Highlights of Hong Kong birding and scenic tours, winter 2003-04

Till its demise at the end of March this year (2004), FirstStep Nature Tours was one of few eco-tour companies in Hong Kong. Mainly ran tours to Mai Po Marshes, with an emphasis on birds; but also birding tours to other locations, as well as some hikes, and scenery tours.

I was the chairman - and eventually also secretary, manager, bookings clerk and main guide.

To help show what can be done and seen during an eco-tour in Hong Kong, here are highlights of tours from autumn 2003 to the end of March 2004.

Mai Po Marshes, 29 March 2004

A dull, grey, overcast afternoon with some drizzle - not grand picnic weather, but about right for boosting bird numbers, as northbound migrants hit the grim conditions along the South China coast and maybe halt. Little surprise, then, that Barn Swallows were much in evidence over ponds by the Mai Po access road; they and Little Swifts were also hawking insects low over the trees.

We drove down the border fence road, finding Pond 20 was quiet, but over 26 Black-faced Spoonbills roosting on the scrape. The forecast was for the tide to be just falling to 2.0 metres, so we headed to the Boardwalk.

The tideline was already further off than the forecast tide height suggested, but there were plenty of shorebirds in view - including relatively close Greater and Lesser sandplovers, Kentish plover, Pacific Golden Plover, Curlew Sandpipers. Single White-breasted and Black-capped Kingfishers appeared on our left; an Osprey perched on a tyre amidst the mud, devouring a fish.

There were Heuglin's Gulls on the tideline, with a summer-plumage Great Black-headed Gull asleep amongst them; an immature Black-tailed Gull was nearby.

We left, handed the permit in by shop closing time (5pm), then walked bunds past fishponds by the access road. Barn Swallows abounded - hundreds were flying low over the ponds, perching on wires, resting on a bund. There were Yellow, White and Grey Wagtails, Red-throated Pipits. And a Wryneck - rather uncommon in Hong Kong - perched on a wire, and allowed excellent views (albeit the light was getting murky!)

Mai Po Marshes, 27 March 2004

Noticing a White-breasted Kingfisher on wire over a fishpond as we approached Mai Po, we stopped to look at it. Two other kingfisher species appeared - Pied and Common. Red-throated Pipits and Yellow Wagtails fed on fishpond bunds. Other birds from this spot included egrets and swallows. Not a bad start, given we hadn't even reached the car park!

We walked the path along the reserve's southern border, detouring to the hide overlooking Pond 11 to scan through the assembled Spotted Redshank, also finding Black-tailed Godwits, a Curlew Sandpiper, Marsh Sandpipers, Common Greenshank and a probable Long-billed Dowitcher (which was mostly asleep!).

Near the education centre we found birds including Garganey and Black-winged Stilts. Then, with the tide set to start falling in Deep Bay, we headed back to the minibus, and along the border fence road. Pond 20 was much quieter than during winter, but there were at least 20 Black-faced Spoonbills.

It was time for the Boardwalk. The tide was indeed dropping, and several hundred shorebirds were feeding on the newly exposed mud - not quite as impressive as yesterday apparently (35 shorebird species at Mai Po then), but still impressive, with Greater Sandplovers, Kentish Plover, Great Knot, Red-necked Stints, Eurasian Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwits, a great flock of Pied Avocets, a Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, as well as Caspian Terns and Heuglin's Gulls.

Mai Po Marshes, 21 March 2004

Our first Mai Po tour since the reserve's ridiculous closure (on 30 January) during the bird flu outbreak; and a private tour for a visiting birder. It proved a good outing. Walking in, we found a good selection of birds - including over 20 Black-faced Spoonbills in flight, and a Yellow Bittern flushed from a reedy channel - and stopped to check shorebirds roosting on Pond 11. From the hide here, we found most were Spotted Redshank, along with a few Common Redshank, tens of Marsh Sandpipers and Black-tailed Godwits, a Ruff and a Long-billed Dowitcher (rare in Hong Kong).

Near the education centre, we heard Penduline Tits, and were lucky to find a party of at least eight of these handsome little birds feeding in Phragmites. The freshwater/sedge pond produced four Black-winged Stilts: lovely birds in a fine setting.

With the high tide almost due, we accelerated, and headed along the Boardwalk. Many hundreds of shorebirds were arrayed along the tideline in front of us; the tide slowly pushed them in, then stood still, and eventually slowly receded. Most of the shorebirds were Marsh Sandpipers; Common Greenshank were in clusters in the shallow water, a pack of Eurasian Curlew also stood in the shallows, a Whimbrel by them, and nine Caspian Terns also staying close to the curlew.

At least three Bar-tailed Godwits fed in the water; a single Pied Avocet with a broken wing was a sad sight - just a week ago, I saw maybe 4000 Pied Avocets here (thanks to special permission to be in ther reserve): all but this one had gone, so too the gulls that had wintered in Deep Bay (early for them to depart, in a remarkably warm early spring). Three Ruff fed near the Marsh Sandpipers.

Other shorebirds were even closer, feeding on the mud: maybe 20 Grey Plover, eight or more Greater Sandplovers - some in fine summer plumage, around ten Kentish Plovers, a Lesser Sandplover, ten Great Knot, maybe 15 Curlew Sandpipers, four Red-necked Stint.

Once sated with shorebirds, we returned to the reserve proper, and walked south to Pond 20. This was relatively quiet, with the duck flocks much diminished; a Black-capped Kingfisher flashed past as we walked. Returning to the car park, we found over 20 Garganey by the education centre, and a White-breasted Kingfisher on wires between fish ponds.

In all, 63 species - 48 of them new for our client.

Tsim Bei Tsui, 11 March 2004

Another trip to Tsim Bei Tsui in lieu of Mai Po being closed (for bird flu; politics). We had a pleasant stroll along the border fence, finding a good selection of wetland birds, including Black-faced Spoonbill and White-breasted Kingfisher; also a distant flock of well over a thousand Pied Avocets. As we returned to the minibus, five Chinese Grosbeaks flew over our heads, and landed in tree tops, affording fine views.

Tsim Bei Tsui, 4 March 2004

We again visited this site at Deep Bay as Mai Po closed because of bird flu (hmm...) - making this a Tsim Bei Tsui Wetland Experience - and again could look across to mudflats in front of Mai Po, see that birds there look in fine fettle.

We began at vantage points on the tip of the Mong Tseng Peninsula, looking across the waters of Deep Bay. There were large rafts of ducks, especially hundreds of Northern Pintail, as well as Common Teal, Eurasian Wigeon and - beyond them - around 70 Greater Scaup. There were also perhaps 30 or more Great Crested Grebes scattered across the water (like the scaup, this is a species we haven't found at Mai Po during our tours this winter - Tsim Bei Tsui is better for these birds of more open water).

