Check the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society website at http://www.hkbws.org.hk/ for general birding information. Every Hong Kong trip report seems to include the Mai Po Marshes, and specifically the birdwatching hides (blinds) at Deep Bay. Information is available at the Worldwide Fund for Nature - Hong Kong's website at http://www.wwf.org.hk/en/maipo.htm. Plan your trip for either spring (mid-April through mid-May) or fall if you can, but winter birding there can also be rewarding. Avoid the summer, as Hong Kong only hosts about 100 species of birds then, and its weather is oppressively hot and humid. Spring has the disadvantage of high humidity, I'm told.
To visit Mai Po, you need to join WWF-HK. I obtained their online membership form and faxed them (852-2845-2734) six or seven weeks in advance of my trip with my credit card for my $HK 360 ($US 46) membership (or you can snail mail the Membership Department, WWF-HK, No. 1 Tramway Path, Central, Hong Kong). You also need to obtain a free Mai Po Entry Permit from the Director, Agriculture and Fisheries Department, Canton Road Government Offices, 393 Canton Road, Kowloon, Hong Kong. I wrote 6 weeks or so before my trip to get that permit. Both sets of materials arrived one week before my departure. You will have to present the Mai Po Entry Permit at a checkpoint. Don't make the mistake I did and limit yourself to just one weekend. Ask for a permit for the duration of your entire trip. No one checked my WWF-HK membership papers, but you need to support them for two reasons -- first, you're using their property; second, they sorely need the money to educate Hong Kong residents about the value of nature. Only a few students in my class of 27 had visited Mai Po, and environmentalists in China and Hong Kong face a far steeper uphill battle against big money interests and prohibitively expensive land prices to save wildlife from bulldozers, asphalt, and the dinner table.
You will also need a membership ($HK 390, about $48.75 -- in the form of a Hong Kong bank draft, not foreign checks or currency) in the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society to use the hides at Deep Bay, and a Frontier Closed Area Permit for access to the floating boardwalk to reach the hides. I wasn't aware of the need for the former, and never received the latter, even though I wrote the WWF-HK well in advance for their assistance in obtaining the permits from the police department (a service they advertise on their web page, for a $HK 100 - $US 12.50 fee). My local Hong Kong birding friend Karl told me they won't mail those permits out, and you have to pick them up in person. When I arrived in Hong Kong, there was no permit or reservation for me. One of my Hong Kong students was a senior detective with the Hong Kong Police Department, and formerly worked at Mai Po. With his assistance, I reserved a FCA permit from Sylvia at WWF-HK (telephone 852-2471-6306) during the week for my Sunday visit to Mai Po. But when I arrived on Sunday, there was still no permit for me. My one day at Mai Po would have been ruined without some creative maneuvering, where I entered the FCA on a HKBWS group permit.
It's possible to travel everywhere in Hong Kong, Kowloon, and the New Territories by public transportation or taxi. I started buying single journey tickets for the Mass Transit Rail system, but I soon ran out of change (which I needed for the trams and minibuses), and the "octopus" $HK 100 MTR pass made much more sense for getting around on the MTR and Kowloon-Canton Railroad. You pay $HK 150 at first (there's a $50 deposit), then recharge the pass with $50 or $100 bills at any station. You'll need plenty of change for the minibuses and trams, whose exact-change fares range from around $2 to $8.40 and more. The MTR is easy to understand, and operates similar to San Francisco's BART, Washington DC's Metro, or London's Tube. Trams and minibuses have their destinations and prices posted in English, but you'll need a sense of adventure and some knowledge of where they pick up and drop off in order to use them effectively.
Hong Kong is very British. If you're there on business, as I was, you introduce your co-workers as "colleagues," reciprocate kindness and gifts as soon as possible, and accept and give business cards (bring plenty) with both hands. Elevators are "lifts," the first floor is really the second floor, and the main floor is "G" or GF for "ground floor." Be especially careful to look to the right first before stepping out to cross any streets, especially if you join the crowds and jaywalk.
On the other hand, Hong Kong is very Chinese. Virtually everyone speaks English, but Cantonese is the de facto native language spoken on the streets. There are a surprising number of Japanese, Filipino, and other Asians living in Hong Kong, and they use English as their common language with the Chinese, so you're not alone. Unless you've experienced San Francisco, New York, or Vancouver Chinatown, you may not be prepared for the congestion of Hong Kong. Be prepared to walk and stand elbow-to-elbow with others, and to get your handbags jostled in crowds. That means you should take precautions with your money, wallet, and purse -- especially outside of Central Hong Kong, where Anglos stand out like African-Americans do in the USA.
Right now, with Asian currencies down in relation to the US dollar, it's a buyer's market in Hong Kong. I bought a pair of Leica 10X42 BA binoculars for $US 762 in Hong Kong, probably $300 less than I'd pay in the US before taxes and/or shipping, and my co-worker bought a digital camera for about $130 less than its $700 pre-shipping US mail order price. Many (most?) small businesses are open until 10 p.m. in the major shopping areas such as Causeway Bay (Central) and Tsim Sha Tsui (Kowloon). You'll find far better prices by going off the beaten track to Mong Kok (Kowloon) or elsewhere, but be aware that all the locals warned me to go there with a local and to watch my wallet. The advice was good, as Mong Kok translates into "busy corner," and I'd have had great difficulty finding the specific shop selling my binoculars (or even known of its existence) without assistance. Similarly, a local is invaluable for negotiating prices and helping you get a product with US compatibility and worldwide warranty
Hong Kong supposedly has restaurants serving all of the world's cuisines, but I never found or ate anything other than Chinese, Thai, and American fast food. There are a number of "Wellcome" grocery stores in the major tourist areas where you can buy snacks, drinks, pastries, etc.
Bring converters to change the standard British 3 prong 220V-50 cycle AC current to 110V-60 cycle AC for laptops, shavers, VCR batteries, etc.
It's Halloween night, and I'm following some costumed children down the street. Nearby, two lines of teenagers perform a chorus line rendition of a Broadway tune, but despite the appearances, this isn't Georgia. Halloween is no longer an American event. It's spread around the world -- or at least to Hong Kong. I'm in the Golden Triangle of central Hong Kong with two ladies from the Hong Kong government. I haven't seen a bird since arrival, but that's understandable, since my first view of the south China coast came shortly after sunset as our plane approached Lantau Island, where the new Hong Kong International Airport is located at Chek Lap Kok. Although the new airport is inconveniently located $HK 300 away from the city, and was plagued with computer problems when it opened three months ago (shades of Denver International Airport), I experienced no problems. I cleared passport control and customs and was only alone briefly before Annie, a student from one of my previous classes, found me and gave me a welcoming hug. She soon brought a driver and her colleague Grace, and we were on our way over the new Tsing Ma Bridge, to the Excelsior Hotel in central Hong Kong's Causeway Bay. The Tsing Ma Bridge is billed as the world's longest road and rail (trains run underneath -- there's also a single lane tunnel underneath for use during typhoons) suspension bridge, at 2.2 km. I was quite pleased that my first view of Hong Kong was not of the congestion I expected, but disappointed that I didn't see the area in daylight. Perhaps it's best this way, as I won't remember how the largely uninhabited area between the airport and Hong Kong was before it was raped by developers. There's already a container cargo port and several high-rise apartment complexes built to support the airport, so McDonalds and shopping malls and hotels will soon arrive. The bridge resembles the Golden Gate Bridge and is equally beautifully lit (only on weekend nights, I'm told), but when I see it later in the daylight, it's gray and made of concrete. The road in from the new airport is wide, straight, and clean, and the tunnels are graffiti-free. Traffic is, in a word, rude, as cars jockey for position and cut in near the front of the line everywhere imaginable.
