Identification of Chinese Pond Heron

The Challenge!

Eds.    Dave Gandy lives in Bangkok, Thailand. Javan Pond Heron (speciosa) and Chinese Pond Heron (bacchus) are on his doorstep. Dave got in touch as he has followed discussion on the Kent ardeola see >>>HERE<<< and >>>HERE<<<. Yesterday he went out and took some fab photos. What a cool thing the WWW is! So far away and yet so quickly he can illuminate our discussions. The Javan Pond Heron being a particularly interesting subject as both he and Dave Allen raised how hard Chinese and Javan can be to separate in non breeding plumage.

And the Kent bird?

Apparent Chinese Pond Heron, Hythe, Kent photographed this morning (13th Feb 2014) by James Lowen.  James commented  "Yes it had maroon sides to left side of crown in the field. I didn't see the right hand side!

Apparent Chinese Pond Heron, Hythe, Kent photographed this morning (13th Feb 2014) by James Lowen.
James commented:
“Yes it had maroon sides to left side of crown in the field. I didn’t see the right hand side!

Visit Jame’s website >>>HERE<<<

David Walker also got some nice shots a couple of days ago (scroll down) . Of course I know there are risks and dangers in trying to interpret photos. Bearing those in mind (and as ever check for yourself) I see obvious maroon feathering appearing around the head that makes it a stick on Chinese Pond Heron. The age of the bird could be really interesting of course. Brownish tips to wing coverts and brownish tips to tail feathers in Squacco Heron point to first winter plumage (all white in adults per Ian Lewington). If the same works for Chinese Pond Heron… And by the way 2 sources say there are no known records (that means zero, nada)  in recent years of Chinese Pond Herons kept in captivity in Europe.

Over to Dave Gandy’s for his superb piece and scroll to end for new photos of the Kent bird by David Walker.

Dave Gandy

Hi Martin,

I face the issue (or rather, I avoid it) every year from October to March when resident Javan Pond Herons are joined by wintering Chinese Pond Herons – all in non-breeding plumage, and the accepted wisdom has been that they are unidentifiable – until springtime. 

I spent an hour photographing eight different pond herons on my local patch, Suan Rotfai in central Bangkok yesterday, in my first attempt to try figuring these birds out and to inform discussion on the Kent bird:

The best images are attached, and I give some comments below.

Plenty of food for thought:

Bird 1 Pond Heron sp. SRF 12th feb 2014- a fairly classic non-breeding Pond Heron sp., for which conventional thinking is that it cannot be done to species.  This bird appears to have clean wing coverts, so I'm guessing it is an adult.

Bird 1 Pond Heron sp. SRF 12th Feb 2014- a fairly classic non-breeding Pond Heron sp., for which conventional thinking is that it cannot be done to species. This bird appears to have clean wing coverts, so I’m guessing it is an adult.

Bird 2 Chinese Pond Heron SRF 12th Feb 2014. A few small patches of maroon appearing on the neck indicate that this is a Chinese Pond Heron

Bird 2 Chinese Pond Heron, SRF 12th Feb 2014. A few small patches of maroon appearing on the neck indicate that this is a Chinese Pond Heron

Bird 3 Chinese Pond Heron shot 1 SRF 12th Feb 2014.   A few small patches of maroon (note the one behind/below the eye) indicates that this is a Chinese Pond Heron

Bird 3 Chinese Pond Heron SRF 12th Feb 2014. A few small patches of maroon (note the one behind/below the eye) indicates that this is a Chinese Pond Heron

Bird 3 Chinese Pond Heron shot 2 SRF 12th Feb 2014. Same bird as above.

Bird 3 Chinese Pond Heron SRF 12th Feb 2014. Same bird as immediately above.

Bird 4 Pond Heron sp. suspected Javan Pond Heron SRF 12th Feb 2014. This bird shows no indication of breeding plumage (well, perhaps the whitish feather shafts on the bird's back?). It was feeding in the same area as Bird 3, at the same time, and the photos were taken from the same place, just a few seconds apart.  When comparing this image with Bird 3 (shot 2) I am particularly struck by the difference in ground colour (bird 4 being much paler).  Is this within the range of variation of a single species?  It looks like an adult from the clean white wing coverts.

