Saturday, 4 March 2017

Hong Kong Trip Report

18 - 26 February 2017

18 February 2017
Taipei - Hong Kong

     My flight from Taipei via Cathay Pacific Airways departed on time and arrived in Hong Kong after a smooth flight at 21:30. I cleared Customs and Immigration in short order and got the shuttle to the Stanford Hillview Hotel in the Tsim Sha Tsui district of Hong Kong, which would be my home for the next eight days.
     I was checked in at the reservations desk by a delightful young lady and given an upgraded room on the thirteenth floor of the hotel, the top floor. The room was very well appointed and I knew that I would be comfortable there for the rest of my stay.
     I showered and was in bed just before midnight. I slept soundly and had perhaps the best sleep of my trip so far.

Accommodation: Stanford Hillview Hotel   Rating: Five stars

19 February 2017
Stanford Hillview Hotel - Mai Po - Stanford Hilview Hotel

     Before getting into the specifics of my stay in Hong Kong I should say a word about the pictures that follow. I usually shoot in automatic mode and with my little Canon Powershot SX50HS that does an adequate job in terms of providing pictures that are acceptable to me. I realize that I am never going to get the kind of quality Franc Gorenc does, for example, or the calibre of images on some of the other blogs I follow, but I am a birder not a photographer. However, somehow or other (I have no idea how) I shifted the setting from automatic to ISO 80 and day after day that is what I was shooting at. I couldn't understand why I was having so much trouble getting pictures that should not have posed a problem, until it dawned on me to check the settings - something I don't normally do because I never change from automatic. All this is to say that there will be less pictures than I would like and until the point where I reverted to automatic mode they are of quite poor quality. Hopefully, if ever this happens again I will realize a whole lot faster than I did this time.
     I had breakfast in the room - a power bar, an apple and a cup of tea while watching Black Kites Milvus migrans soaring around outside, sometimes having the unusual experience of seeing them from above. This species has very readily taken to city life and does well by scavenging. I also saw two Black-collared Starlings Gracupia nigricollis, my first ever, a dozen or so Rock Doves Columbia livia, a Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorynchos and a couple of  Eurasian Tree Sparrows Passer montanus. The latter species has filled the niche normally occupied by House Sparrows Passer domesticus in many cities around the world.

View from my hotel window
     I had been corresponding with Matt Kwan before leaving Canada, and he had kindly agreed to bird with me for a day, to visit the legendary wetland of Mai Po. He picked me up at my hotel at 09:30 and soon we were wending our way through the chaotic traffic of Hong Kong out towards birders' heaven!
     In communicating with Matt vie email I had formed an impression in my mind that he was perhaps mid forties, maybe even fifty. Imagine my surprise when he turned out to be a mere sprite of twenty-six, but a consummate birder far beyond his years. He has birded from the age of six and it shows. He actually honed his skills with his father, also an avid birder. Matt has superb birding acuity and a depth of knowledge that belies his years. He speaks impeccable English with a BBC accent. It was a pleasure to be with him.
     Before actually going into Mai Po, Matt suggested that we grab an early lunch. That seemed like a great idea to me and we went into a small restaurant nearby and had noodle soup with a fried egg and a slice of ham. It was delicious - Asian comfort food, I guess.
     Mai Po is not a place you can just walk into off the street. You have to preregister,be approved, pay HK$180 for the day and leave a security deposit of HK$200. All of this is worth it. Mai Po is without a doubt one of the best places I have ever birded in my life.

     One of the first species we saw was a Red-throated Pipit Anthus cervinus poking around in the grass.

     This was followed in short order by a Long-tailed Shrike Lanius schach.

     In addition to corresponding with Matt I had also been in touch with John Holmes, another Hong Kong birder of great distinction, and John too had agreed to help me during my visit. We met John who was doing a waterfowl survey at Mai Po that day and fixed our plans for the following day, which would include a return visit to Mai Po.
     Soon we were into Mai Po proper and a Chinese Pond Heron Ardeola bacchus, a very common species, attracted our attention. I have seen this species many times before, in several countries, but it is amazing how when you come across it after a few years it seems brand new all over again.

    The same is true for Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollis, a very attractive small denizen of wetlands across Europe and Asia.

     We saw Great Egrets Ardea alba throughout the wetland, many in breeding plumage. This aggregation decorated the trees.

     Spotted Dove Streptopelia chinensis is far and away the most common dove in the region; often taken for granted, but very handsome nonetheless.

     Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo is the default cormorant for the area and like cormorants everywhere is prone to nest and roost in trees in huge numbers. Their droppings ultimately kill the vegetation as can be seen in the picture below.

     As far as I can recall this Eurasian Coot Fulica atra was the only individual we saw.

       Right around this time we were joined by Fritz Davis, a friend of John and Geraldine Sanderson, presently living in Hong Kong while teaching there on a Fullbright scholarship, with whom I had also been in touch. Fritz joined Matt and me and we birded together for the rest of the afternoon. Fritz added greatly to the pleasure of the day and was key in identifying a Nordmann's Greenshank Tringa guttifer
      Additionally Matt and Fritz scanned the large flocks of Eurasian Curlews Numenius arquata searching for an odd Far Eastern Curlew Numenius madagascariensis, often present at Mai Po, but far from easy to find. 

     Again Fritz gets the credit for locating one, receiving a confirmatory seal of approval from Matt. Note in the picture below the bird with its head tucked in with no white on the belly or rump. That is a Far Eastern Curlew. Kudos to Fritz for picking this one out among the hundreds of Eurasians.And thanks to him for providing me with the picture.

     Pied Avocets Recurvirostra avosetta were present in great numbers (up to 10,000 Matt said) and it was wonderful to watch them feed with that sweeping action of their bill.

     At times the concentrated flocks looked as though you could walk across them.

