Friday, 1 January 2021

2020 Hong Kong Birding Review

Despite the fact that the pandemic disrupted everyone's life and plans during 2020, it had been a marvellous year for birds in Hong Kong, could be due to the fact that everyone is grounded, hence there had been far more coverage locally than ever before. My year count stands at 334 species, my highest ever annual count, which to be honest is quite good considering I didn't even visit Deep Bay much and missed plenty of waterbirds and missed almost all seabirds altogether! I also added plenty of lifers and HK ticks this year, many of which I had been long awaited! My Hong Kong list now up to 479 species. Here were some of the most notable species found throughout each month.


This was a good month, although we were away for most of the month, Mrs. Gould's Sunbirds were in highest count I have ever seen, with at least three on a single tree and at least 5 at Tai Po Kau at one time. Plenty of warblers were also noted including the continued influx of Rufous-faced Warblers and a Chestnut-crowned Warbler at Lau Shui Heung.

Mrs. Gould's Sunbird

Chestnut-crowned Warbler

Rufous-faced Warbler


One of the most note worthy bird of the month was a Blue-fronted Redstart found on Lantau, it was a brilliant looking male, but one that is likely going to be rejected by record committee once again, due to inconsistence moulting. Plenty of exciting wintering flycatchers were seen including a female Small Niltava at Shing Mun, male Fujian Niltava at Lau Shui Heung and a male Hill Blue Flycatcher at Tai Po Kau.

Blue-fronted Redstart

Small Niltava
Fujian Niltaava

Hill Blue Flycatcher

It was also a surprisingly good month for Buntings at Long Valley, with a pair of Rustic Buntings lingering on all winter, and later on both Black-headed and Red-headed Bunting!

Rustic Bunting

Red-headed Bunting


Flocks of Eurasian Siskins persisted at Shek Kong Catchment, while the start of night bird survey for HKBWS got me a nice looking Collared Scops Owl at Wu Kau Tang, I also heard a Brown Fish Owl there, of which I later went to see a pair near Pat Heung. 

Eurasian Siskin

Collared Scops Owl
Brown Fish Owl

Golden-headed Cisticola stayed on till early spring, of which a nice bird moulting into breeding plumage was seen along Tam Kon Chau Road. A steady influx of spring migrants were seen towards the end of the month, including various flycatchers and numerous Grey-faced Buzzards.

Golden-headed Cisticola

Grey-faced Buzzard


By far the most exciting spring migration I've experienced for a long while, with plenty of bird activities everywhere. One of the most exciting species was the Spoon-billed Sandpiper, which I finally connected this year after not seeing one in over a decade! This tagged individual showed well for quite a few days. Another exciting wader for me was a Little Curlew at Long Valley, a long time bogie bird for me that I am glad to finally tick off my life list.

Spoon-billed Sandpiper

Little Curlew

A pair of breeding Malayan Night Heron was also a nice addition to this already exciting month, while a Eurasian Hoopoe found at Sunny Bay gave satisfactory views along the lawns near the MTR station. 

Malayan Night Heron

Eurasian Hoopoe

Another bird that I was very happy to see that month was a brilliant male Japanese Paradise Flycatcher in breeding plumage, found by Captain on a drizzly day, I relocated it nearby an hour later. I have not seen a male with long tail in over ten years, so it was certainly one of the top bird for me this entire spring!
Japanese Paradise Flycatcher

I also had some of the best local patch birding this spring at my newly found favourite spot Tai Mei Tuk Catchwater. It was extremely productive for birds and I was even lucky in the mammal department when I spotted a rare Crab-eating Mongoose along the track! My efforts there was rewarded in form of a brilliant looking Barred Cuckoo-Dove at close range, unfortunately I could not replicate my luck on any other visits since that fateful one. 

