Mai Po Nature Reserve, Hong Kong


Well-known member
In response to Mike's year list for Ng Tung Chai, I thought I might try one for myself in another part of Hong Kong. I am lucky enough to work at Mai Po Nature Reserve, so I actually have the opportunity not only to bird the site before or after work, but actually during work as well!

Given the public holiday on 1st, I didn't start the list until this morning, but I arrived bright and early to try a bit of birding before office hours. Just around the reserve car park, I managed to pick up Dusky Warbler, Masked Laughingthrush, Pallas's Leaf Warbler, Japanese White-eye, Oriental Magpie Robin, House Swift, Spotted Dove, White Wagtail and Common Blackbird in rapid succession. A single Black-faced Spoonbill passed over, bringing the total to 10 as I headed towards the reserve.

I opted for the long route to the office to try to pick up a variety of species, and was not disappointed. Within 10 minutes I was already up to 35 species, with the addition of Azure-winged Magpie, Crested Myna, Black-collared Starling, Yellow- browed Warbler, Chinese Bulbul, Great Cormorant, Great Egret, Grey-backed Thrush, Tree Sparrow, Northern Shoveler, Grey Heron, Little Egret, White-throated Kingfisher, Pied Kingfisher, Red-whiskered Bulbul, Greater Coucal, Siberian Rubythroat, Pied Avocet, Northern Pintail, Common Moorhen, Manchurian Bush Warbler, Eurasian Collared Dove, Chinese Pond Heron, Little Grebe and Asian Koel.

Continuing around the perimeter of the reserve gave me Black-winged Stilt, Eastern Yellow Wagtail, Eurasian Magpie, Red-billed Starling, Yellow-bellied Prinia, Cinereous Tit, Tufted Duck, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Greenshank, Collared Crow, Grey Plover, Common Pochard, Daurian Redstart, Black-crowned Night Heron and Eurasian Coot. I managed to pick up Fork-tailed Sunbird, Oriental Turtle Dove, Eurasian Wryneck, Stejneger's Stonechat and Long-tailed Shrike on my way across the reserve.

The Red-breasted Flycatcher seen in the last two days of 2012 unfortunately did not show, but as I looked for this, a brown shape that dashed between two patches of reeds revealed itself to be a Eurasian Bittern and an Intermediate Egret was on the next pond.

Just before arriving at the office came the first surprise of the day - a Himalayan Swiftlet among a small flock of House Swifts by the office. This is tricky species on the reserve, and not one I was expecting to see for the year. This brought the total to 58 species in just over 30 minutes!

The list slowed down a bit while I was working, of course, but I did manage to add White-breasted Waterhen, Red-rumped Swallow and Red-billed Blue Magpie from the office window before lunch. An Accipiter called at one point, but I couldn't see it and couldn't tell if it was a Besra or Crested Goshawk.

Knowing there was a high tide at lunchtime, I dashed out to the mudflat for some wader watching, which proved to be very productive, adding Common Redshank, Common Sandpiper, Eurasian Curlew, Black-headed Gull, Black Kite, Whimbrel, Kentish Plover, Marsh Sandpiper, Terek Sandpiper, Pacific Golden Plover, Greater Sand Plover, Heuglin's Gull, Osprey, Great Knot, Saunders's Gull, Black-capped Kingfisher and Little Ringed Plover. I also added Common Kingfisher and Red-flanked Bluetail on the way back to the office, bringing me to a round total of 80 by the end of lunchtime.

The afternoon was quiet, adding only Eastern Buzzard. After work, I tried again for the Red-breasted Flycatcher and this time it cooperated. It's a good one to get 'in the bag', and is not a species I would normally have expected, so it was a relief that this individual was still around!
As I left the flycatcher site, the pond where I had seen the bittern this morning struck again when I flushed a Cinnamon Bittern. Although I would expect this species at some point in the year, it is unusual here in winter, so was another surprise. A Ruddy-breasted Crake trilled from deep in the reeds of the next pond.
With light fading, I just had time for one more bird - the Oriental Stork that has been present since the summer was just visible in the twilight on the far side of it's favoured pond.

So, the first day of birding brought a total of 85 species. A good total, with a a couple of surprises. There are still several easy birds missing (how on earth did I miss Plain Prinia?), but that just gives me something to look for in the coming days...


Well-known member
Looking forward to reading this over the course of the year - hoping to make it to Mai Po again once or twice through the year


Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
It will be great to have regular updates from HK's best birding site. 85 in a day. I wonder if the Magic Roundabout will manage that in a year!