     This Great Egret was taking advantage of one of the boardwalks as a perch. How handsome it looks in nuptial plumage.

     Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos was not especially common but we did see a few.

     We did see several Pacific Golden Plovers Pluvialis fulva, a delicate little bird in comparison with the numerous Grey Plovers Pluvialis squatarola also present.

     Little Ringed Plover Charadrius dubius was also seen although before the week was out I would see far more at other locations than I did at Mai Po. I always find this tiny plover especially attractive.

     One of the signature birds at Mai Po in the winter is Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor. In most years 150 or so may be counted. At one time it was thought that the world population of this highly endangered species was only around 700 but discoveries of new breeding areas on mainland China have elevated this estimate to around 3,000. This means that about 5% of the world's Black-faced Spoonbills are at Mai Po with a similar number on Taiwan. It is a spectacular species. As you can clearly see in the picture below the birds are transitioning to breeding plumage.

     This one has snagged a fairly large fish and is about to swallow it.

    I must confess that until I witnessed this behaviour I had not realized that spoonbills took
such large prey items. Their typical head-sweeping feeding behaviour seemed more designed for the capture of much smaller organisms. But birds are opportunistic and a meal is a meal!
     Siberian Crane Grus leucogeranus is a critically endangered species with a world population estimated not to exceed 4,000. The fact that one appeared at Mai Po a couple of months ago and has been there since meant that I was able to get a look at this magnificent bird. It is, I believe, only the second time this species has visited Mai Po.

     Grey Heron Ardea cinerea was a very common species ad it was rare to glance out over the wetland and not see several.

     The bird shown below had captured a large snake and was having a hard time swallowing it. You can see that the snake is still wrapped around the bird's bill. I assume that as the head was slowly digested by the powerful stomach enzymes of the heron, the coils became weaker and the bird was finally able to swallow its prey - a sizeable meal to be sure.

     This Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis would provide a fertile study for a student of subspecies, for this bird comes in many forms.

     One is supposed to be back at the office by 17:00 to retrieve the deposit one has paid and to hand in the daily permit that was issued. I was about ten minutes late but the two young ladies were very considerate and offered no reproach. I had borrowed Debbie's copy of The Birds of Hong Kong and South China and wanted to buy my own copy, but their cash register had closed for the night. They knew I had a permit for the following day so they suggested I buy it then - upon arrival!
     What a fabulous day I had at Mai Po, thanks in no small part to Matt's guidance and excellent companionship, ably aided and abetted by Fritz. In all my days of birding this day ranks in the highest echelon.
      Matt drove me back to my hotel, fighting the insane traffic of Hong Kong, navigating its road closures and one way streets with aplomb. I was sad to bid him farewell. I will be forever in his debt.

All species 19 February: Greater White-fronted Goose, Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Garganey, Eurasian Teal, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-faced Spoonbill, Chinese Pond Heron, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Great Cormorant, Western Osprey, Besra, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Black Kite, Eastern Buzzard, White-breasted Waterhen, Common Moorhen, Eurasian Coot, Siberian Crane, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Pacific Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Far Eastern Curlew, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Nordmann's Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Saunders's Gull, Black-tailed Gull, Heuglin's Gull, Rock Dove, Oriental Turtle Dove, Spotted Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Greater Coucal, Asian Koel, Asian Barred owlet (H), White-throated Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Peregrine Falcon, Brown Shrike, Long-tailed Shrike, Azure-winged Magpie, Red-billed Blue Magpie, Eurasian Magpie, Collared Crow, Large-billed Crow, Japanese (Cinereous) Tit, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Light-vented Bulbul, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Yellow-browed Warbler, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Plain Prinia,  Common Tailorbird, Masked Laughingthrush, Japanese White-eye, Crested Myna, Red-billed Starling, Black-collared Starling, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Daurian Redstart, Siberian Stonechat, Chinese Blue Flycatcher, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, White-rumped Munia, Scaly-breasted Munia, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Olive-backed Pipit, Red-throated Pipit.

20 February 2017
Stanford Hillview Hotel - Shek Kong Water Catchment - Mai Po - Stanford Hillview Hotel

     I took breakfast at the hotel where a large variety of items is available at a buffet.
     Thus fortified I made by way on the MTR to the Kam Sheung Road station to meet John. I gave myself lots of time to navigate the system since this was my first time using it; in reality it is simplicity itself. The MTR is clean, free of graffiti, efficient and rapid. I have travelled on the Tube in London, the Métro in Paris, the subways in New York, Toronto and Montréal, and it compares very favourably. I had visions in my head of passengers crammed into cars like sardines in a can but I never experienced such a scenario. Most times I was able to get a seat and even when I had to stand I was not cheek by jowl with my fellow passengers.
      John picked me up at 09:00 as arranged and we drove off to the Shek Kong Catchment area to start birding. 
      At first it was a little quiet but things picked up as the morning progressed. Our first bird was a Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinerea, my first of the trip and a bird which I saw again only once. White Wagtail Motacila alba by comparison was very common at many locations.
      Oriental Magpie-Robin Copsychus saularis was similarly common and seen most days. Both Grey-chinned Minivet Pericrocotus solaris and Scarlet Minivet Pericrocotus speciosus were a feast for the eyes and recalled other trips to Asia.
      We ran into a couple of birder/photographers, both known to John and they were responsible for directing us to a Chinese Blue Flycatcher Cyornis glaucicomans a rare vagrant in Hong Kong. 

     Considering that I saw two Greater White-fronted Geese Anser albifrons and the Siberian Crane yesterday at Mai Po, and the Chinese Blue Flycatcher today, I have done well with vagrant rarities here.
     A Verditer Flycatcher Eumyias thalassinus brought back memories of Bhutan, and this one put on a real show for us as it bathed vigourously.