Crab-eating Mongoose

Barred Cuckoo Dove

Other notable migrants were at least 4 Blue-and-White Flycatchers, including one adult male. A Ferruginous Flycatcher was perhaps one of the best birds there, while numerous Chinese Sparrowhawks and Oriental Cuckoos throughout the month made it very exciting.

Blue-and-White Flycatcher

Ferruginous Flycatcher
Chinese Sparrowhawk

Oriental Cuckoo

Two of the most numerous migrants there came in form of a large flock of Ashy Minivets which stayed on throughout most of the month, but THE species that took over was no doubt the Narcissus Flycatcher, with no less than a dozen individuals seen throughout the entire spring migration period.

Ashy Minivet

Narcissus Flycatcher


This was a fairly slow month compared to April, it was the month of the cuckoo, where numerous Chestnut-winged Cuckoos were reported everywhere, as well as the likes of Drongo Cuckoos and Lesser Cuckoos, although none of them were photographable for me. The best cuckoo came in the latest, with the first twitchable Common Cuckoo in Hong Kong found at Mai Po car park!

Chestnut-winged Cuckoo

Common Cuckoo


Traditionally a very slow month, but this year it was better than usual, thanks to a few long staying and summer rarities. Most notably a female Cotton Pygmy Goose at Mai Po, turning up in the most unexpected month of the year.

Cotton Pygmy Goose

It was a busy breeding season for the Greater Painted Snipes at Mai Po, which attracted many followers. The scrape also hosted a long staying rarity in form of a Glossy Ibis, making it the first consecutive year we have this species in Hong Kong.

Greater Painted Snipe

Glossy Ibis


The usually quiet summer was made interesting by an odd Ryukyu Scops Owl at Sheung Shui, this completely out of place individual was a welcoming sight amidst the pandemic where it was impossible to visit them at their natural range, although the origin of this individual remains unclear...

Ryukyu Scops Owl

Tai Mo Shan was made more exciting this year by another appearance of the Chinese Babax, a mysterious species that tends to disappear for a few years before reappearing again briefly. Other notable birds were Chinese Grassbirds and Russet Bush Warblers up near the summit.

Chinese Babax

Chinese Grassbird

Russet Bush Warbler


Autumn migrants started appearing around mid August, my first notable autumn migrant came in form of a Yellow-rumped Flycatcher at my local patch, unfortunately it was also the only one I found there. A few Dark-sided Flycatchers were seen at various locations.

Yellow-rumped Flycatcher

Dark-sided Flycatcher


This was quite a good month, with plenty of movements all around, San Tin was not particularly productive but I managed to find a very cooperative Ruddy Turnstone. A Black-winged Kite also frequented the fish ponds.

Ruddy Turnstone

Black-winged Kite

Best hotspot was no doubt Ho Man Tin, of which hosted a good selection of spring migrants, including a Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher. A juvenile male Siberian Blue Robin became one of the star bird there for photographers for a short period of time. The top bird though was no doubt yet another Fairy Pitta there, I was lucky and got one of the best views ever of this highly sought after species!

Brown-chested Jungle Flycatcher
Siberian Blue Robin

Fairy Pitta


This was not a particularly exciting month, but with a few interesting birds seen. A pair of early Taiga Bean Geese at Mai Po was a welcoming sight and the first of many more geese to come, although this pair remained very distant for photos. 

Taiga Bean Geese

The long staying Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler at Telford provided plenty of fun short outings at the shopping complex, while a steady stream of other warblers at the site provided plenty of excitement, including plenty of Pallas's Grasshopper Warblers, plus other interesting birds there like Ruddy-breasted Crake etc. 

Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler
Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler

Bonelli's Eagle is a species that is far less common nowadays than it used to, so I was pleased to find one circling above at Shek Kong Catchment.

Bonelli's Eagle

Long Valley provided plenty of birding opportunities during this month, notably with lots of Himalayan Swiftlets passing through. A long staying Pheasant-tailed Jacana attracted many photographers, while a Black-headed Bunting frequented the paddies. Russet Sparrows were also in good numbers at Long Valley.

