Monday, 23 May 2016

The rains of Kinmen

I made a frankly awful trip to Kinmen this last weekend, and was once more soundly beaten by the weather there. I had set off Friday very optimistic of picking up one or two of the cuckoos I had thus far failed to see this year, chiefly Indian Cuckoo Cuculus micropterus and Chestnut-winged Cuckoo Clamator coromandus. Fancying that there would be little else to go at, I had hoped to put the time in on these two birds and come away with a nice set of photographs and sound recordings, with which I would have been quite contented. Things looked very promising on Friday when I arrived late morning to overcast and surprisingly comfortable conditions, and found Indian Cuckoos to be singing in pretty much every small copse I visited. Though there were plenty around, with many in song flights, it took until late afternoon for me to track one down nice and close perched atop a telegraph pole, and therefore to get the first of my targets in the bag in pleasant conditions.

I tried the 'Botanical Gardens' late afternoon, where I learnt that there had been three highly vocal Chestnut-winged Cuckoos the previous morning. Fancying that these might well be morning birds, I decided to return at the crack of dawn the following day (my only full day of the trip) to pick up them up, which I imagined would be easy. Things did not go as planned the following morning, as mist and drizzle had rolled in overnight and it was very gloomy up at the Botanical Gardens. This did not stop a Lesser Cuckoo Cuculus poliocephalus from piping up for a few bursts of song, though I did not have my recording gear set up in time to catch it. I did manage to record a Slaty-legged Crake Rallina eurizonoides (Click here), very unexpected on Kinmen, and one of two birds (so obviously resident and breeding). I must have been within twenty metres of one of them at one point, but still managed not to see it in the darker areas it was favouring! After a couple of hours and no further cuckoos on the mountain, I descended to the coastal plain hopeful of more there, picking up just an Oriental Cuckoo Cuculus optatus singing from wires on my descent.

What happened next was just appalling, as the drizzle (instead of easing, as I had been expecting) shifted up a gear to become persistent rain, which meant packing up my camera and seeking shelter. As the rain was still relatively light at this point, I was at least able to record Indian Cuckoo (Click here) in song, together with a rather odd-sounding Oriental Cuckoo (Click here) (the first note is distinctly higher pitched than the second), until the rain became so heavy that I had to pack my microphone away too. I began my all-too-familiar 'island visit' pattern of aimless driving around, getting wetter and wetter in the process. At around noon, somewhere close to Wu Hu Shan, I picked up a small (and close) falcon circling low above a forested hillside, and at least managed to get my binoculars onto it in sufficient time to see that it was a female Amur Falcon Falco amurensis. This disappeared over the hillside quickly, being pushed southwards in front of a very black cloud and approaching band of heavy rain. My pursuit of this bird produced nothing, other than a soaking due to the ensuing downpour. Disappointingly, this was my #400 for the year, a totally unexpected bonus and very much the right kind of bird to bear that title. Unfortunately, it is going to be one that will remain memorable for all the wrong reasons, thanks to the perennially miserable weather on Kinmen! It continued to rain heavily for the rest of the afternoon and right the way through the night until the following morning. I found a single Chestnut Bulbul Hemixos castanonotus whilst spending two hours in the afternoon in a bus shelter waiting for the rain to ease, but in the end was forced to throw in the towel at around 16:00 and go back to my hotel as it was clear that the day really was going to be an absolute write-off. The following morning, much of the island was flooded, and there were marsh terns and herons everywhere. The highlight of the day was a Black Bittern Ixobrychus flavicollis flushed from a small pool in the village of Xi Yuan, but this up and down too fast for me to get my camera on to, and that was it for the morning. The conditions remained gloomy, with few cuckoos singing. I did stop to try and take a few memento snaps of Blue-tailed Bee-eater Merops philippinus in several places, but even these would turn out to be awful thanks to the crappy conditions.

So, my third trip to Kinmen this year was much like my second, with gloom and rain and few photos to show for it. Though the birds had actually been quite good, I would have sacrificed them all to have had sunny weather on Saturday, singing cuckoos and nice conditions for photography, as this would at least have been enjoyable. As it happens, the one full day that I had on the island was a complete write-off, making the holiday itself quite a miserable affair. Above photos taken on Kinmen Island, 20-22/5/16.

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