Birdwatchers get off to a flying start

PUBLISHED : Monday, 14 February, 2005, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 14 February, 2005, 12:00am

They are not ordinary birdwatchers, and their enthusiasm has far exceeded the demands of mere professionalism.

A team of government conservation officers has been working - often day and night, enduring sea sickness and venturing into rural areas - to survey the wild birds inhabiting Hong Kong's forests and coasts.

They are members of the wild bird working group of the Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department.

Over the past three years, they have recorded two sightings of birds new to the city: a brown-breasted flycatcher and a short-tailed shearwater were sighted in Tai Po Kau and Mirs Bay in 2002 and last year, respectively. The team came up with the idea of building a thousand nests for terns and other birds, and discovered more habitations of rare birds.

'We were working day and night. Whenever we spotted rare birds we watched them intently, not missing a minute, to record what they were doing,' said Eric Liu Ka-yiu, a member of the wild bird working group.

He described the sometimes onerous task of studying the city's white-bellied sea eagles.

'The first thing I learned was to ride on a boat, enduring sea sickness when we were out ... I used binoculars to search for the birds' nests on remote islands,' he said during a recent press briefing that marked the conclusion of their work on water birds.

Such endurance was rewarded: the team found 10 pairs of the eagle, with the latest pair spotted in Tai Mei Tuk early this year.

Equally enthusiastic was his colleague Chan Yu-nan. The team set out a large number of artificial nests in tern breeding habitats.

'They usually lay their eggs in cracks between rocks, and the eggs are exposed to the sun and predators. The artificial nests could effectively protect the breeding of the young,' she said.

Ms Chan said she felt very satisfied when she later found feathers, eggs and even infants in the boxes they had placed.

With their survey on water birds completed, the team is turning to the woodland species, with a particular focus on the internationally important bird area in Tai Po Kau.