The Excelsior Hotel in Causeway Bay isn't every birder's hotel choice (walk-in room rates are >$US 300/day -- you can check it on the internet), but my hosts are picking up the tab. My room has a harbor view (the Convention Center where the unification ceremony with the PRC was held is opposite my window) and is conveniently located close to the central district and 3 blocks from Victoria Park, where I'll bird in the morning. Annie and Grace have dinner with me. As a connoisseur of Chinese food, my first sampling was top-notch. Corn soup with crab meat, an appetizer plate of roast duck and barbecue beef, and a honey shrimp dish. I questioned the latter dish, which couldn't be traditional (since mayonnaise is a major ingredient), and my hosts confirm it's a westernized recipe. After dinner, Grace and Annie walk me to the Mass Transit Rail station and show me the operational details. MTR is similar enough to Washington D.C.'s Metro and San Francisco's BART (or London's Tube) that I know I can use the system. The blue line runs along Hong Kong Island, and the red and green lines go to the Kowloon peninsula and beyond to the New Territories where I'll have to catch a train to Mai Po next weekend. Unfortunately, even though tomorrow is Sunday, I'll be working -- setting up the classroom for the next two weeks of teaching. Perhaps I'll be able to sneak to a window to see the daily noonday gun activity. Obviously, there won't be many birding opportunities on this trip, but I'll do my best next weekend.
As I write this, it's 11:30 p.m. Hong Kong time, or 10:30 a.m. EST. The Boeing 747's movie display screen had a time-filler that showed our route, outside temperature, remaining travel time, and the current time in Hong Kong. Half an hour after takeoff from San Francisco, at 12:09 p.m. Friday 10/30 (3:09 p.m. at home in Brunswick, GA), it was already 4:09 a.m. the next day (Saturday 10/31) in Hong Kong, a 16 hour time difference from SF and 13 hours from Brunswick. I started getting concerned about such a great time difference and slept a lot on the plane. When I arrived after the fourteen hour (that calculates out to about 8400 miles) flight, it was 6:00 p.m. in Hong Kong, and 2:00 a.m. in San Francisco (5:00 a.m. on the east coast).
Kowloon Park and Victoria Park. I'm awake at 4:30 a.m. after 5 hours of sleep, ready to go over my downloaded Hong Kong Birdwatching Society web pages to plan the morning's birding. I'll walk to Victoria Park, and will take the MTR to another birding spot if time allows before my 10:50 a.m. work session with my co-instructor Lisa and our hosts (I'll have to work on Veteran's Day, too). I'm poorly prepared as usual. I've got the hotel's card inside my passport, so I can find my way back to the hotel. I've compared the scientific names in my field guide (Viney, et al's Birds of Hong Kong and South China) with US birds so I won't mistakenly add a duplicate U.S. species to my life list under a different common name (I keep my list in a word processor file, not in specialized listing software). I've noted some familiar Eurasian and cosmopolitan species like the gorgeous metallic blue-backed White-breasted Kingfisher, the Eurasian Hoopoe, our familiar Black-billed Magpie, Ospreys, Black-crowned Night Herons, and the Eurasian Wryneck that I may see again in Hong Kong. I've got a mental list of similar-to-US species that I may see, like their Eurasian Eagle Owl equivalent to our Great Horned Owl. But I'll be back to my usual fumbling-through-field-guide-pages method of bird identification when I see a new bird.
As I check my laptop's Hong Kong information, I read an email from Birdchatter Karl Ng suggesting I visit Kowloon Park at Tsim Sha Tsui. I ask the concierge where Kowloon Park is, and he gives me a map and points it out -- at the Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station on the Kowloon Peninsula. Tsim Sha Tsui is only three MTR stations away. I make a quick change of plans, deciding to go to Kowloon park today, as I can always walk to nearby Victoria Park any morning before work. I'm on my way at 7:00 a.m. A one-way ticket is $HK 11, about $US 1.41, which must be paid in coins. Through the remainder of my trip, I think of an 8:1 conversion rate to evaluate prices. I take the blue (Island) line towards Sheung Wan and transfer at the Admiralty station to the red line towards Tsuen Wan. I see that the Wan character is also in the Chinese names for Causeway Bay and Quarry Bay, and conclude that Wan = Bay. As it turns out, I'm correct, but I don't need to know that, since all the station names are written in English as well as Chinese (some building elevators tell you the floor numbers in Cantonese, Mandarin, and English).
I arrive at Kowloon Park just ten minutes later. Walking in the gate, the first thing I see (other than a Rock Dove flying overhead) is a new bulbul species (my previous bulbuls have been Yellow-vented Bulbul in Israel and the introduced Red-vented and Red-whiskered Bulbuls in Hawaii). It's a relatively dull CHINESE BULBUL (lifers are typed in upper-case). It has a whitish vent on whitish underparts, yellowish-green upper parts, head with white hindcrown, and is perched atop the trees overlooking the gate. Next, I see a bird in a tree near a fountain. It's a near-parrot-size, long-tailed ROSE-RINGED PARAKEET, whose black necklace changes to a rosy pink nape. It differs from the drawings in Viney by having red patches at the bend of its wings. Then I start to see familiar birds -- Crested (Red-whiskered) Bulbuls, the same species that's in Hawaii -- except that these are native birds. Somehow, it makes this sighting more valuable, as a species in its native habitat just "belongs" more. Next, I see a (Black-billed) Magpie -- the same species that's cosmopolitan in Colorado and the western US as well as in Europe. Other repeats include Tree Sparrows and Spotted Doves. I'd seen the latter in southern California in my parents' back yard, but that population seems to have died off, and I haven't seen them there in decades.
Whoa. There's a trogon near the Magpie. No, it's a magpie-jay -- a BLUE MAGPIE. This two-foot long bird has a red bill, black throat and breast, white belly and vent, and a black tail with paired white bars, caused by white tips on its paired retrices, so it does resemble a trogon at first glance. On closer examination, the bird has a longer bill, powder blue upper parts and a black head and nape, with a white skunk stripe on its crown and nape. It's the Beauty Bird of the Day.
