Thursday, 29 September 2016

Typhoon Megi

Typhoon Megi brought with it the anticipated destruction and torrential rains. It also brought with it two days off, neither of which were especially fit to go out in. I did my best Wednesday afternoon to reach the coast, but had to waste an hour negotiating the village of Tu Cheng (which was completely flooded and impassable) and sheltering from squalls. In the end, I was able only to check the Tseng Wen River between Highway 17 and the coast before dark, which produced plenty of windblown Bridled Terns Onychoprion anaethetus and a few Brown Noddies Anous stolidus.

The only real find of note was a juvenile Oriental Plover Charadrius veredus with wing strain. Whilst this bird was quite capable of flying, its right wing was clearly not at all well.

I only had the very briefest of opportunities to look at the coast near An Ping on Thursday morning. If the damage there is anything to go by, things do not look at all good for the coastal woodlots in Qi Gu. Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 28/9/16.

Monday, 26 September 2016

Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher

Well, there's good news and there's bad news, I'm afraid. The good news is that the Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher Cyornis brunneatus that was photographed yesterday in Area A was still present at noon today, allowing me to escape the major 'egg on face' moment that dipping on it would have been. I had driven straight past it on Sunday, thinking (as I normally do these days) that there would be 'nothing' in there. It was 10:30 this morning (Monday) when I found out about it (thanks to an e-mail from Da Chiao Lin), and I had to be at work at 13:00, which left me with just an hour spare to look for it should I be bold enough to ton it out to the coast and try. Fortunately, as it was almost the only bird in there, it only took ten minutes to find, and, as I had it all to myself, I had plenty of opportunity to make sure that I left with some very nice photographs.

Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher is actually quite a mega in Taiwan, especially so away from Qi Gu. It seldom gets reported from other coastal sites, but is annual on my local patch. This makes it a bit of a 'Qi Gu' speciality, and it is furthermore something of a 'me' bird, as I am very much in the habit of coming across them (being one of few people to even have seen one at Yeh Liu). I find this really rather featureless LBJ to be a thoroughly enigmatic thing, and it is very high up there on my list of personal favourites. Perhaps it is its restricted range, its monstrously large bill, or the way in which you tend to come across it (finding one just quietly sitting there) that creates the air if excitement around it, who knows? It is arguably fitting, then, that I should see this bird today, as Typhoon Megi takes aim at Taiwan with the eye forecast to pass somewhere very close to Qi Gu at some point tomorrow. It is normally me that leads the chorus of doomsaying once typhoons line up to start battering Area A, but others now are indicating that they feel this will probably be 'it' for the place. Typhoon Meranti effectively halved what was left of Area A less than two weeks ago, and I'm pessimistic that Megi will take care of the remaining half (hence the bad news). I once said that, given its geographical location, Area A would be worth birding 'even if there were only a single tree there'. After sixteen full years of birding the place (so long I feel I should be stood there when it all crashes into the sea to 'go down' with it), I worry that after tomorrow that might be all I am left with! Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 26/9/16.

Sunday, 25 September 2016

Blyth's Pipit

The hot and hazy weather in the south of Taiwan continues, only it has been joined over the last couple of days by a strong northerly wind. These kinds of conditions usually mean empty woodlots, but visible migration can occur early morning if you get lucky. I got very lucky on Saturday, with one of those remarkable 'chain of events' phenomena that leaves you standing in precisely the right place at the right time for something more unexpected to happen. It started quite inauspiciously, with a Rose-ringed Parakeet Psittacula krameri sitting on wires at San Gu that I stopped to photograph, but which had already gone by the time I had taken my camera out of its bag. This did at least leave me with my camera already set up for the morning, and I would have otherwise driven straight past the Grey-tailed Tattler Tringa brevipes that was sitting invitingly atop a concrete block along the causeway had it not been set up. The tattler, of course, was not the prize, but the large pipit that flew in off the sea calling with a quiet, breezy, buzzy, slightly nasal 'slee-eu' just after I had parked up. Camera in hand, I was ready and able to snap off at least a couple of flight shots of what I assume to have been a Blyth's Pipit Anthus godlewskii, a bird which, had I not stopped for the tattler, I would have missed completely.

