Bird Observatory 野鳥觀察站 - Po Toi 蒲台島

Bird Observatory 野鳥觀察站 - Po Toi 蒲台島

Original message by Forrest Fong on 09/07/2006
Po Toi - Site for an HKBWS Bird Observatory?

The HKBWS Executive Committee recently decided to look into the idea of setting up a bird observatory at Po Toi.

This posting is asking three questions:
(1) Is Po Toi a suitable site for a bird observatory?
(2) If so, what needs to be done to set up and run an observatory there?
(3) Should HKBWS do it?

(1) Is Po Toi a suitable site for a bird observatory?

Po Toi’s birds were first systematically surveyed in 1996-1997 by Paul Leader. The results were very promising, and Paul’s report describes the island as excellent for the study of bird migration and in fact recommends that a Bird Observatory be established.

From then until last year, most birders accessed Po Toi by private boat, as Paul had done. Visits were occasional but productive. Hong Kong’s first Drongo Cuckoo was found, and the island established itself as Hong Kong’s top site for spring flycatchers and seabirds.

A big change happened this year when an expanded public ferry service suddenly made Po Toi accessible most days of the week. The discovery of a Chinese Song Thrush in February (at a time when Mai Po was closed) led to unprecedented coverage, with Geoff Welch alone putting in 38 days in April-May, so that the island was intensely covered during a migration period for the first time. The results were spectacular, and a memorable series of reports and photos were enjoyed by many of us on the HKBWS web-site.

The results of visits to Po Toi during February-May 2006 provide huge support for the idea that Po Toi is a prime migration site and suitable for a bird observatory. Highlights were five firsts for Hong Kong (Orange-bellied Green Pigeon, Sulphur-breasted Warbler, Owston’s Flycatcher, Brown Noddy, Ruddy Kingfisher) and one second (Chinese Song Thrush). Also, a series of seabird sightings (Streaked Shearwaters in record numbers, Short-tailed Shearwaters, Ancient Auk, various skuas, gulls and terns), record numbers of Chinese Goshawks, a series of Brown Hawk Owls, only the second spring record of Yellow-rumped Flycatcher, and the latest ever spring records of Red-tailed Robin, Siberian Rubythroat, Grey Bushchat, Yellow-browed Warbler, Mugimaki Flycatcher and Brambling. In addition, nesting records of Black Kite, Blue Whistling Thrush and Black Drongo, and movements of Tree Sparrows and Large-billed Crows noted.

(2) What needs to be done to set up and run an observatory at Po Toi?

The Bird Observatories of Britain & Ireland web-site ( ), lists criteria for observatory accreditation, the main points being:

(i) recording area defined
(ii) minimum coverage of 75% days during migration period
(iii) daily census & migration log, with data computerized and record-keeping secure & permanent
(iv) bird ringing programme
(v) data published; all data available to bona fide researchers
(vi) organizing committee
(vii) accommodation for Warden & visitors/volunteers
(viii) facilities & training for ringers

Looking at these, there shouldn’t be a problem with (i) and details can be worked out later if necessary for (iii), (v) and (vi).

Re (ii), migration periods would need to be defined. If, say, dates from mid March to end May and from mid August to end November were agreed upon, that would add up to 77 days in spring and 107 in autumn, 184 days in all, in which case 75% coverage would entail manning the observatory for a minimum of 138 days in the year.

Re (iv) and (viii), it would be preferential to set up a ringing programme right from the beginning, but would it be a must?

Re (vii), finding suitable accommodation with cooking & washing facilities is essential. Keeping clean & comfortable can be a problem on the island due to a shortage of washing facilities, the drying up of water supplies in winter and the proliferation of mosquitoes in the wet season. In the short term, renting from islanders seems simplest - Geoff Welch managed to rent basic accommodation sleeping two people for at least part of the spring - but in the longer term, perhaps renovating the old school & renting it from government government or an outright property purchase might be a better option.