We strolled down to the border fence, and along the road to the place with a vew across lower mangroves, to the mudflats. Birds here included at least 18 Black-faced Spoonbills in a group; all distant, mostly asleep. Nearby, we found a Black-capped Kingfisher on a post; it was the first of four kingfisher species, the others being Common, White-breasted and Pied (a pair giving fine views in flight over and perched by one of the fishponds). There was also a Silky Starling on a wire. (But no Eagle Owl on the small cliff!)

Halting at the bridge over a large creek, we checked roosting egrets and Grey Herons, and noticed a sleeping Black-faced Spoonbill beside them. It was much closer than the other spoonbills and, happily, awoke to look around and show off its bill, and faint sulphur breast patch (the beginnings of summer plumage).

Other birds by the ponds included singing Plain and Yellow-bellied Prinias, a Long-tailed Shrike; and we heard but failed to see Dusky Warbler and Siberian Rubythroat.

The tide had pushed in as we walked back, and mud across the low mangroves teemed with Spotted Redshank, Common Greenshank, and a smattering of Marsh Sandpipers. Back on the peninsula, we again 'scoped the bay - finding over 400 Heuglin's Gulls as well as Common Shelduck on the water, a distant Dalmatian Pelican on the mud in front of Mai Po. And, amongst several hundred Common Black-headed Gulls, a summer-plumage Saunders' Gull - picked out at first as it had a black hood (Saunders' Gulls coming into summer plumage here earlier than Black-headed).

Tai Po Kau, Shuen Wan and Tsim Bei Tsui, 1 March 2004

Again this was a tour for a visting birder, this time splashing out on a minibus (partly to ensure returning in time for a train to Guangzhou). Again, we started in Tai Po Kau, but after being lively yesterday the forest was again in frustrating mode. there were birds - including Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Chestnut Bulbul, Grey-chinned Minivet, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, and Rufous-capped Babbler seen well - after only hearing them on previous two visits, also two Grey-cheeked Fulvettas, not found on either of the previous visits. We cut the visit short as the birds weren't performing..

Then, we headed east from Tai Po, to a barbecue site near Ting Kok, which I'd been told was a vantage for perhaps seeing White-bellied Sea-Eagles. With the farmland here, it was far easier to find birds than in the forest - they included over 120 Silky Starlings and a "Chinese" (or Mandarin) Blackbird; and we found a sea-eagle soaring over a headland.

Halting at nearby Shuen Wan, we found birds including a Black-capped Kingfisher, Common Buzzard and three Blue Magpies. A Crested Serpent-Eagle soared over the hillside above, then suddenly dropped from view

At Tsim Bei Tsui, we saw: Great Crested Grebes as yesterday, as well as hundreds of ducks - mostly Common Teal, Northern Pintail, also Common Shelduck. There were three Dalmatian Pelicans on mudflats in front of Mai Po, and at least 10 Black-faced Spoonbills, four of them feeding in the shallow water.

There was again a shorebird roost at a mangrove fringed lagoon - over 1000 Spotted Redshank, with a Black-tailed Godwit and a Long-billed Dowitcher (rare in Hong Kong).

Tai Po Kau and Tsim Bei Tsui, 29 February 2004

Like the 27th, this was a day out for a visiting birder (from the US), travelling by publich transport. We again started at Tai Po Kau, but - because this was a misty, grey morning? - birds seemed far more active; for much of our walk, it was "like being in one big flock of birds."

Walking up the road, we saw four species of bulbul in one tree - Chinese, Red-whiskered (aka Crested), Chestnut and Mountain (rare in HK, tho three seen the previous day); and single Ashy and Hair-crested.drongose close by. Other birds during our visit included Grey-chinned Minivet, Fork-tailed Sunbird, Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker, Yellow-cheeked Tit, and a Mountain Tailorbird we only heard.

After lunch by Tai Po Market station, we took a taxi ride west across much of the New Territories, to Tsim Bei Tsui - to at least see something of Deep Bay. From the tip of the Mong Tseng Peninsula, we saw over 30 Great Crested Grebes, as well as hundreds of ducks. From the road along the edge of the bay, we peered through the fence, across low mangroves, and found ca 80 Black-faced Spoonbills, as well as birds including an Osprey. A large falcon joined soaring Black Kites, then plummetted down behind the mangroves: I figured it might be a Saker, but it was surely a Peregrine (which we later saw perched here).

A Crested Serpent-Eagle soared high over the ponds. With the tide almost high, shorebirds were roosting at a muddy lagoon - there were hundreds of Spotted Redshank, with some Common Greenshank, two Curlew Sandpipers. Continuing along the fence, we notched up all four Deep Bay kingfisher species. An Eastern Marsh-Harrier glided over the mangroves; there were tens of Yellow Wagtails and Richard's Pipits at an open, grassy area. Walking back, along the fence, we saw a Carrion Crow - rare in Hong Kong, though this individual had been seen a few times this winter - with Collared Crowas feeding on dead fish.

We also met four local birders, who told us they'd seen a Northern Eagle Owl.at 5pm the previous day. It was already past five, so we scoped the small cliff it had perched on, and a sharp-eyed member of the four picked out the owl, perched on a small tree. Wonderful!

This brought the day's tally to 73 species seen by the client, with at least another six heard or seen only by the leader (shame on me!).

Tai Po Kau, Shuen Wan and Long Valley, 29 February 2004

This was our first birding tour since Mai Po was closed as supposed measure to protect people from bird flu (ahem!); a day out for a birder from the UK. As alternatives to Mai Po, we tried two other marshy spots.

First, though, we spent the morning in Tai Po Kau Forest Reserve. Soon after walking into the reserve, we had fine views of a Yellow-cheeked Tit; soon afterwards a loudly whistling Scarlet Minivet perched in a treetop, showing off his brilliant plumage. But this good start was followed by several "dry" patches, as Tai Po Kau seemingly opted to be in frustrating mode. We found occasional birds - Chestnut Bulbul, Grey-chinned Minivet female Fire-breased Flowerpecker amongst them - but it took time to find our only flock, mostly bulbuls and minivets, with both Blue-winged Leafbird (escapee), and Orange-bellied Leafbird nearby. We only glimpsed a bunting (probably Tristram's), and species we only heard included three Pygmy Wren-babblers and a Mountain Tailorbird (both locally rare, though with numbers increasing since the first sightings within the past few years).

But we also found patience can be rewarded; waiting opposite a flowering coral tree, we saw a dazzing Fork-tailed Sunbird arrive to feast on nectar.

After lunch by Tai Po Market station, we took a taxi east, to Shuen Wan, and surprised the driver by getting out and promptly walking through a tumbledown fence to the side of an unkempt, mangrove dotted pool. Who cared what he thought - we were promptly 'scoping a Black-capped Kingfisher; sitting as bold as you please on a roadside telegraph pole. There were other birds of farmland and marsh, including Black-necked Starlings (HK trash birds!), Silky Starlings, a Common Buzzard, Little Ringed Plovers. Two Pied Kingfishers hovered over a neighbouring pond.