     After a couple of hours of forest birding we left to go to Mai Po. Before registering there we decided to have lunch in a small, well patronized restaurant and I had a very good plate of fried rice.
     I went into the office at Mai Po to get my permit and the same two young women were there as yesterday. You have to present a passport for identification purposes and one of them had a subtle sense of humour. Upon looking at my picture she said, "You look the same as yesterday." She then admonished me very sweetly that I should be sure to return before 17:00 which is when the office closes and that I should buy my book right away in order not to risk having the cash reconciled for the day as happened before. I took her advice!
      Upon entering Mai Po I was filled with the same sense of awe as yesterday; birds were everywhere, of every kind too - passerines, shorebirds, herons and egrets, raptors, was all quite enthralling. When John realized that Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax, that most cosmopolitan of all herons, had eluded us yesterday, he immediately took me to an area where he knew he could find them.
      Shortly afterwards we spotted a Black-capped Kingfisher Halcyon pileata perched on a post.

       Between the two days at Mai Po we saw all four species of kingfisher found there.
       One of the aspects of Mai Po that I did not mention yesterday is the presence of the Chinese city of Shenzhen right across Deep Bay. The skyline of this huge industrial city (population around 15 millions) is seldom out of sight and apparently some days the pollution that pours across from it is horrendous.

       I have never seen so many Mudskippers (classification uncertain) as I did at Mai Po.

      They are relatively hard for a bird to catch since they disappear into the mud in the blink of an eye, but when they are captured they must provide substantial provender. This Great Egret has been successful in catching one.

      It was pretty hard to move too far at Mai Po without seeing numerous Eurasian Curlews.

     This White-breasted Waterhen Amaurornis phoenicurus was very obliging as it crossed right in from of us.

     There were numerous species of shorebirds present, often quite distant, however. This group of Common Redshanks Tringa totanus was close enough for a picture.

     Several species of duck were wintering at Mai Po but again often quite far out. I did manage photographs of Northern Shovelers Anas clypeata and Tufted Ducks Aythya fuligula.

         Keeping our eyes on the clock we hustled back to the office and I was greeted by broad smiles from my two young friends behind the desk when I arrived with ten minutes to spare.
         What a great day I had had! John dropped me off back at the MTR station and I found my way back to the hotel.One of the slightly unpleasant features of walking along the street is that I was constantly importuned by tailors offering to make shirts. I know that everyone has to make a living but it really got a little tiresome. It took me about fifteen minutes to walk to the hotel and I would be accosted six or seven times. Some of the guys were really persistent and would string along for quite a distance. It was but a minor inconvenience, however, in my overall enjoyment of Hong Kong.

All species 20 February: Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Shoveler, Northern Pintail, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Black-faced Spoonbill, Black-crowned Night Heron, Chinese Pond Heron, Grey Heron, Purple Heron, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Great Cormorant, Western Osprey, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Black Kite, White-breasted Waterhen, Common Moorhen, Pied Avocet, Pacific Golden Plover, Grey Plover, Little Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, Whimbrel, Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, Common Greenshank, Nordmann's Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Saunders's Gull, Caspian Gull, Heuglin's Gull, Rock Dove, Oriental Turtle Dove, Spotted Dove, Asian Koel, White-throated Kingfisher, Black-capped Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Grey-chinned Minivet, Scarlet Minivet, Long-tailed Shrike, Black Drongo, Hair-crested Drongo, Azure-winged Magpie, Eurasian Magpie, Collared Crow, Large-billed Crow, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Light-vented Bulbul, Yellow-browed Warbler, Plain Prinia, Common Tailorbird, Rufous-capped Babbler, Huet's (Grey-cheeked) Fulvetta, Masked Laughingthrush, Blue-winged Minla, Pygmy Wren-Babbler (H), Japanese White-eye, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Chinese Blue Flycatcher, Verditer Flycatcher, Daurian Redstart, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, White-rumped Munia, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail.

21 February 2017
Stanford Hillview Hotel - Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve - Stanford Hillview Hotel

     For the second morning in a row I had breakfast at the hotel where the extensive buffet was enough to satisfy anyone's taste. I especially enjoyed the fresh fruit and the yoghurt.
     As arranged I met John at Tai Po Market Station and we took a minibus to Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve. I am glad that John was with me for I don't know how I would have been able to identify the bus, and then, in order to get dropped off you have to call out your stop. I may have still been cruising around today!
     It was not long after we entered the park that we spotted this Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus, nicely perched for us.

     We saw several Velvet-fronted Nuthatches Sitta frontalis, much to my delight and we were able to watch their antics as they exploited the tree trunks in typical nuthatch fashion. Unfortunately I did not get a decent picture.
     We heard a bird calling several times which John identified as Chestnut Bulbul Hemixos castanonotus but it never did reveal itself. We did better, however, with the much rarer Mountain Bulbul Hypsipetes mcclellandii and were able to get a decent look at this species.
     I am always thrilled to see sunbirds which are the old world equivalent of the hummingbirds we have in the Americas. Hong Kong has but one resident species, Fork-tailed Sunbird Aethopyga christinae and John had told me that Tai Po Kau was a good place to see it. True to his word, John took me to a flowering bush where it is frequently found and I was able to watch this beautiful male for several minutes. John commented that much of the flora seems to be flowering early this year and wonders what the long-term consequences will be for both resident and migratory bird populations.

     We worked hard for our birds at Tai Po Kau, but we did manage a brief glimpse of a Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, a bird which is quite rare in Hong Kong.
     We heard a Mountain Tailorbird Orthotomus cuculatus, a species that I have never been able to see in three trips to Asia in areas where the bird exists. Perhaps this is my Asian nemesis.
     We took the minibus back to the MTR station and parted company at around 14:00.
     I stopped at a restaurant not far from the hotel to have lunch/dinner of Dim Sum shrimp dumplings, and Sichuan pork with rice. It was all delicious.
     After I had been in my room for a while, watching Black Kites cruising around, the hotel delivered a complementary dessert and an Ooolong tea. It was quite delicious and I considered it a splendid gesture.

