Final focus on winter visitors

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 24 February, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 24 February, 2010, 12:00am
 

As winter comes to an end, migratory birds are set to travel back to their homes in the north.

But many species, both rare and common, remain in Hong Kong's countryside to hide from the chill in higher latitudes. If you want to catch a glimpse of the visitors before they leave, it is time to get out of your flat.

These visiting birds typically set off from Siberia and north China in the final two months of the year and fly thousands of kilometres across the mainland to Hong Kong, Guangdong and other southern parts of Asia. Here, the birds can find a relatively warm shelter for the winter.

Two spectacular visitors are the imperial eagles and greater spotted eagles which visit Mai Po Nature Reserve each year, where they search for food in the marshes. This month, three imperial and a couple of greater spotted eagles have been seen in the WWF-managed reserve.

When their wings are outstretched, they can span two metres. Usually they glide high in the sky or lurk in the trees to look for prey. An exciting sight is when the eagles plunge down to catch ducks. They stay in Hong Kong between December and March.

The two birds are listed as threatened species by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources. (IUCN).

Another rare species at Mai Po is the endangered black-faced spoonbill. This large, white, wading bird has a distinctive spoon-shaped beak, which is used to carry fish from the water.

Towards the end of each winter, adults develop distinctive golden feathers on their breast, neck and head.

The first birds arrive in mid to late October and generally remain until the end of May, although sometimes a few birds who are too young to breed remain in Deep Bay throughout the summer.

If you would like to catch sight of a large group of birds all flapping their wings, you can watch some 20,000 Caspian terns at Mai Po.

The body of this Siberian bird is white, but it has a trademark reddish-orange bill, and their white head has a black cap. It is the world's largest tern, about 50cm long and with a wingspan of up to 1.4 metres.

They usually rest on the vast mudflats in a group.

Another winter visitor, the northern lapwing, also has a distinctive feature. This bird from north China has a feather-like crown and green wings.

It is not regularly seen in Hong Kong, and when it is sighted, is usually seen in very small groups. The Hong Kong Bird Watching Society says that it is occasionally on the records of birds which pass through while migrating elsewhere.

In past years, it has been sighted at Mai Po, the Wetland Park, Pui O in Lantau, Long Valley and Kam Tin. One reason for the bird's rarity is that it prefers dry grass and rough farmlands, which are gradually disappearing from Hong Kong and Guangdong due to urbanisation.

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Final focus on winter visitors

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