Then, we took a minibus, train and taxi to Long Valley in north Hong Kong, and spent the warm afternoon roaming the rough trails that crisscross the mostly damp fields. Little Bunting; Snipe crouched in mud at the main pools - as they flushed, most revealed themselves to be Common, but one Pintail Snipe headed right (and refused to flush again), there were also Wood Sandpipers. There were plenty of Yellow Wagtails, Olive-backed and Richard's pipits, and a close Little Bunting, as well as a Buff-bellied Pipit. Also at least eight Fan-tailed Warblers (Zitting Cisticolas), perching promininently in grass - apparently including fledglings.

Many thanks to Julan Mitchell for allowing us to use his photos of Tai Po Kau, and two Fan-tailed Warblers.

Lantau Island and Cheung Chau, 21 February 2004

This was the second of two day outings for a New York couple, who had emailed to say they were "happiest with a mix of culture and nature ... happy [with] walking [but not] strenuous climbing." We aimed for a variation on our "Trails and Temples" tour, with less hiking, more places.

We met at Mui Wo ferry pier, on Lantau, and clambered into the bus to Ngong Ping, for Hong Kong's best bus ride - along the south coast of Lantau, then up into the hills, to the base of the Big Buddha. We climbed the steps to the base of the Buddha, to survey Ngong Ping, and hills including Lantau Peak, where mists swirled around the summit.

Then, along a track through the Tea Gardens - quickly leaving behind the tourists who had begun arriving, and who mostly wouldn't venture beyond the Big Buddha and nearby Po Lin Monastery.

After strolling through a plantation, we emerged at an open area affording dramatic views of reservoir, hillsides, and rugged Lantau Peak looming above. A scramble up a hilltop, and we enjoyed even better views, including the Buddha in apparently wild surroundings.

We followed a short trail with posts identifying trees, and stopped for cool drinks at the Tea Gardens Restaurant. Arriving back at the bust terminus, we found tannoys blaring taped music and lunch announcements; with crowds building, and the Disney-does-Buddhism atmosphere (big on money-making, small on tranquil contemplation), it was time to leave.

A short taxi ride took us to the far lovelier, Kwun Yam Temple, set on a. wooded hillside overlooking a valley dotted with temples. Shoes removed, we wandered into the quiet, main hall, then climbed steps to the upper room, where "ten thousand" golden Buddha statuettes are arrayed around the circular roof, with five larger statues in the middle of the room, and orchids as decorations.

Then, another taxi ride to our lunch stop - The Stoep, an outdoor restaurant beside the main beach on Lantau's south coast. Here, we had Mediterranean-style dips with home baked bread, fried goat's cheese and Greek salad, washed down with cups of tea and a glass of gin n lime.

We then caught a bus back towards the ferry pier; but with time to spare, we halted at Pui O, and walked past old rice paddies grazed by feral water buffalo, to another beach, with views over islands and sea to the south, and Lantau's hills. Then, to the pier, and the small, inter-island ferry to Cheung Chau.

Though Cheung Chau is home to over 20,000 people, there are no cars on the island (well, unless you count the police car, which doesn't appear often), and we wandered the pedestrian only streets between tight-packed shops and houses, as well as to the beach and Windsurfing Centre - where it seemed only fair we stop for some gin n tonic, and Coke (after all, we're not Boot Camp Tours!). We checked out the Pak Tei Temple, dedicated to Cheung Chau's "patron saint" Pak Tei, the North King. Then to the harbour front, to see fishing boats and quayside buildings with refurbished boat engines.

After beer at a cheap and cheerful cafe, it was time for a seafood dinner in one of the restaurants by the harbour. Thanks to it being a fine Saturday, the open-air restaurants here were doing a roaring trade, with many of the customers local fishing families - this isn't just some made-for-tourists place. We dined on spicy fried squid, prawns in soy sauce, chili sea bass, spicy beancurd, and choi sum with garlic, washed down with hot tea and cool Tsingtao beer. Then, to a nearby bar for another glass or two of beer and gin n tonic, before the tour closed with a ferry ride back to the big city.

Hong Kong Island, 20 February 2004

This was the first of two day outings for a New York couple, who had emailed to say they were "happiest with a mix of culture and nature ... happy [with] walking [but not] strenuous climbing." We opted for an itenirary covering Hong Kong Island, beginning with Dragon's Back.

Unlike yesterday (different group), we hiked Dragon's Back from north to south - though we also took a short cut allowing us to cover only the best of the trail here.

Again, there was some mist, but again the views were wonderful, the tranquility a far cry from the island's north shore. Black Kites rode thermals over the ridge, a Kestrel hovered, and we met a paraglider who'd been waiting over two hours for the wind to ease.

At Shek O, we strolled along the headland, and across to and up the islet with the grandstand views over Hong Kong Island's east coast. We wandered narrow streets between village houses, before a fine lunch at the Chinese-Thai Restaurant.

Then, we rode in a bus and a taxi to Stanley, where the ever popular Stanley Market proved a good place for buying souvenirs for folks back home; and for a chill drink on this warm, humid day (more like late March than late Feb). Bus 6 took us up and over the island - with better views than the tunnel buses - to Central, and a chance for our guests to drop off their souvenirs.

Then, a taxi up the Peak, and another stroll - east from the Peak Tram station, to the vantage for picture postcard views across Victoria Harbour. It was late afternoon, and Black Kites were gliding by at eye level, heading for their nearby roosts. Though the mist was returning, we saw the lights of major buildings such as the Center (sp!) come on. Then, it was time to close the tour with a drink in one of the restaurants near the Peak Tram station.

Dragon's Back and Shek O, 19 February 2004

No birding today - but a short hike offered as one of the "sporting activities" options for people attending a large convention. We rode a minibus to Shek O Road, then set off up the section of Hong Kong Trail that crosses Dragon's Back, the spine of Hong Kong Island's southeastern headland.

We climbed the winding trail to the top of the ridge, to look out across Shek O below us, and the South China Sea. Though it was misty, it was an impressive view, seemingly far from the urbanisation along the north shore of the island. We followed the trail up to a peak with even better views, with Stanley to our left, the bays and headlands of eastern Hong Kong Island to our right; then switchbacked down, up, down again, before turning left, off the ridge with its grass and scrub, and into forest.

The forest trail was easy going, winding along contours, and we emerged from the trees, dropped down steps, and waited a few minutes for the minibus to arrive (I'd phoned the driver). Then, to Shek O.

Here, we checked out the little Tin Hau temple, its exterior decorated with paintings on tiles. This is set in an old fishing village, but strolling along the road to the tip of the headland, we soon passed grander, low-rise apartments and houses. One of these seems to be a folly, designed as if it were part of Beijing's Forbidden City.

We made a detour to enjoy surf washing against the granite of the headland's extremity, then crossed the footbridge, to climb tracks up an islet with grand views of this marvellous stretch of coast. It was then time to retrace our steps, stopping for chilled drinks in a restaurant before the minibus back to the city.