Next, I come to a pond where they've stocked pinioned Lesser Flamingos, a species native to Africa and India. There's a collection of geese and ducks here. It's difficult to tell which are captives and which are wild birds. Some, like the Lesser Flamingos, Cinnamon Teal, American Wigeon, and Bahama Pintail, seem like obvious captives. Others like Teal, Mandarin, and YELLOW-NIB DUCK, are local birds which may be countable. I guess I can't count the Mandarin, since all the wild Wood Ducks (its closest Aix cousin) I've seen have been very flighty, and Viney says it's a rarity. I'm probably fudging to add the Yellow-nib Duck, but Mallard (Anas) relatives are much more likely to associate with people, and Viney says it's locally common. Some free-flying immature and adult CHINESE POND HERONS with their striking white wings are obviously countable, as is a free-flying White-breasted Kingfisher that I see perched with its conspicuous white central breast surrounded by rich dark rufous brown. It soon flies, showing its brilliant metallic turquoise blue upper parts. A startling black-and-white bird flies to an island in the pond -- a MAGPIE ROBIN -- one of many that I'll see today, acting much like a small Northern Mockingbird. On the far side of the pond, I see a large brown jay-like bird, colored like a giant Brown Towhee and acting like one by feeding on the ground. However, it has a black mask through its eye. It's a BLACK-FACED LAUGHING-THRUSH, staying much more out in the open than its shy cousins. A WHITE-BREASTED WATERHEN walking near the pond also appears to be countable, since rails generally don't take to captivity well. I get a brief glimpse at a Japanese White-eye flitting around a tree hunting insects. It helps that I've seen the species before in Hawaii, as it doesn't give me much of an opportunity to view it.
I walk to the far side of the park, where I see a long-winged, long tailed hawk, wings swept back, gliding by. I guess it's an Eastern Marsh Harrier, until I see another one soaring around the mirrored glass of a nearby skyscraper and remember the same forked tail appearance of the first bird. Eventually I'll see dozens of these birds, which are BLACK-EARED KITES, Hong Kong's commonest bird of prey. They're fish eaters, and they have a propensity for soaring near mirrored windowed skyscrapers.
Kowloon Park has a number of hills, filled with people practicing Tai Chi, meditating, giving their cage birds some air, and jogging on Sunday morning. On one of these hills, I glimpse a large, long-tailed grayish bird flying into a nearby tree. A sparrowhawk? Curiousness aroused, I walk over and see a red-eyed bird with underparts bearing brownish streaking on a whitish background, and brownish upper parts bearing white spots. This cryptically colored bird is a cuckoo, an immature or female KOEL. After work, today I'll see three more adult male Koels, black with their red eyes, in Victoria Park.
I walk around Kowloon Park, taking many different routes and learning the many trails of this urban park. As I come around the flamingo pond, I notice a fellow with two tripods, one bearing a scope. Have I found another birder, or is he a photographer? It turns out only one of the tripods is his. He's part of a birdwatching class, and one of the instructors notices my binoculars, excitedly telling me (in Chinese) about the bird they're watching. I get a good look at the bird, which is a BLACK-WINGED CUCKOO-SHRIKE, an uncommon species and probably the Bird of the Day. Overjoyed to see other birders, I tag along with the group for a while. They spend a long time watching a feeding flock of Tree Sparrows and Black-faced Laughing-Thrushes. Some munias (aka mannikins) start pouring in, eventually outnumbering the other birds. I'd seen one earlier, thinking it was a Spotted Munia, but not getting a good enough view to add it. It's a good thing I didn't, as these are similarly colored WHITE-BACKED MUNIAS, a lifer.
My time is up, and I must go to work. As I'm leaving, I see two crows flying by over some nearby houses. They're all-black, with raven-thick bills. I don't see much else, and hope the field guide will narrow down the available species. I'm in luck, as these prove to be JUNGLE CROWS, "the only all-black crow likely to be seen in Hong Kong," and their thick bills would be diagnostic anyway. I end the morning with fourteen lifers and twenty species. On the way back, I take the MTR red line towards Central Hong Kong, transfer again at Admiralty, and take the blue line towards Chai Wan back to the Causeway Bay station.
I meet my co-instructor Lisa, and two Hong Kong hosts. We set up the classroom with the assistance of our host and three computer techies. After the work is done, we all have lunch at a Dim Sum restaurant, and again the food compares favorably with San Francisco cooking (which says a lot). It's not surprising, as the vast majority of Hong Kong citizens have Cantonese origins and speak Cantonese, as do the vast majority of San Francisco's Chinese citizens. Dim Sum are one of the gastronomical wonders of the world, something you should not miss in Hong Kong. They're luncheon pastries, typically meat-filled dumplings wrapped in rice skin wrappers, brought to your table on carts. You pick what you want to eat from the carts, and pricing is based on the number of plates you choose, and the size of those plates. We sample sea cucumbers, duck feet, and the popular har gow and siu mai dumplings, among others. This is tea time, also called Yum Cha (which translates into "drink tea"). After giving us directions to return to the training center where we'll be teaching tomorrow, our hosts depart.
In the afternoon, Lisa and I go for a walk to Victoria Park, three blocks from our hotel. By afternoon, it's a carnival of people. In fact, there is a carnival of sorts going on. Many of Hong Kong's Filipino community have gathered here for music and socializing. There's a dancing stilt-walker towering above the crowd, and the mood is festive. I comment about the amazing density of people, who are always packed in like sardines on the sidewalks. It's almost inconceivable that birds and people can live amidst such congestion. Hong Kong's air quality is poor. Although the sky has been blue every day, it's deceiving. Each evening, you can see the sun dim through a haze that causes dusk to start a good hour before sunset. When I blow my nose, the tissues bear black soot trapped by my mucous membranes.
Lisa observes that if we lived in one of Hong Kong's small flats (average monthly rent for a 480 square foot apartment with access to a swimming pool in Happy Valley is $HK 25,000, or $US 3,200, and a modest 400 sq ft apartment mentioned in the Asian Wall Street Journal was $HK 7,500 or $US 960/month) without an inch of garden space or backyard, with our view being the gray wall of another apartment building, we'd probably think that a day in the park is a wonderful way to spend the day. She's right, of course. Later, I read that the price for a 514 sq. ft. home is $HK 1.85 million, 600 sq. ft. homes are over $HK 2 million up, 1000 sq. ft homes are about $HK 5 million, and 1800-2000 sq. ft. homes are $HK 10 million. Even allowing for the exchange rate, that's $US 1.25 million for an 1800 sq. ft. home.. Another reason the people are out in the park is the wonderful weather, in the mid-70s. This is the best time of the year to visit Hong Kong, since its summertime weather is similar to Georgia's -- so hot and humid that your clothes are sticky the second you leave air-conditioning. Hong Kong is at the same latitude as Cuba, Mecca, Bombay, and other famously hot places, and was a yellow-fever and malaria area in its history -- according to James Clavell's books (Tai-Pan, Noble House, King Rat, etc.) that I've read.
Victoria Park is mostly flat, with facilities for the masses. They include paved soccer fields, a grassy badminton field, tennis courts, and a model boat basin. The model boats are interesting, as they represent working freighters, junks, and a submarine -- totally unlike their US counterparts which tend to be power cruisers or "stinkpots," as my sailing friends call them.