Anyone interested in a sweep on John's total for the year?

I reckon 275 is achievable. No pressure!



Well-known member
Actually Mike, I've also come up with 275 as a target that I consider achievable. It will require a degree of luck, but with Himalayan Swiftlet and Red-breasted Flycatcher out of the way already, I'm hopeful!

I wasn't working yesterday (3rd) so was birding off-site. Today I was only on the reserve for the morning, and had to dash to a meeting in the afternoon. On my bike ride to the office I managed to pick up Eurasian Teal and Olive-backed Pipit (#87).

For most of the morning I was leading a tour for a group from one of the local universities, which meant I was out and about on the reserve. Not really dedicated birding, but I still managed to pick up a few more for the year: Wood Sandpiper, Scaly-breasted Munia, Purple Heron, Two-barred Warbler (another useful one to get out of the way), Green Sandpiper, Red-throated Flycatcher, Eastern Imperial Eagle, Spotted Redshank, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Greater Spotted Eagle and Asian Brown Flycatcher. As I left I also managed Black-faced Bunting - I thought I'd heard them a couple of times already, so it was good to actually lay eyes on one!

Shortly after leaving the car park on my way home, I also picked up White-cheeked Starling. Unfortunately I wasn't planning to record this area on the list, so it'll have to wait for another day. All the more frsutrating now that I have totted up the year total so far and found that this is now 99 species. So the big question for me now is, what will be species number 100? I'm hoping that will be answered on Sunday, when I am next on the reserve...


Craig Brelsford (大山雀)
I'll be checking this thread with interest. Happy posting!


Well-known member
Nice start John. I'll have to chase down your sightings and try and get some photos.
Could be a busy year.


Well-known member
I'd hoped that species #100 would be a good one, and in the end it turned out to be... Plain Prinia. I see these almost every day from my office window, so the most surprising thing was that I had managed to see 99 species before this one. Even so, it was a bit of an anticlimax for #100.

During a tea break mid-morning, a flyover Chinese Grosbeak took me to 101. At lunchtime there were two Eastern Cattle Egrets (#102) feeding around the buffalo and two Large-billed Crows (#103). I tried searching through a flock of 90 roosting Black-faced Spoonbills for a Eurasian, but if there was one there I didn't manage to pick it out.

I was due to meet someone in the afternoon, and unfortunately for her she got lost on the way. It turned out to be lucky for me - as I waited in the car park, a Besra (#104) flew over. A few minutes later a Common Tailorbird (#105) called from among the trees. While I was still waiting another raptor appeared in the trees behind the visitor centre - a juvenile Crested Goshawk (#106), which gave some of the best views I've had of this species.

The tide was high as I left the office in the evening and there was a big flock of Eurasian Curlew coming in to roost on the scrape. No new species, but after the relatively low daytime tides of the last few months have made wader-watching difficult, it's a promising sign that there will be more waders on the reserve in the coming weeks.

Terry Townshend

Regular vagrant
Thanks for starting this thread, John. I'm looking forward to hearing about your exploits down south..! 100 species already isn't bad at all.....


Well-known member
Nice one - might have to get a Bo ma Shan thread running to see how it compares.....!

The more the merrier David !

Personally I love reading all these reports from different posters and learning which species are indigenous to which location. Even if it turns me into a green eyed monster :)


Well-known member
We had our first ringing session in the reedbeds at Mai Po this morning. We ring regularly, especially in autumn, as part of a long-term study into reedbed management. I'm hoping it will pull in a few good birds for the year list...

Shortly after dawn this morning an Eastern Water Rail (#107) was on the track by the ringing site. This or another was also in the reedbed later in the morning. The Oriental Stork circled low over our heads a while later, seemingly unsure about where to go for the day. An unusually small Eastern Marsh Harrier was mobbed by a Peregrine Falcon (#108), which seemed almost the same size!
Our ringing site must be by far the easiest place in Hong Kong to see Chinese Penduline Tit (#109), and sure enough they started calling and flying out of the reedbed as the sky brightened. A few Black-browed Reed Warblers (#110) also called from within the reedbed. Both species were trapped during the morning.
The big surprise of the morning was a Manchurian Reed Warbler (#111). The ringing has shown this globally-threatened species to be a regular autumn migrant through Mai Po and 2012 was a good year, with 10 individuals trapped. But there have only been one or two previous winter records, so it was still a surprise to catch one today.

