Variation in Oriental Honey Buzzard

My visit to Laotieshan in Liaoning Province provided an excellent opportunity to get to grips with one of China’s most numerous raptors – the Oriental (Crested) Honey Buzzard.  We saw well over 1,500 of these birds during the first few days of our visit from 24 September, but clearly the bulk of these relatively early migrants had already passed through… Numbers tailed off pretty quickly at the end of Sep/early Oct, just as the number of Common Buzzards (a later migrant) began to increase.  The 4th October was the first day that Common Buzzards outnumbered Oriental Honeys.   I suspect that a survey from late August at Laotieshan would reveal several thousand Oriental Honey Buzzards (OHB) passing through (one local birdwatcher told us that the first OHBs of the autumn passed through on 2 September at Laotieshan).

The OHBs we saw were mostly juveniles but there were a few late adults mixed in (adults tend to migrate earlier).  The variation, as with European Honey Buzzard (EHB), is astonishing.

The main differences between OHB and EHB are as follows:

Size: OHB is larger with broader wings and 6 ‘fingers’ (vs 5 in EHB), sometimes recalling an Aquila eagle in silhouette.

Plumage: OHBs, as with EHBs, are highly variable, especially in juvenile plumages.  One of the main plumage differences between the two are that OHBs do not usually have a contrasting carpal patch and have a relatively shorter and fuller tail than EHBs.

In this post I am including some images of the birds we saw, with some comments about age and sex.  Please feel free to contact me if you think I have any wrongly labelled!

Oriental Honey Buzzard, Laotieshan. This is a juvenile, probably a male. Note the yellow base to the bill, the dark eye and the relatively neat and fresh plumage. A hint of grey on the head indicates this is probably a male.
Another juvenile. This one is very dark. Again, note the yellow base to the bill, the dark eye and the fresh plumage. This bird is also probably a male given the hint of grey on the head and the relatively well-marked bands on the underwing and tail.
Juvenile male. Juvenile due to the yellow base to the bill and fresh plumage. A male due to the grey wash to the head and the thick dark tail bands.
Juvenile male. 'Rufous' juveniles like this seemed to be the dominant form. Again, note the yellow base to the bill and fresh plumage indicating a juvenile. Also note the 2 strong tailbands, indicating a probably male (females generally have multiple narrower bands on the tail).
Juvenile, probable female. Aged as a juvenile given the yellow base to the bill and fresh plumage. Probably a female given multiple relatively thin tailbands.
Juvenile female. Note the multiple, relatively thin, tailbands.
Juvenile female. Note pale-ish iris (males retain a dark iris) and multiple tail bands.
Same bird as above.
Juvenile female. Again, note the hint of a pale iris and multiple tail bands.
Juvenile (pale form). Superficially recalls Booted Eagle or Osprey. Not sure about sexing this bird.
Another pale juvenile.
Adult male. Note the all dark bill (indicating adult), grey head, prominent dark trailing edge to the wing, thick tail bands and relatively thick barring on the underwing (all characteristics of a male).
Adult male. Dark bill and prominent trailing edge to the wing indicates adult. Grey on head and two thick bands on the tail indicate male.
Adult male. Thick dark tail-bands, prominent dark trailing edge to wing.
Adult female? Pale iris and three tail-bands suggest female.
Adult female. Pale iris and lack of grey on head suggest female.

Laotieshan update – Wednesday

Laotieshan continues to astound.  This morning between just 0530 and 0645 we recorded 1,257 Ashy Minivets and 3,000 Red-rumped Swallows..  not to mention good numbers of Olive-backed Pipits, Richard’s Pipits, Black-faced Buntings…  astonishing.  After the passerine migration began to slow, we took the track below the lighthouse to look for migrants.  A Bull-headed Shrike was a nice start and this was soon followed by two Siberian Blue Robins, 5 Radde’s Warblers and at least 4 Spotted (David’s) Bush Warblers.  The lowlight here was when Paul almost stepped on what we think was a Pallas’s Pit Viper..  The locals had warned us about snakes but in most areas of China, any that are venomous – especially near human habitation – have largely been wiped out.  During my spring visit I saw no snakes at all.. not even the fairly common Rat Snake.  Today’s encounter was a sobering moment and, in a sign of the seriousness of the event, Paul has said he may consider swapping his ever-present shorts for long trousers!