Bird 4 Pond Heron sp. Suspected Javan Pond Heron SRF 12th Feb 2014. This bird shows no indication of breeding plumage (well, perhaps the whitish feather shafts on the bird’s back?). It was feeding in the same area as Bird 3, at the same time, and the photos were taken from the same place, just a few seconds apart. When comparing this image with Bird 3 (shot 2) I am particularly struck by the difference in ground colour (bird 4 being much paler). Is this within the range of variation of a single species? It looks like an adult from the clean white wing coverts.

Bird 5 Pond Heron sp.Spp first winter. another fairly classic non-breeding plumaged Pond Heron spp. - dirty wing coverts suggest it is a 2nd CY

Bird 5 Pond Heron sp. A first winter. another fairly classic non-breeding plumaged Pond Heron sp. – dirty wing coverts suggest it is a 2nd CY

 

Bird 5  first winter. Same bird as immediately above.

Bird 5 First winter Pond Heron sp. Same bird as immediately above.

 

Bird 6 Chinese Pond Heron. a Chinese Pond Heron. The most advanced I saw yesterday in terms of its transition to breeding plumage

Bird 6  Chinese Pond Heron. The most advanced I saw yesterday in terms of its transition to breeding plumage

 

Bird 6  Chinese Pond Heron. Same as immediately above.

Bird 6 Chinese Pond Heron. Same bird as immediately above.

 

Bird 6  Chinese Pond Heron. Same as immediately above.

Bird 6 Chinese Pond Heron. Same bird as immediately above.

 

Bird 7 An adult bird based on the clear white wing coverts, and definitely not Chinese, given the pale yellowish-buff colours that are appearing on the neck.  It could be Indian Pond Heron (a rarity in Thailand), but the default species would be Javan Pond Heron.  At this stage I think it is too early to be certain.  Javan seems to be quite variable in the intensity of the neck colour, or perhaps it gets darker as the breeding season progresses?  I note that the ground colour of this bird is very similar to Bird 4, which makes me think that bird 4 is the same species (ie probably Javan PH).

Bird 7 An adult bird based on the clear white wing coverts, and definitely not Chinese, given the pale yellowish-buff colours that are appearing on the neck. It could be Indian Pond Heron (a rarity in Thailand), but the default species would be Javan Pond Heron. At this stage I think it is too early to be certain. Javan seems to be quite variable in the intensity of the neck colour, or perhaps it gets darker as the breeding season progresses? I note that the ground colour of this bird is very similar to Bird 4, which makes me think that bird 4 is the same species (ie probably Javan PH).

 

Bird 7  Probable adult Javan Pond Heron (Indian not eliminated) SRF 12th Feb 2014. Same bird as immediately above.

Bird 7 Probable adult Javan Pond Heron (Indian not eliminated) SRF 12th Feb 2014. Same bird as immediately above.

 

Bird 8 pond heron sp.- 1st winter. An apparent 2nd CY bird (dirty coverts).  No indication of breeding plumage that I can see.

Bird 8 Pond Heron sp.- 1st winter. An apparent 2nd CY bird (dirty coverts). No indication of breeding plumage that I can see.

 

Bird 8 Pond Heron sp. SRF 12th Feb - 1st winter. Same bird as immediately above.

Bird 8 Pond Heron sp. SRF 12th Feb – 1st winter. Same bird as immediately above.

all photos above by Dave Gandy. Visit Dave’s website >>> HERE<<<

The Kent Bird

David Walker of Dungeness Bird Observatory fame lives pretty close to the Kent Pond heron and kindly sent these photos through. What features can you see ?

Ardeola sp Hythe 110214 2283Ardeola sp Hythe 110214 2302

are those wing coverts tipped brownish? Better views needed...

are those wing coverts tipped brownish? Better views needed…

2 thoughts on “Identification of Chinese Pond Heron

  1. Pingback: New Photos: Chinese Pond Heron | Birding Frontiers

  2. Pingback: Chinese Pond Heron in breeding plumage | Birding Frontiers

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