All species 21 February: Chinese Pond Heron, Crested Serpent Eagle, Black Kite, Eastern Buzzard, Rock Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Great Barbet, Grey-chinned Minivet, Scarlet Minivet, Black Drongo, Japanese (Cinereous) Tit, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Light-vented Bulbul, Chestnut Bulbul (H), Mountain Bulbul, Mountain Tailorbird (H), Yellow-browed Warbler, Common Tailorbird, Streak-breasted Scimitar Babbler, Rufous-capped Babbler, Huet's Fulvetta, Masked Laughingthrush, Japanese White-eye, Velvet-fronted Nuthatch, Fork-tailed Sunbird, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, White-rumped Munia.

22 February 2017
Stanford Hillview Hotel - Sheung Shui Station - Kowloon Park - Stanford Hillview Hotel

     I decided to have breakfast at a local restaurant before heading out to meet John. It was quite awful, pasta in some kind of tomato soup with a buttered bun of dubious freshness. I left most of it.
     John had emailed me precise directions as to where to meet him at Sheung Shui station, culminating at a Watsons drug store. Somehow or other I managed to screw up after I exited the turnstiles and went in the wrong direction. My final undoing came when I saw Watsons and waited there, but it was the wrong Watsons. Who would think that they would have two stores at the same MTR station? 
     So, John was waiting for me at the correct location and I was waiting for him at a different location. We had agreed to meet at 09:00 and both gave up at 09:30.
     While waiting I was close to a bakery which was loading its shelves with all manner of fresh goods. Since I had not eaten most of the crap I ordered in the restaurant, I bought a bun filled with barbecued pork in the centre. Now that was delicious!

     Right close by there was also a little herbal tea and quick snack place. I had noticed that these establishments seemed to be all over Hong Kong for those wanting a quick meal on the fly.

     The station was set in a lovely little park, immaculately clean, and seemed to make the best use of urban space in a crowded city it seemed to me.

      Even the smallest little parkettes that I saw had exercise stations and they seemed to be well used by young and old alike.

     The specific reason for meeting John at this station was that Chinese Grosbeaks Euphona migratoria had been had been seen there, but even though I looked for a while I was unable to find them.

     Left to my own devices I headed back to my "home" station and walked over to Kowloon Park, not far from my hotel.
     It was a delightful place, clean, well-used with many interesting features.

     It did not contain a large variety of species but there were good numbers of birds. Eurasian Tree Sparrows, as might be expected, were ubiquitous and had learned that to hang around anyone with food held the possibility of a few crumbs being spilled to the ground. Although there were signs frequently posted about not feeding wild birds, I noticed more than a few people surreptitiously dropping a little here and there. 

     As mentioned above the park was delightful in all its various guises.

     An entire crew of maintenance people seemed to be constantly on the go, with no attention to detail being spared.

     Red-whiskered Bulbul Pycnonotus jocosus was almost as common as Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

     I had seen Black-collared Starling from my hotel window, but I had the chance to observe them close at hand in the park.

     I returned to the hotel mid afternoon and had a power bar to keep me going until meeting Fritz at 18:00 to go for dinner. We chose a fine Malaysian restaurant and I had a superb Satay chicken appetizer followed by Pad Thai. The restaurant had decent wine and I enjoyed a couple of glasses of French Merlot. It was a great dinner that enabled Fritz and me to get to know each other a little more. He is a fine fellow indeed, but what would you expect of a friend of John and Geraldine?
     We had met at Mai Po as acquaintances; I believe we parted company as friends. Fritz will be taking up a position at a university in Indiana on his return to the United States, not far from the border so we will look forward to seeing him in Ontario one day.

All species 22 February: Little Egret, Black Kite, Rock Dove, Spotted Dove, Asian Koel, Japanese Tit, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Masked Laughingthrush, Black-collared Starling, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

23 February 2017
Stanford Hillview Hotel - Long Valley - Fish Ponds - Kam Tin River - Airfield road - Stanford Hillview Hotel

     John and I had reset our arrangements to meet again at Watsons and this time I succeeded in getting to the right location - not before repeating the same error as yesterday I might add, but realizing it instantly and back-tracking to get to where I should be.
     John arrived early and we checked to see whether we could find the Yellow-billed Grosbeaks, but they seemed to have moved on.
      We set off together for Long Valley and this proved to be an absolutely fabulous spot to bird with a great variety of species, to say nothing of wide swatches of agricultural areas with vegetables of every kind growing in well-tended field and paddies. Unfortunately, it was also my most disastrous day for photography and fully 90% of my shots simply got deleted. What remains is less than inspirational too!
      The following shot sets the scene at least, blurry though it may be.

      Right from the moment we entered Long Valley there was a stunning array of species, including this Eurasian Magpie Pica pica.

      Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago hid in the grasses,

    while a Long-tailed Shrike probed a burned area in search of insects.

     I had a good picture of Stejneger's Stonechat Saxicola stejnegeri until I looked at it! It was posed nicely and it was a life bird for me, but there will be no picture in my archives I fear. I remember the bird very well, however, and that is most important of all.
     Our only Little Buntings Emberiza pusilla of the trip were sighted at Long Valley, there were numerous Wood Sandpipers Tringa glareola at fairly close range and  range of starling, mynas and bulbuls.
     Before going to nearby fish ponds, we stopped by a tofu factory where there is an outlet for people to sample the products and there is an impressive range of bean curd items for sale. It is an imposing entrance to this establishment.

     John introduced me to a bowl of tofu, approximately the consistency of yogurt, upon which we added our own hot ginger water and a dash of pink sugar, derived from some kind of fruit I presume. It was absolutely delicious!
     We then proceeded to nearby fish ponds and canals and the birding there was equally fabulous. Crested Myna Acridotheres cristatellus was very common.

