriving, my heart was pumping and I was 'on edge' from the off, trying to connect with as much as possible before it all disappeared. My heart practically stopped, then, and I practically collapsed into a gibbering heap, when a Striated Prinia Prinia crinigera began singing from in amongst the newly arrived Phylloscs! (Now, if you pay attention to songs and calls like I do, and it really is only me that does so in Taiwan, you will know that this only means one thing: Chinese Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus yunnanensis, as Striated Prinia is not a possibility on Dongyin.) So, the few photographers that were on hand I shouted over to come and try and photograph this bird (which was singing very loudly from somewhere close by). Some of them came across, smiled politely, and by the time I had finished explaining what the bird was (in another language, don't forget, and whilst it was singing its head off), the bird had gone and the photographers gone back to their Narcissus Flycatcher or whatever it was they were feeding and happily snapping away at. So, you can imagine my frustration. Annoyed that something 'mega' had slipped through, and dumbfounded by the complete lack of even basic curiosity from the nearby photographers (surely, you would ask yourself 'What's that singing?', but they didn't even hear it (nor any calls/songs, ever, it would seem)), the day quickly went on a downer from that point on. I knew I could not count this bird as, firstly, I hadn't even seen it and, secondly, the bird had also been giving weird, thick 'wist' calls, which were from what I could recall very like the calls of Fork-tailed Sunbird Aethopyga christinae (which I saw in the exact same location on my last visit to Dongyin), and I did not associate these calls with Chinese Leaf Warbler. I also realised that I was also unfamiliar with the song of Fork-tailed Sunbird, thus would have to leave the bird as 'unknown' (though felt deep down that I knew what it actually was). Feeling depressed, I headed off to the Vegetable Garden where a female Von Schrenck's Bittern Ixobrychus eurhythmus tried to cheer me up by putting in a brief appearance!

The morning remained very gloomy, meaning that I was always unlikely to get photographs with the small camera I carry around with me. So, I resolved to do more birding, and chose to focus on two spots I knew that Phylloscopus warblers preferred to hang around in. My first stop was the area around the garbage dump, which was crawling with both birds and with photographers. There were plenty of Phylloscopus warblers here, but nothing out of the ordinary (except for a very likely but non-calling Hume's Yellow-browed Warbler Phylloscopus humeii which I missed by literally seconds). My second stop was the area immediately behind the homestay I was staying in, which was similarly crawling with Phylloscopus, but without a photographer in sight: perfect conditions for me! After only a short time in this spot, I once again heard the thick 'wist' calls that I had heard earlier at Miao Pu. The 'wist' notes got closer and closer together, until they were strung together in a kind of slightly descending trill: 'wist-ist-ist-ist-ist-ist-ist-ist-ist'. Now rather more certain that the bird would actually turn out to be a Fork-tailed Sunbird, I quickly tracked it down and almost fell through the floor when I found out that it was in fact a Phyllosc singing! No sooner had I clapped eyes on it than it began doing its Striated Prinia impressions again, so a Chinese Leaf Warbler after all! Luckily, I had my tape recorder with me and went first for a sound recording rather than for a photograph (as any photographs I was likely to take in such gloomy conditions were anyway likely to be poor, but a sound recording contain diagnostic evidence). The full sound recording (which includes both calls and song, so the full range) can be heard here: Click here. In the end, I also got several images, but these were all as expected very poor.

I spent all of the late morning and most of the afternoon on my own with this bird, and despite the photos had excellent views. The bird was reminiscent of Yellow-browed Warbler when viewed from the side, with similar long white supercilium and double (though narrower-looking) wingbars, but very different when viewed from above, with a crown pattern rather like a 'well-marked' Eastern Crowned Warbler Phylloscopus coronatus (with obvious central crown stripe and very broad lateral crown stripes with diffuse edges) and an obvious yellow rump (which had similarly diffuse edges, and was not clean-cut and square like in e.g. Pallas's Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus proregulus). The bird was also overall a quite dull green compared to the other Phylloscopus warblers which were around for comparison (Yellow-browed Warbler, Pallas's Leaf Warbler, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Pale-legged Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus tenellipes). As I felt that with a good sound recording I had been sufficiently rewarded for my dogged persistence in trying to track down this individual, I decided to pass on the news to one or two photographers. Despite all of them hearing the bird singing, I don't believe that any of them even managed to see it (believe it or not, most Taiwanese 'birders' don't even carry binoculars). With what remained of the afternoon, I did take a few other pictures in the gloomy conditions. The only half-decent ones were of a Hair-crested Drongo Dicrurus hottentottus, which paid me a brief visit whilst waiting for the warbler, and a Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus, which was slightly easier to manage as it was out in the open. 

There were plenty of birds around to be 'watched', including both Taiga Ficedula albicilla and Red-breasted Flycatchers Ficedula parva, which I hoped would stay around until the following morning. Above photos taken on Dongyin Island, Lienchiang County 25/4/15.