Mai Po Marshes, 29 January 2004

Our first Mai Po tour since Chinese New Year - and, as it turned out, likely our last Mai Po tour for a few weeks. As so often, we started by covering the southern fringe of the reserve. We didn't find any of the thrushes, bluetails etc that fairly invaded Hong Kong during the recent cold spell - but there were plenty of birds to admire, all of them looking fit and well.

We found a smattering of songbirds, including a confiding Dusky Warbler, Plain Prinias, Olive-backed Pipits, and flocks of White-cheeked and Silky Starllings. Hong Kong's star bird, Black-faced Spoonbill, proved readily seen - minutes into the reserve, we saw ca 15 roosting on an island in front of the Tower Hide. There were the expected Eurasian Wigeon and Northern Pintail on the waterfowl collection ponds. Common Kingfishers only raced past; but White-breased Kingfishers were obliging, and just before we returned to the car park a Pied Kingfisher perched on a wire, then flew over the road in front of us, hovered over a pond, stooped down, and flew off with a fish in its bill.

With the north side of the reserve and the Boardwalk awaiting, we didn't have much time for shilly-shallying - and with just two guests, we kept up a fair pace (even during a lull for gift shopping, there was a new bird, a Blackbird behind the centre). Into the minibus, and along the border fence road, to Pond 20. Here, a check of our "eagle tree" revealed a perched, adult Imperial Eagle - very nice through telescopes. There were 20 or more Tufted Duck nearby, Common Teal in more distant flocks; a Collared Crow in a tree.

Then, to the Boardwalk. The tide wasn't perfect - nor the light on this grey afternoon - but the tide was relatively high for daytime this winter; scoping the tideline we saw Pied Avocets, a few Black-faced Spoonbills, Common Shelduck, and 13 Dalmatian Pelicans. On slightly nearer mud were Eurasian Curlew, Grey Plover, Kentish Plover; and a tight-packed squad of Little and Great egrets. A Peregrine was perched on one post, an Osprey on another; a Black-capped Kinfisher on a branch washed up by the tide. An Eastern Marsh-Harrier drifted over the mangroves and mudflats.

Heading back to the car park, we stopped at a drained pond, where a small group of spoonbills included one Eurasian. After leaving the reserve, we halted at another drained pond, adding Green and Wood Sandpipers and Cattle Egret to the list; also Little Swifts hawking insects low over the ponds. These brought the tour list to 64 species.

The next day, the HK Government decided to close Mai Po to public visits, to guard humans against bird flu, which has not been confirmed at Mai Po this winter. Grrr....

Mai Po Marshes, 18 January 2004

The weather was quite unusual for mid-January (especially after a dry few weeks): showery and wet, which made it harder to birdwatch in the dim light. Before it rained heavily, we had a close look at some common birds, e.g. Common Kingfisher, Moorhen, and White-cheeked Starling. As the weather became worse, we returned to the car park and got into the minibus to head for pond 6, where we stopped for a moment to count the Black-faced Spoonbills.

The group split into two; one heading to the Boardwalk, and the other following me down to ponds 16 and 20. At pond 20, there were lots of waterfowl: Pintail, Wigeon and others. We stayed at a hide overlooking pond 16 for a fairly long time, as we were sheltered and there were waders coming in. An Imperial Eagle perched on a distant tree.

Birds from the Boardwalk included Dalmatian Pelican, Osprey, thousands of gulls, Caspian Tern, Curlew, Avocet, but no sandpipers. The scene of thousands of birds flying in response to the changing tide was very impreesive; all the visiors were excited because of this.

Mai Po Marshes, 15 January 2004

About 50 species seen including two different species of falcon fighting off the boardwalk, however due to the haze and distance, it was difficult to identify the exact species. Tide very low but still easy to see 2 Dalmatian Pelicans, especially when they were flying after scared by the AFCD patrol boat. Couldn't find the Oriental Stork. About 80 Black-faced Spoonbills found in the reserve. AFCD fed the birds in one of the gei wai by fish purchased from fishermen for the compensation of their loss to cormorants; attracted hundreds of egrets, herons and Black Kites around the pond. Three out of four kingfisher species found (Common, Black-capped and White-breasted).

Mai Po Marshes, 11 January 2004

An Oriental Stork flying over and roosting in the reserve - giving us a very good look when both flying and roosting - was the highlight of the day; may be the best bird of the year! Crested Goshawk, Imperial Eagle, Osprey, Common Buzzard, Eastern Marsh Harrier and Black Kite were the day's birds of prey. Three Dalmation Pelicans off the Boardwalk together with a few Whimbrel. We also found Common, White-breasted and Black-capped kingfishers in the reserve. Over 10 Tufted Duck on Pond 20. Oh, yes - there were also Black-faced Spoonbills, in flilght and at rest, but most of our attention focused on the stork.

Tai Po Kau, Long Valley and Tai Mo Shan, 11 January 2004

This was an outing for an avid birder who had previously been to Mai Po, had seen most/all Hong Kong waterbirds, and had a list (not long!) of potential life birds. Most of these occur in Tai Po Kau Forest Nature Reserve, where we started. We notched up three of the targets here: Rufous-capped Babbler, a handsome Yellow-cheeked Tit, and a pair of Streak-Breasted Scimitar-Babblers that responded wonderfully to a whistled imitation of the song. Other species included Scarlet Minivet, Fork-tailed Sunbird, Pallas's and Yellow-browed warblers, Olive-backed Pipit, Silver-eared Mesia, Blue-winged Minla, a Great Barbet heard singing. Sadly, there wasn't even a hint of wintering thrushes or Tristram's Buntings

Long Valley proved even quieter; there were shorebirds including several Common Snipe and Little Ringed Plovers, as well as Green, Wood and Common Sandpipers; and a smattering of songbirds such as Yellow Wagtail, Richard's and Olive-backed Pipits. But not much else - not one bunting, let alone hoped for Little. But as we left, there was another target species: Silky Starling, with a party of eight flying close by us.

For the afternoon, we headed up Tai Mo Shan. The Kap Lung Forest Trail made for a pleasant walk, but was unproductive for birding. So too a brief stroll along the private road that winds towards the summit of Tai Mo Shan (photo above left): the views were good, but local specialities like Large Grass-Warbler remained hidden (not that this suprised us - they're easier to find when they sing, in spring).

Mai Po Marshes, 8 January 2004

We had a relatively long wait for our first kingfisher - a Common that whizzed low over a creek, landing briefly on reeds. Soon afterwards we enjoyed full field telescope views (45x) of another, perched Common Kingfisher.

Also during the circuit along the path to the Education Centre, then back through fishponds, we saw plenty of egrets, herons, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Pintail and Great Cormorants, and had fine views of birds including Long-tailed Shrike, Olive-backed Pipit, Daurian Redstart, Brown Flycatcher, Stonechat, and Grey Starling. A Dusky Warbler was singing - early for this species to be in song, maybe as (thanks to global warming), the current weather is hardly wintry. We also had rather distant views of two Black-faced Spoonbills - but would soon find this globally endangered species was relatively plentiful, scattered around the reserve, today.