As I only managed poor flight shots (the bird was small against a blue sky and flying straight at me with a deeply undulating flight, making focussing on it challenging), there isn't all that much in the images to go at (the identification as Blyth's is based purely on its call: wrong for Richard's Anthus richardi, right for Blyth's). However, there are still one or two 'pointers' towards Blyth's Pipit, I think, including a rather large-looking head on a small body (lending it something of a 'small pipit' jizz), a rather short and spiky-looking bill, uniform buff belly and flanks (lacking contrast between orange flanks and white belly typically shown by Richard's), and broadly white-fringed median and greater coverts (for some reason, I have it in mind that the wingbars of Blyth's are broader and more contrasting than those of Richard's). In addition, the bird has a short-necked and short-tailed ('small pipit') look, not the 'stretched', lanky/lunky, long-tailed look of the Richard's Pipits that I watched shortly afterwards flying around on the saltmarsh whilst trying (and failing) to relocate this bird. I spent close to two hours trying to find the bird out on the saltmarsh before it all got way too hot. I tried again for an hour in the cool of the following (Sunday) morning, but was similarly unsuccessful (finding only a Chinese Egret in the haze for my efforts).

After finding nothing in woodlots on Sunday either, I gave up on Qi Gu pretty quickly and made the short drive to Tai Bao in neighbouring Chiayi County whilst there was still a cooling breeze blowing and before it all got too hot again. I had been threatening to do this over the last few days as I still needed Black-headed Munia Lonchura atricapilla for the year, pretty much the last remaining resident bird for me to get (with the exception of two very difficult big owls and the quite impossible Small Buttonquail Turnix sylvaticus). I had to wait around for about an hour or so in an area where they had recently been reported breeding before a small number of birds turned up (two family parties each numbering five birds). After I had scored with these that was it for the day, as a return to Qi Gu would only have been hot and unrewarding.

Even though this was an unexpectedly productive weekend in the south, the tally of decent birds still only amounts to one due to all the dry and windy weather. If there's no rain around for next weekend, it might be time to think about hopping on a train to start my annual autumn assault on the north of the country! Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County, and Tai Bao, Chiayi County 24-25/9/16.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Eurasian Hobby

The sun is out in the south of Taiwan post-typhoon, with no wind to speak of and precious little in the way of precipitation. This has made finding anything along the coast a tough prospect, and indeed I drew complete blanks on my local patch on both Wednesday and Thursday mornings. I saw on eBird that the clear weather has meant the raptor passage through the southern tip of the island has been excellent, with thousands of Chinese Sparrowhawks Accipiter soloensis and one or two Eurasian Hobbies Falco subbuteo passing in the last few days. As I needed the latter, I was seriously mulling over the idea of Kenting as a suitable destination for the weekend, with Eurasian Hobby being the primary target. I resolved to give the matter further thought should I not manage to pick one up today (Friday) but, as if 'to order', one left Qi Gu at around 08:00 this morning.

The early morning had something of a gloomy feel to it as low cloud had settled along the coast in the absence of any wind. These kinds of conditions are often fairly good for visible migration, but no hirundines or wagtails seemed to get going, or at least none that I noticed. The woodlots were once again quiet, but did at least hold a few new arrivals today, with a female Black-winged Cuckooshrike Coracina melaschistos, a White-shouldered Starling Sturnia sinensis and an early Dusky Warbler Phylloscopus fuscatus spread out between the three. I was unable to photograph any of these, though, and had to make do with a curiously arboreal Slaty-breasted Rail Gallirallus striatus and a couple of Black Drongos Dicrurus macrocercus from Area B.

The only 'Arctic' Warbler of the morning was of the non-calling-type. I assumed it to be nothing more than an Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis until I photographed a spread wing which seemed to show a P10 that was at least equal in length to (and perhaps slightly longer than) the primary coverts. This would mean that the bird was unlikely an Arctic Warbler and introduced the possibility of it being Kamchatka Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus examinandus, but as it never called (and disappeared immediately after being photographed), it had to be left unidentified.

