Hong Kong Birding - Mai Po

Much to my shame I've not kept up with my blog posts for a considerable time. However, a recent opportunity with work to visit our supplier in China gave me the opportunity to do some birding in Hong Kong. I started searching for information on birding sites and things I'd likely see in July (typically the worst month for birding) and came across Matt Kwan's blog (http://matthewkwanbirding.blogspot.co.uk). I contacted Matt on the off-chance that he could point me in the right direction and before I knew it he was suggesting an afternoon's birding! Great! More of that later.
I had already made enquiries about Mai Po, a place I'd read about and wanted to visit at sometime. There was a lot of confusing information out there talking about annual permits, scientific study etc but I eventually found the WWF site where you could book a place on a tour. Unfortunately, there were none in English on the day I had to visit but I also found the link to apply for a solo overseas visitor permit (numbers are strictly limited!). I filled out the forms and scanned the relevant documents and sent it off but hadn't heard anything for a week. Fortunately my ringing trainer, Richard du Feu knew someone there through his wader ringing exploits and emailing her certainly helped - they hadn't got my original application for some reason - slightly worrying.
Across one of the Fish ponds towards Shenzen, China
So after a week in China, I arrived back in Hong Kong and the following day took a train to Yuen Long and a taxi from there to Mai Po visitor centre where my permit was waiting. It was very hot and humid so I knew that birding was going to be difficult but I was there so I was going to make the most of it. The tides were wrong for the Deep Bay Area so I contented myself with a walk around the main part of the reserve which is like Leighton Moss on steroids.
Fortunately the paths had shelter from the sun!
I got my permit stamped at the warden's nicely air-conditioned chubby-hole and set out on the paved path around the reserve. Azure-winged Magpies were rather showy as was a Long-tailed Shrike with a juvenile. Amazingly there were NO nuisance insects but plenty of butterflies and dragonflies.

Chinese Pond Herons, Little Egrets and Great Egrets were very much in evidence wherever I went. To complete the herons, there were a couple of Intermediate Egrets alongside Eastern Cattle Egrets, Striated Heron, Black-crowned Night Heron, Grey Heron and Yellow Bittern.

Black-collared Starlings are very sizeable compared to the starlings I'm used to - they're common around HK. White-shouldered Starlings were also evident. I didn't see many small things other than Plain Prinia and Japenese White-eye but medium sized birds were quite vocal if not all that easy to see. Asian Koel and Greater Coucal showed reasonably well and there were a couple of flocks of Masked Laughing-thrush making one hell of a racket!
View from one of the hides
The first channel I came to held a few waders on the muddy fringes of the mangroves - Green and Common Sandpiper, Spotted and Common Redshank. There was also White-breasted Waterhen darting back into cover. Further along I took the paths to the hides which were oven-like I've got to say but in milder times would be spectacular. Nothing much was on show other than the interesting looking local race of White Wagtail but then a bird flew across my line of sight - Grey-headed Lapwing that shouldn't have been here at this time of year.

Thankfully, the paths were lined with trees that provided ample shade from the sun and there was a breeze that was difficult to find but when I did, I remained there for five minutes to try and cool down.

Meandering down towards the border fence, the main open water area had plenty of Herons and a flock of Avocets but the bird I really hoped but didn't expect to see was sat in front of the furthest hide - in fact two non-breeding Black-faced Spoonbills; a bird of extreme rarity! Marvellous!
Black-faced Spoonbills
After some lunch I continued back to the visitor centre picking up White-breasted and Eurasian Kingfishers along the way together with Black Drongo and Crested Mynahs.

I only met one other person on the whole of the walk - I must come back at a sensible time of year! A total of 45 species of which many were lifers of course. The centre ordered me a taxi and the return trip to my hotel in Kowloon was simple. I finished off the day with a trip on the Star Ferry across to HK Island for dinner.


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