The important thing is, members would be able to stay overnight on the island in relative comfort for a small charge. This would increase everyone’s enjoyment of Po Toi.

(3) Should HKBWS set up an observatory at Po Toi?

What we have to consider here are funding, staffing and long-term commitment.

Next year is the Society’s 50th anniversary and a good opportunity for fund-raising for a suitable project. This would be the first bird observatory on the China coast and it would probably be able to attract funds from several sources.

In order to man the observatory for the minimum period, HKBWS would need to employ a full time warden for both migration seasons. This would be part of the long-term commitment HKBWS would need to make for Po Toi Bird Observatory to be a success.

This posting is asking for your response. We want as many members as possible to respond. This bird observatory should be for ALL members to enjoy, not just a few. Please let us have your opinion.

HKBWS Honorary Recorder


Original message by Forrest Fong on 09/07/2006



(1) 蒲台島是否一個合適的地方去設立一個野鳥觀察站?
(2) 若然是,我們事前需要做什麼功夫及誰去負責管理呢?
(3) 應否由觀鳥會負責呢?

(1) 蒲台島本身是否一個合適的地方去設立一個野鳥觀察站?

最先有系統地記錄蒲台島上的過境候鳥是由利雅德先生(Mr. Paul LEADER)開始,時為1996至1997年,結果是令人豉舞的,根據當時Paul的報告,蒲 台島是一個極好的地方去研究鳥類遷徙,他同時亦提議在蒲台島設立一個觀察站。


今年2月在蒲台島發現的寶興歌東鳥令到各大報章前所未有地廣泛報導(當時米埔仍然關閉),一時間令到蒲台成為炙手可熱的地方;而鳥友Geoff Welch竟在四、五月間在蒲台逗留了38天之多。猶記當時鳥會網頁上美麗的圖片及詳盡的報導,實在令人難忘。


(2) 若然是,我們事前需要做什麼功夫及誰去負責管理呢?

我們可參照英國及愛爾蘭觀鳥站的網頁( ),它列舉 了一些普遍接受的標準,重點如下:

(i) 明確地劃出紀錄的範圍
(ii) 最少覆蓋75%遷徙過境期間的日子
(iii) 每日統計冊及遷徙過境冊並把所有數據輸入電腦,把它們穩妥地處置好成為永久檔案
(iv) 環誌計劃
(v) 數據發表,所有數據應提供給真正的研究員
(vi) 成立籌委會
(vii) 為員工及訪客/義工提供住宿設施
(viii) 為環誌者提供什訓練及設施

縱觀以上各點,我認為第(i)點並沒有問題,至於第(iii)、(v)及(vi)點的詳情如 有需要可容後再談。



至於第(vii)點,找一處有煮食及洗衣設備是必須的,在蒲台島這是一個問題,皆 因在冬季要面臨水源不足的問題,而夏季又受蚊患的困擾。最簡單快折的方法就是 向原居民租屋;以Geoff Welch為例,他便在春季成功地向他們租了一間可住二人的屋。但長遠而言,把荒 廢了的學校翻新並向政府租用或直接買一間新屋更為上算。


(3) 應否由觀鳥會去設立野鳥觀察站呢?




香港觀鳥會 紀錄主任


Original message by Mike Kilburn on 10/07/2006

I think Richard has made the case for having an observatory on Po Toi very clearly, and its great that there are clearly established criteria from the UK  for setting up an observatory – this makes it easier for planning and approval as there is an objective standard to follow.

I agree that ringing from the beginning would be a very good idea, but that it would require a considerable investment in manpower.  

It would be great to hear feedback from the HK Ringing Group from a ringing perspective , as well as from Paul Leader based on his knowledge of working as an assistant warden on the Calf of Man.

I’m less concerned about finding premises. It would of course be better to have facilities for education and public visits, but the basic requirement would be for sleeping/washing/cooking of staff, plus storage of a computer for record-keeping and ringing equipment.  