     And I had my best view of Red-billed Starling Spodiopsar sericeus there. This species favours open lowland areas so Long Valley and the fish ponds provide very suitable habitat. Amongst the starlings I found it the loveliest and most delicate.

     I was surprised to see a large number of Black-faced Spoonbills at the fish ponds, but John explained that when the level of the ponds is right the spoonbills come over for easy feeding. Mixed in with egrets and herons it was an impressive concentration of birds.

     There was also a solitary Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia  present as there had been at Mai Po.
     I did not see any attempt to thwart the birds feeding in the fish ponds, no wire above the ponds, no cannons firing, so I assume that a reasonable accommodation has been reached between humans and birds.
     When I saw this bread being dumped into the ponds as fish food John told me that Hong Kong residents do not eat the crusts of the bread, so it is gathered and used in this way. No doubt many birds benefited too - both by feeding on the bread and the fish fattened with it.

     It was a cool day in Hong Kong, with the high only reaching 11°. It seemed like a perfect time to go for a bowl of hot noodle soup and that is what we did. John knew of a small place, basically a private house with just a few tables, and we had noodle soup with a fried egg and spam. Now that doesn't sound like the most appetizing dish in the world but I can assure you that it was delicious. It has become a bit of a Hong Kong staple, spam having gained in popularity during the war.
     After lunch we went to the Kam Tim River, a reliable spot for Grey-headed Lapwing Vanellus cinereus and we were not disappointed. We spotted the first individual almost as soon as we arrived there.

    Following our success with the Lapwing we visited Airfield Road where a vairety of thrushes can usually be found. There seems to be a distinct paucity of thrushes this year, but we did locate Grey-backed Thrush Turdus hortulorum there, a lifer for me. 
     I also recorded Common Blackbird Turdus merula there but in doing a little reserach since returning home, I believe that I may well have encountered Chinese Blackbird Turdus mandarinus which has been split from T. merula. Based on its range it would certainly be probable in Hong Kong. In fact, prior to the split, mandarinus seems to have been the default subspecies.
     Finally, almost the last bird of the day was the Chinese Grosbeak that had eluded us at the MTR station. What a fitting way to end.

     It had been a marvelous day, on a par with my first day at Mai Po with Matt and Fritz, and I rode home with a deep sense of appreciation to John for his sterling efforts to show me the variety of Hong Kong avifauna. I am just sorry that I don't have a better photographic record.

All species 23 February: Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Teal, Little Grebe, Eurasian Spoonbill, Black-faced Spoonbill, Chinese Pond Heron, Eastern Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Intermediate Egret, Little Egret, Great Cormorant, Black Kite, Eastern Buzzard, White-breasted Waterhen. Common Moorhen, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Grey-headed Lapwing, Common Snipe, Common Greenshank, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Black-headed Gull, Rock Dove, Red Turtle Dove, Sp[otted Dove, Eurasian Collared Dove, Greater Coucal, Asian Koel, House Swift, White-throated Kingfisher, Common Kingfisher (H), Pied Kingfisher, Common Kestrel, Long-tailed Shrike, Hair-crested Drongo, Azure-winged Magpie, Collared Crow, Large-billed Crow, Japanese Tit, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Light-vented Bulbul, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Barn Swallow, Red-rumped Swallow, Japanese Bush Warbler, Pallas's Leaf Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Plain Prinia, Common Tailorbird, Masked Laughingthrush, Black-throated Laughingthrush, Japanese White-eye, Crested Myna, Common Myna, Red-billed Starling, White-cheeked Starling, Black-collared Starling, Grey-backed Thrush, Chinese Blackbird, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Stejneger's Stonechat, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Scaly-breasted Munia, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Grey Wagtail, White Wagtail, Richard's Pipit, Olive-backed Pipit, Red-throated Pipit, Chinese Grosbeak, Little Bunting.

24 February 2017
Stanford Hillview Hotel - Sheung Shui MTR Station - Fish Ponds - Border Lookout - Long Valley - Kowloon Park - Stanford Hillview Hotel

     I went to a local restaurant to have a bowl of excellent noodle soup for breakfast and walked over to Tsim Sha Tsui MTR station to proceed onward to Sheung Shui station where I was to meet John.
     I was there quite early so I birded around the station and netted twelve species, including a couple of Grey Herons.

     This Eurasian Magpie had located a dead fish on the concrete embankment and had decided it would make a fine breakfast.

     When John arrived we checked out a number of local fish ponds, finding a range of species, and then went to a border lookout, right across the frontier with China. It was so close we could see the customs and immigration stations.
     Knowing how much I had enjoyed the tofu yesterday John took me back there and we repeated our performance.
     Then it was off to Long Valley for a return visit. We had not been there long when we spotted a magnificent Eastern Imperial Eagle Aquila heliaca cruising over the wetland. This species is known to favour perching for extended periods and this is what happened as the bird located a suitable vantage point from which to scan the marshes.

     The Large-billed Crows were not happy.

     And neither was this Eurasian Magpie.

     Despite all their screaming and flying at the eagle they were unable to dislodge it from its perch and it was still there when we left.

     In a wet area we noted that Eastern Cattle Egrets Bubulcus coromandus were already in breeding plumage - a very handsome sight.

     Many Little Egrets Egretta garzetta were also present, also in nuptial attire.

     Chinese Pond Heron was so common we hardly gave it a second glance, but less than a week after returning home it seems truly exotic from my viewpoint at the other end of the world.

     A variety of shorebirds were spotted in the wetlands including this Wood Sandpiper Tringa glareola. 

     I really had to focus my attention on these shorebirds with which I am unfamiliar and are not in breeding plumage. This Common Snipe presented no problem, however.