There were only eight or so Black-faced Spoonbills at the usual roost pond. But at least 80 more were on a nearby bund, while others fed in the water. They were concentrated here - along with hundreds of egrets and herons that festooned the mangroves, Great Cormorants in trees, six Black Kites in one tree - as Mai Po reserve staff had been feeding "trash" fish, in an effort to satiate the appetites of cormorants that might otherwise have been off raiding fishponds. A lone Purple Heron was on a rather more distant tree. Three Silky Starlings flew in, and landed in a tree just metres from us.

Driving on, we halted briefly to watch a Peregrine mobbing a Black Kite; the falcon swooped low over the trees, and a perched Large-billed Crow flew off - maybe figuring it didn't fancy becoming a mid-morning meal. We also stopped at the main scrape, and dipped on an Oriental Stork reported there yesterday.

Then, to Pond 20. There were the usual ducks - mainly Common Teal, some Tufted Duck; there was at last a second species of kingfisher - a White-breasted; and the star was an adult Imperial Eagle perched atop a tree.

Walking south, we watched raptors soaring in thermals - mostly Black Kites, also a distant harrier, and an Osprey. Our final pond held more duck, as well as five Black-faced Spoonbills, which were walking through the water, sweeping their bills from side to side in the manner that's led Taiwanese birders to nickname them black-faced dancers.

Mai Po Marshes, 1 January 2004

A hazy day at Mai Po. About 50 Black-faced Spoonbills in total at pond 11, 16-17, 20. A few Tufted Duck in pond 20. Not a good kingfisher day though, besides a few very close look of Black-capped Kingfishers, other kingfishers flew briefly only. Purple Heron on Pond 8. Because of the low tide [yet, the tide was approaching the highest in daylight hours today], thousands of waders including the sandpipers, curlews were "miles" away across the mudflat.

Mai Po Marshes, 28 December 2003

Walking the circuit along the reserve path to the Education Centre, then back through fishponds, we notched up all four kingfisher species - a Pied flying and hovering over ponds, then disappearing, a White-breasted sitting in the shade of a small building, a Black-capped atop a tree, and several Common Kingfishers, including one close by the path that was lit perfectly to show off its emerald, blue and orange colouring. Other species included the abundant Great Cormorants, along with egrets, Chinese Pond Herons, a Black-crowned Night Heron, and Northern Pintail and Eurasian Wigeon. Two Daurian Redstarts, including a male, gave only poor views, and as we returned to the minibus a few tour members had a good look at a male Red-flanked Bluetail.

Then, we headed down the border fence road. Stopping to try for spoonbills, we noticed that instead of being beside reeds as usual, they were under some trees on a bund, along with Great Egrets. There were at least ten Black-faced and one Eurasian Spoonbills.

We continued in the minibus to Pond 20, where ducks were mainly Common Teal and Tufted Duck, and the star bird was an adult Imperial Eagle, on the top "eagle tree". We strolled down towards the southern end of the reserve, and with the sun from the south enjoyed more impressive, telescope views of the eagle - with its powerful bill, regal pose, and golden nape set off against otherwise dark brown plumage, it was magnificent.

Mai Po Marshes, 26 December 2003

We began with the almost routine walk into the reserve as far as the Education Centre, then making a circuit back to the car park by following tracks through fishponds beside the reserve. We found three kingfisher species - Common, White-breasted, and a Black-capped perched on a footbridge near the Education Centre; but Pied Kingfisher eluded us. Other regulars included Grey Starling, Long-tailed Shrike, a Brown Flycatcher, a Common Buzzard that glided down to perch nearby, as well as Great Cormorants and egrets, which as one time were flying over the reserve in hundreds (maybe disturbed by workmen). The Eurasian Wigeon and Northern Pintail by the Education Centre gave fine views. Also, a drained fishpond held a dense pack of at least a hundred Little Egrets - giving budding wildlife photographers armed with a spanking new, hitech camera chance to practice stalking techniques (lesson one: a degree of stealth is helpful).

We then drove along the border fence road, halting at the spoonbill roost pond to enjoy around 80 Black-faced Spoonbills (roughly eight percent of the world population) as well as a Eurasian Spoonbill. A mongoose appeared on the road on our left, trotted away a few paces, then vanished into grass.

Pond 20 had rather fewer ducks than normal lately, with only Tufted Duck close by. Walking south, we found an adult Imperial Eagle in a distant tree. A White-bellied Sea-Eagle flew close overhead, and cruised across the reserve.

We tried the Boardwalk; but although the tide was approaching its daytime "high", the tideline was way off, and the expanse of mudflats held little but a few Eurasian Curlew, as well as mudskippers flapping about near the hide. A Peregrine and an Osprey perched on posts out in the mud.

Driving back towards the car park - and the city - we made a quick stop to watch an immature Imperial Eagle soaring over the ponds.

Tai Po Kau, Wu Kau Tang and Shuen Wan, 22 December 2003

It was a tad chilly as we started into Hong Kong's second best birding site, Tai Po Kau Forest Reserve, but with little wind the day soon became comfortable (unlike the 20th! - this was the second outing for the group of that chill day). As can sometimes happen, the reserve wasn't too generous for views of birds: rarely did any individuals perch long enough to find them with the telescope. But we did encounter plenty of birds, often in flocks - one flock (including hangers-on in the same place) holding at least five Grey-cheeked Fulvettas, a Rufous-capped Babbler, a Streaked-breasted Scimitar-Babbler, two Chestnut Bulbuls, a Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, five or more Pallas's Warblers, a Yellow-browed Warbler, two Yellow-cheeked Tits and two Grey-chinned Minivets. Other species we found included Fork-tailed Sunbirds, an Ashy Minivet, a Short-tailed Bush-Warbler (Asian Stubtail), two Black-faced Laughingthrushes and three Grey-backed Thrushes.

We then headed north and east, for lunch in a Thai restaurant at Tai Mei Tuk.

Then, north again, to stop briefly at Bride's Pool, chiefly to admire the wooded ravine and waterfall (now, in the dry season, only a trickle of water): we were mixing birds and scenery partly as not everyone in the small group was an avid birder. No birds appeared, and we moved on to the nearby village of Wu Kau Tang. Here, we strolled by a tranquil stretch of stream - bordered by dense, old woodland, to the top of Mirror Pool Waterfall, which plunges into a steep ravine. Again, although this area holds birds that would be new for group members, they weren't showing; so we relaxed on rocks by the stream, and enjoyed the views and tranquility - there was no one else around.