A place where members could pay to staywould also be an asset, but not essential in the first stages.

I agree that this should be planned with the intention of establishing a permanent facility that will need recurrent annual funding.

Strategically, I think an observatory would be a great way for HKBWS to maintain its position as the leading authority on HK birds - it would maintain our prominence as a record-keeper and pioneer of bird recording in Hong Kong.

The first big job is to outline the objectives (bird recording, public education, development of capacity within HKBWS, any others).  

If these are considered to be worthwhile by the Society, the next stage is to draft a plan for how these objectives can be met (especially relations with key stakeholders such as Po Toi villagers and AFCD – essential for ringing permits), which should include details of proposed activities to meet the objectives, the resources required for the activities, the proposed timelines and the staff required to carry them out.  

Its also important to have a system for monitoring the plan (a supervising committee and reporting system).

Once these are established, it will be necessary to work out how much all of this will cost, and then a plan needs to be formed for how to raise that money.  

In my view money only needs to be discussed and worried abut once the rest of the plan is considered to be viable. That is not to say that funding is not essential, but its important to set the objectives first , and then decide how much can be achieved with the resources available.

These are pretty general points about project planning, but should help to provide a framework for discussion.

Mike K


Original message by Bob Thompson on 11/07/2006

I agree with all Richard and Mike have proposed.  

With all Geoff's great sightings last season and the interest in birdwatching increasing, now is the time to establish a bird observatory and Po Toi proves to be the place, but don't rush in and set up something we will all live to regret.  

Plan and do it properly so it will be something for our future generations of birdwatchers to enjoy


Original message by geoff_welch on 12/07/2006

I agree with all the above, that a proper plan, members commitment and funding needs to be put in place before any permanent establishment is made.

However, I believe HKBWS should make a very early commitment to establish and fund a qualified individual to stay on Po Toi throughout the migration seasons in 2007. I intend to continue my residence on Po Toi during the autumn migration of this year, and that will give us the experience of 4 consecutive migration periods on Po Toi. It will also give HKBWS some hands on experience of what the possibilities and difficulties are for establishing a permanent presence there.  

I estimate it will cost around HK$100,000 to fund this for 2007, I think a very worthwhile investment for our centenary. It will also give us continuity of record keeping. I am, of course, very much committed to Po Toi.


Original message by Tred on 15/07/2006

First of all, I must declare that I am not experienced in bird researches/surveys. I just want to show my support of the ideas as a birder.

I share the points made by Mike K which are important initiation steps for a project. In essence we have to do a feasibility study on technical, operational and financial aspects. It cannot be emphasized enough that clear objectives and requirements must be established in the first place.

The value and subsistance of the project depends on its value added to the migration researches/surveys in our region at large. It will be convincing if we could show that our proposal would fill a missing piece as well as its significance. Tying our position to a global network of migration researches seems to be a good bet. The "first bird observatory on the China coast" as mentioned by Richard is encouraging in this connection.

Our objectives and requirements will determine our commitment and subsequent resources to be poured in. Richard has listed the accreditation criteria. We may need to explore whether all those criteria are mandatory as each criterion as its implications, some can be far reaching. We may treat those criteria together with any additional requirements from AFCD and Po Toi resident association (if there is one) as external requirements. On top, HKBWS and relevant researchers may add their own. Hopefully we can then have a better picture of our project scope and requirements.

Operational models need to be designed to meet the requirements. Premises, equipment, staffing, systems and procedures are amongst the list of considerations. Effective and efficient ways to operate the project are basic to its subsistence.

Costing structure will emerge after the operational models. One off and recurring costs can be identified. These are important before we plan for our fund raising activities. I tend to think that if our project contains a deliverable that can be channeled back to the society, we will enjoy a better coverage and interest from potential sponsors. Hence I hold a different view from Mike that facilities for public education and visits are desirable as a deliverable. The concept is to make our project be seen as part of the society and not a private club for a few.