     Far and away the most pleasing sighting for me was of four Oriental Pratincoles Glareola maldivarum, the first arrivals of the spring as far as John knew. I had seen this species only once before, in Thailand, and for the briefest of moments in flight, so I was delighted to be able to spend some time with it. Even with my as yet unknown camera woes, I was able to get a couple of reasonable pictures.

     It is an enchanting bird in my opinion, seeming like a cross between a shorebird and a swallow.
     Little Ringed Plover could be found without difficulty.......

.......and Pied Avocets were belly deep in the water, sweeping their bills from side to side in search of food.

     John and I went to have a repeat on the noodle soup with spam and egg for lunch, a welcome hot meal on a very cool day. After that John dropped me off at the MTR station and I bade him farewell. What a truly amazing fellow he had turned out to be and I can never thank him enough for the commitment he made to me while I was in Hong Kong. I would have been really delighted if he had spent a day with me, but he showed me around and helped me to find birds for most of my stay in Hong Kong. John and his wife, Jemi, are world travellers and I only hope that one day they will add southern Ontario to their peregrinations so that I may reciprocate his kindness. 
     I went over to Kowloon Park to bird for a while and then took dinner before returning to the hotel. I had a very tasty soup with chicken and vegetables and a bowl of rice.
     I emailed Miriam, as I did every night, to get her caught up on my day, played Scrabble for a while, and turned in around 21:30.

All species 24 February: Northern Shoveler, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Chinese Pond Heron, Eastern Cattle Egret, Grey Heron, Great Egret, Little Egret, Great Cormorant, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Black Kite, Eastern Buzzard, White-breasted Waterhen, Black-winged Stilt, Pied Avocet, Little Ringed Plover, Common Snipe, Spotted Redshank, Common Redshank. Marsh Sandpiper, Green Sandpiper, Wood Sandpiper, Common Sandpiper, Oriental Pratincole, Rock Dove, Spotted Dove, Greater Coucal, Asian Koel, Common Kingfisher, Eurasian Magpie, Collared Crow, Large-billed Crow, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Light-vented Bulbul, Sooty-headed Bulbul, Barn Swallow, Crested Myna, Common Myna, Red-billed Starling, Black-collared Starling, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Stejneger's Stonechat, Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Scaly-breasted Munia, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, White Wagtail, Richard's Pipit, OLive-backed Pipit, Red-throated Pipit.

25 February 2017
Stanford Hillview Hotel - Hong Kong Park - Stanford Hillview Hotel
     For breakfast I had a couple of power bars and a cup of tea in my room before leaving for Hong Kong Park. It was an easy place to get to - MTR to Admiralty Station, just one stop from Tsim Sha Tsui, and follow the signs.


    It is a beautiful spot, right in the heart of Hong Kong's financial district, and surrounded by skyscrapers on all sides.

      My principal reason for wanting to visit Hong Kong Park was to locate Yellow-crested Cockatoo Cacatua sulphurea, a species known to be commonly seen here. 

     This species is native to East Timor, Sulawesi and Lesser Sundas, where it is critically endangered. Hong Kong's birds represent the largest population of the species extant and are key to its ongoing survival. 

   There are various stories as to how Hong Kong's population of this species originated, but the most frequently repeated to me was that Governor Sir Mark Aitcheson Young released all the birds in the aviary before surrendering Hong Kong to Japanese troops in December 1941.
     They have subsequently become well established and I am told are much loved by the residents of Hong Kong.

     There is a wonderful aviary at Hong Kong Park where one clearly does have, at times, the illusion that the birds are flying free. I resisted the temptation to photograph many of them but I was lured into taking a picture of this Bali Myna Leucopsar rothschildi who seemed intent on following me around.

     There is a great range of species in the aviary and I went through it twice.
     Upon exiting the second time a small flock of Masked Laughingthrushes Garrulax perspicillatus was moving around. 

      The birds inside the aviary could be clearly seen and it led me to wonder what these native birds make of strange species they have never encountered. 
       I had lunch at the restaurant in the park- Kung Pao Chicken - and very agreeable it was too.

      This dish was pretty spicy, a fact that could be deduced from the amount of dried chili peppers in which it had been cooked. This is what was left after I finished eating.

     One of the very moving features of the park was a tribute to the members of the Hong Kong medical professional who gave their lives in fighting the dreadful SARS epidemic of 2002/2003, which originated in nearby China  and quickly spread to Hong Kong and from there throughout the world.

     Hong Kong Park gave me an opportunity to photograph several common species, including Eurasian Tree Sparrow....

.......Spotted Dove

.......Oriental Magpie-Robin (juvenile)

.......and Red-whiskered Bulbul

     I returned to my hotel and played Scrabble for a while before going out for dinner.
     I had passed a Korean Pub several times and decided I would give it a try. I ordered curried chicken and it was abysmal. I had expected curry on rice with a side order of kimchi perhaps. Instead I got deep fried chicken in a basket with French fries and a curry sauce (or so they say) poured over it. Not a great choice for my last night in Hong Kong.

All species 25 February: Black-crowned Night Heron, Black Kite, Rock Dove, Spotted Dove, Yellow-crested Cockatoo, Large-billed Crow, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Common Tailorbird, Masked Laughingthrush, Black-collared Starling, Blue Whistling Thrush, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

26/27 February 2017
Stanford Hillview Hotel - Kowloon Park - Hong Kong Airport - Vancouver - Toronto - Waterloo

     This was my final day in Hong Kong.
      I went to have Dim Sum for breakfast - what better way to start the day?
      I returned to the hotel and asked if I could make arrangements to store my luggage so that I did not have to spend the entire day whiling away the hours at the airport until almost 20:00 when I was scheduled to depart. With that arranged I went over to Kowloon Park.
      The whole place was a hive of activity with many, many people patronizing the park. It was wonderful to see the level of participation taking place. Every segment of society was represented it seemed, from tourists like me to family groups, artists, dancers, Tai Chi practitioners, picnickers and so on. It was a vibrant place to be.

