Sunday, 10 July 2016

Lesser Frigatebird

Obviously, my main focus of things per se at the moment remains my year list and, with Lanyu now out of the way, it seems like the only chance of adding to it over the next few weeks will be to pick up something 'unexpected' off the sea. To that end, I've spent several of the last few mornings seawatching, and became especially focused on the sea when it became clear that a typhoon was on its way. There were large numbers of Wedge-tailed Shearwaters Ardenna pacifica offshore in the days before the storm arrived (a whopping 220 on Tuesday), but these (like many other birds) had completely cleared out by the day before it made landfall. Wedge-tailed Shearwaters are not at all unexpected in summer (and there will be more once the storm has moved away), and the only 'unusual' species logged in the days before the typhoon arrived (also on Tuesday) was an immature Arctic Skua Stercorarius parasiticus, which was enjoying itself harassing terns offshore (not really within range of a 300mm lens).

I was missing my plastic Wednesday, so spent an hour or so in the afternoon looking for Yellow-fronted Canary Crithagra mozambicus in the large forest on the south side of the Tseng Wen River. I found a singing male without too much effort, though it refused to come as close as I would have liked for photography. This is another species which breeds at many spots up and down the west coast but which seems to have undergone a decline (at least in Qi Gu) in recent years, suggesting that it might not end up successfully colonising the island. Either way, its population remains small, hence it constitutes yet another 'non-count' bird fit only for shoving onto an appendix of some kind when all is tallied up at the end of the year.

I was back on the sea Thursday, the day before the arrival of the typhoon, engaged in a seawatch which was in truth quite boring, with nobbut an Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus to break the monotony of windless conditions, searing heat, and pretty blue skies. Quite comically, I was turfed off late morning by the coastguard who insisted that the area was dangerous, despite the storm being over twenty four hours away. I have to wonder when things like this happen whether I am inhabiting the same reality as is everyone else, and suspect sadly that the answer is 'no'.

Nobody seemed to mind when I returned on Saturday to be battered by howling winds and driving rain, and to stare out at a much rougher and more dangerous-looking sea than conditions on Thursday had ever looked likely of producing. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was little in terms of numbers of things out to sea, but a single tiny pin-prick hanging motionless a hundred metres or so above the waves in the far distance was finally the year tick that I had been putting in all the effort for - a Lesser Frigatebird Fregata ariel. I got awful views of it from the seawatching spot, after which it quickly disappeared high up in the mist. However, half an hour or so after disappearing, I picked it up again hanging around over my reserve woodlot, meaning I was quickly able to pack up and drive round to its location and rattle off a few half-decent record shots.

I was hoping for yet more on Sunday as the weather and visibility had improved markedly, but the opposite turned out to be the case (I got less). This seems to have been one of those typhoons that, rather than bringing birds, simply cleared everything out ahead of it, and it will now just take a day or two for things offshore to return to normal. Above photos taken around Qi Gu, Tainan County 5-10/7/16.

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