Blackfaced Spoonbills

Blackfaced Spoonbills

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.

Walkway in Mai Po Marshes

Walkway in Mai Po Marshes

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 bythen 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 prey 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.

Ponds

Ponds

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.

Red Based Jezebel

Red Based Jezebel

Steve Newman

Travel Writer and Photographer