     Three artists were painting the same scene and it was interesting to see their different interpretations. 

     I am probably over-generalizing when I speak of Tai Chi but there were several different variants of traditional exercises going on, all fascinating to observe.

     At times I found myself quite mesmerized by the stylized movements, all performed with a level of grace and fluidity.

     This fellow seemed to be a grand master of sorts and was instructing various students on the finer points of movement. It was clear that even the position of the fingers was important in the highly ritualized sequences that were being acted out.

     The park seemed to be a bit of a Sunday refuge for Muslim women and there were many to be observed; exclusively women, however. I never saw them joined by a man. Most had brought picnic lunches and the appealing aromas of the food made me want to ask to join in their feast!

     In addition to traditional Chinese meditational exercises various groups were dancing to music, with passers-by joining in at will and practicing their own steps.

       In most parks around the world patrons are requested not to feed the pigeons. In Hong Kong the advice gets a little more specific!

        Only a few bird species revealed themselves but some of them permitted closeup photographs. 
         A small flock of Black-collared Starlings was feeding on a particular patch of ground and seemed to be digging for fat, juicy grubs. They were feeding there for quite a while until a group of women laid out a blanket for their picnic lunch.

     Eurasian Tree Sparrow of all the species seemed to be the least bothered by the throngs of people.

      And this Oriental Magpie-Robin came and returned several times quite close to where I was sitting at the time.

     Every Sunday there is a show at Kowloon Park, completely free, and covering traditional martial arts, dragon dances and other facets of cultural history. I was only able to watch the first twenty minutes or so since I had to grab a bite to eat and get back to the hotel. I really would have liked to have been able to take in the whole show.

     I enjoyed my breakfast of Dim Sum so much I had it again for lunch, selecting different items, of course.
     The trip to the airport by shuttle went off without a hitch and I was in the boarding lounge with time to spare. The flight from Hong Kong to Vancouver was not the most comfortable I have ever taken. I occupied the window seat in a row of three and the passenger in the middle was a really big man. When they served food I could barely manipulate my arms and from time to time he fell asleep and kept sliding over on my side. I swear that airline seats get smaller every time I fly.
      The connection in Vancouver was made without a problem and I arrived at Pearson International Airport right on time. My friend Marco DeBruin was there to meet me as arranged and the drive home was all done at highway speed without a hitch.
     By the time I got to bed it was about 03:00 but I didn't sleep much. 
     It had been a great trip.  As always, it was good to be home.

All species 26 February: Black-crowned Night Heron, Black Kite, Rock Dove, Spotted Dove, Asian Koel, Large-billed Crow, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Light-vented Bulbul, Common Tailorbird, Black-collared Starling, Oriental Magpie-Robin, Eurasian Tree Sparrow.

General Comments

     Hong Kong was a fabulous destination. Once you get past the stereotypical image of a crowded mega city with little other than seething humanity, you start to discover green spaces, abundant wildlife, superb transportation, friendly people, great food and myriad other attractions. Approximately 40% of Hong Kong is undeveloped with many nature trails, wilderness areas, agricultural regions and urban parks.
    Places like Mai Po and Deep Valley are as good as it gets for birding. 
    I would recommend Hong Kong as a great opportunity to combine world class birding with many other opportunities for cultural and educational pursuits.


      Many people contributed to help make my trip a success. In alphabetical order they are:

Miriam Bauman - My patient wife who agreed to spend two weeks alone so that I could go off and indulge my birding passion.
Fritz Davis - Fritz made birding at Mai Po even more pleasurable that it already was and was a superb dinner companion to boot.
Marco DeBruin - Thank you, Marco, for driving from Cambridge to pick me up after midnight.
John Holmes - John is a birder of consummate skill and allocated five days of his time to help me discover the best of Hong Kong birding. I cannot sufficiently express how grateful I am to John.
Matthew Kwan - A true wunderkind of the Hong Kong birding fraternity. I have seldom met such a fine young man. He was a pleasure to be with and helped me immensely.
Debbie Leung - Debbie started it all. It was my conversations with her that gradually nudged me towards making this trip, She lent me her Octopus card so that I would have it immediately on arrival in Hong Kong, lent me her field guide and other material on Hong Kong birds, made notes about every idiosyncratic aspect of being in Hong Kong that she thought might help me, acquired maps for me when she was there in December, served me tea at her house and generally did everything she could to make sure that I had a productive time. A friend indeed - thank you Debbie.
John and Geraldine Sanderson - Without John and Geraldine's intercession I would never have gotten in touch with Fritz. Thanks to them for adding a great new friend to my life. 

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  1. What an incredible trip it was! The photos are very good and interesting.
    (I know how frustrating it is to notice afterwards to have wrong settings in a camera. It has happened to me once, and it wasn't possible to go back to take new photos of the subject, a medieval church...)
    I was especially charmed by the beautiful and clean parks and gardens, lovely oases surrounded by the bustle of the metropolis.
    Thank you for the great post!