Finally, to start off, we need an organising committee with the right persons. Experience researchers, someone who is familiar with the island, knowledgeable warden, HKBWS rep and even a fund raising personnel are good candidates.

Just my two cents. Keep up with the great ideas, gentlemen.


Original message by Captain on 17/07/2006

Yes, Po Toi is an interesting place. But what is the pt of setting up such bird observatory?

In my opinion, if recording rare spp on Po Toi is the aim of this observatory, it is easily to achieve.

However, if it wants to study the migratory flyways of passerines, perhaps we have to think more than recording rare spp.

About bird ringing, we did quite a lot at Mai Po and KARC. So, people may ask why ringing at Po Toi could contribute more information on migratory birds. And why those at Mai Po and KARC could not provide similar information.  

The running cost for a station at such remote place is expected to be high. So, we have clarify the most important pt ... i.e. why studying birds on Po Toi and how the data obtained could contribute the understanding and conservation of migratory birds in HK and its nearby region.   

I am open about the Bird observatory recommendation. Pls don't mind my comments.  My pts here are just for more discussions.



Original message by HF_Chueng on 17/07/2006

I have encouraged Richard to put the discussion of the Po Toi bird observatory on the bulletin board, just to let our members learn the pros and cons.  

I Like Fred's analysis.  Many of the possible outcomes of the running the obervatory has been outlined in the first few post and responses.  

Let me say my points here.  I think there are things to be learn in Po Toi.  The question is whether the return is worth the investment.  It is now very clear that running a bird observatory is costly, at roughly HK$100,000 a year minimum.  Say if we were to run the station for 10 years, it would cost at least one million HK dollars.  So what will we get in return?  We can probably expect 10-20 new species, and a wealth of migration data for a few speices that are less likely to occur in other places in HK.   Although it is worth it, but our present financial situation would probably not allow it, unless we can secure a generous donation.  Still I think we can consider running the observatory for 1-2 years time.  

On reading the requirements for a Bird Observatory, I realized that Mai Po fit the criteria quite well.  I think we should see what is still missing and whether HKBWS can work together with the Mai Po management to make Mai Po a proper bird observatory.   If there is a first bird observatory in HK, why not Mai Po?  

HF Cheung


Original message by goeff_welch on 18/07/2006

The two previous commentators have rightly asked the question 'what do we get from having a Bird Observatory on Po Toi?'.  

Rather than get hung up on the definition of a Bird Observatory, I would prefer the question 'what do we get from making regular observations of birds on Po Toi during the migration seasons?'. In answer to this question, I can offer some of the things I have learnt from the spring migration of this year.

1.That there are roughly twice as many species of spring migrants on Po Toi when the wind is N/NE/E than when the wind is S/SW.  

2.That the peak spring migration period is the last week in April for passerines and the first week in May for seabirds.

3.That large flocks of Chinese Goshawks and probably other migrants arrive directly into HK in the days immediately after the passage of a cold front.

4.That Heuglins Gulls migrate past HK in late Feb and early March.

5.That Large-billed Crows and Tree Sparrows are at least partial migrants in HK.

I realise that many of these things were already at least partially known. But Po Toi provides a microscope for the migration of passerines and seabirds through Hong Kong generally and regular observations for at least several migration seasons will enrich our knowledge of bird migration through HK. I am sure there are many new things to learn, and the only way to do this is to station an observer on the island for the key weeks.  

Seeing rare birds is not the objective. But I would add to this, all those many birdwatchers who enjoyed the thrill of seeing the Chinese Song Thrush on Po Toi this spring would agree, it's a good extra to the main objective.

Geoff Welch


Original message by Mike Kilburn on 18/07/2006

I understand the point that Mai Po and KARC are used as ringing sites.

However an observatory on an offshore island offers a new persective to HK birding - not many seabirds at Mai Po or KARC! and there is great benefit in a site where migrants are easily found and recorded because the habitat is limited and the area small.  I see no need to concentrate all birding activities at the same sites.