Given the park's overwhelmingly urban habitat, I expect to see trash birds, and I do. Tree Sparrows, Rock Doves, and Spotted Doves predominate. Then I see a short-tailed dove-sized bird perched high in a tree, which turns out to be a BLACK-NECKED STARLING. It's soon joined by several others. Later, I see a pair of short-tailed black birds with red eyes and a tuft of feathers above their bills. They're CRESTED MYNAHS. Lisa looks at one through my binoculars and sees its white wing patch as I ask her if it has a white vent patch (no) which separates the similar White-vented Mynah from its more-common crested cousin. We see a couple of doves which must be escapees. They're darker than Spotted Doves, have solid colored backs, and their black and white spotting continues in front to their breasts, but they're not illustrated in Viney. I add the Blackbird thrush that's a fixture in proper English gardens, when I see some in their accustomed spot at a lawn edge. The Asian birds have brownish bills, but there's nothing else in the book they can be confused with. I end the day with sixteen lifers and twenty-three species. My international experience is that when I go to a totally new area for the first time, I can expect two of every three species to be lifers, and that's my experience today.
I learn that the acronym for Hong Kong used in the South China Times newspaper, SAR, stands for Special Administrative Region. After work, I have less than an hour in Victoria Park before sunset. I see 8 Black-eared Kites circling over the park, and among them is a much larger bird. I see it has broad wings and a short-tailed appearance, with a silhouette resembling some African vultures. It has a white tail and appears to have a fish (or snake?) in its talons. Every once in a while, a kite veers toward the larger bird, apparently interested in its prey. I run to an open area and get a better view of the new bird's white underparts with black primaries and secondaries, and the fish it's holding. The bird is a WHITE-BELLIED SEA-EAGLE, which soon soars out of view. Viney doesn't say it's all that uncommon, but my intuition says that seeing one over downtown Hong Kong MUST be a good sighting. After all, the harbor is so polluted that gulls are a rarity! Hong Kong is scaled ten times larger than San Francisco in population, with 6-7 million people in only 1100 sq. mi. (about 33 X 33 miles), which causes inevitable pollution problems. Additionally, locals tell me the harbor has been filled in noticeably during their lifetimes.
Other birds in the park are about the same as Sunday, but I'm able to see a few more species that I'd seen in Kowloon Park, like the Black-faced Laughing-thrush and Magpie Robin. At dusk, numerous Blackbirds appear at the edges of the lawns, and dozens of Crested Mynahs roost in the trees in the center of the park. Jet lag is still affecting me. The last couple of nights, I've gone to sleep early and awakened in the middle of the night for a few hours. Tonight is no exception. I was to meet Lisa for dinner at 8:00 p.m. I went to bed for a nap at 7:00 and set my alarm for 50 minutes, but didn't wake up until 9:45 p.m. Then I stayed up until 11:30 p.m., unable to go back to sleep.
I find and bird Hong Kong's third large park, Hong Kong Park, before work (I tried yesterday morning, but ran out of time), taking MTR to the blue line's Admiralty exit and going out exit F (Pacific Place Mall), walking up the hill behind the Pacific Place Mall until I find the Park entrance. The park has a fish pond with Koi and goldfish and turtles, food for visiting Night Herons. Interestingly, at Kowloon Park, the turtles appeared to be southeastern US Red-eared Sliders. I don't examine this park's turtles carefully, however. Other repeat birds in this park are Black-eared Kites, Magpie Robins, Tree Sparrows, Crested Bulbuls, Black-faced Laughing-thrushes, Crested Mynahs, Black-necked Starlings, and Spotted Doves. As I approach the park pond, I see some large white-winged birds flying into the area. Thinking they might be Chinese Pond Herons, I'm surprised to see no water birds at the pond, except a lone Night Heron. Scanning the trees, I finally see three YELLOW-CRESTED COCKATOOS, part of a reproducing escaped population, and presume they must have been what I saw. The laughing-thrushes and Crested Bulbuls are quite noisy this morning, fighting over food. I'm beginning to think I've reached the limit for urban park birding, as the species that I've seen to date in the city have been consistent everywhere. A November visitor who never gets out of the city can expect to see most of my first 25 species. Then, as I'm looking at a Black-necked Starling, I see a new bird, a brown-capped, greenish-yellow backed warbler-like bird holding its tail upright like a wren. It's a COMMON TAILORBIRD, and there are three of them. As I leave the park, forced to prepare for work, I finally find the easy entrance to Hong Kong Park from the Pacific Place mall. If you enter the mall's front door that's nearest the United Center across the street, and go straight up all the escalators in a straight line, you reach the park. Part of my problem in finding it is that the mall shops are closed and the escalators don't work before 7:00 a.m.
During my trip, I'll make repeat visits to all of these three major parks, learning that Kowloon Park is the only place to repeatedly see the Blue Magpies and Rose-ringed Parakeets, and Hong Kong Park is the only place to repeatedly see Yellow-crested Cockatoos. I also conclude that Victoria Park is the worst of the three for birding, and that the 27 species I've seen in the three parks is about all that one can expect to see at this time of year there.
After work, I find the way to the noon day gun platform under the highway in front of the Excelsior Hotel. It provides access to the waterfront. I check the waterfront for birds in the afternoon, but see nothing new. At one time, I see 36 Black-eared Kites flying over Causeway Bay, but the only other birds I see are Crested Mynahs, Black-necked Starlings, Tree Sparrows, and Rock Doves.
In the evening, four of our previous students have arranged to take us to dinner at Victoria Peak. John has told me the restaurant requires reservations a week in advance, but our hosts were able to change plans from dinner at one of Hong Kong's two revolving restaurants to Victoria Peak on short notice. We visit the Convention Center where the unification ceremony with the PRC was held, and then drive up Victoria Peak. Here's where all the Anglo tourists are. I see more tourists tonight at the peak than I've seen during the whole past week. We have a nice Japanese buffet dinner at the Peak (not one of the popular restaurants), look at downtown Hong Kong and across the harbor to Kowloon after dark with a near-full moon hanging over the scene, and then take the funicular railway on its 45 degree ride down the mountain. After arriving downtown, we take a mini-bus to the ferry station and take the Star Ferry to Kowloon to see the cultural center and the old Kowloon-Canton Railroad station tower.
Lisa is going sightseeing to the Lantau Buddha, and I'm meeting Birdchatter Karl Ng (firstname.lastname@example.org) at the Tsuen Wan MTR station, Nam Fung exit A at 7:30 a.m. It's the last stop on the MTR red line in the New Territories. Our plans are to bird the Tsim Bei Tsui area in the morning and Long Valley in the afternoon. Karl has already been an invaluable information source to me in telling me where to buy my Leica binoculars in Hong Kong, and I've been looking forward to meeting him and birding with him for some time. Now he's prepared a solid weekend of birding for me, and I'm even more in debt to him. He's told me he's a new birder with two years experience, but I've told him he's certain to know more about the local birds than I do.
