Oriental Stork @ Nanhui Dongtan,

9 10 2021
Oriental Stork, Nanhui Dontan, 8th October 2021

With the assistance of my ‘guide’ Chloe we got really close to this Oriental Stork which had parked up in the rice paddies of Nanhui yesterday, Friday 8th October 2021. So what else is there to do after shooting 500 or so stills?! I hit the red ‘record’ button on my camera, wand attached, and simply pointed. This is the result and with it a whole new world of media and documentation has opened up.

Of course the stork is the story. I have seen it before in ChIna, in significant numbers at Poyang Lake, but I believe it is something of a rarity at Nanhui. It is hard to convey just how big it is. A real spectacle and a feast for the eyes. It is officially ‘endangered’.

Oriental Stork, Nanhui Dontan, 8th October 2021




Lvshui Bay Wetlands, Nanjing, 绿水湾

3 10 2021

This was a return to a site I first visited last December and had noted that would be worth further exploration. It’s a long, narrow strip of water (3 to 4 km?) running parallel to the Yangtze river with at least one larger island strip between it and the main river. The story today was the heat and I became so hot and uncomfortable that I had to abandon after three hours. The terrain had also become quite difficult as the path to the southern extremity of the strip was impassable due to vegetation plus I had no real leg protection by virtue of wearing shorts in view of the heat. Additionally the track at points had become very muddy and wet so perhaps a pair of wellies might be the ideal footwear for future visits.

The birds did not materialise as before and it was all very much common backyard species with Black Drongo’s presence being the exception. Presumably the drongo is heading south. I was disappointed not to wave my wand at any ducks today. And my drongo, a truculent creature, insisted on showing me nothing other than his back! The highlight was a flock of huge feral pigeons and a distant shot of a common kingfisher. Perhaps what I am describing as ‘feral’ might actually be a Rock Dove!

Common Moorhen, juvenile
Black Drongo
Dirty great big doo as we might say in Glasgow




Silver-throated Tit

1 10 2021
Silver-throated Tit, Aegithalos glaucogularis, 1st October 2021, Nanjing, Jiangsu, China

These little fellows, real live-wire types, threw me today because of the visible variation in their plumages and bare parts, notably the colour of the legs or tarsi. They were in the same exuberant flock delighting in today’s very fine weather as I strolled along thevJiajiang River, a kind of bypass to the mighty Yangtze RIver which runs parallel, on the other side of Jiangxin Island. Think of a road in rural Surrey or Kent which runs near the M25 motorway but which is protected from the excesses of that traffic nighmare and ecological disaster zone by trees and fields. This fine stretch of water and land remove the excesses of the Yangtze excepting the distant dull drone from the screws that power the 24/7/365 movement of the myriad craft that ply their trade up and down the thousands of kilometre of navigable river.

I have been very busy of late so little opportunity to wave my new wand until today, a national holiday to mark the 72nd anniversary of the birth of the modern nation of China. We have been blessed with fantastic weather too of late. This national holiday leads into the Golden Week holiday next week which traditionally marks the transition from summer to autumn and then rapidly to winter. So today was a first opportunity to get out and see some birds. Unfortunately the throngs of people must have made the birds more skittish than usual so not a lot to report.

These Silver-throated Tits, or rather the photos, immediately underline the relative simplicity of pointing my new lens and firing off lots of shots. It would have been virtually impossible to get a decent shot of these guys using a digiscope rig due to their effervescence. I was hoping that some Vinous-throated Parrotbills might materialise too, another hyperactive species that hunt in packs. They will come in due course, rest assured, along with kingfishers and who knows what. I do like the lens ….

I also managed to get on this Long-tailed Shrike, a bird which is under serious threat in Thailand bit appears to be thriving in this area. I expect in time to get in closer to this fellow and I also expect I’ll get some decent shots of Azure-winged Magpie, another common local bird..

I should add these photographs are straight out of the box, no cropping or editing in any shape or form. I am wondering what might be possible with this lens in a hide like at Baan Song Nok, in the Kaeng Krachan area of Petchburi province, Thailand. Does anyone know of easy to access hides in China? I am sure there must be many as photography in general is increasingly popular in these pairts. Stand by!





Backyard Birds in Nanjing

22 09 2021

It would certainly be fair to say that I haven’t done a lot of birding since coming to China in 2016 but as some sage observed you can never actually stop watching birds once you start. I notice big birds soaring high in the sky, I notice small birds bouncing around the grounds of my apartment, I feel a thrill when that unique sibilant resonance of pied kingfishers rouses me from my inner thoughts as I stroll along the riverside path. And I have made a couple of forays purely for birds and more are planned.

On Monday I bought a MFT 300 mm Olympus m.Zuiko telephoto lens which gives me a focal range of 600 mm. Wow! I am now officially a recovering digiscoper.

And sorry this probably means more dodgy photograph!





Nantong, Jiangsu, China …

15 01 2017

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Yangtze River from Nantong

A bright sunny day, though freezing cold, was the clarion call for birding. I feel almost guilty admitting that I have been in China for three months and have hardly done any birding in that time. A notable exception was a delightful day at Wai Po Marsh in Hong Kong  in early November. However I am in a new job, studying hard outside of work and getting around without my own transport is difficult plus there is the not insignificant matter of the language barrier. As readers will know my enthusiasm for being in the field had waned too while in Thailand, due to a combination of family, work and study.

Nantong is at the heart of the planned development of the north side of  the Yangtze river delta. The delta is home to Shanghai and a host of other huge cities, making it one of the most built up, developed and congested areas in China. Proximity to the sea means that air pollution is not  usually as hazardous as in inland areas such as Beijing, further north. The north eastern area of the delta area remains undeveloped in industrial terms – high speed rail links are scheduled to open later this year which will, inter alia, have the effect of linking  Nantong to Shanghai in about 35 minutes, a big improvement on the current 2.5 hours it takes by bus. Nantong is close to a number of important areas, known collectively as the East Asian Fyway, which are used by birds, notably Spoon-billed Sandpaper and other waders which stop off here during migration . There are important sites for cranes a couple of hours to the north. All are under threat. Add in that I doubt much birding is done in this locale so who knows what is actually out there to be displaced and destroyed by habitat loss.

Birding in China is going to be a whole new ball game, a  precarious matter for a novice birder like myself. I know nothing about Chinese avifauna although my Thai experience, and even a few days in Tokyo,  are a useful foundation. It took me a while to work out that the birds that feed in my trees were Chinese Bulbuls! Eurasian Blackbirds, which were not present in October, moved in to my estate while I was away over the Christmas periods. Lots of small unknown birds flirt around, usually when I don’t have my binoculars. The local park, Central Park,  in Nantong’s National Economic and Technological Development Area, (‘NETDA’), holds a good number of species including the very common Eurasian Magpie and the elegant Azure-winged Magpie; I’ve seen a fair few Common Kingfishers here too as well as good numbers of Red-breasted Flycatchers and the very striking Daurian Redstart. Last Sunday, a  female Daurian Redstart put the mix in and really had me working on separating it from the afore-mentioned flycatcher. The park has been colonised by large numbers of starlings which I can’t recognise and there are also lots of Eurasian Blackbirds too. So expect mistakes, and if you’re lucky, a few howlers!

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Screenshot from my phone … the green bit …!

I recently discovered  Osmand maps which are available for android devices and possibly other platforms. I really recommend these maps, especially for China, as they have places names in Chinese and English and you can easily add notes and markers. Remember the Google empire is off limits here so unless you are running a VPN, Google Maps will not work for you here in China whether on a PC or mobile appliance.

 

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The Location

From rummaging through Osmand’s Jiangsu map I noticed an an area of river fronting park land, one of a handful of such places not so far away from home and the fine weather was just the spur I needed. It involved a bus ride and then a walk but after a while the river front was signed. To be honest, it was rather bleak not withstanding the radiant sun: virtually all the land has industrial plant and therefore no surprises that  I saw a grand total of two waders – both Common Sandpipers. However there were pockets of reeds and plantations along the riverside which yielded some nice birds: an unidentified bunting species, a Long-tailed Shrike, 5 Grey Herons from a distance had me wondering if they were to be my first encounter with cranes, another unidentified bunting species, and a small flock of what I  imagine were Vinous-Throated Parrotbills foraging in some tall reeds, a white-eye species also performed a bit but my notes are insufficient for identification: I didn’t notice if it had chestnut flanks. There were a couple of other birds which flashed up only to disappear so great potential there. For me the bird of the day was the Red-flanked Bluetail. I need to confess I was wondering if it was a cyornis flycatcher but my notes this time helped subsequent identification as I had noted the blue tail and red flanks together with the olive/brown uppers. As I walked home I noted another one fitting the same description and relatively confiding – this was within a range which made me think I might have cleaned up with a 400 mm lens! I really didn’t get into the park proper as I spent all my time on the road that borders the river and only put my big toe into the park in the freezing cold of late afternoon. At a deserted car park/visitor centre a Common Kingfisher was noteworthy.

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Bleak really … 

I’m returning to Thailand for the Chinese New Year and will return with the scope and tripod. I want to head north and see some cranes …

 

 





More Black Bazas …

11 04 2016

At about 17:40h this evening in the rice paddy my daughter very excitedly pointed to some birds behind me and said : “Look Dad, birds”.  On turning round I counted no less than 60 Black Bazas  coming down for a nocturnal roost. We watched them fly around a little before finally settling on a cluster of trees near the Rose Garden estate in the rice paddy. We went in pursuit, and on our way told a few curious local farmers what we were looking for and showed them images of Black Bazas in the guidebook: they were in disbelief. But the bazas were closeby as we discovered.  Difficult to see but I did make out several of their very striking crests. Amazing stuff. So tonight’s small flock makes it seem that Wednesday’s flock was not ‘accidental’ but that we are probably on some sort of northbound route for Black Bazas. I imagine these bazas will  be headed for the forests that line the western Thai-Myanmar border and beyond that into the north of Thailand proper.





