THIS year's Big Bird Race has raised more than $1.6 million for the World Wild Fund For Nature Hongkong (WWF). The money will be used to improve educational programmes and management at Mai Po. The winning team, Stonechats, set a new record by spotting 171 species of bird during the 24-hour territory-wide search. Seventeen teams of enthusiastic birdwatchers took part in the event this year and raised a total of $1,614,170. More money is expected to come in from sponsors over the next few weeks. Last year, the competition raised more than $1.5 million. The team Professionals managed to raise the largest amount of money ($325,230). Sighting 171 species of bird, the Stonechats broke the record set by the Jardine Pacific team last year and took home the trophy. The Jardine Pacific team came second with 166 species. Last year, the team spotted 155 species. Mr Geoff Carey of Jardine Pacific told Young Post that the team concentrated on seven areas including Lam Tsuen Valley in Tai Po and Lok Ma Chau and raised some $100,000. The Wandering Tattlers, the Peregrine and the Police, sighting 159 species, shared the third place. The Big Bird Race, in its 10th year, was organised by the World Wild Fund For Nature Hongkong. It was held last weekend.. Competition was fierce as the 17 teams worked till the last minute in an attempt to spot an extra bird at Mai Po. From the Mai Po marshes to the woods of Tai Po Kau, from the muddy pathways of the Peak to the manicured flower bed of the Hongkong Zoological and Botanical Gardens, the teams could be seen peering at trees with their binoculars and splashing through mangrove swamps to find as many species of bird as possible. Mr Chan Ming-ming, captain of the Locals, told Young Post that a lot of rural areas had been turned into container terminal and construction sites. ''It is virtually impossible to find a bird in these places.'' The Locals, an all-Chinese team, found 151 species this year. This was the team's ninth year in the contest. Although the team members have different backgrounds and occupations, they share a common interest. ''We are bird enthusiasts and we are dedicated to raise funds for the World Wide Fund For Nature Hongkong,'' Mr Chan said. Secretary for Planning, Environment and Lands, Mr Tony Eason, greeted the birdwatchers at Mai Po at the end of the race. The Mai Po reserve, with large areas of mangrove swamps, provides a vital habitat for more than 260 species of bird and other animals like leopards and civet cats.