  2. Beautiful array of birds, all of them are superb, but, the Oriental Pratincoles, aren't they fabulous.

  3. Hi. Thank you for a truly wonderful photos. Beautiful birds.

  4. WOW, what an interesting trip, David!
    So many species to discover in Hong Kong... I must find a way to go there once!
    And your photos humanise the place too, you're right when you say we have stereo way of imagining this town!!
    You made me hungry now, with this mouth-watering Asian food! LOL!
    Keep well and enjoy your Sunday :)

  5. This post just serves to make me realise how much we missed on our trip to Hong Kong and Phuket. We did not own digital cameras, or blog in those days, and need I add that the cost of printing was prohibitive. Almost no record at all of out trip other than great memories.
    I am also delighted to hear that I am not the only user of auto, I wish I understood the camera better, but I doubt if I will ever master anything else besides auto!!
    What a great trip and thanks so much for sharing it all with us, much appreciated.
    Keep well Diane

    1. Hi Diane: For me it's not a question of understanding the camera. Back in the days of film I used to shoot with a NIkon SLR camera and I had several lenses. As I have said I am a bird enthusiast first and foremost and I found that far too often I would miss something while changing a lens or trying to get that one perfect shot of another species. And there is only so much equipment I am willing to tote around with me. I think that ultimately you have to be a birder or a photographer. In fact some birding tour companies state right up front that it is a birding trip and they will not dally for photographers. My Canon PowerShot works fine for me and enables to at least record my experiences. Incidentally my wife now has a Nikon equivalent with a higher zoom and really does quite well at times. Bonne dimanche!

  6. What a amazing number of species! Wonderful photos of beautiful birds! Congratulations :).

  7. Hi David.

    Impressive journey you have made.
    Seen a lot of different people, cultures and many animals.
    Very nice and fun to enjoy along with the photos that you show.

    Groettie from Patricia.

  8. Amazing David. My head is spinning...what a wonderful variety of interesting, beautiful birds you have once again shared with us. From the stunning blue Verditer Flycatcher to the majestic Eastern Imperial Eagle! As always, your story telling ability draws me in like a novel, and for a few moments, I am there on the forest path or park bench beside you.

  9. Wow!!! Excelente reportaje de un viaje fuera de lo común, el número de especies es sobresaliente. Me han gustado mucho las fotos y el texto, un fuerte abrazo desde España amigo mío.

  10. My goodness what a lovely trip and write up about it and what you saw.
    The photos are wonderful and I was surprised to see cockatoos there.

  11. Great post David. Mai Po..........another place not so far from me that I really really should go soon. It looks amazing, as one can see from your post here and John's blog too.

    1. Hi Stuart: It is really hard to rank birding locations, I find, since whenever I think back on other great places I have birded the memory of the moment seems to confer its ranking for the day. Mai Po, without a doubt, would be in the top five, and I am not sure that Long Valley is not equally wonderful.

  12. I'm totally mind-boggled by another wonderful array of birds that feature in your post, David. On a more mundane level, the bread must be pretty awful over there if the locals don't eat the crusts - as far as I'm concerned, they're throwing away the best bit, and Spam - I've been put off Spam for life due to greasy Spam fritters being a staple at the school I went to!

  13. Wonderful trip report David! And thanks for your mention! It was such a lovely day out and I myself enjoyed it immensely. I will love to visit you in Canada sometime in the future! Hopefully for Snowy Owls! Cheers~ :D

    1. Hi Matt: The red carpet will stretch all the way from the airport to my front door which will be wide open to welcome you!

  14. HI David and wow what a post, lots of tasty looking birds and food. As for using the wrong camera setting, join the club,we are always somehow catching or moving a button. Last but two post was all taken on the wrong setting. What a wonderful trip you have had making a great read with a very varied set of images. All the best John

  15. This looks like an amazing trip David. All the birds! And wonderful people you met too who showed you around. So very kind of them. I thoroughly enjoyed reading your post, thank you! I will have to show it to my husband. He went to Hong Kong several times in his navy days and said it was one of his favorite places to visit.

  16. What a truly wonderful trip.
    I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your post and looking at all of your photographs.
    The birds, the people, the sights and sounds you have captured them so well.

    I must admit I thought that Kung Pao Chicken looked delicious.

    All the best Jan

  17. Hi.

    Re the RSPB. The clue is in the name. It is a money making organisation sponsored by the royals their family, clan and hangers on are shooters extraordinaire.

    I was most interested to see so many familiar species in Mai Po and indeed Hong Kong as a whole. I think I would not find it difficult to bird there. You certainly crammed in lots of birding into your stay. Thanks for your entertaining and informative travelogue for anyone thinking of visiting.

    By the way I think the Wood Sandpiper is pretty much a perfect example of how the species looks when I see them spring or autumn.

    Man up with those chillies David. I thought you Canadians were tough?

  18. Soooo that's another blog.
    Wonderful to see David.
    Greetings Tinie

  19. Hello David,

    a beautiful record of your journey and untold photos.
    I read that your settings of your camera accidentally had shifted and that's bales if you always shoot in auto mode. But in this blog are also very nice pictures. You have really seen and experienced. Beautiful.

    How's your cold?
    Are you back a bit spruced it?

  20. HI David, sorry to read you have gone down with a cold, its being in the cramped plane. All the best John

  21. Very cute blog layout. I’m all about cute exercise this place is really essential. A simple and cute necklace would make those outfits complete.
    Good and beautiful picture post. Keep update more like this.sailing cruises in san blas islands

  22. Hi David,
    so many different birds have you seen and photographed, wow !
    I love your serie with the Thai Chi people. So beautiful !
    Best regards, Synnöve

  23. Wow that was some great trip you made David. It is good to see you got so many different birds to watch and take captures of.
    Warm regards,

  24. Your trip report is very impressive,along side a wonderful collection of Birds,it almost says pack your bag and visit us.

  25. Hi David, just back from a trip and late to the comments - we were in Inner Mongola and missed Snowy Owl so perhaps we'll go for it in Ontario sometime. :-)
    Hope Winter Storm "Stella" goes easy on you all.

    1. Hi John: Start planning your trip for next winter! As for Stella she just skirted the area where I live and we had only about 6cm of snow - nothing at all really.

  26. Very complete the report of his wonderful trip through the Far East, filled with photos of birds, the city and its people, all so different from what is seen in these latitudes. I saw the ticket you had to pay to see birds in Mai Po, much more expensive for what you are charging to collect here, but I see that it was worth it. I´ve enjoyed this post