22 Dec 2021

Outer Island Birding, Hong Kong

View from the Pier, Kat O

With overseas options closed off by the prospect of a 21-day quarantine on return to Hong Kong, like everyone else we’ve been exploring corners of HK we haven’t seen much of before.

To my shame, in 43 years in Hong kong I had never been to Kat O Chau (Crooked Island).  At the end of November, we put that right. There are ferries out there at the weekend from Ma Liu Shui, and By Golly, they’re popular. 

Kat O was a centre of HK’s mid-20th century fishing industry, and the school there (now closed) had 300 pupils at one stage.  Mechanization led to over-fishing and fish stocks collapsed in the mid-1960s.  Like other rural communities there was a wave of emigration and the fields and houses on Kat O fell to disuse and decay.

From the high point of Kat O island, the visitor can look north to Yantian on the mainland, where things have gone the other way - agriculture has been superseded by a Container Port servicing Shenzhen and other places in east Guangdong.

Down in Kat O village, this Plumbeous Water Redstart looked like it had just arrived for the winter.  It was competing with Daurian Redstarts for insects in a broad drain behind a row of partially-ruined houses.

Nothing says “50s” like an asbestos-tiled roof

Plumbeous Water Redstart - (f) - (Phoenicurus fuliginosus)

Three days later, we got a hot tip concerning the location of an Oriental Scops Owl on Lamma Island.

Lamma Island has changed too, but, - unlike remote Kat O - it’s only a short ferry ride from Central so there a traditional lifestyle has been supplanted by an influx of outsiders as residents.

Despite having specific directions we needed the help of the locals to spot this one. I had fully expected a crowd of birders/photographers at the owl site already, but my preconception was entirely wrong in this case.

We hadn’t seen Oriental Scops for a dozen-or-so years, so it was great to see this one.  And Lamma is a great spot for a “Post Twitch coffee and cake !

Oriental Scops Owl (Otus sunia)

Oriental Scops Owl (Otus sunia)

This species is a rare passage migrant in Hong Kong. It was around for about four days and then moved on.

In a flash, it’s Christmas, so all the best for Christmas and the New Year.


  1. I think the pandemic has compelled all of us to discover local spots, John. For those of us who have traditionally been international travellers it has changed our birding lives in ways we could barely have thought possible. Glad you found the owl.

  2. Great to see you visiting some of the more remote villages. How quickly mature takes over - love all the roots growing through some of the old buildings. Nice birds too!