Sunday, 13 November 2016

Pallas's Reed Bunting

After a couple of weeks of dipping, twitching some outrageously stringy stuff, and having to settle for adding one paltry year tick a week to my all-important year list, I felt like I was arriving at a stage where I was owed a bit of a change of fortune. That change did I suppose come this weekend, with a reasonably successful trip to the north coast and once more out to Gui Shan Island. I got the ball rolling at Tian Liao Yang Friday with not one but two year tick bunting species, Yellow-throated Bunting Emberiza elegans and Pallas's Reed Bunting Emberiza pallasi. The former of these (two birds) were hiding in some bamboo and would not be photographed, but the latter (three birds) I did quite well with, given their fondness for hiding deep in the grass. In truth, I was much more interested in these as they seem to arrive in the north in November and seldom winter and are a much tougher prospect to find in the south than Yellow-throated Bunting. They were also species #450 for this year, and in that sense represented something of 'mission accomplished'.

There were plenty of other things at Tian Liao Yang and in its environs, most notably yet more buntings, with two juvenile Black-headed Buntings Emberiza melanocephala and a first-winter Rustic Bunting Emberiza rustica also on offer. A European Starling Sturnus vulgaris was something not to be sniffed at, as was the Short-eared Owl Asio flammeus that left at 17:30 denying me a photograph, as I (expecting it to come into Tian Liao Yang to hunt) had my camera and flashlight all set up and ready for night photography, only to see the bird leave its roost and quickly gain height and leave following the river to the west.

On Saturday, I headed out once more to Gui Shan Island, in the hope more than anything of catching up with the elusive Japanese Woodpigeon Columba janthina, something which once more would not come to pass. Although it was far too sunny on Saturday, the island was not a total loss as there were a few migrants around, and I was at least able to get one Yellow-throated Bunting on my camera from the trip. This was not the only bunting on offer, though, and bird of the trip was the outrageously tame Black-headed Bunting which at times was using my shadow for shade and came to within one foot away from my boot. As if not to be outdone, at least one Little Bunting Emberiza pusilla also chose to be similarly tame.

Other migrants on the island included a single Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens and numerous Dusky Thrushes Turdus eunomus and Daurian Redstarts Phoenicurus auroreus. The only other birds around were some quite large flocks of Chestnut-eared Bulbuls Microscelis amaurotis, many of which looked quite intent on leaving.

The fine weather continued into Sunday, and Tian Liao Yang continued to play host to numerous buntings, all of which had become more flighty given the pressures of weekend photographer traffic. I spread out into the nearby foothills looking for other things, but all I could find was one relatively posey Crested Serpent Eagle Spilornis cheela, a species I usually ignore.

I was happy and relieved to have brought up my #450 for the year as this had been my target all along. Obviously, this total will now go higher, but it could have used a bit of a bigger bump than it received from Gui Shan Island (although, given that few finches have arrived yet, there may still be yet one weekend which has to be spent in the north). Above photos taken at Tian Liao Yang, New Taipei City, and Gui Shan Island, Yilan County 11-13/11/16.

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