The weather is clearly changing.  Today was overcast with a light southerly wind.  The forecast for tomorrow is for showers, with winds veering to the north-west and, on Friday, the temperature is predicted to drop by 10 degrees Celsius.  That could mean Thursday and Friday are big days….  let’s hope so!

Some more images from the trip…

Oriental Honey Buzzard. This individual showed beautifully.
Oriental Honey Buzzard: extreme close up
Japanese Sparrowhawk, Laotieshan, Liaoning Province, China
Probable Pallas's Pit Viper: not a snake to be messed with. The locals say "if you get bitten, you die"... gulp.
Scanning from the beach with Paul Holt (left) and Peter Cawley. We were rewarded with a single Streaked Shearwater, several Black-tailed and a few Vega/Mongolian Gulls.
Birding is contagious - a couple of the local girls studying the finer points of aging Oriental Honey Buzzard in the field.

To give the reader a sense of the species we are seeing, I am including below our list of species and counts from 0530-0645 only this morning.  Other species seen later today include Asian House Martin, Bean Goose, White-throated Needletail and Streaked Shearwater.  I will publish the full species list and counts on my return to Beijing – there is simply too much to summarise!

Grey Heron – 1

Purple Heron – 4

Kestrel – 3

Amur Falcon – 7

Hobby – 2

Peregrine – 2

Oriental Honey Buzzard – 5

Black-eared Kite – 5

Eurasian Sparrowhawk – 6

Ashy Minivet – 1,257

Grey Nightjar – One hawking over the car park at 0530

Red-rumped Swallow – circa 3,000

Sand Martin – 1

Oriental Turtle Dove – 4

Spotted Dove – 1

Black-naped Oriole – 1

Olive-backed Pipit – hundreds

Red-throated Pipit – 3

Richard’s Pipit – 8

Grey Wagtail – 2

White Wagtail – 12

Dusky Warbler – 3

Radde’s Warbler – 2

Lanceolated Warbler – 3

Yellow-browed Warbler – 2

Daurian Redstart – 1

White-eye sp (Probably Chestnut-flanked) – 240

White-cheeked Starling – 5

Daurian Starling – 1

Chinese Grosbeak – 1

Common Rosefinch – 12

Black-faced Bunting – 17

unidentified passerine – 1000s

Laotieshan – first report

On Saturday I met up with Peter Cawley  – from my original local patch at Winterton in the UK – and flew across to Dalian for the onward journey to Laotieshan, the southern tip of the Dalian peninsula.  It is here that we will be basing ourselves for at least a week to experience the autumn migration.

We arrived in the late afternoon and met up with Paul Holt who had arrived at lunchtime that day and had managed a few hours birding in the afternoon.  Given the recent settled weather, our expectations were not so high but his report certainly whetted the appetite – in just four hours he had seen over 1,000 Oriental Honey Buzzards, over 1,200 Red-rumped Swallows and a good sprinkling of other birds – Amur Falcon, Goshawk, Osprey and White-throated Needletail.  Not bad.  Sunday was our first full day and it was simply stunning.  Over 600 Ashy Minivets, at least 300 Oriental Honey Buzzards, over 100 Black-eared Kites, 3 Black Storks and between 30 and 40 Japanese Sparrowhawks with good numbers of Eurasian Sparrowhawks, Hobbies, Amur Falcons, Kestrel, Osprey and Peregrine as the supporting cast.   This site is awesome!

Some early images below……

Oriental Honey Buzzard, Laotieshan, 25 September 2011. Honey Buzzards exhibit a wonderful array of plumages; this one is very rufous on the underparts.


Japanese Sparrowhawk, Laotieshan, 25 September 2011. These compact birds have tonnes of character...