Barn Owl in the Rice Paddy

10 04 2016

We had great views of a Barn Owl being mobbed by some White-vented Mynas this evening. He flew right over me showing his love-heart face and perched in a  palm tree in the thicket which was of interest to the Black Bazas we saw on Wednesday. I walked into the thicket for better views but put him up which enabled my wife and daughter to get great views. We’ve had Barn Owls in our soi before, and a few years ago in trees at my school, so no big deal but not a bird we see every day.





Chinese Francolin still in residence

10 04 2016

A male Chinese Francolin   walked nonchalantly in front of my truck this afternoon at Huay Mai Teng Reservoir, Ratchaburi Province, and proceeded on its purposeful way before disappearing into furrowed fields supporting cassava cultivation. Not a sound or indication that it was on the premises. I was genuinely shocked and pleased at the same time: fearful that this species was no more as far as  the reservoir is concerned, and pleased for obvious reasons that this sighting contradicts that concern.

The effects of Thailand’s drought crisis are all too obvious here. The locals are saying : “Nam ha yak mak mak” which translates as “Water is extremely  rare” ;  of course ‘…ha yak mak mak‘ is how you would describe a very rare bird. While there is still water in the reservoir, levels are as low as I have ever seen them and there are extensive areas which have dried out. We need rain urgently, lots of it. Perhaps that will bring out Rain Quail, one of the reservoir’s signature species, which was strangely missing from today’s observations: not a sight or a sound. Clearly this need for rain explains Rain Quail’s nomenclature. There were plenty of Small Pratincoles, another key species which can usually be seen with ease at this site; they seemed to be enjoying the dry dusty conditions on paths and tracks. I would estimate over one hundred across the site today; there were also a handful of Oriental Pratincoles in their midst.

In amongst one Richard’s Pipit, a number of Paddyfield Pipits, Red-throated Pipits, Little Ringed Plovers  and Yellow Wagtails I picked out a single Bluethroat, a very pleasing sight as it was only the second record I have for this site. There were also good numbers of Oriental Skylarks and a few Indochinese Bushlark. A Black-capped Kingfisher loitering on a pole in the reservoir was unexpected too. In and around the water edge there were lots of Wood Sandpiper, huge numbers of Little Cormorants and Lesser Whistling Ducks and a few Pheasant-tailed Jacanas. There were also a few Little Grebes and I was very happy to see a few Cotton Pygmy-geese in there too.

A low-flying Kestrel put in an appearance, perching up for a while on a nearby pole. Otherwise no raptors and I would be dishonest if I said I wasn’t expecting some Oriental Honey Buzzards and Black Bazas to be around. At dusk I headed to the usual place and it did not disappoint:at least two Savanna Nightjars, immediately recognisable by their rasping call, were on the move.

An idyllic couple of hours in one of my favourite birding sites.





Watercocks

8 04 2016

Two watercocks were out in the open this evening in the Ratchaburi rice paddy. Since Wednesday’s Black Baza invasion there’s been a spring in our steps with every bird attracting our attention. Watercocks are residents as opposed to migrants and they are generally not very showy birds usually well concealed by  rice plants and normally only visible when they fly. They do not appear to be as common as once so it was nice to see this pair in the mud.

There have been no new Black Bazas since Wednesday but the whole experience of seeing those birds underlines the fascination of bird watching for me. First of all there’s the connection with the natural world and specifically migration: this is peak period for many species to be on the move during which they often cover astonishing distances. The second element arises from this: during migration anything can quite literally fall out of the sky and it is this chance element, of being in the right place at the right time, that throws up so many exciting possibilities. We were so lucky to be where we were at that particular time on Wednesday evening when the bazas came down. But Black Bazas were the last thing I was expecting to see !





Black Bazas

6 04 2016

At about 18:25 this evening we had just finished our little bit of exercise in the rice paddy and had just turned the truck round to head home when we became aware of a lot of bird activity in and around some nearby trees. Basically a lot of small, raptor like birds but nothing immediately discernible beyond a silhouette. My first instinct was sparrow hawks, perhaps. There were lots of them and some were perching in trees in a nearby thicket. It was only when some started to fly directly above us that I could make out the white upper breast and the banding on the lower breast; we were watching Black Bazas, some of the most striking looking birds you’re ever likely to see: check out this image. In Chumphon, in the south of Thailand, towards the end of October, it is possible to watch the Black Baza southern migration: they pass through in tens of thousands. Today we were watching their migration back to their breeding grounds in the north of Thailand from peninsular Malaysia. Presumably these birds had flown up Thailand’s east coast and had cut inland  to head northwards overland. As day time migrants these Black Bazas would be looking for a roost for the evening before continuing the next leg of their journey. They flew off in the end in search of a roost but what a magic moment for us. I suspect we were the only people around who had any idea of what was happening.