Hong Kong had been quite high on my list for quite some time. Whilst I had been before, it had always been for work or Rugby, never any birding. It would also be an opportunity for my wife, Ha, to visit Hong Kong for the first time. Finally, I was on the market for some new camera equipment, and Hong Kong has a much wider selection than Vietnam.
I asked around in the BirdForum for contacts, and Mike Kilburn was mentioned quite a few times. A couple of e-mails later, and we were good to go.
When reserving the trip, I had forgotten that it was the Hong Kong Rugby 7's weekend, meaning the city was full. Add to it the fact that it was still the high season, and prizes were pretty steep. The hotel, which was mediocre at best, was USD 160.00 a night. Service was pretty poor and you couldn't swing a cat in the miniscule room. About the only good thing about the hotel was the proximity to the Metro and railway station, as well as to the Kowloon Night Market. The hotel web site is here: Stanford Hotel.
Flights weren't very cheap, either; with Vietnam Airlines and Cathay running a code-share, they have a monopoly on the route. We paid just over USD 800.00 each for Business Class.
Food and drink ranged from very cheap in the local eateries to extremely expensive in a top restaurant.
Obviously. Mike also wanted to get paid for his efforts. The money was well worth it, but please do contact him directly for quotations. Drop me a line if you need his contact details.
Accommodation and food:
As mentioned, the hotel was not much to write home about, but it was impossible to get anything halfway decent without paying a fortune. If I went to Hong Kong again, I would certainly avoid the Hong Kong 7's weekend.
Many of the restaurants that we ate in were local eateries that Mike took us to. I am a big fan of Dim Sum and was certainly not disappointed. The best meal, however, must have been at the Hutong Restaurant. Not only was the food very good, it also provides great views of the Hong Kong Harbor. This does not come cheap, though; we paid about USD 200.00 for the two of us, without wine. Reservations are a must, as is smart casual attire.
This and that:
If you are planning to spend a few days in Hong Kong, get an Octopus card for the public transport system. The system is extremely efficient, with trams, buses, and trains running every few minutes.
Tides in Mai Po were far from perfect during our visit, again this is something I would look at more carefully if planning another visit.
We did miss some of the birds we really wanted to see, notably Spoon-billed Sandpiper, Nordman's Greenshank, and Chinese Egret.
If you are planning to buy camera equipment or electronics, stay away from Nathan road as many of the shops are rip-off joints (and the Indian gentlemen trying to sell suits are a pain in the a**). I went to a shop that came recommended by a Hong Kong photographer, the Min Shing or Wan Shing Photo Supplies Stores. Their service was first-rate and the have a huge selection.
The weather might not have been good for birding, but it was great for us with pretty warm temperatures all around. Only when we left Hong Kong did we get into a bad storm, it was the first time I heard people screaming in a plane.
I had brought "Birds of South Asia" by Craig Robson and purchased the latest edition of "The Birds of Hong Kong and South China" by Viney/Phillipps/Ying at the Mai Po Headquarters as it was sold out in the 10 or so book stores I visited in Hong Kong. For the touristy part, we brought the Lonely Planet Guide to Hong Kong and Macau.
A word of thanks:
Mike Kilburn turned out to be a very pleasant chap, and extremely knowledgeable about Hong Kong birds. Thanks to him did we not only see great birds, but also got to sample fantastic food and a couple of cold beers. His speaking Chinese obviously made things a lot easier for us.
As usual, a big "Thank You" to my long-suffering wife, Ha. As is always the case, she was forced to trudge not only through forests and estuaries, but also book stores, camera shops, and malls and, as is always the case, you held up admirably.
27th of March:
A morning flight saw us arrive in the early afternoon. We hadn't planned any birding today, shopping was the order of the day. I got my camera stuff squared away, and than we had a great dinner at the Hutong Restaurant where I had reserved a table right by the windows. Great stuff.
28th of March:
Mike had told us from the start that he wouldn't be able to go with us today, which suited us fine as it give us time to do all the touristy bits. As Ha had never been her before, crossing the harbor with the Star Ferry and taking the tram up to the Peak were obligatory. The weather was glorious and we did see a few birds, notably Black Kites, Chinese Bulbuls, and Silky Starlings, the latter lifers for both of us. The Yellow-crested Cockatoo will not make it on our trip list, along with Azure-winged Magpie, for obvious reasons. Apart from that plenty of good food and cold beers.
29th of March:
The first real day of birding. Mike had told us to take the train to near where he lived. He was initially concerned that we would screw up that part, but a quick 30-minute ride would find us in Tai Wo. A couple of suggestions: there is really good milk tea available in the Cafe here, and do take a sweater if you take cold easily; the temperatures on the Hong Kong trains are pretty chilly.
After a few teas, we headed off for the Tai Mo Shan Country Park, near the village that Mike lives. We followed a small path up the hill and soon came across the first bird we had really wanted to see, Chestnut Bulbul. A really smart-looking Bulbul, somewhat putting the other Bulbuls present, Red-whiskered and Chinese, to shame. The two star birds here, at least for me, were Blue-and-White Flycatcher and Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler. The Flycatcher gave really good views, the Babbler was a little more difficult. Both Masked and Black-throated Laughingthrushes were common, but only Ha managed to get views of Asian Stubtail. Other birds seen here were Scarlet and Grey-chinned Minivets, Dusky and Yellow browed Warbler, Great Tit, and Rufous-capped Babbler.