The forecast for the weekend is for more of the same, so it is in the lap of the gods whether or not anything more will show up (absent the weather to bring it). With no need now to drive all the way down to Kenting this weekend, I'm actually at a bit of a loss for what to do with it, to be honest! Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 23/9/16.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

Typhoons Meranti/Malakas

This last weekend was the Mid-Autumn Festival, a four-day holiday in Taiwan which got extended to five in southern parts due to the passing of Typhoon Meranti. I was thoroughly excited about the arrival of this storm, but as usual the weather was not at all fit to go out in during it which meant that I would in effect lose the first two days of the holiday and not be able to start with any proper seawatching until Friday. That said, I did manage to knuckle down and get on with some serious seawatching, as I chose to spend the whole holiday in Qi Gu and clocked up over 18 hours of the stuff Friday through Sunday (picking up two valuable year ticks, Red-footed Booby Sula sula and Sooty Tern Onychoprion fuscatus, in the process). Obviously, a weekend spent seawatching means that there are a lot of blurred photographs to come, but there are at least some below in which you can tell what 'it' is supposed to be! Friday gave me only a close Wedge-tailed Shearwater Ardenna pacifica and a few Brown Noddies Anous stolidus to put on my camera, as the immature Red-footed Booby that passed Friday was too far offshore to photograph (though it was clear enough in the 'scope). It looked completely clueless and reliant on the Wedge-tailed Shearwater it had paired up with (and was closely following) to get it 'home'. Having one of these adjacent to it was also a very useful aid to identifying this individual, as it was possible to accurately assess size and plumage differences against a 'known' bird (though Red-footed Booby is in fact annual Qi Gu).

Although Typhoon Meranti had completely passed by Saturday, the sea had already started to come under the influence of a second storm, Typhoon Malakas, which was pummelling the north-east of Taiwan by Saturday morning. I had thought long and hard about going up to Ma Gang for this particular storm, but did not fancy lugging all that gear around with a broken toe, only to get battered and soaked and run the very real risk of seeing absolutely nothing. In the end, I remained in Qi Gu, and clocked up a very respectable list for the morning from the sewatching spot. Once more, very few birds would come close enough to photograph, but a single Swinhoe's Storm Petrel Hydrobates monorhis did venture close enough to shoot (leaving me with perhaps a better record than the one taken earlier in the autumn), as did yet more Brown Noddies. A flock of six Long-tailed Skuas Stercorarius longicaudus was worth photographing, simply because they would likely to be identifiable in the resulting photograph on account of their number (once two of them had been cropped out). The two Arctic Skuas Stercorarius parasiticus that came through later, though, gave me no such opportunity. I did also photograph the two juvenile Sooty Terns that passed by on Saturday, but the resulting shots were quite appalling! However, if you do squint for long and hard enough at the last photo (and from the right direction), you can at least make out the black head, white underwing, and white belly of the second bird!

Saturday proved to be an exceptional day for variety, but nothing could have prepared me for what was to come on Sunday, when Brown Noddies would start passing in quite unprecedented numbers! In total, in less than six hours, I logged 623 birds, all heading south, and they were still coming in considerable force when I ended my seawatch around noon. Somewhat strangely, they were pretty much the only seabirds moving Sunday, with most other migrants belonging to 'other' kinds of birds. Amongst these, the numbers of Garganey Anas querquedula were quite noteable.

I did pick up another three Sooty Terns late morning Sunday, but the haze was far worse than it had been on Saturday so I was unable to do anything with them with my camera. As regards totals for this binge of seawatching, the highlights of the three days (mornings) had been: 350 Garganey, 5 Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, 1 Swinhoe's Storm Petrel, 1 Red-footed Booby, 304 Red-necked Phalaropes, 2 Arctic Skuas, 12 Long-tailed Skuas, 716 Brown Noddies, 5 Sooty Terns, 8 Aleutian Terns, 1941 Little Terns, and 1140 Common Terns! All good stuff! Unfortunately that may well be it for seawatching down here now for me this year, though, as my time becomes a bit more limited after this holiday. The sea will likely quieten down anyway once this storm has moved away, and it really was quite a stroke of luck that both of these typhoons should arrive at a time when I had a sufficient amount of time on hand to be able go out and enjoy the both of them! Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 16-18/9/16.

Sunday, 11 September 2016

Amur Paradise Flycatcher

Well, you couldn't make it up. This is the second time now in pretty much as many days that I've returned home, turned on my computer, put my feet up, only to discover almost immediately that I had missed something and needed to turn everything off again and head straight back out to Qi Gu. It was Amur Paradise Flycatcher Terpsiphone incei this time, a first-winter, and I was off like a shot (well, hobbling off like a shot) to get this much-needed year tick, an annual visitor to Qi Gu (but the numbers vary from year to year and in some seasons they can be scarce). With Area A now being so small, it was odds on I would connect with it if it was still there. It was, and like the Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia of Friday, it only took about five minutes to find.

The hobbling is due to a broken toe, which rather ludicrously I managed to do by banging it into furniture at home. This happened Friday, and I've been having trouble walking since. It was my injury that led to a late start this morning, and also to my reluctance to clambering over all the rocks to get into Area A. As a result, I passed on the area completely, being content with the beautifully spotty juvenile Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta that had turned up in my reserve woodlot as 'all there was' for the day (as no Phylloscopus, at this season now the key indicators of migration, had arrived overnight either). The male Siberian Blue Robin Larvivora cyane was also still present, but remained extremely difficult to photograph.

Saturday had been too painful (literally) and poor, with a remarkable seawatch of close to two hours producing nothing more than just over 100 Common Terns Sterna hirundo, and that was all. These should be passing at about 1000/hour now, and I really don't know what has happened on the sea this autumn. One explanation might be the visibility, as on grey, hazy days it can be challenging to pick out grey birds moving at range against a grey sky. Such conditions are more typical of September, but also seem to have prevailed for much of August this year, too. The deteriorating visibility in Tainan is certainly a trend I have noticed since I've been here, and is one which has also been documented (e.g. here). As there was little in the woodlots either on Saturday, and hobbling around on a broken toe had left me feeling nauseous, that day was cut short. I do hope it will have healed enough to walk comfortably on by midweek as I will need to be fighting fit for the typhoon that's on it's way! Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 11/9/16.

Friday, 9 September 2016

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher

The last two days here have been quite delightful, and have certainly been two that have lived up to the maxim 'all's well that ends well'. I was back in Area B on Thursday afternoon, convinced that the unidentified Ficedula that had been calling there Wednesday really had to be a Yellow-rumped Flycatcher Ficedula zanthopygia given the date (though it called as Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina, these would not be due for another month or so). The bird was still present and calling at regular intervals Thursday, but despite hanging around for several hours in persistent rain I was only able to see a 'shape' move through the mangroves on just one occasion and nothing more. The afternoon was not a total loss, though, in fact far from it, as in a moment of frustration I began to explore other parts of Area B and rather flukily flushed a Thick-billed Warbler Iduna aedon! Unfortunately, on account of the persistent drizzle, my camera was all packed up in my backpack so I was unable to manage a photo (despite attempting to fish it out quickly the three times that the bird was in view). After it disappeared deeper into the trees, I tried once more for the flycatcher which was again unwilling to show itself. However, a second consolation was on hand towards evening when an early Yellow-browed Bunting Emberiza chrysophrys dropped into Area B, suggesting that plenty of birds were around locally and might show well once the rain (after six days continuous of the stuff) had finally stopped (i.e. on Friday). Obviously Friday I was back in Area B (before dawn) after the flycatcher which was still calling and still refusing to show. After two hours of waiting I left in disgust to try my coastal woodlot, where I found two more Siberian Blue Robins Larvivora cyane (a female and an adult male) waiting for me!

As if to show that it wasn't me being useless and that I actually was pretty good at getting onto skulky stuff, I also picked up another Gray's Grasshopper Warbler Locustella fasciolata for the autumn from my time in my woodlot. I was unable to photograph that, though, and the only other addition to my camera was a new Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis which looked rather more worn and darker on its lower mandible than had the one that had been there on Wednesday.