At the arranged meeting time, we recognize each other quickly, as we're the only two people carrying tripods near the Nam Fung exit. We meet Karl's friends and co-workers Fergus and Ray, and we're off on a most amazing journey, using the tram and one or two mini-buses to Tsim Bei Tsui, which is on the western side of Deep Bay from Mai Po. Now I've ridden nearly every form of conveyance in Hong Kong, short of rickshaws and sampans. The former apparently don't exist, although I observe the latter carrying people from docks to boats in Hong Kong Harbor. There's no way I could have figured out which tram to take, which stop to transfer at, and which corners to walk to catch the mini-buses to go to Tsim Bei Tsui alone. It can be done with patience, good maps, and some planning, but it's better done with a local, as Karl seems to be able to take any bus and make transfers to others to get us to different MTR and Kowloon-Canton Railroad stops at will. Bring lots of Hong Kong coins, as the mini-buses expect exact change. Bus fares vary from $HK 7 to $HK 8.40 during the day. I completely miss all the bus names, so you're on your own to find your way to Tsim Bei Tsui.
At one of the transfer stations, I see a white-rumped swift fly by, and Karl calls it a HOUSE SWIFT. He points out a couple of mud nests attached to the walls and ceiling of a nearby store, looking amazingly like elongated Cliff Swallow nests. Although I don't see the swift's tail well at this time, I'll later see a hundred more House Swifts at Long Valley.
We reach Tsim Bei Tsui and disembark a distance from the border fence to bird along the road. We see some SILKY STARLINGS, roughly the same size as their black-necked cousins, but a cleaner gray color with dark wings. They're wintering birds in Hong Kong, not seen during the other seasons. I spot a SIBERIAN STONECHAT in a field, perched on low vegetation. It's one of many we'll see today. Karl sees a group of White-cheeked Starlings that I miss. He claims to be a new birder, but he's already getting the local vocalizations down, and knows much more about the available species than I do. Fergus and Ray have less than Karl's 2 years of experience, but with four pairs of eyes, we hope to identify most of what we see. We see LITTLE EGRETS and Cormorants. Then we spot a bird on a wire. I get the scope on it, and declare it's a pipit. I note its solid greenish back and heavily streaked undersides. We dig out the field guides and determine it's an OLIVE-BACKED (INDIAN TREE) PIPIT. Then a couple of COLLARED CROWS fly by. Karl had seen one earlier, but I'd missed it, so I'm happy to add this lifer. A group of over a dozen Grey Herons fly past, looking much lighter than the ones I'd seen in England. A Red-vented Bulbul flies into a nearby tree. It's the only one we'll see here, although everywhere I've gone in Hong Kong there are many Crested Bulbuls and a fair number of Chinese Bulbuls. Karl calls the name of a small long-tailed whitish bird flying by. It's a White Wagtail. Then we see a hawk flying by. I recognize it as an Osprey, and help my three new friends identify it. We walk by a small impoundment where four Teal, a White-breasted Waterhen, and a couple of White Wagtails are feeding. I can add the Teal as a new trip bird, since I've decided by now that all the ducks in Kowloon Park are captives. As we walk along, the road shoulder drops steeply off to a view of mainland China, surprisingly lined with skyscrapers, across the mud flats more than 100 feet below us. The Mai Po marshes are also across the mud flats to our right side, and mangroves line the shoreline below us. I put the scope on the hundreds of ducks in the water, but the only ones I can identify are Pintail, Shoveler, and Eurasian Wigeon.
Karl yells out that he thinks he sees two spoonbills. I see the two white birds he's looking at. They're flying in the distance with apparent black tips to their primaries, and more rapid wingbeats than egrets. Karl and I watch them through our binoculars as the birds keep flying away from us, headed to the mainland. After what seems like a mile of flight, the birds finally land. I line the birds up in line with a skyscraper with twin towers on the mainland side of the bay, and put my scope on them. They start feeding like spoonbills, moving their heads from side-to-side, but they're so far away, we can't see if they have black faces or not. Luckily, I glass the shoreline to our left and see a group of white birds. I put the scope there, and add Great Egrets -- and two of the birds are BLACK-FACED SPOONBILLS, the Bird of the Day. Karl spots another trip list bird below us, a Moorhen.
A full-size bus parks ahead of us, one of three taking tourists to see the border fence, an impressive chain link affair with massive 4' rolls of barbed wire at its top, 10 feet high, with posts embedded in concrete and metal bars at its base. Karl says we should get ahead of the crowds on the buses, so we trudge on ahead. In a tree near the border guard station, we stop to look at Japanese White-eyes, when I see an orange-breasted bird with black head and white belly and vent perched in the tree. I tell Karl it looks like a Mugimaki Flycatcher. Karl says they're very uncommon here. Unfortunately, the bird disappears, and we're left with my shaky identification. I'm sure my friends are skeptical of my abilities, when Fergus sees the bird come back. This time all of us except Ray see it. I note the white on its wings and Karl sees the white on its head, and like the blind men touching the elephant, we identify a MUGIMAKI FLYCATCHER, the Beauty Bird of the Day. It's a lifer for Karl and Fergus, and Ray gets to add it later when two birds chase each other around the same tree, offering us good views. We walk to the border fence and look through the chain link. Karl points out another lifer for me, BLACK-CAPPED KINGFISHER sitting on a lamp post on the pier where dozens of Great and Lesser Egrets and Grey Herons and Cormorants are sitting. The kingfisher is First Runner-up for Beauty Bird, but I'll see more of them tomorrow. I scope a flock of ducks and note a merganser who floats out of sight behind the pier. I don't think much of it, but mention it to Karl later. He doesn't know what a merganser is, so I point it out in the book, and he tells me they're uncommon here. We go back to look, but the bird never reappears.
A group of four light-colored ducks flies overhead, with red feet and yellow tips to their bills. They're free-flying Yellow-Nib Ducks, erasing my guilt about the ones I added in Kowloon Park. I add a Little Grebe to my trip list in a nearby pond, and Karl identifies some sandpipers with avocet-looking thin heads and bills and yellow feet as MARSH SANDPIPERS. We see an otter, my first wild Hong Kong mammal, walking along the roadside. It looks awfully similar to the mongooses I saw in Hawaii, but Karl later shows me a book, and their otter has a very short tail and odd proportions that resemble a mongoose more than our North American otter.
We turn around and start walking back to our bus stop. Karl sees a raptor soaring high, and we all study it. It has two dark patches on its wings, looking much like a Red-tailed Hawk. Something clicks in my head, and I call out "Buzzard." Karl thinks it's a Rough-legged Buzzard, but I didn't remember it having a black trailing edge to the wing. We resolve our dilemma when the bird appears close-by, giving us another chance to look at its field marks and confirm it's a Buzzard. Near the border guard station, we once again do our blind man reconstruction of a PALLAS' WARBLER, a very active warbler with yellowish supercilium and wing bars. We walk up the hill above the road where we have a better view of the area. We pass a number of pig farms with their smells and sounds. I see several urns at two different sites, and finally ask Ray what they are. "Graves" he says. Hong Kong has so little land (people pay up to $12,000/sq.ft for it), that cemetery space is limited. Many plots are leased for 5 years or so rather than purchased, and then the bones are dug up and cremated. There's even a market for stones pressure fused and tinted, made from the ashes of your loved ones. En route, Karl spies a distant falcon which soon hovers, and I add Kestrel to the trip list, and two more lifers when Karl finds RUFOUS TURTLE-DOVE and Ray finds a DUSKY WARBLER with dark eyestripe and no wing bars.
