Saturday, 3 December 2016

Siberian Cranes - a Hong Kong mega!

Siberian Crane - the adult and juvenile at Mai Po

Flash back to December 2002, a single juvenile Siberian Crane made an appearance at Mai Po. Only a handful of people were fortunate enough to have seen it, and my father was one of them. It was a weekday and I was in school, for some reason my father did not have to work that day, so it's always been one of those birds that he got and I haven't. And the fact that no further records from then on meant that waiting for the next one would take a lot of patience. December 2014 a juvenile landed in Taiwan and stayed for over a year! This gave us hope that one will return to Hong Kong someday...

14 years had past since 2002. While sitting at the office on Friday, I received news of a pair of Siberian Cranes sighted at Mai Po. It took me less then a minute to decide whether I should take half a day off; it was really a no-brainer! I was soon rushing home to grab my camera gears.

 I picked up Yuen on the way, driving as quickly as I (legally) could. Yuen constantly received news of the bird, and as I drove into Tam Kon Chau Road they were supposed to be stationary at the tower hide. To my surprise, just before I got to the WWF HQ, I saw two large white birds with straight neck soaring above! Surely Siberian Cranes! We quickly got out of the car and were soon snapping away at the pair circling above us. Interestingly, the area we saw the birds were at Pak Hok Chau (白鶴洲), Pak Hok actually means "White Crane" in Chinese which incidentally is the Siberian Crane's Chinese name! So, it was an honour to have been able to witness two "Pak Hok" at Pak Hok Chau! The pair later drifted south west back towards Mai Po.

Soaring above "Pak Hok Chau"

Soon we heard news of the pair landed in pond 22, at the far south corner of Mai Po. Since Yuen had other things to do he had to go first, while I continued on my quest to relocate the duo. Pond 22 was a bit of a walk, an area of Mai Po I rarely visit. I arrived at the scene but saw no cranes in sight and thought I was too late. But soon I met other birders at the location and they indicated that the pair were hidden away in some tall reeds. After some waiting, the pair finally came out to the open to feed, and seemed to have grown bolder and more confidence as they explored the surrounding area. After I left I heard that they were stationary at pond 22 where they seems to have chosen to spend their first night in Hong Kong.

Distant view of the duo at pond 22

Siberian Crane - juvenile

Siberian Crane - adult

Naturally, my father wanted to pay them a visit too after seeing photos from the afternoon. He's only seen the juvenile in 2002 and wanted to see an adult. So, we headed out early morning at 6am, picking up Hoiling on the way and headed into Mai Po to look for the cranes before dawn. There were already a small crowed at pond 22 when we arrived, the pair were showing very well standing together. 

Early morning after staying for a night at pond 22!

The juvenile soon moved off to start foraging around the reeds, the adult was however more then obliging in walking around a few times showing off it's graceful moves...Everyone got to enjoy the birds and we were off again by 7:45am. This is only Hong Kong's second Siberian Crane record, and we all hope that we would not have to wait for another 14 years for another one to grace our land!

Like most cranes on earth, these majestic creatures are now critically endangered, with global population estimated at just around 3,000 birds, they are amongst one of the most endangered cranes in the world! With natural habitat and wintering grounds shrinking, the future of these large cranes may look a bit dim. Hopefully further conservation efforts can be done to ensure these amazing birds can continue to thrive so that our future generation will still be able to witness them in the wild.

Siberian Crane - the majestic adult that gave us quite a show


  1. Yep, going for these was a "No brainer" for sure - we went, even though we saw the 2002 bird. Great pics !

    1. Thanks John, I would say they were probably the most exciting bird this year!

  2. Such a lovely and inspirational story to read! Must have been a fabulous experience :) Fantastic photos and thank you for sharing such a great experience with us all!

    1. Thank you, I truly hope this species can continue to live on for many generations to come, although the pressure of habitat lost is very real in China.