«Letter to Hong Kong» the Chief Executive

April 22, 2006

Bird watching

Fellow citizens,

The news media have recently been flooded with stories about the growing global threat of avian influenza. They serve as a timely reminder that we cannot take public health for granted. To minimise the risk of an outbreak, the Mai Po Nature Reserve was closed for about two months while morning bird watching classes in urban parks were on hold. Now that the Mai Po Nature Reserve has re-opened and the bird watching classes have resumed, I still cannot help rethink our relationship with nature. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, great harm has befallen nature. Mother nature is apparently taking revenge.

Poultry is much more than mere food. We need to maintain harmony and balance with nature. Most of you know that I enjoy raising koi. I am in fact also fond of watching birds and other wonders of nature.

My interest in bird watching dates back to more than a decade ago when I was the Director of Trade. At that time, I moved into Government quarters on Plunkett's Road. It was a peaceful place where birds abounded. Most were small and presented themselves in a variety of postures and colours. Their beauty and grace fed my curiosity, and I began to look at books about bird watching.

I was inducted into the joys of bird watching by former Secretary for the Civil Service Martin Rowlands. He retired and returned to Britain in 1986, but kept coming back to Hong Kong every year. Martin had a strong attachment to this heaven for bird watching. Small as it is, Hong Kong is blessed with an abundance of feathered friends, be they migratory or resident birds. You may not know that about 5% of the world's bird species can be found in the diverse habitats of Hong Kong. Mai Po Marshes is a world-renowned haven for migratory birds. Since assuming office as Chief Executive, I have already paid two visits to Mai Po.

Discovering nature

So what is the fun of bird watching? We lead a busy life in Hong Kong. People often take time out to chat and have fun in the comfort of friends. Well, I challenge you to venture into something quieter – try watching birds, in silence, in the woods, with a pair of binoculars. It is a great way to escape the hustle and bustle. You will find birds relaxing on their own, or leaning close to each other in pairs. They may be getting ready to take flight, or taking a rest. You will discover the beauty of nature and how it can help calm the mind. I like local birds, in particular the funny-looking Red-whiskered Bulbul with a pointed crown on its head and patches of red on its face and rump. Another favourite of mine is the Oriental Magpie Robin. You can tell the sex of this beauty by the colour of its feathers – the female is dark grey, while the male is black. What I enjoy about this bird most is that it has a different song in the morning and evening.

Soul searching

Bird watching is a perfect hobby to sooth the nerves of a short-tempered person like me. If you want to get close to nature, you must respect its laws. Whatever your station in life, you cannot control the movement of birds in the wild. All you can do is wait quietly with your binoculars to catch a closer glimpse. If, for example, a Red-whiskered Bulbul flies into view or takes a perch nearby, all you can do is gesture slowly or exchange a wink with your buddy. But you can never make a noise. This is a pastime that anyone in Hong Kong can take up. Best of all, it doesn't cost much. All you need is a pair of binoculars, and off you go to urban parks or the countryside. While watching birds, you learn to exercise restraint, patience and concentration. These are some of the key qualities of leaders. Be it birds or fish, observing them brings you closer to nature and helps ease the mind from the strains and stresses of modern life.

Watching birds also helps us realise that nature acts as a good balance to human life. I certainly hope that the threat of avian influenza will soon dissipate, and that harmony between man and nature can be restored. In any case, I will be heading for Mai Po again soon.


  Donald TSANG Yam-kuen  
Donald TSANG Yam-kuen,
Chief Executive