Sunday, 18 December 2016

Imperial Kinmen

An truly wonderful case of 'saving the best till last' this weekend as I made my fourth and final trip of the year to Kinmen. I had been itching to get out there for the best part of a month, ever since a Lesser Shortwing Brachypteryx leucophrys turned up which seemed to be quite twitchable. However, fancying that this might winter, I kept putting it off and putting it off in the hope that one or two other birds might arrive and I would be able to get the most from my time spent there. A steady trickle of birds gave way to a flood, as a flock of Indochinese Yuhinas Yuhina torqueola were next to turn up and the Lesser Shortwing count increased to around three. These were both followed quickly by, of all things, an Eastern Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca! At the time I had wanted to go (last weekend) I found the flights out to be fully booked. This left me with a nervous wait until Friday afternoon (by which time a White-spectacled Warbler Seicercus affinis had also turned up) when I could at last get airborne and find myself winging my way towards Kinmen! As the morning flight had also been fully booked, it would be after 14:00 before I would be out in the field birding. A strong wind had been blowing all day and temperatures had plummeted, so the smartest decision seemed to be to spend the three hours before dusk on the trail of the eagle, the most desired bird of the bunch anyway. Fortunately, this was still around and (on account of its size) was very easy to find. It was not really enjoying the attention of all the photographers, though, and I would only manage flight views of it on this my first afternoon with this magnificent beast!

Expecting a vast throng of photographers at the eagle site Saturday, I went straight to the Dou Men Hiking Trail at first light to see what I could find there. Disappointingly, I got nothing in the first hour, and all was quiet in the cold and windy conditions. It was not until 08:00 that I figured there would be nothing lost in trying a tape, and threw one in at a likely-looking spot. Almost immediately a Lesser Shortwing responded, but with a mere two bursts of song. I was able to pish the bird out into view once I had worked out its location, but this was only for a split-second and a photograph was quite out of the question. I left Dou Men at about 09:00 for some usual aimless driving around, but by 10:00 had returned to find the place completely changed, with Pallas's Leaf Warblers Phylloscopus proregulus and Yellow-browed Warblers Phylloscopus inornatus all over the place, together with one Phyllosc that was calling remarkably like a Greenish Warbler Phylloscopus trochiloides (recording here) but which I would not see at all well (until the following day). My treat in Phyllosc terms was a Hartert's Leaf Warbler Phylloscopus goodsoni which did pose for my camera, albeit once and only briefly. However, the warblers were put on hold when an obvious tight flock of small and very noisy birds began moving through the canopy in the distance, birds which from all the chattering could only be yuhinas. The flock flew towards me and magically landed in the tree right in front of me, allowing me to get shots of one (out of the twenty or so birds) in the thirty seconds they were twittering away right above my head (after which they simply flew off and I would have neither sight nor sound of them for the remainder of my stay). I had been told that these birds had not been seen for over a week and was expecting to dip on them. Under the circumstances, they have to go down as an unexpected one, all the better as they were my one lifer from the trip. With so many quite excellent birds around, it was a surprise that the resident Chestnut Bulbuls Hemixos castanonotus managed to get a look in (despite their being a big target for the majority of photographers who visit Kinmen).

After an hour or so of playing around with all these birds, I clearly heard a White-spectacled Warbler Seicercus affinis pipe up with its mellow, piped, three/four-note diu-diu-duli, a call I was well primed for being aware that one was at large on the Dou Men Old Path. I got onto it quickly and began snapping away. The bird was of the cognitus form (which lacks any grey whatsoever in its crown) and, unexpectedly, spent most of its time very close to the ground. Despite this, I did reasonably well with it camera-wise as I managed to rattle off more than a few record shots.

This was the second time I had seen this species in winter on Kinmen, though the first time I did not have a camera (unfortunate as there were no prior records at that time). It was nice to finally photograph one anyway, as this tiny Seicercus is a real gem of a warbler. It was after 13:00 when I left Dou Men for the day, after half an hour or so of quiet, to spend the afternoon back with the eagle. Once more it was flighty, and I seemed to find myself perennially on the wrong side of the light when photographing it. The only views I could get of it perched were also somewhat distant, though this hardly mattered in the context of such an otherwise excellent day!

Sunday was once more straight out to the Dou Men Old Path which would be similarly congested with birds as it had been the previous day. First up were not one, but now two White-spectacled Warblers in the same bush together, calling much more frequently this morning than they had been before which meant that I could get a recording of the 'typical' call (recording here). The presumed Greenish Warbler was also very vocal, and it seemed worth trying some playback, the results of which were just astonishing! The second I pressed 'play' on the song of Greenish Warbler, this bird flew in immediately from almost 100 metres away and began calling continuously and looking for the tape (descending from the canopy at one point, too). Unfortunately, the light was atrocious (and the bird incredibly active), but I did at least manage some record shots of this, only my second-ever Greenish Warbler nationally (but also my second this year).

It was late morning and I was ready to give up and head elsewhere when a Lesser Shortwing (three of which had been more vocal in the pleasant conditions this morning, but more distant) began singing from a dark clump of undergrowth about five metres away. A combination of tape work and pishing brought it out into the 'open', and finally I managed to get shots of this bird too, meaning a 'clean sweep' photographically of all the goodies on Kinmen this time round!

I tried a few other spots after leaving the forest close to noon, but all were poor. With just half an hour left before having to return to my hotel to head for the airport, I decided to do a quick 'once' round Shagang Ranch just to say goodbye to the eagle. There were absolutely no photographers around (all departed) and no eagle that I could find, that was until I turned to exit the ranch and found it sat on a concrete pillar on the way out. It seemed not in the least bit concerned when I drove past it, meaning I would be able to stop and whip out my camera and get the photo of Eastern Imperial Eagle I had been hoping to get ever since arriving!

A fly-by Japanese Quail Coturnix japonica brought my last trip to Kinmen this year to an end, all that remained was to ton it back to the hotel to make my plane. I reckon this trip quite comfortably takes the award for 'Best Trip to Kinmen Ever'. It'll take some beating when I find myself back there in five or six weeks' time! Above photos taken on Kinmen 16-18/12/16.

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