The rewards of Dongyin (1)

I recall somewhere once hearing words to the effect of the following: "If at first you don't see much on Dongyin, you should endeavour to get on the very next ferry and go there again". After a very disappointing trip over 'Grave-digging Weekend', I would not be put off by a very paltry trip list, and the next available weekend (and ferry) for me was the one just gone, so off I went again to Dongyin. I arrived very early on Friday morning (still pretty much dark) to overcast skies and light rain: the perfect conditions for a fall. Having not slept on the ferry at all, but also not caring much about this upon seeing the conditions, I grabbed a scooter from the homestay owner and shot off birding straight away. My first stop was the small reservoir just down the hill from the homestay, and my first bird a female Citrine Wagtail Motacilla citreola, a new addition to my Taiwan list! Feeling generous, I spread the news immediately, and a surprisingly large number of photographers (for a Friday) turned up, and all the subsequent movement and jostling caused the bird to become unsettled. This meant that it was going to be difficult for me to get any shots with just a cheap camera. Though I returned throughout the day and did get reasonable images, there was always somebody else present and the bird would not settle as it had done when I had first found it!

Still chuffed with the new bird, and not overly disappointed with the photos I had, I continued birding and found a further two female Citrine Wagtails on the exercise yard above the reservoir. As these were in an open field, they were much less approachable than the first female, so I made no effort to photograph them. However, the field also contained Yellow-breasted Buntings Emberiza aureola which were much more approachable, and would prove to be present island-wide in a quite baffling array of plumages. There were also quite a few macronyx Eastern Yellow Wagtails Motacilla tschutschensis around, which were more willing to pose for shots than any of the Citrines.

As these wagtails and these two areas seemed to have concentrated the largest numbers of people, I fled to a more far-flung part of the island and to Jiang Jun Temple, which immediately upon arrival had a large grey shrike hovering above it which could only be a Chinese Grey Shrike Lanius sphenocercus, a quite unexpected bonus! Much like the bird on Kinmen, though, this one too was very wary, and one look at me and it flew off into the far distance to sit on a rock miles away. I had the option of pursuing it, but chose not to as this would mean a long hike on an exposed part of the island on the windward side of it (and the wind was blowing furiously). As I already had decent photos from Kinmen, I was happy to content myself with a distant record shot.

There was little in the bushes at Jiang Jun Temple, so I returned to civilisation later in the morning to see what birds I had missed. The common consensus seemed to be that there were plenty of birds around, and the only species photographed that I had not yet come into contact with was Swinhoe's Minivet Pericrocotus cantonensis. As there had been plenty of minivets calling around the homestay when I had arrived there first thing in the morning, I returned to that area and was able to track down a small flock (three birds) of Swinhoe's Minivets pretty quickly.

Things did seem to quieten down an awful lot towards noon, and finding new arrivals and decent flocks became increasingly tough. So, as the light was good, I tried to get a few photos of some of the many buntings that had arrived overnight, and did quite well with males of both Yellow-browed Bunting Emberiza chrysophrys and Chestnut Bunting Emberiza rutila.

The afternoon deteriorated into the usual random, aimless driving around, trying to cover as much ground and pick up as much as humanly possible before nightfall would draw an end to the day's proceedings. The 'other' island (much less popular with photographers (the term 'birders' cannot be applied to Taiwanese bird photographers, as would become depressingly clear to me the following day)) held a female Oriental Plover Charadrius veredus, which was a nice addition to the trip list, and a flyover Eurasian Hobby Falco subbuteo, another year tick from the day.

The Eurasian Hobby essentially brought the day to a close, a day in which Dongyin had definitely 'returned to form' in quite some style. The skies had remained similarly overcast all day, if anything darkening during the afternoon, suggesting that there may well be some overnight rain. If so, then the weather was shaping up towards being classic fall conditions, with Dongyin being the right place to be as it was looking odds on that a lot of birds were going to arrive overnight and be available for the next day. Above photos taken on Dongyin Island, Lienchiang County 24/4/15.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

Ferruginous Flycatcher

A morning sortie into my reserve woodlot today brought yet another flycatcher species to add to the total for the week: Ferruginous Flycatcher Muscicapa ferruginea. It was yet another scruffy-looking bird, but a welcome year tick nevertheless.

