Tuesday 20 May 2014

Anyone for a Rubythroat?

One of the things I did yesterday whilst walking myself into the ground was visit the bird market on Kowloon. It gets a mention in the guidebook, and I do like birds. On reflection it was probably a mistake to have gone. I was expecting Parakeets, Lovebirds, Budgies, that sort of thing. However by far the majority of the birds in cages were actually local species. How they ended up in the bird market, who can say, but it was desperately sad to see so many Magpie Robins - rows upon rows of little cages - when I'd seen the same species hopping around on the grass on my walk to the ferry that morning. Japansese White-eye and Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush were also amongst the selection - this latter I've yet to find, and I'm not ticking it in a fancy teak cage!

Imagine my surprise when I found a Sibe Rubythroat though. Whoa!! This bird is a regular winter visitor to Hong Kong, but has already left (as have most things - note to any would-be HK birders, come for winter or migration). It could be mine for 80 HK$, about sixty quid. Tempting.... Amazingly small, much smaller than I had imagined. There must have been about 10 for sale - I could have had a flock.

Birds are said to bring luck - apparently people even take them to the racetrack (going tomorrow so I'll let you know if I see any), and the keeping of birds is clearly big business over here. You can buy a bird in England of course, but typically not Robins, Blue Tits and Blackbirds, which effectively was what was on offer here. Here, anything goes, and who am I to judge what is a very important and historic cultural interest - I just wish it had been exotic birds, strangely, rather than the local stuff. Maybe I'm just bitter as getting photos of birds over here has thus far been a complete non-starter. So, seeing as wild birds seem impossible here, I decided to attempt the caged variety today, but of a different sort. Rather than a tiny structure you can hang from a wire, I went to the Edward Youde Aviary in Hong Kong Park - it's a huge open air aviary filled with exotica right in the middle of the city. I recognised none of it, though there were loads of these zooming about.

It's called the Edward Youde Aviary, and if you're into free-flying displays, is done really rather well. However as mentioned it is open to the elements, and my visit was thus shortlived, as the skies became darker and darker. Looking up at the peak I decided that discretion was the better part of valour - it was ominously dark. I could have spent the rest of the afternoon in malls etc, but God knows I loathe shopping, so I made for the Pier and from there back to Lantau. In contrast to all my previous journeys, this time there was almost no visibility, and as the ferry pulled in it was absolutely bucketing down. I did the sensible thing and took shelter in a local bar. I later learned that an "Amber" rain warning had been issued - this is the lowest, exceeded by red and black, but was still pretty fearsome. Plants and furniture was blown over, and the bar partially flooded. Thunder and lightning, very very frightening. It took over an hour for it to clear sufficiently to walk back to the house, and even then forks of electricity could be seen over the sky to the south west.

Anyhow, here's a wild not-yet captured Oriental Magpie Robin. They're pretty common, and have a lovely song (which probably explains their popularity). This was the male of a pair that are near the ferry terminal to Central, and if the rain ever lets up I may attempt to do a better job.



  1. Hi Jonathan

    Welcome to Hong Kong. Glad to hear you found some birds and very interested to hear how you got on at Mai Po and the Islands. The white bird is a Bali Starling which has lost the feathers on its breast - and HK$80 is less than six quid! There is very title trapping of wild birds in HK - the great majority are imported from China - some of which are bred for sale (like Magpie Robin) and some of which - like the Rubythroat - are wild-caught.

    Nice shot of HK's skyline - you need to rain to wash the pollutants out of the sky to get that sort of light quality, so there is a blessing to the rain!

    If you're in town for a few days and staying on Lantau there are a few good spots for birding and a chance of bitterns and Baillon's crake being found in one of the urban parks at this tim of year. I live on Lantau and post about these on BirdForum on the China thread in "Exploring Lantau" section here: http://www.birdforum.net/showthread.php?t=249410

    Mike Kilburn

    1. hah, cheers Mike. I am in Discovery Bay - not the greatest for birds!

    2. As I know only too well having moved there 18 months ago!

      If you have a spare hour at Discovery Bay there is a nice adult Black-crowned Night Heron that poses on the waterfall in the park close to Discovery College in the early mornings, and Blue Whistling Thrushes and Black-collared Starlings are currently feeding fledged young in the same area.

    3. Funnily enough I found the heron about an hour ago, posing obligingly on a bird sculpture, with Koel and Greater Coucal in the area. Hard work here though - where can I find those lovely Blue Magpies?

  2. MKinHK - i believe, and some interesting posts. Nice skyline shot btw J.

    Laurie -

  3. DB is hard work indeed! My most reliable spot for Blue Magpies is the Shaolin Vally in Tai O.

    This is about an hour away by bus on the far western end of Lantau, but the trip is worth it for the village itself (many houses built on stilts over a tidal creek) and a place to see Chinese White Dolphin (actually pink) cheaply and easily.

    If you're interested to go then do give me a call on 6045 1531 - I'd be happy to provide directions. Not sure how long you're staying but I may be able to negotiate a pass for Saturday morning if you're still here and would be interested in going further afield than Discovery Bay.

    1. Cheers for the offer, alas I am flying out late on Friday evening. Been a fun trip, done way more sight-seeing than birding, but I'll definitely be back at a different season to see what else I can see.