Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Dragonflies to the rescue!

When all's said and done, this last weekend will go down as a bit of a waste of time, really (made more so by the fact it was a long one, with Monday and Tuesday off for the Dragon Boat Festival). For some inexplicable reason, I once more passed on the opportunity to travel and ended up staying in Qi Gu. In previous years, this may well have proved to be not such a bad decision as late May is the peak for Locustella migration. However, I hadn't really banked on just how hard these things would be to find without Area A, and as a consequence did not come across many (despite spending time looking). Friday produced none whatsoever, and furthermore produced only the usual terns out on the sandbar. Only a very small number of Greater Crested Terns Thalasseus bergii seem to be using it this year, and the much anticipated mega has thus far failed to show. Though the odd White-winged Black Tern Chlidonias leucopterus passing by offshore was not to be sniffed at, I still felt to have gotten little from the day, with the best bird perhaps being the worn Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach (a common resident) I photographed on the way home!

Saturday was even quieter, with nothing in my reserve woodlot nor out on the sand. It took a trip into Area C for me to take my camera out of its bag, this to photograph my first Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler Locustella ochotensis of the spring. It went directly into cover, but I did find a few Dingy Dusk-darters Zyxomma petiolatum to play with, so not a total disaster!

Sunday was almost a repeat of Saturday, with a few more unshowy Middendorff's Grasshopper Warblers around (rather more than on Saturday) and a few common dragonflies to photograph. Below are Asian Amberwing Brachythemis contaminata and a female Common Bluetail Ischnura senegalensis in (presumably) some kind of transitional phase I haven't seen before.

It took more effort to get out of bed Monday than it had done on the previous three days, perhaps not surprisingly. The sun was out Monday, suggesting that the day might be best spent inland on the trail of dragonflies (which I had been intending to do on the previous three days, only to find them all overcast). As luck would have it, on passing Qi Pi, I happened to notice Da Chiao Lin's car parked up outside, and ventured in to see what was there. A mating pair of Clear-fronted Dusk-hawkers Gyncantha bayadera had been found, a rare treat! Fortunately, when mating, these dragonflies will stay conjoined for up to an hour, giving me plenty of time to set up and get a few shots. I also turned up a much-wanted Black Riverdarter Onychothemis tonkinensis in the afternoon on a nearby stream, but (as usual with this species for some reason) failed to get the kind of shots of it I was hoping for. However, these two dragonflies (especially the Dusk-hawkers) did go a long way towards salvaging what would otherwise have been a disappointing weekend!

It rained all day Tuesday, a fitting end to the spring. With the exception of a single Swinhoe's Minivet Pericrocotus cantonensis, it has to go down as a decidedly average one for Qi Gu, really. True, I put less pressure on my local patch now that there's no Area A to cover, but still I generally turn up more than I have done this year. Just a case of the rough with the smooth, I suppose, and an average year was certainly about due! Above photos taken in Qi Gu and at Qi Pi, Tainan County 26-29/5/17.

Thursday, 25 May 2017

Black-headed Bunting

Pretty much the last thing I was expecting to come across on an otherwise migrant-less morning was a female Black-headed Bunting Emberiza melanocephala, but that indeed was what I found. A straightforward one this one for a change, with obvious crown streaks, patches of black scattered throughout the ear coverts, often a distinctly greyish-looking head, and liberal amounts of rufous streaking down the mantle and on the rump. Given the rather elongated-looking tertials, the primary projection varied between just three and four, leaving me with the feeling that this area might not be of much use in separating this from similar Red-headed Bunting Emberiza bruniceps.

Unfortunately, the heat was so intense this morning that there was a heat haze when the bird was on the ground. Even when close, my shots of it were so awful under these conditions that all I came away with really were shots of it on overhead wires. This was more than acceptable, though, as Black-headed Bunting is quite unexpected on my local patch at this time of year and it more than made up for the early rise! Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 25/5/17.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Familiarity (... and all that)

No need to be too down on this weekend as really it was far from poor. Having said that, it was also just average for the time of year (hence the title). There were piles of waders and terns moving offshore, but I struggle these days with seawatching as balancing all that gear on my scooter is far from straightforward (and not at all safe). It's having a camera that's ruined things that way, but fortunately I find myself happy with proceedings when I return home with some 'prize' or other locked on it (which fortunately is the case most times I go out). I caught up with most things this weekend, including a nice arrival of Gray's Grasshopper Warblers Locustella fasciolata on Friday. Only one would emerge into the open long enough for a photo, but this one (like all of them) shows the (annual) problem I face in identifying them! On its right side, this bird seems good for an amnicola (with its uniform red upperparts, uniform sulphur-coloured underparts, and pink-based bill), but on its left side, it's a fasciolata (with its pale grey face, paler flanks, off-white belly, and more yellowy-looking bill base). All Gray's Grasshopper Warblers change their appearance depending on the light they are in (and they move in and out of different light conditions all the time), which is why I prefer to look for something structural. The P9 (or P2, if you prefer) is short on amnicola, but on this bird it exceeds even the P8 in length ... so fasciolata it is, then!

