Saturday, 31 December 2016

Finally, it all comes to an end ... at 470!

My big year finally drew to a close in an unimpressive manner this weekend, seeing me limp over the finish line failing to add anything whatsoever to my total with the last two days of the year. It was my own fault, really, as the only bird available seemed to be a Pied Harrier Circus melanoleucos, but, as this was all the way out in Hualian and reportedly awkward, I just couldn't be bothered travelling all that way to try and pick it up. Instead, I spent Friday morning hoping for more than I ultimately got at local reedbed sites, turning up a good number of Middendorff's Grasshopper Warblers Locustella ochotensis and Black-browed Reed Warblers Acrocephalus bistrigiceps for my efforts, together with more expected stuff like Siberian Rubythroat Calliope calliope.


An unexpected bonus find was a second Common Ringed Plover Charadrius hiaticula for the winter close to Ding Shan. Unfortunately, though, this bird chose to spend most of its time on a private fish pond with the sun very much in the wrong place for photography when viewed from the road. As there seemed to be no conceivable harm which could be caused by my doing so, I ventured in about twenty metres up a dirt track that skirted the fish pond to put the sun in a better position. However, I was quickly turfed off by some thoroughly miserable old sod that took offence at my staring at 'her' mud and insisted that I retreat the twenty metres back to the road and view the mud from there. Sadly, this disposition (fearful and mistrusting) is de rigueur in this part of Tainan County, and I'm more than used to it by now (there'll be a gate on the place the next time I visit).


There was nothing else of interest on Friday, save for an obviously 'yellow-faced' Arctic Warbler Phylloscopus borealis at Ma Sha Gou. All of the images of Japanese Leaf Warblers Phylloscopus xanthodryas I have been able to find online have shown birds with similarly yellow faces, but this individual (like all the others this year) called repeatedly with the call of borealis. So, whilst there's nothing especially exciting about this particular individual, the close attention I have paid to this group throughout the year has forced me to conclude that I have not yet seen (or heard) Japanese Leaf Warbler in Taiwan, and it has become my prime target species for next year!


Although Friday felt to have been acceptable, Saturday was just risible, as I tonked it up to Fen Qi Hu hopeful that I might encounter some finch flocks at higher altitude (as none seemed to be being reported from the coast). Of course, I encountered none, and got precious little by way of consolation. The most unexpected birds were a rather large (at least twenty) flock of Taiwan Barwings Actinodura morrisoniana above Shr Zhoa. These can sometimes be tricky to see (and indeed up to that point I had in fact only seen one all year), so I wasn't too unhappy about being given the chance to photograph those. They were not alone, and were accompanied by the usual Steere's Liocochlas Liocochla steerii and Taiwan Yuhinas Yuhina brunneiceps.


I remained in the mountains for an hour or so after dark, ostensibly to look for owls, but the traffic on the way up to Alishan was much heavier than I had expected and this looked like it was also going to end in failure. By my own listing rules, I therefore ended the year on a grand total of 468 species, a number which to my eye did not look all that aesthetically pleasing. To get around this (and ensure the result I wanted), I imposed a couple of 'boundary changes' to my listing rules, admitting White-rumped Shama Copsychus malabaricus and Black-throated Laughingthrush Garrulax chinensis on to my own version of 'Category C', therefore rendering them countable. I considered this deviation 'acceptable' on the grounds that the populations of both are now large and growing and both are well established, and also that the CWBF checklist that I use for determining precisely what is countable is several years out of date (2012) and in need of revision. In the end, I am in fact far happier with adding these to the list than I ever was with Feral Pigeon Columba livia! This revision brings the number I'm sticking with for 2016 up to a nice, round, 470 (with the last bird added being the Lesser Scaup Aythya affinis on Christmas Eve), and contains 11 (established) Category C's. My full list for 2016 can be found here. There is some possibility of future revision in the form of 'armchairs' should birds like Zebra Dove Geopelia striata ever find themselves admitted to Category C in future CWBF updates, but for now birds such as these remain on E* (where they are not countable). 470 species in a single year is a challenging gauntlet to throw down, and I'm more than happy with that tally. Whether or not I'll choose to pick it back up again remains to be seen!

6 comments:

  1. Happy New Year Steve...and congrats on an amazing year total....very very impressive!!!

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    1. Thanks, Dave, and Happy New Year to you, too. It is a big total, and not one I'll beat any time soon. Another good statistic is that I only dipped on seven species all year long, so the maximum possible would have only been another ten or so. That makes challenging 470 pretty prohibitive, which of course is exactly what I want it to be!

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  2. congrats! very stunning record, I can imagine how hard it should be! wish you'll beat it again. Happy 2017.

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    1. Thanks, Peiwen. If I do make it to retirement age and find myself with a ton of money to burn, then who knows I might well have another go! Happy New Year to you, too!

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  3. Hi Steve, great blog and great post! Congratulations on 470! A huge number in a year, and looking through your previous posts many birds we would dream of having in HK.

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    1. Thanks for the words of encouragement, Matthew; these are always welcome! As regards 'dream of having in HK', would you kindly point your Buff-breasted Sandpiper in this direction?!

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