Heading back towards the city, we had time to stop at Shuen Wan. Here, the pool was mostly dry, with only patches of water amidst the mud and mangroves; perhaps because of this there were no kingfishers in evidence. But there were other birds, including several new to the two-day list: a Greater Coucal allowed long views through telescopes, a (Chinese) Blackbird, Plain Prinia. There were six Silky Starlings, with a male landing close by and allowing fine views in the afternoon sun.

Bird list for 20 & 22 December (including Japanese names).

Mai Po Marshes and Long Valley, 20 December 2003

Two birds that were surely female or young Amur Falcons (rare in Hong Kong) swept southwest on the wind, too fast for adequate descriptions. At least 150 Grey Starlings festooned a large tree and nearby saplings. We found a drained fishpond, where the mud and remaining shallow water had attracted shorebirds: 20 Pied Avocets, two Common Greenshank, two Spotted Redshank, two Wood Sandpipers, at least five Temminck's Stints, over 15 Little Ringed Plovers. We'd enjoyed a strong first hour's birding; and we hadn't even reached the reserve yet!

This was a private tour for a group of five - and, as it turned out, this was one of the coldest days this year. As we left the city earlier than during regular tours, we arrived near Mai Po at 7.40; and with the shop not due to open for an hour (so we had to wait for our permit), we stopped to investigate fishponds just outside the reserve. Though birds were plentiful, temperatures of around 8C and a fresh wind (pushing wind-chill down to around or below zero, according to a table on Weather Underground of HK) - making for chilly birding.

Just as we started into the reserve, we watched a Daurian Redstart hunting insects on the path. Checking trees, we found birds including a Silky Starling, a Brown Flycatcher, and a Dusky Thrush. We found the expected (virtually guaranteed) cormorants, egrets, herons and ducks, then returned to the car park - near which we were treated to top views of two Pied Kingfishers, hovering over a pool beside us.

Along the border fence road, the almost mandatory stop at the spoonbill roost produced 90 Black-faced Spoonbills. At Pond 20, the Black-necked Grebe (a local rarity) was still present, still only surfacing for nanoseconds at a time. A Black-capped Kingfisher gave a close fly past. Some birds seemed agitated, and we found a young Bonelli's Eagle, flapping low over the far side of the pond. It began soaring, as if to move off, then turned sharply to the left, and stooped into grass at the water's edge. Through a telescope, we saw it had a duck - a female Common Teal? - in a talon; after a few attempts to lift it, the eagle took it to the top of an embankment to feed.

Walking to the end of the road, we added our fourth kingfisher species - White-breasted. An immature Imperial Eagle soared high overhead together with two Black Kites. With some 60 species logged so far, it was time for lunch.

After all the birds at Mai Po, Long Valley in the afternoon was a little quiet (partly as we didn't have much time), though at least it was warmer. We added a few species - Sooty-headed Bulbul, Spotted (Scaly-breasted) Munia, Common Snipe, Fan-tailed Warbler (Zitting Cisticola) - one of which perched close by, permitting views through a scope.

Mai Po Marshes, 18 December 2003

A fairly warm afternoon, with the sun filtering through smog (building in advance of a cold front?). We began by walking into the reserve to near the Tower Hide, then back through fishponds. We found a pretty typical mix of birds - including Common and White-breasted Kingfishers seen very well, Grey Starlings, Long-tailed Shrike, Yellow Wagtail, a Plain Prinia that fed on the ground very close to us before disappearing into grass.

Then, into the minibus, and along the border fence road. First stop here was the spoonbill roosting pond: here, there were at least 30 Black-faced and one Eurasian (White) spoonbills. Luckily, they were all awake, allowing us to appreciate the differences between the spoonbill species. We continuted to Pond 20, where Common Teal abounded, along with Tufted Duck, Northern Pintail and Eurasian Wigeon; but, sadly, the "Imperial Eagle tree" held just a couple of Black Kites. A Northern Lapwing - scarce in Hong Kong - flew over a neighbouring pond.

The tide was forecast to be rising, perhaps high enough to be nearing the Boardwalk hides (we had made this an afternoon tour to coincide with the rising tide). So, down the Boardwalk we went. The tideline was distant - birds did move a little closer while we were there, but it was still tough to pick out Pied Avocets feeding n the shallows; other tideline shorebirds were too far to identify. An Osprey appeared, and sat on a post to pluck a fish. A few Eurasian Curlew were scattered across the mudflats, their calls atmospheric. Best off all were two Black-capped Kingfishers perhed on mounds/sticks in front of the hide - the sun showing off their black caps, pale collars, and intense royal blue upperparts that contrasted with the turquoise of a nearby White-breasted Kingfisher.

Mai Po Marshes, 4 December 2003

Just before entering the reserve, we had very close views of a White-breasted Kingfisher and a Grey Starling. Past the warden's post, we looked for songbirds in the trees, including a fruiting fig tree that had attracted bulbuls, and a male Red-billed (Silky) Starling that perched just metres above us. We paused at times to look at birds like Grey Heron, Great Egret, Chinese Pond-Heron - all so near that they were close to filling the telescope view; through the scope, a Common Kingfisher perched on a reed stem would have made a cracking photo. After watching Wigeon and Northern Pintail by the Education Centre, we turned back to the car park, adding Yellow Wagtail en route.

Then, we took the minibus down the border fence road. First stop was the spoonbill roost pond, which held an impressive gathering of around 180 Black-faced Spoonbills (a researcher had counted them) - roughly 18 percent of the world population! - and at least two Eurasian Spoonbills.

We continued to Pond 20. Here, there were plenty of ducks - Common Teal, Northern Shoveler, Tufted Duck and a Garganey were new for the day. Also a Hong Kong rarity - a Black-necked Grebe, which had been seen here at least the previous two days, and may be only the sixth individual recorded in the territory. It was only thirty metres away, but was prone to dive almost as soon as we looked at it; even so, we had fine views, with its red eye prominent amidst white, grey and black plumage. Small parties of Black-faced Spoonbills flew over; we found a close one, striding around on the mud.

But it was birds of prey that were the highlight as we investigated this southern part of the reserve. Even as we clambered out of the minibus beside Pond 20, we saw an immature Imperial Eagle being harassed by Black Kites; it came towards us, and soared low overhead. Black Kites rode on thermals. Herons and egrets flew from trees, apparently scared by something - and we found a young Bonelli's Eagle, gliding over these trees, then riding air currents with the kites. The kites were also joined by a Common Buzzard, and a Peregrine.

Mai Po Marshes, 27 November 2003

Approaching the Mai Po car park, we halted the minibus for a look at a White-breasted Kingfisher, perched on a nearby wire. Soon after leaving the car park on foot, we found two more kingfisher species: two Pied, and the first of several Commons. Just within the reserve, a Daurian Redstart was in the same place as on our 16 November tour.

At the captive waterfowl ponds, a Black-crowned Night-Heron perched motionless in a tree, and an Intermediate Egret (scarcer than the plentiful Great and Little egrets) stalked the edge of an island. A Peregrine sailed languidly overhead. Retracing our steps to the car park, we found Silky Starlings gathered in a tree.