Fergus has to go, so he flags down a bus and departs. We bird a few minutes longer and flag down another bus which passes the entrance to Mai Po Nature Reserve en route to our lunch stop. We eat noodle soup at a restaurant that keeps a birding logbook for birders. Several accommodating birders have entered their day reports, but they all bear spring and previous winter dates. Karl recognizes one of the names, Cheung Ho Fai, a well-known local birder. The restaurant is at the entrance to Long Valley, a flat agricultural area (belying its name) with many abandoned plots. The remaining plots are hand-farmed by people who live in small houses near their plots. We see them pollinating their crops, hand-fertilizing and applying pesticides. Soon after arrival, we meet the Vice President of the Hong Kong Birdwatching Society, Cheung Ho Fai, who turns out to be the birder who pointed out the Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike to me last Sunday! He mentions he saw a Daurian Redstart near a nearby house, but we fail to find it, just as we fail to see the Yellow Bunting he later reports to us. We do add Grey Wagtail, Red-throated Pipits, and Yellow Wagtail to my trip list. When we see the Red-throated Pipits, I note their streaked backs and lighter streaking on their fronts, to differentiate them from the Olive-backed Pipits we've seen earlier. Eventually, we see some others with good red coloration on them. More Crested Mynahs, Magpies, Black-necked Starlings, and Silky Starlings appear in groups throughout our walking tour here. We see several snipe in the air, but they're always too far away for me to see any field marks. Karl comments that he's never seen so many birders here, as we see a group of five, another group of four, Cheung Ho Fai and his companion (who later turns out to be a friend of my host from last Sunday), another single birder, and our group of three.
As we walk around the varied plots, we're sometimes on thinly paved concrete, other times on burlap bags laid atop dirt levees, and other times walking through the mud. Ray or Karl sees a "ringed" Siberian Stonechat, reminding me of Hong Kong's British heritage (as if the right-hand drive, left-side traffic doesn't constantly do that). With at least 95% of the population being Chinese, all the shop signs and advertisements in Chinese, and Cantonese being the de facto language heard on the streets, it's still somewhat surprising to hear someone refer to an elevator as a "lift." While I'm talking about differences, older birdwatchers should be aware that it's illegal to bring Viagra into Hong Kong, as it's not registered, and airport Customs officers arrested a man for having 180 tablets in his possession during my visit. We aren't able to read the band on the bird, and I (fresh from 6 weekends of volunteering at Georgia's Jekyll Island Banding Station) educate my birding neophyte friends about the low percentage of recaptures of banded birds. Towards dark, I add more lifers, RUFOUS-BACKED SHRIKE and WOOD SANDPIPER, the latter looking like a gray ghost version of our Buff-breasted Sandpiper, and Common Sandpiper, a dead ringer for our Spotted Sandpiper in behavior, but lacking the spots. In an overgrown plot, several dozen munias are feeding. They lack the dark primaries and white rump of the White-backed Munia, so I add SPOTTED MUNIA. As we leave the area, a muddy construction area has left some pools with plovers resting on their edges. They're LITTLE RINGED PLOVERS. I end my second full birding day with 63 species and 37 lifers. I started the day with 27 species and 18 lifers, so I've added 36 species and 19 lifers today (see list at end of report). We return by flagging down a minibus and end up at the Sheung Shui KCR train station. Karl and Ray get off at another station past the University stop, leaving me to find my way back via transfer to the MTR at the Kowloon Tong station for both systems.
I have to get to the Tai Po station of the Kowloon-Canton Railroad by 7:30 a.m. to meet Karl, so I leave Hong Kong at 6:00 a.m. via the MTR blue line, transferring to the red line at Admiralty, then to the MTR green line at another transfer station. I have three choices, and choose the Mong Kok station. Once on the green line, I go to the Kowloon Tong station where I transfer to the KCR. There isn't a Tai Po station, but there's a Tai Po Market and a Tai Wo station. I make a decision that a Chinese would not confuse Po with Wo (the characters are completely different), and disembark at the Tai Po Market Station, about 10 minutes early. Karl is already there. Plans are to bird Tai Po Kau in the morning and Mai Po in the afternoon, when the tide is its highest (roughly 2.0 m at 1:34 p.m. on Saturday, so high tide today should be between 2:00 and 2:30 p.m.).
Ray and Florence (another birdwatching friend of Karl's) join us. We take a taxi to Tai Po Kau, a forest reserve, for only $HK 22. Tai Po Kau is a beautiful forest, but its birds are not cooperating. It doesn't benefit from enough of a higher elevation to rule out some of the common birds I've seen earlier, such as Common Tailorbird, Grey Wagtail, and Crested and Chinese Bulbuls. Still, it's enough of a different habitat to raise my expectations. New trip birds include Great Tit and Green Heron. We see a warbler that appears to be much whiter than the Pallas' Warbler we saw yesterday. We conclude it's a YELLOW-BROWED WARBLER. A mystery bird with a clear two note call frustrates us for some time. The first note rises, and the second drops. Other calls nearby hint at a group of Bulbuls in the area. Finally, the birds move from the treetops, and we're treated to the sight of CHESTNUT BULBULS, a bird that Karl says is limited to this area. We walk along the "Blue" trail, stopping at various places where Karl has seen other birds, but the birding gods are not with me today, and we see few of the birds that Karl is looking for. Then a group of large birds moves through the underbrush. All four of us look in vain for a decent view of any of the birds. Finally, I get a brief glimpse of a black face with radiating white lines, belonging to a GREATER-NECKLACED LAUGHING-THRUSH, solving that mystery and adding another lifer to my list.
Karl alerts me to a peck-peck-peck sound he's hearing, which is the call of a flowerpecker. Unfortunately, I've lost hearing in that frequency range. He points out the bird, which he identifies as a SCARLET-BACKED FLOWERPECKER. The bird hangs upside down and I don't see any scarlet on its back, and its bill is black (ruling out a juvenile of that species). I think the bird is a female Fire-breasted Flowerpecker but must defer to Karl's experience. Karl stops at a spot where he'd seen minivets before. We're about to leave when he hears a flock of them calling. They soon appear, and I see the briliant orange and black tick marks on a male's wings, adding GREY-THROATED MINIVET, the Beauty Bird of the Day. My hosts are very polite, letting me have the best positions and views, since they'll have other opportunities to see the Hong Kong birds, while this weekend may be my opportunity of a lifetime. Florence and Ray don't see the birds until perhaps half a mile later, when we see another flock which moves obligingly up the hill to surround us, with their brilliant orange (male) and yellow (female) on black colors. It's one of those magical moments, as we silently become part of the landscape, and the birds take their rightful place free of human threats for an all-too-brief moment. We've been walking a fairly fast pace, as Karl and his friends are all about half my age, but also because we're trying to keep to a schedule to get to Mai Po before high tide. The minivets are well worth a lengthy stop, and I get a very good view of the distinctive comma-shaped orange (or yellow) 'vette' on their black wings which helps separate the different minivet species and gives the birds their name. As we're leaving, we see a monkey in the trees. Later, we see a fat solitary Rhesus Macaque (weighing at least 40 lbs) by the roadside, apparently used to receiving handouts from tourists. There are only two monkey species in Hong Kong, and this is the larger of the two. Karl thinks the first one was the other species (Mangrove Macaque?), but I didn't see it well enough to guess its identity.