The only other thing going on early doors was a shifty-looking character who disappeared out of the woodlot at the same time that I arrived. He had a couple of covered 'boxes' with him and left on a scooter with them fairly quickly. I only twigged a little later on what he had been up to as, when I had pulled up on my scooter, Oriental Magpie Robin Copsychus saularis had been singing surprisingly loudly, but not when I entered the woodlot. This chap, then, had been using singing birds to try and trap the local breeding pair (something I have encountered several times before on this coast) and the 'boxes' were in actual fact cages (with birds in). As I saw no Oriental Magpie Robins all the time I was in the woodlot (and they have been very prominent recently), I wonder if he might have been successful. Although I assume this kind of trapping to be illegal in Taiwan, I can't imagine the authorities would care should anyone bother to report it. Such a shame that we all (meaning I) have to live in a culture (and I mean this in the broader global sense) where things have only a commercial or 'entertainment' value, and lack intrinsic worth in the minds of the majority of people (the existence of everything needs to be justified in the highly abstract terms of coin, which necessarily means that everything must disappear). I can only interpret the massive moral decline we seem to be in the midst of as a sign of the impending end of civilisation, and rather wish it would get a move on so that nature might have a chance of surviving after we have been and gone (although it does seem we are inherently wont to take everything else with us). Anyway, there was little else in the woodlot save for a slightly puzzling 'mystery thrush', which I assume to be a very boldly-marked first-summer female Brown-headed Thrush Turdus chrysolaus. It was only possible to get the bird from one angle, as one flinch and it was gone!

So, the list for Qi Gu grows, albeit slowly. I'm sure that majority of birds will make it through safely and not find themselves living out the rest of their (foreshortened) days in a grubby pet shop in Tainan City somewhere. (I must quote Blake here: 'A Robin Redbreast in a cage puts all Heaven in a Rage'. Noble sentiments indeed (and not surprisingly indicative of a bygone, and not a current, era)). Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 23/4/15.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Mugimaki Flycatcher

I could certainly have used a lot more time than I had available to me today, as the rain of the previous evening had clearly brought with it some new arrivals. I arrived at my reserve woodlot mid-morning to find quite a number of Chinese Sparrowhawks Accipiter soloensis passing overhead, together with a single tardy Grey-faced Buzzard Butastur indicus. Inside the woodlot, new Eyebrowed Thrushes were whizzing around all over the place and an unidentified Cuculus gave me the impression it might be something other than Oriental. Sadly, the only bird presenting itself for any length of time was a Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta, but at least this bird showed better than had the others that passed through some days earlier.

Running out of patience with the cuckoo (which disappeared and did not show again), I moved on to Area A, where one or two Chinese Sparrowhawks were also present and there was yet another small flock of Eyebrowed Thrushes. All of these were flighty, and it would be another flycatcher that would present itself for a photograph, this time a Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki, a rather scruffy-looking female, but still the best bird in there today.

Pressed for time, I had no opportunity to look in Area B (where there must certainly have been more). Still, it was good to see something new around for a change, even though the 'mega' for this spring has yet to put in an appearance! Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 22/4/15.

Monday, 20 April 2015

Curlew Sandpipers

A post about waders obviously means that coastal woodlots were yet again a disappointment this morning. I had even taken my full kit out with me today (tripod and 'scope), determined to get in some kind of seawatch. However, despite the decent-looking conditions, I found no terns to be moving offshore (which meant that recording anything better would be extremely unlikely), hence was stuck with woodlots. A few Eyebrowed Thrushes had seemingly arrived overnight, and small flocks were present in two out of three of them. Oriental Cuckoos were also present in two, but would not sit still for decent observation and especially not for a photograph. The single Yellow Bunting was also still at the entrance to my reserve woodlot, where it refused to show at all well.

So, disappointed but not yet ready for home, I again beat the familiar path of Highway 17 looking for whatever waders I could find. I never made it that far up the road (i.e. into Chiayi), however, as I stopped to photograph a large flock of Curlew Sandpipers Calidris ferruginea that I found feeding next to the road at Ding Shan. The flock comprised individuals in various stages of summer plumage acquisition, together with the odd summer-plumaged Dunlin Calidris alpina.

Rather than contest the heat of the day and find but more of the same (only probably more distant), I considered these birds to be enough and was grateful to have come away with images of at least something from the morning. The next ten days or so now are going to be crucial in determining whether or not it is worth continuing with any kind of year list this year, as beyond them it will already be too late to connect with a really rather sizeable number of migrant species (which, for the very first time, I do appear to have missed). They start this evening with a cold front and rain which, fingers crossed, will hopefully bring the required fall! Above photos taken in Qi Gu and Ding Shan, Tainan County 20/4/15.

Sunday, 19 April 2015

Asian Brown Flycatcher

The spring migration along the coast keeps plodding along in its own steady way. Today saw a reasonably large arrival, principally of Brown Shrikes Lanius cristatus, but each woodlot also held Oriental Cuckoo and the odd (now reduced to singles) Eyebrowed Thrush. The small Phylloscopus flock (which I assume now to be comprised of winterers given how long they've been hanging around) in my reserve woodlot was joined by an Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa latirostris, the only bird in any way sitting out for the camera today.

Although there is certainly something of a 'list' forming in terms of what species have been passing through these coastal woodlots in recent weeks, there is in truth nothing on that list that stands out in any way. Usually at least one 'goodie' has shown up before the Brown Shrikes arrive, an event which often means a drop in bird diversity. The only hope for April seems to be the cold front that looks set to arrive on Tuesday. With any luck, this will bring some much needed migrants to each of my coastal woodlots, otherwise this spring will without doubt have been by far the poorest in my fifteen years of birding this area. Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 19/4/15.