Sunday, 21 August 2016

Dark-sided Flycatcher

I tend to start my 'critique' of the weekend by looking for some kind of adjective I consider to be a suitable descriptor of it, and the only one I could come up with this time round was 'typical'. Although that might initially sound negative, as I chose to spend the whole of the weekend in Qi Gu that's not necessarily the case. By the time I first began circulating news of Qi Gu many years ago, I had already compiled a quite massive list for the area. This led at least some subsequent visitors to arrive expecting large selections of migrants from single visits which, of course, does not happen. Lists for this area are accrued 'piecemeal', through the medium of regular visits, with single additions at regular intervals yielding an impressive-looking total, but only by the end of a season. On most days, in actual fact, there is very little, but more than just occasionally there is something that bit more special to be found. This weekend fit this pattern comfortably, with little to nothing for most of it, but a bird I personally consider to be a bit of a mega (certainly locally) showing up right at the end of it. It all got underway on Friday, with a very disappointing tour of the woodlots producing nothing (arguably less than nothing, with another five metres or so chewed away from Area A by a large storm mid-week), though the day was eventually salvaged by a second adult Asian Dowitcher Limnodromus semipalmatus for the autumn at Tu Cheng (after having failed with snipe at various sites and with Pale Sand Martins Riparia diluta).

Saturday kicked off with an appalling seawatch, with just a single Swinhoe's Storm Petrel Hydrobates monorhis from it (though close enough to photograph as a 'blob'). I couldn't believe how few terns were passing, as mid-August should be around peak for several species, and gave up just short of three hours in to look once more for waders. The only bright moment of the day was bumping into another British birder, Dominic, at San Liao Wan, and together we were able to add Little Stint Calidris minuta (a single adult) to his East Asia list. That was about all, though, as back at Jiang Jun the snipe were once again not performing and had dispersed from their favoured field, meaning we only managed pretty poor flight views of a single Swinhoe's Snipe Gallinago megala. En route home, two Temminck's Stints Calidris temminckii were at Tu Cheng, where no sign of the Asian Dowitcher. The 'hoops' that the hirundines like to sit on held plenty of Grey-throated Sand Martins Riparia chinensis, but no Pale Sand Martins that could be found.

This is certainly the longest period of seawatching I have engaged in from Qi Gu without some kind of semi-rarity showing up, so I was not at all happy when I logged no seabirds whatsoever in three hours on Sunday morning and even fewer terns than on Saturday. It was outrageously hot on Sunday, with southerly winds suggesting that no passerines would have arrived overnight and that the woodlots would once again be a complete waste of time (I had checked them all Friday). A flyover Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea at the seawatching spot introduced some doubt, though, and I decided to stick my head into my reserve woodlot to see if anything at all had turned up there (which would deter me from heading once again to spend the hottest part of the day totally exposed in a sweltering field full of non-performing snipe, the direction in which I was once more heading). The first bird I saw when I stuck my head in the woodlot was a juvenile Malayan Night Heron Gorsachius melanolophus, not a migrant, but sufficient to lure me deeper into the trees.

When I disturbed the heron, it flushed what was obviously a flycatcher, and this got me really excited! Typically, any August flycatcher in Qi Gu is a good one, with Dark-sided Flycatcher Muscicapa sibirica being the earliest to arrive (if it is indeed going to). As I had not seen one of these for close to a decade in Qi Gu, I fumbled around to set up my camera as quickly as possible as I had the feeling that that was most likely what I would be dealing with! The bird was forever in and out of shade, and bore a strong resemblance to a Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta when viewed in stronger sunlight (when paler areas on breast and sub-moustachial appeared more prominent). However, when in more shaded areas, it was spot on for Dark-sided Flycatcher, with prominent white eye crescents behind the eye, rather diffuse sub-moustachial and large patches of solid brown at the breast sides. When confronted with an 'Is it/Isn't it?' one of these, there's always the primary length to fall back on, which (reaching to about a half way down the tail) indicated that bird was certainly a Dark-sided Flycatcher, an awkward one to find in Qi Gu!

I spent three hours in total with this delightful little bird and in the end got some quite decent photos. This is one which had the real potential to be a big 'banana skin' on my year list this time round, as I had missed it in spring on Dongyin and know it to be a very tricky one to get on Taiwan proper. There are actually two flycatchers which fit into this pattern, the other one being Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia (which also comes through early in autumn and which I also missed on Dongyin in spring). In fact, I was so pessimistic about my chances of getting either one of these two now that I was planning to go to Penghu next weekend as I felt that I would stand a better chance of at least one of them on an island rather than on the coast. That trip can now be scrapped, and this little fella has done a very good job of saving me more than a bob or two! Above photos taken Tu Cheng and Qi Gu, Tainan County 19-21/8/16.

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