The woodlot held a few other rewards, best among them an adult male Asian Koel Eudynamys scolopaceus, but this would not let me get especially close to it. A late Grey-streaked Flycatcher Muscicapa griseisticta, though less exciting a find, proved much more confiding.

There was nothing on the sandbar Friday, but piles of terns passing offshore. I've yet to figure out just why Aleutian Tern Onychoprion aleuticus (which passes by close offshore, no more than 100 metres further out than the average distance the other terns pass at) refuses to land when all the other terns are quite willing to do so. Such behaviour means that I'm unlikely ever to improve on the crappy record shot I got of the species Friday, frustrating given just how common they are!

I did find a nice muddy area that was proving popular with waders Friday, and managed some very nice shots of Red-necked Stint Calidris ruficollis at least. The sole summer-plumaged Little Stint Calidris minuta that was hanging around with them failed to venture especially close Friday, and I had to wait until Saturday before I could get a record shot of that.

Saturday was also reasonable on the mud, with Greater Sandplovers Charadrius leschenaultii being the birds in which I had most interest. Despite the massive numbers of terns moving offshore, only a handful of Common Terns Sterna hirundo would land on the sandbar, but these did drag a nice pair of Black-naped Terns Sterna sumatrana in with them. A single Short-tailed Shearwater Ardenna tenuirostris also sped past offshore, but I only got a 'shape' on my camera.

It was early afternoon before I fished my camera out Sunday, as I failed to find anything much with the morning. As well as terns offshore, thousands of marsh terns are also moving north at the moment (both offshore and inland), and I thought it was about time to catch up with some of these. Many of the Whiskered Terns Chlidonias hybrida inland were still actively growing their P10s, making them winterers that have yet to leave. The few White-winged Black Terns Chlidonias leucopterus I found had completed their primary moults and were obviously actively migrating.

Perhaps the best bird of the weekend, a summer-plumaged Red Knot Calidris canutus, was back on the mud with the other waders. This had been present Saturday, too, but at greater range. It elected to come quite close Sunday, and looked especially attractive in the soft afternoon light.

So once more a very active weekend with plenty of birds to show for it, but all predictable late May fayre. Only the Locustella remain to pass through in anything like 'numbers' now, and with Area A really 'game over', they'll be a much tougher prospect to find this year than they have been in previous ones. Absent some unexpected meteorological conditions, it will likely be bugs for me for the foreseeable future now! Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 19-21/5/17.

Sunday, 14 May 2017

More Sanderlings

A fairly dull weekend. It threatened to rain throughout but never did, leaving the south dry and doubtless with serious water concerns for the upcoming period (until the heavens finally do open). The dry conditions meant no clubtails of interest for me at Dong Shan Friday, but one or two other species were around, the best of these being Red-legged Flatwing Rhipidolestes aculeatus and a fresh male Yellow-tailed Forest Damsel Coeliccia flavicauda. A Fairy Pitta Pitta nympha was also singing deeper in the forest, but this one showed no interest in my imitations of its call!

I stopped off at Guan Tian to add Eastern Lilysquatter Paracercion melanotum to the bug list for the day. This stop did at least allow me to put a bird on my camera, albeit the nothing more than expected Pheasant-tailed Jacana Hydrophasianus chirurgus. Unfortunately, the two Cotton Pygmy Geese Nettapus coromandelianus that had over-wintered and had become more cooperative in recent weeks seemed once more to have gone AWOL, but these were far from a priority.

Both Saturday and Sunday were spent out on the sandbar in the company of precious few birds. Saturday held almost no terns, but there was at least a small flock of Sanderlings Calidris alba which did contain one or two summer-plumaged birds. As I very rarely get to see them in this plumage (with most in this flock still winter), these birds seemed worth trying to photograph.

Only three Roseate Terns Sterna dougallii dropped in on Saturday, but there were rather more Sunday, together with plenty of Common Terns Sterna hirundo and the occasional Black-naped Tern Sterna sumatrana. The only other bird of note out on the sand was a single Chinese Egret Egretta eulophotes which was nothing like as approachable as they normally are!

The final treat Sunday was a small flock of summer-plumaged Red Knot Calidris canutus on the drive home. Unfortunately, these decided to fly off the second I fished my camera out of its bag, leaving me with just poor record shots of these really rather stunning waders.

At least there are still plenty of birds moving, which means I can still hold out hope for something else more out of the ordinary before the spring is out. However, many of these waders are now starting to feel a bit like they are latecomers! Above photos taken at Dong Shan, Guan Tian, and Qi Gu, Tainan County 12-14/5/17.