We then headed down the border fence road - noticing the tide was very low, so the Boardwalk was surely not worth visiting. Egrets abounded; Black Kites circled by our minibus. Around thirty Black-faced Spoonbills were clustered at their main roosting pond, with a couple of Eurasian Spoonbills, and two Black-winged Stilts striding in the shallows. At Pond 20, the adult Imperial Eagle was back in its regular tree. We strolled further along the road, and found an immature (juvenile) Imperial Eagle atop another tree - with a Spotted Eagle just below it (though partly obscured by leaves). In the minibus again, to return to the car park and then the city, we saw our fourth kingfisher species of the day - a handsome Black-capped, flashing white wing patches that contrasted with its royal blue wings and back.

Mai Po Marshes, 23 November 2003

Our first notable bird sighting was a surprise - a flock of around 80 Silky Starlings flying north by the highway as we drove through West Kowloon. With the forecast high tide looking promising for the Boardwalk, we headed here first at Mai Po, halting briefly en route for a look at ten Black-faced Spoonbills.

The tide was indeed good - all too rare in winter nowadays - and we were treated to a classic Boardwalk Bird Show. With the tideline already passing the hide, several thousand waterbirds were arrayed in front of us. Most were Common Black-headed Gulls - at least a thousand, along with hundreds of Common Greenshank, Spotted Redshank, Marsh Sandpipers, Eurasian Curlew, as well as Black-tailed Godwits, Common Redshank and a Whimbrel. When the curlew flew, circling and calling, we picked out a Far-Eastern Curlew (or two), partly by its brown not white rump and underwing.

A host of Pied Avocets - 700-1000 perhaps - were just beyond the gulls, with one landing almost right under the hide. As the tide advanced, gulls forced to swim instead of stand included at least 10 Saunders' Gulls. An Eastern Marsh-Harrier appeared from over the mangroves, stooping at ducks, but missing. An Osprey was perched on a wooden post, with a White-breased Kingfisher immediately beneath it on a shorter post.

A Caspian Tern appeared, circling low over the gulls - its huge red bill obvious in the sunlight - before trying to land but being chased off. Northern Shoveler and Northern Pintail drifted in on the tide. At last, the gulls decided it was time to fly out to roost further out in the bay, to await the falling tide. And we returned to the reserve proper.

We continued along the border fence road, to Pond 20. At least 90 Black-faced Spoonbills were resting on a bund here - so we had seen at least 10 percent of the world population of this threatened bird (known world population around 1000). Three Eurasian (White) Spoonbills were in amongst them. The "eagle tree" was at first empty, but as we walked along and re-checked it, an immature Imperial Eagle perched on top - making a change from the adult seen on previous visits. A Spotted Eagle was in a rather more distant tree. We walked to the end of the road, finding Spot-billed Ducks, then clambered into the minibus to return to the main car park. We clambered out again very soon, as an eagle was being mobbed by kites close by. It was the young Imperial Eagle - and it performed superbly, circling low over a lagoon before dropping into thick grass. Shortly afterwards, a Collared Crow flew alongside the minibus.

We had little time remaining, and made a quick foray into the more visited part of the reserve, enjoying a Long-tailed Shrike just ten metres away, but failing to manage decent views of Silky Starlings that lurked in tree canopies.

Many thanks to tour member Andy Lawson for kind permission to use his wonderful shots of Pied Avocet, Caspian Tern, and spoonbills.

Mai Po Marshes, 20 November 2003

The sky is clear and blue today with a bit of breeze. About 100 Black-faced Spoonbills and 4 species of kingfishers seen. Black Kite, Common Buzzard and Eastern Marsh Harrier were found. And a very good mix and number of egrets and herons aggregating in certain points, and when we walked through, their flying made a very impressive picture for the visitors. Songbirds included Silky and Grey Starlings.

Mai Po Marshes, 16 November 2003

Heading into the reserve we soon found the first of perhaps 40 Grey (White-cheeked) Starlings seen during the morning; also a Pied Kingfisher by a fishpond. We headed along the path to the education centre, finding birds plentiful, including a very close Great Egret, as well as Eurasian Wigeon and Northern Pintail on the captive waterfowl ponds (which hold rather few captive waterfowl year-round, yet have become very popular with wintering ducks), and a White-breasted Kingfisher. Retracing our route, we watched a flock of Silky (Red-billed) Starlings perched on wires near the path, and a close female or young Daurian Redstart chasing insects beside a shrimp pond.

We then drove down the border fence road, stopping near the police post to find seven Black-faced Spoonbills at the pond they favour for resting during the daytime. Then, on to Pond 20, where the seemingly reliable Imperial Eagle was perched in its favourite tree, other birds of prey included two Eastern Marsh-harriers, and a Purple Heron flew past, giving fine views of its long, snake-like neck; a little further on, another Purple Heron was perched atop a mangrove tree, and there was a party of Spot-billed Ducks.

Mai Po Marshes and Tai Po Kau, 9 November 2003

Not a regular tour, but a day's birding in Hong Kong for a couple who were transiting through Hong Kong - arriving at 7.40am, and departing after 11pm. Meeting at Hong Kong International Airport, we headed to Hong Kong's top two birding sites: Mai Po Marshes and Tai Po Kau Forest.

With most winter visitors in, birds were plentiful at Mai Po. Near the car park, we had fine views of at least eight Silky (Red-billed) Starlings. Three Black-faced Spoonbills flew over, and we saw probably the same three birds roosting by a pond along the border fence. We tried the Boardwalk; though the tide was forecast to be reasonably high (around 2.0m), the tideline was over 200 metres away - thanks to the mudflats evidently silting up rapidly along at least this shore, it is fast becoming unusual to enjoy the bay's winter birds being pushed almost right to the hides by incoming tides. A telescope was essential for identifying most birds, which included a Saunders' Gull, five Black-faced Spoonbills, and at least five Great Knot that were lurking incognito amongst roosting Grey Plover. But a Black-capped Kingfisher perched very close by.

Continuing along the border fence road, we found an Imperial Eagle in its trusty tree; nearby was a Spotted Eagle in a tree. An Eastern Marsh-Harrier circled close by, a Common Buzzard flew alongside our minibus for a while. After leaving the reserve, we stopped to check a drained fishpond that had attracted many birds - most obviously, egrets. There were at least 15 Little Ringed Plovers, two Temminck's Stints, five Wood Sandpipers; perhaps 20 Yellow Wagtails and a Red-throated Pipit hunted insects, and a Chinese Starling was a surprise, rather late in the autumn.

Tai Po Kau was relatively quiet, on a clammy afternoon, though we saw Velvet-fronted Nuthatches (likely feral birds) very well, as well as Chestnut Bulbuls, Fork-tailed Sunbird, and heard two Pygmy Wren-Babblers. At least 56 species seen today.