Himalayan Swiftlet

Pheasant-tailed Jacana

Black-headed Bunting

Russet Sparrow


An excellent month throughout with plenty of good birds, a few interesting warblers turned up including a Greenish Warbler at Luk Keng, one of the more exciting bird that turned up was a Chinese Leaf Warbler at Tai Po Kau, a species with only a handful of records in Hong Kong. Several locustellas continued to pass through Telford Garden, other than the long staying Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler, a friendly Lanceolated Warbler also took up brief residence on the other end of the garden.

Greenish Warbler

Chinese Leaf Warbler
Lanceolated Warbler

I found myself yet another Rosy Pipit at Long Valley, making this the 5th record for Hong Kong, and the 2nd autumn record after my 2017 bird on the exact same field! Other good birds at Long Valley includes House Sparrows and a few Bramblings. 

Rosy Pipit

House Sparrow


It was an excellent month for buntings, other than the usual Yellow-breasted Buntings, there were numerous Little, Black-faced, Black-headed, Yellow-browed and Rustic Buntings present. I missed the Japanese Reed Bunting which was probably the best bird there this autumn, but was compensated with a few Crested Buntings.

Yellow-breasted Bunting

Crested Bunting

At Mai Po, a possible Canvasback got everyone excited, although the supposed individual could not be relocated after extensive search by many. The scrapes hosted a good numbers of diving ducks, including a few handsome drake Common Pochard, as well as a few Greater Scaups. A pair of Greater White-fronted Geese also turned up, where they took up residence at the buffalo field.

Common Pochard

Greater Scaup

Greater White-fronted Geese


Excellent birding continued with the most exciting bird being a Eurasian Oystercatcher found at Deep Bay! This was a long awaited species for many birders and long overdue! At San Tin several Common Starlings stayed on as well as the Rosy Starling which Captain found earlier last month, of which took me a few visits to connect!

Eurasian Oystercatcher

Common Starling

Rosy Starling

More exciting ducks at Mai Po including a male plumage Baikal Teal out at Deep Bay which I missed, fortunately there was an eclipse male on the scrape for compensation. Several Furruginous Duck stayed on but showed distantly. The pair of Oriental Storks first spotted in late November took up residence near the tower hide, continued to show well.

Baikal Teal
Ferruginous Duck

Oriental Storks

Another exciting bird for local birders was an Ancient Murrelet that briefly stayed around the pier on Po Toi Island, it was an exceptionally fun bird to see and well worth the trip to our most southerly island for this Hong Kong tick. On the same day I connected with the long staying Red-breasted Flycatcher there.

Ancient Murrelet

Red-breasted Flycatcher

Despite not being particularly productive all autumn, Tai Mei Tuk Catchwater made up with a few excellent wintering birds, including a brilliant looking male Black-naped Oriole. A pair of female Grey Bushchats also made themselves comfortable along here.

Black-naped Oriole

Grey Bushchat

Tai Po Kau was excellent throughout the month, with extremely large bird waves seen on most visits. One of the best bird amongst the many warblers was a long staying Alstrom's Warbler which was ringed in early November, White-spectacled Warblers were subsequently seen, there were also more Sulphur-breasted Warblers than I've never seen before! Hartert's Leaf Warblers were extremely abundant this winter, and with them came a few Kloss's Leaf Warblers. 

Alstrom's Warbler

Sulphur-breasted Warbler

Kloss's Leaf Warbler

Finally, a 1st winter Grey-backed Shrike found at Lam Tsuen provided some much needed excitement towards the end of the year.

Grey-backed Shrike

Hopefully, 2021 will be a better year altogether, wishing everyone a happy new year and good health in the year ahead.


  1. Thank you! Excellent, comprehensive report with great photos! Much appreciated.
    I am really hoping I can get to HK some time this year (hopefully the borders open up!)
    best regards, Ian

  2. Great birds....and more success in 2021 to you, Matt