At about 11:00 a.m., we hail a taxi and return to the Tai Po Market station of the KCR, where Ray leaves us. From there, we take the KCR to the Sheng Shui stop and a $HK 50 taxi ride to Mai Po, which is crowded with buses, cars, and people. Once there, I enter the crowded office/sales counter to check on my promised Frontier Closed Area permit, only to find there isn't one ready for me. I can't believe it, after writing 7 weeks early, and calling last week, I still don't have my permit. Although Karl had advised I could see the same birds from other 'gei wai', I'd heard so much about birding Deep Bay from the blinds at the end of the floating boardwalk in the FCA, that I can't help but be disappointed.
Fortunately, Karl sees another official of the HKBWS, and he offers to let me be part of their group permit for 50 people. Oh well, I guess I've saved the $HK 100 the WWF-HK wanted to process the FCA permit. We leave the WWF-HK gift shop/office and stop at a checkpoint to show our Ministry of Agriculture entry permits (which are checked and recorded in a logbook). I should have requested a permit for the whole year, or at least for my entire trip, as Karl's and Florence's permits aren't limited as mine is to just this weekend. We're soon on our way, on a route that I wouldn't have found without Karl's assistance (or a map and a long, slow, unsure walk through unfamiliar territory). On the way, we see a Little Grebe and a Pied Kingfisher.
There's another border fence here, with the same 10' fence and barbed wire and a guard tower. There's a vehicle parked below the guard tower, but no guard is visible inside. There's double chain link fencing at the bottom of the fence, and a gate through it leading to the floating boardwalk. The floating boardwalk is a rickety contraption made of roughly 2" X 10" X 10' planks laid in single file with a handrail, all floating on 55 gallon drums. There are occasional 3' sections where you can step off to the side to let opposing traffic by. The boardwalk leads you through a mangrove swamp to at least three HKBWS hides (blinds) which bear signs stating you must be a member of the HKBWS to use them. I'd failed to notice the significance of this HKBWS membership requirement, as I thought my WWF-HK membership, Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries Mai Po entry permit, and (undelivered) FCA permit were all that I would need. Fortunately, no one questions my HKBWS membership status, and I was offered use of their FCA permit for a day, so I rationalize that extends to guest status in their hide, also.
We enter an empty hide and wait for the high tide to push the birds in closer to us. The birding gods are not kind to me, as Karl has videos of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper he saw two weeks earlier here. He says the species composition has changed dramatically since then. Two weeks ago, he saw numerous stints. Now the predominant species are Greenshanks and Marsh Sandpipers, with CURLEW SANDPIPERS, Redshanks, and SPOTTED REDSHANKS among them. It helps to have the latter two species standing side-by-side, so I can see the Greenshank-like size and grayish color of the latter compared to its smaller, browner, cousin. Half a dozen AVOCETS move to within 100 yards of the hide, and some Little Ringed Plovers and a pair of Shelducks are also present near the hide. I see Chinese Pond Herons, Moorhens and Coots, but little else near the hide except blue-eyed mudskippers and Mangrove Fiddler Crabs, more than double the size of the Georgia species, but still sporting a huge claw on one side. This Asian crab has white markings on a reddish background, so it's more colorful, too. The mudskippers must possess some deterrent that keeps herons and egrets from eating them, as they don't have holes to hide in. The tide never comes within 200 yards of the hide today (it's about a 2.2 meter high), so the mudskippers don't have much water to submerge in, either. Every once in a while, a flurry of activity leads me to wonder whether they splash water on themselves to moisten their skin and gills, but I never see the initiator of the movements before he's done.
By 2:00 p.m., I begin to realize the birds aren't going to come any closer. We identify Curlews, Black-tailed Godwits, a Whimbrel, and two Black-headed gulls a quarter of a mile away. At this distance, my (Kowa TSN-614) scope is a must. Karl has a Nikon Fieldscope ED, and we take them off their tripods and prop them on the frames of our viewing slots (the hides have two entrance doors in back, and several viewing slots in front, each hinged at the top. You open your slot by lifting its latch pins, swinging the slot door open, and twisting a wooden latch to hold the slot door up). I see a group of godwits fly, and they don't have black and white in their wings, so they must be BAR-TAILED GODWITS. Thousands of ducks, mostly Shoveler, and a few Great Egrets and Grey Herons work their way in a body of advancing water right of the hide. There are a couple of posts or poles which provide convenient perches for Black-capped and Common Kingfishers. I also see a Rufous-backed Shrike using one of the perches.
A Merlin or Hobby has harassed the shorebirds a couple of times, and I've learned that when the Moorhens and Coots run for the shelter of the mangroves, something's about to happen. Does it ever. Wow! I've seen perhaps a dozen Peregrine Falcons prior to seeing about 15 migrating over Cape May this fall. From that dozen sightings, I've seen a Peregrine attacking a Starling in downtown Salt Lake City, and I've seen one attacking ducks on the water in Alaska (the ducks dove when attacked). Both attacks were unsuccessful. Today, at the Deep Bay mud flats at Mai Po refuge, we're treated to a kill. As we watch a mixture of Shovelers, Marsh Sandpipers, Redshanks, Greenshanks, and Spotted Redshanks, a Peregrine sends everything scattering. As I recover from my surprise, the Peregrine, an adult with blue-gray back, climbs to about 75', turns, and dives a second time at a bird whose tail feathers are sticking up out of the water. The bird doesn't move, so the Peregrine dives a third time, knocking it 6" with its talons. The Peregrine climbs each time to about 75' elevation. On its fourth dive, it knocks the dead bird a good two feet forward in a splash of water. The Peregrine makes a fifth dive, this time picking up the bird and flying towards our hide with its prey. Then it turns to fly from right to left right in front of us, and is attacked by a much larger bird. At first I think it's an eagle, but the attacker turns out to be a Black-eared Kite, which actually puts its talons out for the prey bird before the Peregrine moves away. Karl is surprised the kite can keep up with the Peregrine, but the Peregrine is loaded down, and the kite easily follows, trailing the Peregrine out of sight and still trying to steal the catch. We may not have large quantities of bird species today, but this experience is one that will forever be etched indelibly in my memory. Surely the Peregrine, no matter how common, earns a First Runner-up Bird of the Day award for its magnificent display. Later, a pair of Buzzards work the marsh, sending all the birds flying toward deeper water and effectively ending our birding from the hide.
