Urban Birding in Hong Kong

with Matthew Kwan

Hong Kong is a world renowned, world-class metropolis and one of the most expensive cities to live in owing to the hugely inflated land and property prices. Amongst all the bustling city life birding has caught on to become a fast growing hobby for many city dwellers. During weekends you may see a few dozen birders escaping their busy city life at the famous Mai Po Marshes or other well known birding sites in Hong Kong. I like those places, but during weekends they can become just as packed as anywhere else in the city. So, occasionally I go the other way and head into the city parks to look for birds when I want to get away from other fellow birders (sometimes you will find yourself wanting to do that living in a city with over 7 million people).

You will be surprised at the numbers of urban greeneries we have in Hong Kong with a good variety of parks that contain a wide selection of habitats including closed canopy woodlands, open grassy lawns and even small ponds with cascading waterfalls – man-made of course! All these different types of urban landscape had created haven for migrating or resident birds alike.

Hong Kong Park and Kowloon Park are already reputable amongst birders as top birding parks. However, there are actually many other parks that are worthy of giving those sites a good run for their money! One of my favourites is the Central Kwai Chung Park just twenty minutes walk from where I live. This urban gem can be reached very easily from the Kwai Fong MTR station. Other then the common urban species like bulbuls and Oriental Magpie Robins, it is probably the best place to look for Emerald Doves in the city that have been breeding here for as long as I have been aware of. Other specialities here include Blue Whistling Thrush and Scarlet Minivet, both of which I regularly encounter.

Winter is a good time to visit when the wintering thrushes and warblers arrive. Grey-backed Thrush, Japanese Thrush, Pale Thrush and White’s Thrush have all been seen, while Red-flanked Bluetail, Daurian Redstart and Rufous-tailed Robin regularly take up territory within the park. Grey Wagtail can be found walking along the drainage gullies while Asian Stubtail Warbler can be often heard and occasionally seen skulking in the undergrowth. Look out for hawking Ashy Drongo or Asian Brown Flycatcher as you walk along the concrete footpath whilst Black-naped Monarch and Mugimaki Flycatcher occasionally pass through on migration during winter or migration. Naturally, all the smaller birds wintering in Central Kwai Chung Park attracts the attention of birds of prey like Crested Goshawks that will occasionally swoop past you at great speed!

The other urban park that I love visiting is Tsing Yi Park, just across a footbridge from the Maritime Square mall. It is a popular park for city dwellers to enjoy a nice stroll during weekends alongside the man-made lily ponds. The park has also established itself as a fine birding site with some impressive past records of rarities. The lily pond regularly attracts Yellow Bittern during the summer months while Cinnamon Bittern has also been spotted on passage here. The pond even once attracted a Watercock!

You won’t miss the confiding Black-crowned Night Herons that call this place home and that can be often viewed at close range. Common and White-throated Kingfishers are both regularly seen here sometimes to the delight of dozens of shutter-happy photographers. If you walk up the small hilly footpath during winter you will find that Yellow-browed Warblers are numerous here while Asian Brown Flycatcher can be found with relative ease. The other flycatcher species recorded here include Taiga, Red-breasted and Grey-headed Canary Flycatchers to name but a few. The population of the impressive looking Red-billed Blue Magpie is fairly stable here and they are regularly sighted. Perhaps one of the least common resident species to be found in Tsing Yi Park is the Grey-capped Greenfinch that you may often find feeding on the seeds of the Giant Crape-Myrtle. If you are staying in town, you could also try Shing Mun Valley Park, Kowloon Walled City Park, Sha Tin Central Park, Penfold Park and Ma Tau Wai Service Reservoir Playground – also known to locals as Ho Man Tin. The last park on the list has especially gained popularity in recent years and is now recognised as one of the top location for passage migrants with incredible records of Fairy Pitta, Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Tiger Shrike, Siberian Blue Robin and many more.

These parks are just a few examples of sites rich in avifauna that one can find in Hong Kong. Rare or uncommon bird species continue to be recorded in various parks in the city and some of them have surprised everyone!

You don’t have to go far to be close to nature, you just have to spend a little time to discover the amazing life living around us, perhaps these parks can become little havens for us birders as well.

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