What do you do when it starts to get way too hot to hike yet you want to get out and into Hong Kong’s great outdoors? How about… bird watching?
“Avid birder” or not, the Mai Po Nature Reserve managed by WWF Hong Kong is well worth exploring for a few hours. It will take you at least half a day or more, however, as getting in and out of the “northern marshes” takes a while.
Why go? The northern marshes of Hong Kong have been well preserved, a rare wildlife hotspot in between the SAR and mainland. We love the simple yet well maintained zone, with picturesque wooden boardwalks crossing lily-filled ponds and a view of Shenzhen’s skyline in the not-so-far distance. They have research centres in the form of wooden buildings amidst greenery with massive horizontal windows / peep-throughs and charts to help you identify endemic flora and fauna.
Birdwatching, or birding, is a form of wildlife observation in which the observation of birds is a recreational activity or citizen science. It can be done with the naked eye, through a visual enhancement device like binoculars and telescopes, by listening for bird sounds, or by watching public webcams. (Wikipedia)
I first found out about the Mai Po Nature Reserve by chance. I actually saw it on Google Maps years ago, when I was plotting my cycling route around Nam Sang Wai. You can see similar landscapes on the cycling routes, and migrating birds as well, if the season is right. I believe part of what we saw was actually the edge of Mai Po.
What’s this? I thought, and made a mental note of it. Later on I did a little bit of research, and found out you need to join a Public Guided Tour to see Mai Po Nature Reserve.
I gathered a band of fellow nerds (TG. Johan, my sister Joyce, and my cousin Justin) to rise early with me one fine morning to do the “Exploring Mai Po” tour. Tickets didn’t come cheap; they were around HK$255 each for three or more hours in the ‘wildlife’. I didn’t mind though, I think these things are totally worth it!
Our tour began at 10.30am (we were a bit late as it took foreverrr to get there via public transportation from Sai Ying Pun) – and the centre actually called us to check if we were still making it and where we were?! We were a few minutes LATE, a stark contrast to the EARLY BIRDERS who immediately sniffed us out to see if we were ‘legit’. Clearly, we were not.
“OMG did you download iBird? I loved their latest update! It’s so much easier to search for birds according to size, color, location… and I love that they have multiple drawings and pictures of each bird!!!!”
The people we were with actually used bird sound libraries to identify the birds behind the sounds they heard…
There was a really cute North American kid who was 10x more excited than the other bird watchers and knew every single name of every single specie in that place. We were basically the pariahs of that group, way out of our league, but anyway, we enjoyed the trip!
Click here to find the exact location of the entrance on Google Maps : 22.495519, 114.049153
We basically took the MTR to Yuen Long Station and took Minibus 76 to Mai Po San Tsuen. (We actually tried to find a taxi but couldn’t, and somehow managed to find and get on the right minibus?!)
This is a bit complicated as well, but luckily we were able to catch some taxis right at the door of the centre rather than walking alllllll the way back to the main road where we had gotten off the minibus. It was around a 10 minute walk more or less, not great under the midday sun.
Can you visit Mai Po Nature Reserve without buying tickets for the tour?
The Mai Po Nature Reserve is listed in the Wild Animals Protection Ordinance of Hong Kong, and access to the area is restricted. Individuals entering without a permit issued by the Director of Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation may be liable to a fine. WWF will arrange a group permit for visitors enrolled in our eco-visits. (WWF)
What else can you do at the Mai Po Nature Reserve?
Night Safari in summer!
As summer isn’t great for bird watching (the birds have all gone back up north, too hot down south…), Mai Po has begun running a night safari that lets you enjoy its surrounds without getting roasted by the summer heat.
I haven’t done the one in Singapore, but I’m guessing the HK version will be a bit more low key / less commercialized.
The night safari starts with sunset over Mai Po’s reed beds and incredible dusk views of flocking birds returning to their resting grounds. On this visit, you will discover Mai Po’s nocturnal inhabitants including fireflies, bats, frogs and the leopard cat.
From late May to August 2018
5:30 pm or 5:45 pm
This you can only do from October-May… not sure if this was the same as we did during our guided tour, but it looks amazing!
Another timely summer activity on evenings between June to August 2018.
Ok so obviously they added a whole lot of activities since we last went in March – all the better for you guys because you have more opportunities to access the reserve!
Happy nerding out xx