The water begins to recede, and we walk along the border fence southbound. Soon we see an eagle, which I immediately call a Golden Eagle due to its golden shoulders and head. I wish I could call it an Imperial Eagle, as there's been one seen a week and a half earlier (special interest sightings are posted on a board at the Mai Po gift shop entrance), but I can only add a trip bird, not a lifer. But Karl emails me later saying the bird was an IMPERIAL EAGLE. I check Viney, and yes, the bird's light shoulders may have been the diagnostic "braces" on either side of a light colored head, and the Imperial Eagle is the commoner species by far here. We see a pair of Mallards flying overhead. We walk quickly, and Florence surprises me with the ease at which she keeps up with Karl. Karl soon offers to let me lead, in hopes that I may see more at the front, such as the Coucals which keep eluding me. I do see a DAURIAN REDSTART, and then we see a female PIED HARRIER with its white rump patch working the marsh, harassed by Magpies. Later, we'll also see a female EASTERN MARSH HARRIER (lacking a white rump patch) working the marsh.
Karl spots a flycatcher, lurking in the shadows of the shrubbery, which puzzles us. It's large headed, gray with a white eye ring, a brownish undertail, and a definite large white patch in its wing. Its underparts are unstreaked. I immediately think of the Pied Flycatchers I've seen in Spain, and sure enough there's a Little Pied Flycatcher illustrated in Viney, with brownish tail and the white wing patches. There are only four flycatchers illustrated with large white wing patches like this bird. We can rule out Mugimaki Flycatcher because ours doesn't have orange on its chest. We can rule out Yellow-rumped Flycatcher since ours lacks a yellow rump. Narcissus Flycatcher doesn't have white in the wings of the female, and males have yellow or orange breasts. The problem with Little Pied Flycatcher is that there's been only one recent record in Hong Kong. It might be a Sooty Flycatcher, but our bird's brownish tail and larger white wing patch don't fit that species. We don't solve this mystery until days later, when Karl tells me the bird is/was a female Daurian Redstart. Yes, the darkness could have dimmed the colors of the bird.
We arrive at a gated pond at 5:15 p.m. The pond hosts hundreds of Eurasian Wigeon, Teal, Pintail, Cormorants, and other birds. One appears to be a thin-billed grebe, but it doesn't have the color contrast of a Black-necked (Eared) Grebe. Its size is similar to a Little Grebe or a Pied-billed Grebe, but its bill seems much thinner than a Little Grebe's should be. Nonetheless, I can't turn it into anything but a Little Grebe. Karl comments that there are a lot of GARGANEY here at this time of year. Garganey? I hadn't seen any Garganey. Karl points them out in the book, and I realize I've been assuming all the teal-sized ducks were Teal. Doh! The ones with pronounced white superciliary lines and dark eyestripes have been Garganey. I was expecting to see some breeding plumage drakes. The ducks are restless, flying frequently, as darkness approaches. I keep looking for free-flying Mandarins, hoping to add this species, as Karl has warned me there are stocked birds in this pond. There are half a dozen Mandarin drakes and many more Mandarin ducks. Finally, I see a bird without a speculum flying, and as it touches down, I see this female's white eye mask. I can finally add MANDARIN to my life list. Since I gave the Beauty Bird title to the Grey-throated Minivets earlier, and my eagle identification wasn't that good, I'll give the Mandarin the Bird of the Day and Trip Bird awards.
We leave after dark, having to walk about 15 minutes to the main road from the Mai Po headquarters. En route, we walk past a small blackish snake perhaps a foot long, ominously thick-bodied with a triangular head, strangely sunken in the center below swollen side glands. It looks like its head has been squashed, but I prod it with my tripod to check. The snake strikes at the tripod, confirming its aggressiveness, and leaving us with more than a little suspicion that it's poisonous. A few days later, Karl shows me a wildlife book that has an illustration of a Mangrove Water Snake that closely matches what I saw, so perhaps our snake wasn't poisonous after all. There's no way to really know, since the book doesn't begin to describe all the species (it doesn't mention the mudskippers, for instance). We catch a minibus, and Florence leaves us at a tram depot. Karl and I catch a tram to the Tsuen Wan MTR station, where we part. It's been a great weekend, leaving me with 93 trip birds and 52 lifers after three days of birding. Today, I've added 30 trip species and 15 lifers.
My trip list is summarized below. Although I do some morning and afternoon birding in the three city parks in the following week, I don't add any new species. Our hosts do take us to the floating restaurants in Aberdeen, with a tour of Hong Kong Island thrown in. We see Happy Valley, the sea gods at Repulse Bay, and do some shopping in Stanley enroute to Aberdeen. Judging from my daily list, which ends with 30 new trip birds on my third day, an enterprising birder covering different habitats, and with more time to spare, should see many more birds than I did. Given my expense-paid circumstances and limited birding time, I can't complain. Contrary to non-birder beliefs, Hong Kong can offer some superb birding opportunities.
1. Rock Dove 2. Chinese Bulbul 3. Rose-winged Parakeet 4. Crested (Red-whiskered) Bulbul 5. (Black-billed) Magpie 6. Tree Sparrow 7. Spotted Dove 8. Blue Magpie 9. Yellow-nib Duck 10. Chinese Pond Heron 11. White-breasted Kingfisher 12. Magpie Robin 13. Black-faced Laughing-thrush 14. White-breasted Waterhen 15. Japanese White-eye 16. Black-eared Kite 17. Koel 18. Black-winged Cuckoo-shrike 19. White-backed Munia 20. Jungle Crow 21. Black-necked Starling 22. Crested Mynah 23. Blackbird
24. White-bellied Sea-Eagle
25. (Black-crowned) Night Heron
26. Yellow-crested Cockatoo 27. Common Tailorbird
28. House Swift 29. Silky Starling 30. Siberian Stonechat 31. Little Egret 32. (Great) Cormorant 33. Olive-backed Pipit 34. Collared Crow 35. Grey Heron 36. Red-vented Bulbul 37. White Wagtail 38. Osprey 39. Teal 40. Pintail 41. (Northern) Shoveler 42. Black-faced Spoonbill 43. Moorhen 44. Great Egret 45. Eurasian Wigeon 46. Mugimaki Flycatcher 47. Black-capped Kingfisher 48. Little Grebe 49. Marsh Sandpiper 50. Buzzard 51. Pallas' Warbler 52. Kestrel 53. Rufous Turtle Dove 54. Dusky Warbler 55. Grey Wagtail 56. Red-throated Pipit 57. Yellow Wagtail 58. Rufous-backed Shrike 59. Wood Sandpiper 60. Common Sandpiper 61. Plain Prinia 62. Spotted Munia 63. Little Ringed Plover
64. Common Kingfisher 65. Great Tit 66. Green Heron 67. Yellow-browed Warbler 68. Chestnut Bulbul 69. Greater-necklaced Laughing-thrush 70. Scarlet-backed Flowerpecker 71. Grey-throated Minivet 72. Black-tailed Godwit 73. Redshank 74. Pied Kingfisher 75. Shelduck 76. Avocet 77. Greenshank 78. Eurasian Coot 79. Curlew 80. Whimbrel 81. Black-headed Gull 82. Bar-tailed Godwit 83. Merlin 84. Curlew Sandpiper 85. Peregrine Falcon 86. Spotted Redshank 87. Mallard 88. Imperial Eagle 89. Daurian Redstart 90. Pied Harrier 91. Eastern Marsh Harrier 92. Mandarin 93. Garganey
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