After an excellent lunch, we headed for the Hong Kong highlight, Mai Po. Before actually entering, we admired some Oriental Pratincoles sitting in a drained fish-pond near the entrance. Mike had arranged for our permits, and it was with little delay that we managed to enter the reserve. We first headed for the educational center were the staff put out food for the ducks, giving us easy views of Northern Pintail, Northern Shoveler, Gadwall, Eurasian Wigeon, Common Teal, and Garganey. The highlight here was a Lesser Whistling Duck that had wintered. Whilst common here in Vietnam, this is certainly not the case for Hong Kong.
We then moved on to the hides where we would soon see another Hong Kong Mega: Lesser White-fronted Goose, two of which had also chosen Hong Kong to spend the winter. The same area also held at least 50 Black-faced Spoonbills as well as 1-2 European Spoonbills. Obviously, it was also teeming with waders and we saw huge numbers of Black-winged Stilt, Avocet, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, Common and Spotted Redshank, Greenshank, Marsh Sandpiper, and Curlew Sandpiper. Less numerous were Terek Sandpiper, Long-billed Dowitcher, Grey Plover, and Great Knot.
Collared and Large-billed (or whatever they are called after the recent splits) Crows were very obvious, but another unexpected Hong Kong rarity was a single Carrion Crow.
Herons were obviously very present, with Purple, Grey, Chinese Pond, Black-crowned Night Heron, and Little, Cattle, Great, and Intermediate Egrets all making an appearance.
Kingfishers seen here were Pied, Common, and White-breasted Kingfisher, whilst birds-of-prey were represented by Black Kites, Eastern Marsh-Harriers, and Ospreys.
Exhausted after a long day, Ha and I headed back to Kowloon for a much-deserved dinner and some cold brews.
Ha chose the Stubtail as "Bird-of-the-day" whilst I will go for the Streak-breasted Scimitar-babbler.
30th of March:
It was the same procedure as the previous day: early train-ride to Tai Wo, milk tea, meet Mike, grab a taxi. Today, our first stop was the Shek Kong Airfield Road. Nothing for sensible noses, there are a lot of pig farms in the area, but the lake of pig sh*t has to be one of the best places in the world for one of my favorites, Painted Snipe! They are really not shy here, and it was easy to see at least two females and 3-4 males. What a start to the day. Obviously, the other birds that we saw here ale paled somewhat in comparison, though brief views of a Grey-backed Thrush were nice. A couple of Black-faced Buntings were still hanging around here as well, and we also saw some Sooty-headed Bulbuls.
From here, we headed back to Mai Po. Most of the birds were pretty much the same we had seen the previous day, with the exception of Little Ringed Plover, Common Buzzard, and both Red-throated and Richard's Pipits.
After another excellent lunch, we headed for Long Valley. This is a very nice area with a lot of wet cultivations, meaning lots of Common Snipe. It was also here that we saw the only Cinnamon Bittern of the trip as well as a Lesser Coucal.
All the aircons set to freezing had taken their toll on me in the form of a really bad cold, and we decided to call it an early evening and head back to the hotel.
Not many new birds to day, but Painted Snipe took the "Bird-of-the-day" honors for both of us.
31st of March:
Same procedure as every day and after train ride and milk tea we were off once more to Mai Po. We headed for the hide overlooking Deep Bay, but the tide was really to low and most birds were just way too far out. However, nice birds that we did see here were Caspian and Gull-billed Terns as well as a distant Saunder's Gull. After roasting in the hide for a little while longer, we headed back, seeing much of the same birds as the previous couple of days, the one exception being a Bonelli's Eagle. Then, just before the exit, we saw a real cracker of a bird, a male Narcissus Flycatcher. What a bird, more than making up for the hot slog.
For lunch we went back to the same Dim Sum restaurant that we had visited a couple of days earlier, the Dim Sum seemed to be even better! Thus nourished, we headed to Mike's place of work, Kadoorie Farm & Botanic Garden. This conservation and education center has excellent flora and also a rehabilitation center for all sorts of animals. We had missed the shuttle that goes up to the summit and decided to walk up the hill as far as we could before it got dark. One of the first birds we saw was Fork-tailed Sunbird. Along a small stream we would see the only Blue Whistling Thrush of the trip whilst a Pale Thrush was a nice addition to the trip list.
And that was pretty much it. Mike invited us for a beer and then it was time to say goodbye as he would be busy the next day. We went back to the hotel, watched Samoa trounce Fiji and headed out for another great dinner.
"Bird-of-the-day" for Ha was the Narcissus Flycatcher, I'll take the Fork-tailed Sunbird.
1st of April:
As Mike was busy, we had signed up for the excursion to Poi Toi Island organized by the Hong Kong Bird Watching Society. Whilst it was a nice trip in good weather, it was not much as far as birds go. I had reports of their previous trips and all the wonderful things we saw, but all Ha and I managed to add were Pacific Reef Egret and a few Red-necked Phalaropes.
And that was that, Ha and I flew back to Saigon the next day. All in all, a great trip. A few more birds would have been nice, but the weather was just too good. But then, that was great for us in its own right.
List of species seen: