Birds in Hong Kong

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Hong Kong is never a place that I really thought of as a ‘birdy’ place. Earlier this year I had the opportunity to spend a week there, and I was blown away by just how many birds I saw without ever leaving the island.

Black KiteThe very first morning I woke up and stepped out onto our tiny balcony near Times Square, I was astounded to see no less than five Black Kites kettling around the massive Lee Gardens building, riding the winds that blew against the skyscraper as an elevator into the sky. I watched for what seemed like hours as they rose up, flew off, and new ones came to replace them.

Every now and then one of them would take a lazy swing at their reflection in the plate glass windows, but it seemed more playful than anything else. Once they reached the top of the building, they swung off into the foggy Hong Kong skyline, or disappeared behind other buildings. This was not what I had expected.

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That was Hong Kong all over for me, though; Unexpected. Just a short ride down Hennessy Road on the “ding-ding” tram was Hong Kong Park, home to the Edward Youde Aviary, a free mini bird-zoo where you could see many different birds up close. Although they were in an enclosed area, much of it was open and Mynah birds and fancy pigeons had plenty of trees to fly around, as visitors walked on elevated walkways beneath. One especially relaxed Victorias Crowned Pigeon even sat incubating eggs on a nest nearby.

Cockatoos

Red-whiskered Bulbul

Blue whistling thrushMasked Laughing Thrush

But even outside the aviary the trees were bursting with birdlife, including a colony of Sulfur Crested Cockatoos, who I watched gleefully excavating nesting cavities in dead trees. Near a small waterfall, Red-whiskered Bulbuls bathed on a stone, joined by the occasional Masked Laughingthrush or Blue Whistling-Thrush, while Japanese White-eyes and Red-billed Blue-Magpies gave brief glances from the higher branches and Black-collared Starlings searched for insects in the grass.

Indochinese YuhinaFork-tailed Sunbird

A short cable-car ride up the Peak Tram from Hong Kong Park was Victoria Peak, overlooking Victoria Harbor and the Kowloon Peninsula. The Peak itself was a bit of a tourist trap, but a short walk on the trail around the peak led to Lung Fu Shan Country Park, and a whole host of new birds for me, like the petite Indochinese Yuhina and the glittering Fork-tailed Sunbird.

Greater Necklaced LaughingthrushSpotted DoveDurian Redstart

On the short trail down to an abandoned military bunker, we flushed a Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush, and it gave us a withering stare before flitting off into the bushes. Among the bunkers Spotted Doves pecked in the dirt, and a tiny Durian Redstart peeped at us through the trees. Black-throated Laughingthrushes were hiding all along the bamboo thicket lining the trail, and although we could hear their melodious calls, they gave only fleeting glances until we recorded their call, and played it back to them. Then they ventured quite close, cocking their heads inquisitively at the recording and singing in reply.

Black-throated Laughingthrush

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Port Canaveral Birding – Avocet Lagoon and Lori Wilson Park

Last week I happened to be in Cape Canaveral, watching behemoth cruise ships lumber in and out of port. I find birds to be more fun than boats, though, so I was soon watching the much smaller residents of the East Coast at Lori Wilson Park instead.
IMG_0615-1 IMG_0628-1 IMG_0740-1 Not all birds are as obliging as these small Sanderlings, though – some are much more secretive.
IMG_0430 Do you ever feel like you’re being watched? Despite being a non-native species, the Ring-necked Dove blends perfectly with this palm.IMG_0494 IMG_0569 IMG_0565 IMG_0397-1 IMG_0514-1 IMG_0568-1 Best of the day was a pass that this Black Skimmer made down the beach, running from a flock of Laughing Gulls with his catch snugly tucked in his underbite.IMG_0729-1

Birding Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge – Black Point Wildlife Drive

It was storming when I turned onto the packed dirt road of Merritt Island’s Black Point Wildlife Drive. The weather almost sent me home, but I was in the area already, and hoped that the rain wouldn’t bother the wading birds who spend most of their time in water anyway.

As I pushed my $5 into the honor box (I learned later that I could have gotten in with my  Duck Stamp!), the rain suddenly stopped, in the way that it sometimes does in Florida, and although thick bands of grey clouds continued to move overhead, I had the whole place to myself. Almost.

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The birds certainly had no problems with the weather, and I had plenty of time to watch as Sandpipers, Herons, Egrets, and Stilts foraged, fought, and flew over the shallow pools. One look at eBirds Hotspot data page for Black Point should tell you just how many birds make this refuge their home.

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There were plenty of peeps and plovers, poking about the muck, undisturbed by a slow moving car.

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In a single morning, one could easily see almost every wading bird in Florida – from Snowy Egrets with their dainty yellow socks, to Glossy Ibis, Tricolored Herons, both Little and Great Blues, Roseate Spoonbills, Reddish Egrets, and Great Egrets in breeding plumage, all as White Ibis fly in flocks across the sky.

IMG_1745IMG_1762IMG_1772IMG_1705 The earlier rain did seem to drive the songbirds into hiding, but a few Red-winged Blackbirds came out to sing their rattly trill in the lull between storms.

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My favorite find of the day were a pair of perfectly balanced American Avocets, long curled beaks nestled in their back feathers, snoozing. As a flock of Ibis flew overhead, they briefly opened their eyes, looked right at me, then went back to sleep.

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Re-nesting a Bald Eagle Chick

Last week this young Bald Eagle came to ARC for rehab, after falling out of its nest.

IMG_7996-1He might look a little big for a chick, but raptors grow very fast – from egg to full grown in about three months. This guy is probably just over two months old. His feathers weren’t done growing, and he still had some downy fuzz.

Since the nest was still active, and the parents still in the area, we wanted to try to get him back with his family. The nest was on private land, but thankfully, the landowner was willing to let us access the tree.

One problem with renesting Bald Eagles is that their nests are very high up off the ground. This nest was 30′ in a tree, deep in the woods – there was no hope of using a cherry picker.

Thankfully, Jim, the master tree climber, was willing to help. This afternoon he met us at the tree site with his climbing gear, and we prepared to return the eagle to its nest.
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This was something new for me – a giant slingshot! Jim used it to throw a beanbag with a rope attached over a branch of the nest tree. It took a few tries, but eventually he got a good branch, and was able to secure a rope for climbing.

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Once Jim was up there, you could really see how big the nest was. It was probably 10′ wide.

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With Jim in position, it was time to get the eaglet ready for his ride to the top.

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First, Devin placed a hood on the eaglet to keep him calm. Or that was the idea – the bird quickly wiggled out of the hood.

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If you’re wondering why this eaglet has a black beak, and not a yellow beak like in all the pictures, it’s because of his age. It takes Bald Eagles about five years to get a white head and tail, and for the beak to turn yellow. When they’re young, they’re a very dark brown all over.

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He also went back to the nest sporting some new jewelry. This aluminum band will allow wildlife researchers to gather data about his age and travels if he is found again in the future. Check out those shiny new talons!

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One more step – we swaddled the eagle in a towel to keep him from moving about too much on his ride up.

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And finally, into a duffel bag, so he can be securely raised to the top of the tree.

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We attached the duffel bag to Jims climbing rope, and he pulled the bird up to the nest.

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At the top, Jim made sure to secure the bag to the tree before bringing out the eagle. We also sent up thick gloves so he didn’t get taloned!

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Finally, the eaglet is brought out of the bag, and returned to his nest.

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Jim took this picture of the eaglet in the nest before descending the tree.

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As we were leaving an adult Bald Eagle started making swoops down towards the nest tree, so hopefully that was mom or dad. We figured it would be best to leave the area so they can get back to taking care of their kid.

Although we’ve released several, I’d never been able to help return an Eagle to its nest before, so this was an exciting day all around. We couldn’t have done it without a lot of help from all the volunteers at ARC, and Jim especially. It was a great day for everyone to come together and help out this young eagle. Hopefully the family is back together tonight.

Birding at the Jones Ave Basins

Nice View

A short turn off of Jones Ave in Apopka, a road more known for its pungent fertilizer fields than birds, there’s a small swampy oasis for ducks and herons. I hadn’t been there since this summer, when it was mostly Black-bellied Whistling Ducks and their chicks, but I stopped by last night and wasn’t disappointed.

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When I arrived just before sundown, the aforementioned ducks were flocking noisely overhead, wheeling in large circles before finally landing for the night. Blue Herons, a Great Egret, Anhingas, a pair of Belted Kingfisher, and a Red-bellied Woodpecker watched the water from bare snags by the road. A juvenile Black-crowned Night Heron watched me with a red eye, and an adult surprised me just across the lake.

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A small flock of White and Glossy Ibis perched just around the first turn, and I surprised a few Wilson’s Snipe and Least Sandpiper from the brush. A couple of Palm Warblers chipped from the flowering trees, while Snowy Egrets hid with Little Blue Herons in the reedy swamp. There were some Red-winged Blackbirds here earlier in the year, but I didn’t find any last night.

There were three Wood Storks hunting in the muck with another Great Blue Heron in the back-most pond, while a Florida staple – a juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk – watched from the old telephone pole near the access road. As I was walking back to the car, I spotted a Long-billed Dowicher, and an Eastern Phoebe twittering from the telephone line.

Back at the car, an Osprey had taken over the snag from the Anhinga, and the female Kingfisher chirruped in the dying light.


GLIB JuvNH MoltingGBH
RHWP SNEG StorksHeron

Resident Raptors

One great thing about living in Florida is that in the winter, even though some summer birds migrate south to Central America, a ton of northern birds come down to escape the cold, and we get a double dose of raptors all season long. It almost makes up for all the other weird stuff that happens in the state.

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This was a single Red-tailed Hawk that soared overhead for so long, I couldn’t help but snap a bunch of pictures. None of them were super great, but there were so many of them, I thought it’d be fun to splice them into a faux RTHA kettle. One can wish, right?

Bald Eagle

And the Bald Eagles have been back and forth all day, flying from one lake to another, presumably to look for Osprey to steal fish from.

RSHAfly2The interloping juvenile Red-shouldered Hawk has been all over the yard lately, eating lizards and starting fights with our resident adult Red-shoulder. I wake up almost every morning these days to a RSHA screaming match outside my window. It’d be annoying, but after spending a few years with Archer, I’m mostly immune to RSHA screaming.

Red-shouldered Hawk

Our resident adult is still hanging around, and I sort of wonder if they’ll work something out between them, or if one hawk will eventually move on. This bird moved in as a juvenile when Archer was still staying in my back yard, so I’m rooting for her. I’ve watched her turn into a beautiful adult of the Florida sub-species, and I’m hoping she’ll defend her right to live in the yard and eat lots of frogs. Right now they seem to be sharing the territory.

Red-shouldered Hawk

They’re just so much fun to watch, especially on windy days.

Nestbox Portraits 2: Hawks, Kites, and a Falcon

After taking portraits of the Owls, I decided to try the Hawks and Kites as well. Callie, an American Kestrel, snuck in there too.

If you’re interested, you can purchase prints of the birds at on Etsy, and the proceeds will go to the Avian Reconditioning Center.

Short-tailed Hawk

 

Sable, Short-tailed Kite

Callie

Callie, American Kestrel

Archer

 

Archer, Red-shouldered Hawk

Mississippi Kite

Pepito, Mississippi Kite

Swallow-tailed Kite

Scooter, Swallow-tailed Kite

SableSable, Short-tailed Hawk

Part 1, the Owls.