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Hong Kong June 2014 (1 Viewer)

aaronmichael

New member
Hello all -

Just got back from a (work-related) trip to Hong Kong, and spent a few days birding the country as well (mostly June 5-7). Wanted to document and pass on a little information for future visitors that I thought may be useful. This is intended to supplement what many other resources provide in terms of the basics – I mostly only comment on additional topics/hints here that I didn’t see in other resources. Many of the comments will be specific to the summer season, as I that is the only time I was there.

I will not post my detailed sightings here, but instead check them out on ebird (and I encourage more people to post their own on ebird - there is very little data on there for Hong Kong and many other foreign locations). Note that I am an intermediate (probably leaning towards beginner) birder, so take my comments as being from that perspective.

Summary: As you can easily find out by looking into it, you will essentially only see local resident birds during this time of year - choose another time (April?) if you are coming for the primary purpose of birding. I saw 73 species (in a total of around 3 days), all of which were new for me since I haven't birded Asia before – not a huge number, but it is what it is (especially since most passage migrants are gone). I’m also sure that I missed a number of species due to lack of experience/preparedness, especially in terms of songs/calls. In terms of places, I birded (in this order): “the peak” (a few hours), Kowloon Park (1.5 hours), Tsim Bei Tsui (half day), Mai Po (half day), Tai Po Kau (half day), Long Valley (half day), and Tai Mo Shan (half day).

Resources: While I acquired and planned to use a number of other resources, I found myself essentially only using the following:
- The Birds of Hong Kong and South China (Viney, Phillipps, and Ying - purchased through Buteo Books in the US). Much more useful than the two other guides I purchased, and has specific status comments for Hong Kong for each bird, with clear markings on the “commonness” of each bird for HK. Very good book, in general.
- The Hong Kong Birdwatching society website (and excellent free phone app!) – Very good resource on the most common birds, as well as detailed instructions on how and where to go for the hotspots (including transport instructions). The app has a small-ish number of songs/calls on it as well, but they are somewhat lacking in quality and

