Sunday, 19 November 2017

Himalayan Swiftlet

What will probably amount to a 'wall of shame' post photographically, this one, from what has to be said was a very enjoyable and productive week spent birding my local patch. The star of the week remained the Rufous-faced Warbler Abroscopus albogularis, which was still present on site on Tuesday. However, it chose to depart overnight, taking with it the Pallas's Leaf Phylloscopus proregulus and Yellow-browed Warblers Phylloscopus inornatus with which it had arrived.


As threatened, I spent one or two mornings with the cisticolas to make amends for so massively neglecting Bright-headed Cisticola Cisticola exilis during my time here. It's astonishing I've paid such little attention to them, as typically anything cryptic and stripy/streaky is very much my cup of tea! Below first is/are perhaps two individuals (the first photo being one bird and the next three a second) taken on different days. There's no real difference between them, really, and, as the first bird was singing on Friday morning (hence male), they are likely both males. There really can't be that many passerines (of this type certainly) that undergo the kind of structural changes between breeding and non-breeding plumages (from short-tailed to long-tailed respectively) as does Bright-headed Cisticola; in both plumages, this remains a highly attractive species. Just for good measure, I've also added one or two shots of Zitting Cisticolas Cisticola juncidis below. In addition to the white-tipped tail, these also have extensively white pre-ocular supercilia and lack the grey tones to the cheeks and crown of Bright-headed Cisticola. They also seem to lack its scolding call.


The passerines gave way to one or two raptors towards the end of the week, in uncharacteristically still and hot conditions. First to arrive was a juvenile Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus on Thursday, flushed out of my coastal woodlot and leaving me only able to helplessly wave it goodbye as it headed quickly inland. At least four Ospreys Pandion haliaetus are also around this winter, and one juvenile did a brief fly-past whilst I was in Area B the same day.


Friday continued with the raptor theme, with a shifty Crested Goshawk Accipiter trivirgatus (a remarkably rare visitor to Qi Gu, despite breeding less than two kilometres away) managing to give me the slip in Area B. A juvenile Eastern Marsh Harrier Circus spilonotus was flapping around in the early morning fog and two Crested Honey Buzzards Pernis ptilorhynchus were just about visible through the low cloud when they came through at noon. Of course, with everything Friday being miles away and not really playing ball, the last thing you would not expect to buck that trend would be a Northern House Martin Delichon urbicum. It didn't, and despite now seeing at least one of these annually, I still remain short of a decent photo of one!


Usually, when Northern House Martins come through, Himalayan Swiftlets Aerodramus brevirostris are not too far behind. I picked up one of these in the incredibly still conditions of Saturday morning (incredible given that a 'strong wind advisory' was in effect). The sighting turned out to be a very fortuitous one, as the minute the wind started to pick up (at about 08:00), the bird cleared out immediately (along with the fifty or so other hirundines with which it had been feeding).


The wind grew in strength very quickly Saturday morning and I was expecting there to be little in my woodlots. A Mugimaki Flycatcher Ficedula mugimaki was therefore a very nice surprise, as was the Red-breasted Flycatcher Ficedula parva which proved a lot more awkward to photograph. Other odds and ends flitting around Saturday included Oriental Turtle Doves Streptopelia orientalis, eight or so of which were frequenting my coastal woodlot, providing further evidence of migration.


The weather changed completely overnight Saturday, as a band of cold air moved south across the island. Rather than bringing newcomers, this simply cleared out everything ahead of it, and my woodlots were once more empty Sunday morning. The only creature in there was one of the resident Chinese Cobras Naja atra, which sloped quietly off before I could get much of a photo of it.


I set myself the absurd goal Sunday afternoon of trying to get Eurasian Coot Fulica atra onto my Qi Gu list. These are 'in' in decent numbers to the south of the river but, as I have never 'made note' of one within the boundaries of my local patch (though most certainly have encountered them on it before), it seemed prudent to try and find another this winter as vegetated pools are now at a premium there (with most having either been drained and filled in or converted into commercial fish ponds (so much for 'national park')). I succeeded in this not too difficult task by finding one out towards San Gu, and this brought the weekend to a comical but nevertheless triumphant end!


So all in all a very typical (and enjoyable) November week in Qi Gu, with both of its speciality diurnal migrants (Northern House Martin and Himalayan Swiftlet) seen, some nice late-moving raptors, and plenty of interesting resident/wintering stuff to play with. The coot moves me very close now to 350 species for Qi Gu, a target I should hit at some point over the winter as there are still one or two other presumed 'overlooked' (or simply forgotten about) species that ought not to be too difficult to find just off the coast. Above photos taken in Qi Gu, Tainan County 14-19/11/17.

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