Thursday 12 June 2014

Birding in Hong Kong

I arrived in HK on mid afternoon on Saturday. At 6.30am the next morning I was waiting outside an MTR station for David, who was going to show me a few of the best birding sites in the territory. I have no shame, it's just so much easier, especially when without transport, to find somebody to do help you out, even if it means paying for it. Over the years I've done it in Argentina, on Tobago and St Lucia, and in Australia, and every time it has resulted in a brilliant day out and fabulous memories. Despite it being not the greatest time of year for birding out in HK, it still lived up to expectations, and we saw heaps.

First stop the forest reserve of Tai Po Kau, one of the few remaining unspoiled areas in HK, and after a short but steep climb we were happily birding one of the many different trails, and seeing (but mostly hearing) all manner of interesting birds. Unfortunately the weather had different ideas, and some torrential downpours saw us stuck under a shelter for the better part of an hour. As with all forest birding it was very difficult, and I didn't take a single photo worth posting here, so you'll have to take my word for it that Silver-eared Mesia and Blue-winged Minla are bloody fantastic. It was a hefty slog round a small part of the reserve in very humid weather, but well worth it, and eventually I had good views of nearly everything, with heard-onlys reduced to only a few.

Next stop, mid-morning, was the fabled reserve of Mai Po, on the edge of the New Territories and opposite the Chinese megacity of Shenzen. Very few permits are given, so I had had to organise mine well in advance. Once signed in we passed several commercial fishponds, well-populated by these, which I found to be strangely familiar...

Kentish Pond Heron
Once past the tonnes of fish we hit the reserve proper. It's an old shrimp pond complex that has been allowed to revert fully to mangroves, and also has some excellent scrapes. Birds were everywhere, and we collected fifteen species of wader sitting out the high tide very easily, including Nordmann's Greenshank which is pretty rare bird. We made our way out to the shores of Deep Bay to discover that the tide probably had another three hours before any mud was exposed, so I took the opportunity to have a short kip as we bobbed about. Yes, bobbed about - the hide is floating. To get to it you have to walk along a long floating boardwalk, which is supported by barrels on a channel through the mangroves. It would have been pretty easy to fall in, but I managed to make it to the end without incident. I felt much better after my sleep, but there was still no mud! Periodically flights of wader came in and circled, before heading back inland, but finally the water receded and as soon as it did the birds started to feed busily. Highlights included loads of both species of Sand Plover, as well as quite a few Black-faced Spoonbill. The wader tally increased to close to 30, and even though the number of birds present was likely a fraction of what it might have been earlier in the year, it was still an impressive spectacle for somebody used to the Thames foreshore.

With the day heading to a close (it being the Tropics the days are not as extended or as curtailed as they are here), we made our way back to the entrance for some much-needed water, and headed to Long Valley, and agricultural area. The much hoped-for Painted Snipe was seen here, as well as more Prinias, some Red-billed Starlings, and several Long-tailed Shrikes. How I got through the day I'm not really sure, but I did sleep very well on the tube on the way back to Lantau! I'll write up the full list in due course, maybe even right after this, but it was a great day - you just can't beat foreign birding, as I'm sure I've said many times before. You have to work so much harder, but it is a lot more rewarding. Photography on the day was not easy, but my priority was to see the birds. A visit another time and I'd know more about where to go and what to target - especially that Mesia!

Plain Prinia

Long-tailed Shrike - juv

Common Tailorbird

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