Also it will be a HKBWS facility dedicated to recording birds which is not true of anywhere else. With a growing membership I would prefer to offer a wider range of opportunities for our members to develop their skills and expertise in the thing HKBWS does better than anyone else - collecting, collating and publishing bird data.  

In response to the comment about education. I agree with Fred that it would be great to be integrated into the community and to offer education, but I think this needs to be a secondary objective.  The focus of bird observatories is data collection,which is a worthy cause in its own right - there's plenty of environmental education facilities in HK. Again - I prefer to fcus initially on what we do best and add the things others can do after that.

I am concerned that the investment in a visitor centre with the necessary guidelines and permits would be time-consuming and expensive, and that we might decide its too big a challenge. However, ifthe funding for a visitor centre mould support the cost of our core bird data collection activities, then that would be great!



Original message by Captain on 19/07/2006

Mike's view is understood.  

But the pt is whether recording birds around Po Toi alone justifies setting up an observatory or station on this island. I think it is more than that.  

Recording birds on Po Toi is the way to achieve the aim / vision of this observatory / station. However, the aim / vision of this observatory is not very clear.  



Original message by HF_Chueng on 21/07/2006

I have put this item for discussion in the coming executive committee meeting next month.  Any opinion posted on the bulletin board will be considered.  

HF Cheung


Original message by johnallcock on 10/08/2006

I think that in the long-term Po Toi could be a suitable place for a bird observatory. As has been obvious in previous migration seasons, especially this spring, the island is well situated for studying migration patterns in HK, of both rare visitors and also the more common species. Adding to our knowledge of these migration patterns (timing, species involved, weather-related influences, peak numbers, etc) would be the primary aim of an observatory.  

However, I think that it is currently too early to try settting up an observatory by all of the criteria given.  Most observatories elsewhere have developed over a number of years following on from regular, well-recorded observations on the site. The work that Geoff has been doing is starting to do this for Po Toi. Now is an ideal time to work from that to set up conditions suitable for the site to become an observatory within the next few years.

I think the provision of accommodation on Po Toi would be essential to allow regular coverage over the migration season, and to allow early morning starts. Ideally, I think you need someone stationed on the island for prolonged periods over migration time (a warden of sorts) to ensure that coverage continues every day. This would allow regular record keeping, which can be supported by observations from other individuals visiting the island (encouraging visitors to use some sort of log book would be essential)

A small information centre could be established to encourage visitors to the island (including non-birders!) to know about the work that is being done, and to ask for donations. This probably doesn't have to be very complex - a few posters, leaflets, etc. in the first instance.

If a (semi-)permanent presence on the island is established then setting up a ringing programme would be ideal. I think that this is pretty much essential for the site to be considered an 'observatory' as it would help with the understanding of bird movements through the island - looking at turnover rates of migrant species and duration of stay for individual birds. Again, somewhere to stay and to store equipment would be essential for this to be set up. This would complement, rather than compete with, ringing activities elsewhere in HK as it would focus on a different selection of species in a different habitat. Also, the concentration of migrants into the patchy vegetation on the island means it may be possible to catch a large proportion of the birds using the area.

Once a regular presence on the island during migrations times is set up, you would essentially have an observatory. If more accommodation then became available, you could encourage paying visitors (perhaps even encourage overseas visitors?) to help with funding the project.

The main obstacle would be cost. The major costs would presumably be accommodation and wages (unless there are any volunteers...) If the HKBWS could establish a regular source of funding for the project (without draining it's current resources of course!) I see no reason why it should not go ahead.

Has anyone contacted any observatories elsewhere to ask how they managed to get established? Maybe this would help in planning the way forward for Po Toi.

It would be great if long-term it was possible to understand more about the migration of birds in this part of Asia. Perhaps eventually even a network of similar observatories along the Chinese coast and into SE Asia!