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Review: Birdwatching in Hong Kong

Specialist Holiday

Hong Kong, China

Birdwatching in Hong Kong

  • By SilverTraveller Steve-Newman

    18 reviews


  • 2010
  • Partner

90 people found this review helpful

When it comes to great areas for birding Hong Kong doesn’t immediately spring to mind but in fact the built up areas cover only a tiny fraction of the place. Although one always imagines Hong Kong as one of the most densely populated places on earth and indeed the city itself and its near neighbour Kowloon are just that, the rest of the area consists of mountainous terrain, country park valleys, marsh land and some 235 islands to explore. Of these islands only a very tiny number are inhabited due to the lack of freshwater and that leaves great possibilities for the birdwatcher as the local species are left in piece. There are also excellent public and private transport links to take you to some of the remoter areas plus nearly everyone speaks English and is desperate to please. Hong Kong may be a millionaire’s playground but the birdwatcher will also have a great time. Hong Kong is a superb area for birdwatching as it acts as a major stop over point on the East Asian – Australian flyway, we got 25 new species without really trying! On the road from the airport to our hotel in Kowloon we managed to get black kite, a common species here, hovering above us and Great Egrets flying across the road. The Kingfisher organization has an excellent website on the local birds with up-to-date details on the best sites for birdwatching. If a birder is coming to this region for the first time then the list of lifers is potentially quite vast (50+). Waterbirds which might entice UK birders and are most likely encountered are the Grey-tailed Tattler, Nordmann’s Greenshank, Asian Dowitcher, Long-toed Stint, and Saunders Gull. Even the built up urban areas have some superb birding sites. For example there is a free birdwatching tour every Wednesday from 8-10 am in the hong Kongs’s largest urban park where you are shown Yellow-Crested Cockatoos as well as Chinese and Red Whiskered Bulbuls, Yellow Browed Warblers, Fork Tailed Sunbirds and many more. A similar event takes place in Kowloon Park every Friday from 7.30- 9.30 a.m. where you can see over a hundred species such as Alexandrine Parakeets, Japanese Paradise Flycatchers and many more. There are two major areas for birding, the first if you don’t want to be too adventurous is the Hong Kong Wetland park comprising of more than 60 hectares of recreated wetland, reedbed, ponds, mangroves and mudflats. Situated between Mai Po marshes and the urban sprawl of Tin Shui Wan New Town the park is a real eyeopener in what can be done in conservation. The park has tarmaced wide paths with disabled access to all its hides. There’s also a stunning interpretation centre that has viewing areas over the main ponds. We spent five minutes watching a White Throated Kingfisher that was perched directly in front of the information centre. Don’t expect the delights you’ll get at Mai Po marshes but the park is still worth a look, as you will see local specialties in both waterfowl and tree dwelling species. The hides are well built on three levels and sited in good viewing positions all around the park. However the jewel in the crown of Hong Kong birding is Mai Po marshes. In 1995, a 1500 hectares area of wetlands around Mai Po and Inner Deep Bay was formally designated as a ”Wetland of International Importance” under the Ramasar Convention. Mai Po nature Reserve is a significant part of this wetland. Here you can expect to see 72% of the total Hong Kong species with over 300 species being recorded. On the drive to the gates we saw Pied Kingfisher (To see them hover and then plunge dive like a Tern is quite a site), Asian Azure Wing Magpies and Oriental Magpie Robins. The possibilities of bird photography are endless here and we used our Opticron telescope and digiscoping kit as much as we could. Even if you’re not a committed birder it’s well worth going to the reserve for the floating mangrove walkway that rises and falls with the tide and leads out to the floating hide where the mud is alive with mudskippers slithering across the surface. At high tide the water pushes the waders towards you and you can have thousands of birds in front of you. Looking out towards mainland China on the exposed sand and mud even when the tide was out at its furthest point we managed to get Black-Capped Kingfisher and Eastern Marsh Harrier. It says something for Mai Po that we also got Chinese Pond Heron but then we were becoming blasé about them! The huge ponds that were once used commercially to rear shrimps now act as a magnet to all kinds of waders, ducks and sea birds plus the raptors who pray upon them. The water levels are controlled and the ponds are open to the sea on occasions to encourage shrimps, fish and other marine life to enter and thus act as the bottom strata of the bird’s food chain. We saw Lesser Spotted Eagle, Imperial Eagle, Long Tailed Shrike and the beautiful Black Faced Spoonbills in less than 30 minutes of being there whilst White Cheeked and Black Collared Starlings cavorted in the bushes either side of us as we walked along. For the Mai Po mega ticks I would go for (1) Spoon-billed Sandpiper and (2) Swinhoe’s Egret (sometimes called Chinese Egret) and (3) Black-faced Spoonbill. These are the ones occurring regularly and most likely to be seen. Of course there are vagrants and several rare reedbed specialists, but it is unlikely that visitors could find them. We were also very lucky to get Intermediate Egret here, a common passage migrant and scarce summer and winter visitor. However all visits to the Mai Po reserve require you to have a permit and all visits must be booked before you turn up. Full details on bookings, tours, locations and accommodation for both Mai Po and The Wetlands Park can be found at the reserve’s websites. (see below) Hong Kong has a wealth of bird watching areas and reserves and we couldn’t possibly visit them all in the short time we were there. We decided to visit the islands to the north and try and pick up some of the coastal species. The New Territories are separated from the urban sprawl of Kowloon by the Lion Mountains and one of the delights of this area is the archipelago of small islands that you can visit on an “Island Hopping tour” These islands are virtually untouched by tourism and you can get superb walks on them and thus pick up some interesting species. Indeed one of the delights of Hong Kong are the birds that you see from the boat and all the way on this trip we were accompanied by Giant Egrets dazzling white against the sun. Ospreys and White Bellied Sea Eagles (an uncommon resident) sat on posts and marker buoys whilst Kingfishers the size of crows seems to be all around. Pulling in at Tap Mun Island Crested Mynah birds flew around us in flocks. A short walk inland produced a Blue Whistling Thrush, about the size of a rook with deep purple plumage sitting on top of a house. This is the joy of Hong Kong as you can see mountain species and shore birds in the same day on the same island if you wish. It may not be everyone’s idea of a birdwatching paradise but I can’t wait to get back and go those areas we missed out on this trip!

