It will surprise many that Hong Kong is not all buildings and streets. Not far from the center of this bustling metropolis is one of the preeminent nature preserves on the planet.
A now-protected wetlands, the Mai Po Marsh is one of the world’s greatest sites of wild birds, fish, and insect populations. And fortunately for those sensitive to heat and humidity, summer isn’t the only good time to visit. From October to May the annual migration floods the marsh with hundreds of interesting species.
Part of the Ramsar site, Mai Po is an important part of the East Asian Flyway for migratory birds. Within these 1,500 hectares (3,675 acres) managed by the World Wildlife Fund can be found nearly 500 distinct species of bird. During the winter months the wetlands are home to over 50,000 migratory birds.
There are Purple Herons and Arctic Warblers, Brown Flycatchers and Great Egrets. Marsh Sandpipers abound and there are still some of the world’s only remaining Black-faced Spoonbills and Spoon-billed Sandpipers. One of the hardest to spot is the Ruff, but Asian Dowitchers are plentiful.
The wetlands also attract some of the many interesting indigenous insect species, such as the colorful dragonflies and butterflies native to Hong Kong. There are also other wildlife, such as otters and leopard cats.
The area itself is of some interest as well, comprising mudflats, mangroves, shrimp ponds and reed beds.
Visitors should be prepared for the conditions. That can mean unexpected rain. But it can also mean man-made changes that occur without notice. Attempts to control the number and location of species result in frequent changes. Areas are often alternately drained and flooded by the local authorities managing the wetlands.
As a result, guidebooks or blogs or other sources that report a good location for spotting certain species may or may not be accurate at the time of your visit. But don’t despair, there will be many others just as delightful.
A permit to visit the park is mandatory and costs around $100 HK ($13 US) for a one-day visitor pass. Visitors must be five years old or older. For more information visit http://www.wwf.org.hk/eng/maipo/
It’s wise to plan in advance as permits can often take several weeks to obtain. Booking three months in advance is best. It’s unwise to attempt to visit Mai Po without a permit. Authorities are very strict and don’t accept excuses from those caught in the area without one.
The WWF organizes regular three-hour tours on Saturdays, Sundays, and public holidays. Those arriving for the first time are well advised to take advantage of their expertise. A swampland is no good place to get lost. Maps are provided for those who want to go it on their own. The tour currently costs around $70 HK ($9 US) and for a few dollars more you can rent binoculars.
Finding the Mai Po Marsh is easy. It’s located on the northwest coast of the New Territories, neighboring the Deep Bay. Visitors can take the MTR subway to Nam Chong, change to the West Rail to Kam Tin, then take a taxi to Mai Po.