With the recent discovery of an endangered foreign bird species in Hong Kong, as well as these winter months being migratory season for birds, now is the perfect time for nature enthusiasts and urbanites alike to check out the Mai Po Marshes in Yuen Long. Last month, a Japanese marsh warbler was spotted at Mai Po Nature Reserve. In birding circles this is pant-wetting stuff. “It is the first recorded sighting of the bird in Hong Kong,” says Katherine Leung, assistant reserve officer at Mai Po. Researchers believe that the warbler, which migrates in the winter to wetlands in southern Japan and the Yangtze Valley, was probably thrown off track this migratory season by a strong northerly wind. For sightings of this bird and others like it, head to the marshes between now and late March, Leung advises. “The warbler also tends to hide in the tall reeds, so it might be difficult for bird watchers to spot it,” she says. The warbler, which breeds mostly in Japan, has been classified as endangered by global conservation alliance Birdlife International, because of its small population and threats to its habitat from industrialization of the wetlands. Over 380 bird species have been spotted at the Mai Po Nature Reserve, Hong Kong’s only wetland nature reserve, since the WWF took over its management in 1983. Some 26 of these species are endangered, including the black-faced spoonbill, a species with a population of only 1,700 worldwide. The Mai Po Inner Deep Bay is situated on the mid-point of the East Asia-Australasian Flyway, reaching from the Arctic Circle to New Zealand, thus making Hong Kong an important pit stop for migrating birds. During migration season, nearly 30,000 birds stop to rest and regroup at Mai Po before continuing their flight. This means that during peak spring and autumn migration periods, Hong Kong not only sees regular Flyway travellers, but also stray birds that accidentally follow the wrong flock. “Sometimes the Eurasian spoonbill, a bird destined for the Yangtze Valley in China, will get mixed up with a flock of black-faced spoonbills,” says Leung. “There is also a chance that this kind of confusion is how the Japanese marsh warbler ended up in Hong Kong.” This makes the upcoming months a great time to visit one of Hong Kong’s greatest and least appreciated natural reserves. The migratory season typically lasts from October to May, but Leung advises nature enthusiasts to visit the marshes from December to February. “These are the best months, because during this time there will be around 50,000 birds in the marshes.” Bird Spotting Katherine Leung suggests five species to look for: Black-Faced Spoonbill (endangered) The total population of the Black-Faced Spoonbill is currently 1700 worldwide. They breed in Korea and migrate to Japan, China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Southeast Asia during the winter months. Black-tailed Godwit (near threatened) This is a migratory shorebird found in Mai Po during spring, autumn and winter. They breed in Siberia and migrate as far as Australasia, so Mai Po is only one of many of the black-tailed godwit’s many stopovers during its migration. Black-winged Stilt The black-winged stilt began breeding in Mai Po successfully in 2003. Their chicks can be seen from May-July of each year. Pied Kingfisher The pied kingfisher is Mai Po Nature Reserve’s logo. One of the four kingfishers found at Mai Po, this bird feeds on fish and breeds in summer. Dalmatian Pelican (vulnerable) This huge bird breeds in Mongolia and migrates south during the winter. These pelicans have been stopping over in Hong Kong for the past 30 years. Recently, however, their numbers have dropped dramatically. In fact, there were no recorded sightings of the Dalmatian Pelican in winter 2006. “This may be caused by climate change, and the loss of habitats and breeding sites from industrialization,” explains Leung. Getting there From the Sheung Shui KCR station take red minibus no.17 from San Fat St. (next to Sheung Shui Landmark), or KMB bus no.76K from Choi Yuen Rd. (opposite Sheung Shui KCR station) to Mai Po Village. The Nature Reserve is a 20-minute walk from the Village. Visit www.wwf.org.hk/eng/maipo/ for maps and other details.