Apologies for the lack of post – the draft of this post has been sitting in my research journal for a little over 2 months now, time for a write-up!
As mentioned in my previous post, I went back to Hong Kong during the Christmas term break, where I did intensive birding on consecutive days. There were two days I got to see all 4 different species of kingfishers that are the most seen species in Hong Kong (there are 7 species of kingfishers that occur in Hong Kong, but the remaining 3 are very rare).
I will start with the Common Kingfisher (普通翠鳥), the very same kingfisher we get in the UK. The Common Kingfisher is a small, Starling-sized bird. Despite its colourful orange and vivid blue plumage, what people often hear is a sharp cheee call and see is a streak of blue flying over the water. It is a very shy bird and will fly off quickly if disturbed, so a hide is often used to stalk the bird at one of its favourite perches. I photographed this male (identified by its black bill, females have a black bill with red base) sitting on its perch over a fish pond in Mai Po just outside the nature reserve. It was raining at the time, and the kingfisher didn’t seem to have fishing in mind, so I unfortunately didn’t get any photos of it fishing. Nonetheless I have to confess I was overjoyed with my first proper portrait of a Common Kingfisher (I failed last time at Kennall Vale where I sat in a hide for 3 hours, and no sign of any kingfisher…) !
Second on my most favourite list is the Pied Kingfisher (斑魚狗). You can usually spot the bird hovering in the sky at a great height, scanning the water below for fish; target locked, it dives, folding back its wings like a gannet, and plunges into the water. It emerges from the water with fish in its beak, and then speeds away in a level flight close to the water surface, sometimes heading to a perch to enjoy its hard won meal. This bird is super hard-working and has excellent work ethics; it is very rare for the bird to give up hunting until it gets a fish. The bird sometimes halts its rapid dive bombs mid-way and rises back up, so as to accurately locate its prey and make the kill. The Pied Kingfisher has a distinctive black and white plumage – the male can be identified by a double band across the breast, the female has a single gorget that is often broken in the middle. I am most fascinated by the bird’s fishing manoeuvre. Its hover is no less stable than a kestrel.
Here is the Pied Kingfisher in its signature cross-like hovering pose:
The Pied Kingfisher perched on a stick across the river after a successful fishing session:
Third one is the Black-capped Kingfisher (黑頭翡翠 / 藍翡翠). Like the Pied Kingfisher, it keeps its distance from humans and never came close enough for a decent photo. Black-capped Kingfisher is a tree kingfisher and has a broad diet, including fish, crabs and insects. I saw this particular bird scooping up a large mudskipper in its beak, and repeatedly flinging and hitting the fish against the perch to make the fish pass out. It then went on to enjoy its rather big lunch. Its flight is rapid and direct, and the way it spreads its black / blue wings is very graceful.
The last kingfisher is the White-throated Kingfisher, also known as the White-breasted Kingfisher (白胸翡翠). As its name suggests, the bird’s throat / breast is white. It is also a tree kingfisher, and its diet mainly includes crabs, insects and lizards. This particular bird at Nam Sang Wai often stay on perches in conspicuous areas unafraid of humans, possibly because some people alongside some photographers regularly bait the kingfisher with dead little fishes to get diving shots of the kingfisher, so that the kingfisher has relied on humans for food.
The same kingfisher photographed on another day looked quite funny with a very muddy beak – looks like it’s been searching for food in the mudflat!
Kingfishers are very territorial (yes they will fight over prime fishing spots and perches). They tend to go back to the same perches so it is possible to observe and locate the bird’s favourite perch. There is only one species of kingfisher in the UK, which is the Common Kingfisher. I have yet to see my first kingfisher in the UK (though I have heard some) – something on the 2016 to-do list!
Thanks for reading and hope you’ve enjoyed this kingfisher post 🙂
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