Mai Po Marshes, 2 November 2003

Very hazy at Mai Po, because of a hideous smog that afflicted Hong Kong, making birds hard to see. But still several white-breasted kingfishers, one common kingfisher, and a very close black capped kingfisher along the Boardwalk; 9 black-faced spoonbills feeding in ponds 16 and 17.

Mai Po Marshes, 30 October 2003

With the tide forecast to be low (all day) in Deep Bay, we opted to remain in the reserve, without making a trip to the Boardwalk. There was time to check the banks of a fishpond, where three Oriental Reed-Warblers gave fine views as they sought insects in a stand of reeds. There was another of these large warblers, along with two Dusky and one Yellow-browed warblers, in reeds by the captive waterfowl collection, where a flock of Eurasian Wigeon landed briefly. A Red Turtle-Dove perched on wires; a Brown Flycatcher was remarkably skittish in trees above the path; two Siberian Rubythroats called from dense cover.

Along the border fence, we were unlucky not to find any spoonbills, but found an impressive adult Imperial Eagle perched in a tree, as well as a Purple Heron atop a mangrove bush, an Eastern Marsh-Harrier, two Intermediate Egrets (not always so easy to find at Mai Po, where Little and Great egrets are far commoner). Making our last stop for the morning, we watched a Black-capped Kingfisher making sallies after mudskippers that swarmed a creek bed - and promptly vanished when the kingfisher came near; a young Common Buzzard soared close overhead. A member of our party who noted all birds he saw finished with a tally of 42 species.

Mai Po Marshes, 23 October 2003

A good mix of passage migrants and winter visitors. With the tide high as we arrived, we headed to lagoons to find roosting shorebirds; we found several hundred, mostly the "usual suspects" like Common Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper and Black-tailed Godwit; also seven Great Knot. The lagoon in front of the Tower Hide held one Eurasian and ten Black-faced Spoonbills. Other birds that had also recently arrived for the winter were Great Cormorants, which festooned the trees.

There were plenty of Dusky Warblers - with at least 17 during the morning, most heard, a couple seen very well; also a few Yellow-browed Warblers, three Brown Flycatchers. An immature Spotted Eagle soared over the reserve.

We headed to the Boardwalk, to catch the falling tide; it was disappointing, with workers on "mud scooters" roaming around, stomping mangrove saplings into the mud. But along the tideline were over 20 Pacific Golden Plover and perhaps 50 Pied Avocets; four Ospreys were perched on poles out in the bay.

Towards the southern end of the reserve, there were at least three Eastern Marsh-Harriers, and our fourth Purple Heron of the morning.

Mai Po Marshes, 12 October 2003

A hot, humid day, with shorebirds the highlight. Waiting for the reserve shop to open, we saw birds including a Koel and two Brown Flycatchers in trees beside the car park, two Common Kingfishers by a nearby pond.

Then, with the forecast high tide imminent, we headed down the Boardwalk, to a hide overlooking the Deep Bay mudflats. The tideline was perhaps a couple of hundred metres away, and we were treated to very close views of Whimbrel - some were even landing on the hide, and we could hear them, as well as look down and see their shadows on the mud - as well as Eurasian Curlew, Common Greenshank, Common Redshank and Marsh Sandpipers. Birds including Marsh Sandpipers came closer as the tide pushed in; other flocks left to roost in the reserve. We left as the tide reached the hide.

Checking ponds along the border fence, we found few birds - the best was a Black-capped Kingfisher.

Then, we walked into the reserve, along the southern fringe. A White-breasted Kingfisher perched close by - it was superb through a telescope - then joined another on a wire. We'd seen several flocks of shorebirds departing the mudflats for the reserve, and found a hundred or more outside the Tower Hide - though most were Wood Sandpipers, which are freshwater birds so probably hadn't come from the flats; there were also Common Teal and Eurasian Wigeon. Further along, we tracked down the "missing" shorebirds, and had excellent views from another hide.

There were well over a thousand shorebirds gathered at the shallow lagoon: mainly Marsh Sandpipers, Common Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit, along with smaller numbers of Eurasian Curlew, Whimbrel, Common Redshank, Black-winged Stilts, ca 10 Great and four Red Knot, ca five Grey Plover - one still in partial summer plumage, a Pacific Golden Plover.

There was also a non-bird sighting, surprising one member of our party, who came close to treading on a small (under a metre) Chinese cobra - which flared its hood to flash its warning spots, and vanished into rank grass.

Tai Po Kau Forest Reserve and Tsim Bei Tsui, 11 October 2003

We arrived at Tai Po Kau in early morning. It was misty. We were welcomed by a flock of cheerful Blue-winged Minla and Velvet-fronted Nuthatch. Looking through the thickets via binoculars, we saw in a mixed flock of birds, including a pair of Scarlet Minivets. The red plumage of the male could easily distinguish it from the yellow female. Walking further up the hill, we spotted a bird dashing among the branches. When it finally came to a halt we were able to look at it through the telescope. The bird had blue eye rings, with chestnut plumage and a dark head and crest. It was a Japanese Paradise Flycatcher!

Along the stream, the Grey Wagtail perched on the fence overlooking its territory. Great Tit, Japanese White Eye and Common Tailorbird were also seen amongst the riverine vegetation. Chestnut Bulbul and Silver-eared Mesia were calling in the canopy above. A sudden ticking sound from the bush caught our attention. We waited with patience, trying our very best to see through the tangling bush. It paid off and a Pygmy Wren Babbler eventually jumped out from the bush and we had good view of it.

On our way back Chinese Bulbul, Crested Bulbul, Magpie Robin and Spotted Dove were seen at the village, and a colourful male Fork-tailed Sunbird made a memorable ending to the Tai Po Kau trip.

Our next stop was Tsim Bei Tsui, located at the Northwestern part of the New Territory. This is part of the Hong Kong’s 1500ha Deep Bay Ramsar Site (it lies just west of Mai Po, which we couldn't visit today as permits were fully booked); we headed here as Mai Po was fully booked today. Along the edge of mangroves the snow-white plumages of Great and Little egrets contrasted with the green foliages. A couple of dozen Black Kite were soaring above, while the equally fierce Collared Crows perched on overhead wires, overlooking the fishponds below. Hundreds of Crested Mynas perched along the mangroves of the estuary, flashing white patches at each side of the underwing when in flight.

Birds seen here were not necessarily just white, black or brown. With its bright red beak, vivid blue mantle and orange chest, the Black-capped Kingfisher added colour to the wetland. The equally colourful White-breasted Kingfisher and Common Kingfisher were also seen. These birds were the true jewels of the wetland.

Mai Po Marshes, 9 October 2003

One Crested Goshawk, one Purple Heron, one Eastern Marsh Harrier in the GW8, Over a thousand waders including, Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, Redshank, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Grey Plover and Black-winged Stilt in GW11. Off the boardwalk: one juvenile Vega Gull standing about 3m from us for 15 mins before flying off.
Last Updated ( Tuesday, 10 August 2004 )

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