Hints/Lessons learned:
- You may want to consider renting a car. I took public transport and taxis, but the MTR doesn’t start running until 6am, and it took me around 1.5 hours to get from Hong Kong Island to most of the good birding sites, missing most of the good early morning hours. Most places had good parking and the roads are fairly well marked (Tsim Bei Tsui is probably the hardest of the spots to navigate to), and I suspect a decent GPS navigator would be sufficient to get you to most spots without too much trouble. Also, most of the hotspots are near the far north of the country, so if you are there just for birding, get a room in that area.
- Most of the hotspots require a half day each (due to amount of walking and time for transport), especially if you want to linger (necessary when all of the birds are new and exciting!). I usually spent about 4 hours at each site, plus 1.5 hours getting there.
- If taking the subway/trains (MTR), which are excellent, inexpensive and come frequently, I would recommend taking taking taxis (clean, inexpensive, and reliable - don't think I was ever "taken for a ride") to the locations from the train station. Most I spent was $70 HKD (less than $10 USD!), and it was much easier and faster. However – Make sure you have map of your desired destination (I took screen caps from google maps and saved them on my phone), complete with the Chinese characters – many of these spots are uncommon and a bit out of the city, and the drivers won’t otherwise know where to take you.
- Even if taxis are your plan, you still should know how to travel via public transport, especially for the return trip. Taxis can be hard/impossible to get at many of the destinations (none of which had taxi stands), so I had to return via bus more often than not. Either way, asking the bus/taxi driver to take you to “MTR” worked every time.
- For train travelers – Long Valley and Tai Po Kau are near one another, as are Tsim Bei Tsui and Mai Po (which is actually not far from Long Valley if you are driving, and there is likely a bus (but not train) between the two).
- Dress: It was very hot and humid most days (32C/90F, with extremely high humidity), and I sweated like an animal (bring lots of water – I would recommend 2 liters for the lowland areas given how long you are there and how far you end up walking). Mostly overcast (thankfully?). The bugs were mostly manageable, though (I only used spray in the forested areas), which is a good thing because in the lowland areas (Mai Po, Tsim Bei Tsui, Long Valley) I would have sweated off bug spray in a matter of minutes. Short sleeves (shirt and pants) worked fine for me accordingly. Wear very good walking shoes! At most locations I probably walked 5km or more, easily doing 10km or more each day (and if you aren’t able to walk long distances, you may be out of luck – none of the major hotspots allowed you to drive anywhere near where the good birds were). I also brought sandals in case I needed to get muddy/wet, but there really wasn’t any opportunity and they ended up just weighing me down even more. Also brought a light raincoat, which I ended up not needing, but I would probably bring it again just in case. Also, because of all of the walking, I recommend a good hiker’s backpack (ideally with a strap across the chest to get the straps off your shoulders). I was carrying my binos, camera rig (with 300mm lens), water, guide, snacks (none of the places had food for sale anywhere as far as I could tell), and sometimes my scope/tripod (really only needed it for Mai Po, though, and maybe Tsim Bei Tsui). Make sure you have a good microfiber cloth (or two), as moving from AC (in the hotel, trains, and taxis) to the humid/hot outdoors led to a ton of condensation on the optics, which took around 15 (painful) minutes to fully warm up.
- Despite the hot weather, Tai Po Kau and Tai Mo Shan were actually not too uncomfortable due to the altitude/forest shade. Tai Po Kau is also gorgeous – would have loved to spend more time there.
- If a “slow birder” like me, I think I would recommend planning a full day birding at Mai Po (6 hours would have been nice, but I did less than 4). Because of the tides and what others were recommending, I spent the first half of the day at Tsim Bei Tsui (but got zero shore birds there!) and then spent the afternoon at Mai Po (timing it to get to the boardwalk hides at the highest outgoing tide during my trip (around 1.9m, which wasn’t quite high enough as the water didn’t come all the way up to the hides – apparently needs to be 2m or higher). While the birding at Tsim Bei Tsui (called “the fence” because there is literally a large prison-like security fence all along the entire road sealing off the “no-mans-land” between the countries) was very good (despite the lack of shorebirds due to the late date – the only two places possible, as far as I could tell, to see any would be from the bridge, and from the top of the hill near the bus stop (and only with a scope, as the shore is a ways away), I wish I had more time at Mai Po. As is, I was rushing to get to the boardwalk hides (about an hour walk from the entrance!), and didn’t really have any time to linger at the inner parts of the reserve.
- You may want to reserve multiple days at Mai Po as insurance for bad weather or wanting to return for more time there. (Note that I was able to scan and email my reservation form in, despite the instructions to fax it.) I only saw 8 (!) shorebirds (3 species) the entire trip (all at the Mai Po boardwalk hides), along with a few Pied Avocets and Black-winged Stilts, which I am guessing was not a fluke this time of year. The Black-faced Spoonbills were very cool, however.
- I wish I had spent more time studying and collecting resources beforehand, especially in terms of songs/calls. Particularly for the areas where visibility is poor - Tai Po Kau (dense forest) and Tai Mo Shan (mist), I’m sure I would have picked up a number of additional species had I been able to use my ears (or had recordings with me to use for reference or playback). In terms of recordings, I didn’t find a good app for that, so I would have needed to download individual recordings (although there is now a decent app for Xeno Canto which allows you to download and organize locally on your phone).
- Don’t skip the city hotspots – I got a number of species in Kowloon Park and “the peak” (Mt. Austin/Victoria) that I didn’t end up seeing again anywhere else, and they don’t take nearly as much time as the other spots (due to size, density, and proximity). These places get very busy early, though (even on weekdays), so I recommend getting there at sunrise if possible (requiring a car/taxi).
- If I was to do it all over (and still keep it to 3 (packed) days of birding), I’m not sure I would do it much differently. I picked up at least 3 species at each location that I did not see anywhere else, so it’s hard to say skip any of them. Tai Mo Shan was the least productive (and fewest birds by far), followed by Long Valley (decent numbers of birds but relatively few species when I went, but got a pair of Greater painted-snipes, which made it worth it), and then Tai Po Kau (good numbers of birds, but difficult/frustrating due to the dense forest, and a relatively small number of species, albeit colorful and vocalizing ones).

Hope all of this proves helpful to anyone going to bird HK!
 

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