Hong Kong: the world’s least likely bird sanctuary

Millions of passengers fly to and from Hong Kong each year. But away from the runways and high rises, a different kind of visitor is using the city and its surrounding territory as a hub.

Hundreds of thousands of migrating birds visit the wetlands to the northwest of the city. It is one of the most important stopovers for migrating birds in Asia, en route from Australasia and Southeast Asia, back up China’s coast to northeast Russia.

Dr Martin Williams promotes nature tourism and escorts groups and individuals keen to discover Hong Kong’s wild side.

‘Mai Po, which is in Deep Bay close to the Shenzhen border, is one of East Asia’s key wintering areas for migrating birds,’ Williams says. ‘We get around 20% of the global population of black-faced spoonbills spending the winter there, and this is a really rare and flagship species – which make the nature reserve there so important.’

In winter, Williams says, ‘You’ll see thousands of cormorants and tens of thousands of other species such as sandpipers and egrets. The variety and numbers of birds is extraordinary. This place is head and shoulders above any other place in Hong Kong for birds. It’s outstanding.’

Among this richness, there are some global rarities that attract the interest of jet-setting bird-watchers, such as the endangered black-faced spoonbill. ‘The global population is around 3,000 birds and Mai Po is one of the sites where they winter, so there could be well over 200 of them there from November.’
Another rarity is the spoonbill sandpiper, of which there are only thought to be 100 to 200 breeding pairs left in the world.

But if it’s a real splash of colourful plumage you want, seek out the minivets.

‘Minivets are wonderful birds – the sort of bird that people in Europe would see in books about birds of the Orient. They’re here and you can see them in their proper environment,’ says Williams. ‘The male is bright red underneath, while the female is yellow.

When a flock of them land in a tree, it’s like seeing Christmas ornaments decorating a tree – and they are also as loud as they look.’

For more information on walking and nature photography tours, some led by Dr Martin Williams, visit hkoutdoors.com for more ideas about the natural and wild side of Hong Kong.

Image: Ernest Tse

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