Maps/guidebooks There are many other reserves and good sites for birds in Hong so I would advise you to go on the web and see what other birders recommend. As far as guide books go these are freely available from the Hong Kong tourist board before you go, but also as you walk through the exit at the airport there are a wealth of leaflets and guides for you to take. Do get “Hong Kong Walks” and “Discover Hong Kong Nature” both of which have details of excellent walks. There is also a very good Government run map shop where you can buy superb, detailed maps of various scales. The shop is situated in Kowloon at 380 Nathan Road just beneath the Eaton Hotel.

Field Guides

The Birds of South East Asia Robson

The Birds of Hong Kong and South East China, Viney, Phillips and Ying

Collins Field Guide to the Birds of South EastAsia King, Dickinson & Woodcock.

Getting There Flying to Hong Kong is becoming ever easier as prices fall as cheaper airlines start to challenge the big carriers. We travelled with Cathy Pacific, both them and British Airways have regular flights but a glance at the Sunday papers travel pages can produce some very good bargains either as flights alone or with accommodation.

Accommodation From luxury hotels to budget accommodation Hong Kong has it all. There are youth hostels but beware often Hong Kong camping sites are simply a field with absolutely none of the amenities you would expect on a European site.

Places visited:

Eating Hong Kong is awash with restaurants of every kind imaginable. Market stalls and open-air ‘takeaways’ offer good fare. The local guidebooks you can pick up at the airport give some very good ideas as to where to eat. Seafood in particular is amazing here.

Getting around Most people speak English and taxis are very cheap but it’s a good idea to get your hotel to write down their name and address in Mandarin characters and also where you want to go so you can show it to the taxi driver just in case. Busses too are very cheap and there’s also a railway system that can take you deep into the New Territories. You will need the exact fare for the busses as no change is given. You can buy an Octopus card that can be used on several forms of transport.

Long Haul Tips You are going to have to put up with at least a twelve hour flight and its a good idea to take your shoes off and make sure you go for regular walks during the flight as well as exercising your legs and arms regularly. Keep up your water intake to avoid dehydration.

Picture – Blackfaced Spoon Bill One of the mega ticks for British Birder Hong Kong has to offer. Identified by its extensive black facial skin and short shaggy crest. A common winter visitor to Deep Bay and Mai Po.

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