I returned to Area B late morning and spent a further three hours there waiting for the flycatcher to show. When it would not, I just gave up and headed for home via a quick detour through Tu Cheng. You can imagine my utter disbelief and horror when I got home and within five minutes of walking through the door received a message from Cai Zhi Yuan that an 'easy' Yellow-rumped Flycatcher was showing really well at the entrance to Area B! It was already 16:30, but on hearing the word 'easy' I felt I had no choice and shot back out to Area B as fast as my scooter would physically go! Quite wonderfully, I got the bird within two minutes of turning up and was able to rattle off a few pictures. It disappeared just two minutes after finding it, and two minutes after that the light in the mangroves pretty much went (at least for photography), and that was pretty much that! What a bizarre turn of events! The bird had moved about fifty metres from where it had been very stable over the last three days and as a result had also become very easy to see, so much so that it could be found within just two minutes. This after having spent close to ten hours on the thing!

My assumption as regards this behaviour is that the bird was preparing to leave (hence my panic to get it today rather than leave it for tomorrow). It had been so faithful to an area of dense mangroves to the north of the entrance for three days, but had chosen to move quite some distance very late in the afternoon following an afternoon of clear weather. After seeing and photographing this bird, it called from even deeper in Area B, suggesting that it had all of a sudden become very mobile as evening was drawing near. Obviously, many thanks to Cai Zhi Yuan for the information as this thing is not going to be there tomorrow! Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 9/9/16.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

Arctic Warbler (2)

It was almost certainly the same Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis as in the last post that was still present in my woodlot today. I fared no better as regards getting attractive photographs of it, but got absolutely everything else required to confirm its identity. First of all, good spread wing shots showing the very short outermost primary which is sufficient to eliminate all species other than those in the Arctic Warbler complex. In fact, the P10 is so short that it is markedly shorter than the longest greater primary covert (typically the case in Arctic Warbler), which is furthermore sufficient to eliminate Japanese Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus xanthodryas (in which it is always longer). There is rather more variation in this feature in Kamchatka Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus examinandus, and a summary of this characteristic (as well as others) can be found here.

The second piece of evidence was a 'usable' sound recording (click here) (in which a Sakhalin Leaf Warbler is also calling in the background). The call of this individual was a single high-pitched 'zik', the same call as given by practically all Arctic Warbler-types that move through Taiwan (and indeed winter). On the sonogram, the call can be seen to be consistently above 5000 Hz, too high for Japanese Leaf Warbler. The call of Kamchatka Leaf Warbler, whilst similar in frequency, is composed of separate clicks, and the spaces between these clicks show up on a sonogram. In the field, the call has a grating quality not unlike that of Taiga Flycatcher Ficedula albicilla to the ear. Sonograms for all three members of this complex can be found here.

There were a few other odds and ends in my woodlot this afternoon, basically birds that had stayed put on account of the weather since the weekend (Asian Brown Flycatcher Muscicapa dauurica and Sakhalin Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus borealoides). A second Sakhalin Leaf Warbler was in Area B, where an extremely elusive Ficedula was calling from deep within the mangroves. I hung around for a good hour waiting for this bird to show, and would have given it longer, but disappointingly the heavens opened once more and the torrential rain set in for the rest of the day again. I can only hope that this one follows the lead of the others and stays put for another day or two. Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 7/9/16.

Monday, 5 September 2016

Arctic Warbler (1)

I guess that posts with nobbut photos of stints are now going to be replaced by posts with nobbut photos of Arctic Warblers Phylloscopus borealis! I got at least one nice showy one of these in my woodlot this morning, calling with a rather high-pitched Dipper-like 'zik'. It does make sense that more northerly-distributed birds would pass through first, and a sonogram analysis of perhaps this individual from a recording made the previous day showed it to be calling with a single call note within the range of Arctic Warbler (from around 5500-7000 Hz), too high for Japanese Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus xanthodryas and absent the 'multi-note' rasp of Kamchatka Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus examinandus (which comes later). I had previously assumed on range and on a misleading sound recording heard somewhere online that Japanese Leaf Warbler would predominate in Taiwan. However, repeated 'sampling' of both passage and wintering birds has revealed that they are quite overwhelmingly Arctic Warblers. 

These guys usually bring with them a bit more variety, so I am looking forward to a lot more of them showing up. Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 5/9/16.