I had to leave the reedbed shortly afterwards for a meeting, so I don't know what else was trapped later (maybe Dave can let us know after he starts his Bo Ma Shan thread). On my way to the office after the meeting my bike chain came loose and I was forced to stop to fix the bike. This proved to be fortunate as not one, but two Yellow Bitterns (#112) flew out of the grasses on the adjacent ponds. Three bittern species already, and it's only a week into the year!

I was counting waterbirds on the mudflats in the afternoon and had high hopes. Unfortunately the combination of strong sunlight and distant birds made it difficult. I did manage to find one new species - a distant Dunlin (#113), but left thinking that we would perhaps have been better from one of the other hides. As yesterday, the tide was high enough in the evening to push waders onto the reserve, but unlike yesterday the Black-tailed Godwits (#114) had moved onto the favourite roosting pond by the time I headed out of the reserve to go home.


Mark Andrews
The big surprise of the morning was a Manchurian Reed Warbler (#111). The ringing has shown this globally-threatened species to be a regular autumn migrant through Mai Po and 2012 was a good year, with 10 individuals trapped. But there have only been one or two previous winter records, so it was still a surprise to catch one today.

That is a nice surprise!


Trapped in mist ***s
Shall i say this is the official "Mai Po" thread?:t:

Bring it on brother. Eventhough i'm burning up on your daily count, it's good to get a better understanding of the birding situation in Mai Po throughout the year.


Sabine's Sunbird
The Oriental Stork and Chinese Grosbeak were two of my highlights today, along with a Eurasian Bittern that surprised the hell out of me. Didn't see nearly as many as you did on your first day but I'll put that down to not knowing the ground.

Saw an odd thrush near the WWF visitor centre while looking at the magpies, white underside with yellow legs and red and grey above. Thought it might be a grey backed thrush, is that likely?


Well-known member
Yes, it's highly likely to be Grey-backed Thrush. That and Blackbird are by far the most likely thrush species at Mai Po, and there are several Grey-backed around the reserve at the moment (I saw three today, but as usual only brief views as they dived into bushes!). Well done on seeing the Stork - it can be unpredictable but is a fantastic bird when it does show.

When deciding on the area to count, I made the cut-off at the resrve car park on the basis that this is the area covered by all visitors. This means that I pass through some good fishponds on my way in which don't count on the list. While heading into work this morning, there were two species on these which I still needed for the year list - White cheeked Starling and Grey Wagtail. Oh well, I thought, I still expect them at some point. And then cycling from the car park to the office, I saw first White cheeked Starling (#115) and then Grey Wagtail (#116)!

At lunchtime I decided to scan around the buffalo pond for Painted Snipe - water levels are falling and conditions look very good at the moment. No luck with that, but there were two Common Snipe (#117) at the edge of the reeds. The Red-breasted Flycatcher was also still around in it's favoured line of trees.

We were counting ducks on the reserve in the evening. I managed to pick up a single Chinese Spotbill (#118) on my survey route around the south end of the reserve. This species used to be fairly numerous they've been declining at Mai Po for a number of years and have been very tricky to see this winter, so I'm actually relieved to get it out of the way. I hoped to pick up a more unusual diving duck among the hundreds of Tufted Ducks, but unfortunately the dim light and the need to move on to count the rest of the site meant that I didn't manage to pick any out. Hopefully another day...


Well-known member
Now I have the new Swarovski STX95 with it's 30x - 70x zoom eypiiece no birds out on the mudflats should escape it's reach. I'm not sure I'll be able to id some of them though eg Nordmann's Greenshank from Common Greenshank but I will be trying to get them all on video.
My main bird for the Spring migration will be Spoon-billed Sandpiper. I missed it last year.


Well-known member
Today was mostly fairly quiet, and it looked for most of the day like there would be nothing to report, but it did pick up after 5.00.

After a site visit to check out some off-site activity I was returning to the office and flushed a thrush from the path. This flashed white corners to the tail - a Pale Thrush (#119).

After work I had a quick visit to the buffalo enclosure at the south of the reserve. Two Richard's Pipits (#120) flew from the short grass in the enclosure. A while later I also disturbed three Greater Painted-snipe (#121). As I left an Asian Barred Owlet (#122) called from the trees.

I wasn't involved, but there were two good counts of roosting birds on the reserve today. Dave Stanton had a count of 10 Eurasian Bitterns going to roost in the reedbeds. My colleague Katherine Leung counted 101 Collared Crows roosting in the mangroves. Mai Po is possibly the most important site in the world for this Near-threatened species, and triple figure counts in winter are unusual, so it's good to know the population here is doing well.