Why did the Spoonbill cross the road?

When I signed off part one of my Mai Po day report I was about to go through the gate to the ‘strictly by permit only’ Frontier Closed Area, a sort of no-man’s land between the People’s Republic of China and Hong Kong. It houses a few birdwatching hides out on the mudflats and when the tides are favourable birdwatchers and photographers flock there in their tens, sometimes maybe even hundreds, to see the spectacle. Learn more about Mai Po here:  http://www.wwf.org.hk/en/getinvolved/gomaipo/

Occasionally you meet people you know and sometimes complete strangers. Often I am at my happiest sitting in an otherwise empty hide listening to the noise. It may be almost silent or it may be a cacophony of bird sound. My favourite sound is the woosh of the wader flocks as they twist and turn in front of the hides, eventually (hopefully) dribbling down like a rain shower to settle right in front of your lens. Even if I get the tide wrong and there is little close to the hide I am still content to spend an hour just observing life on the mudflats.

On this occasion I met a fellow blogger, who was also on the way down to the new hide. We chatted sociably and exchanged notes. Do read her blog here: http://hongkongkwildlifephotos.blogspot.com/

The tide looked a long way out. Even out of the right hand side window there was an empty vista.

Low tide

I’ve boosted the contrast a bit here so you can see the monstrosity known as Shenzhen in the background. Not many birds are there?

Tides are funny things. They can fool me easily and this one ended up coming in reasonably swiftly and ultimately covering the mudflats. The wait was about 90 minutes but the glare off the mud at high noon-ish made decent photography well-nigh impossible. Only to this right hand side was there some prospect of fair shots. There were only four of us in the hide (plus a noisy mobile phone, for which there seemed to be no mute button.  A rude expletive crossed my mind each time it rang or bleeped). On the tide line sit the cormorants, Graculus in his thousands. Do please follow the link! Plovers scuttle around, the odd stint, many ‘shanks, red and green, with Marsh sandpipers aplenty too. Some of the redshanks have leg flags to show where they were ringed (banded). White flag over yellow means ringed in Hong Kong. This is Nigel Redshank as in N4 Nigel (groan). His chum P8 was also present.

Nigel Redshank

A single Saunders gull flew around – another rare species that we are lucky enough to see regularly at Mai Po. A few Black-faced spoonbills paddled about. And so to the title of this post. A pair of BFSs were feeding in a channel of water. They decided to cross the mudflats to another channel where presumably the a la carte menu was more enticing. Maybe some lobster bisque with your mudskipper sir? One chose to flap leisurely across the 60 or 70m muddy area. The other strode slowly but purposefully across. Not a wing raised. As I watch the following goes through my mind:

Stately as a galleon I sail across the floor,
Doing the Military Two-step as in the days of yore.
I dance with Mrs Tiverton. She’s light on her feet, in spite
Of turning the scale at fourteen stone, and being of medium height.

Dear old Joyce Grenfell. (George, don’t do that.) Here you see Mrs. Tiverton and partner waiting to start the Military Two-step as a few onlookers mill around.

The Military Two-step

Yet why did one Spoonie walk and the other launch itself, Wright-like into the air? I don’t know but it bothers me. But as I hear people murmuring for a close up of dear old Mrs. T, here she is:

Mrs. T

Any resemblance to the ex-PM is entirely coincidental.

After that excitement things started to wind down a little and eight hours in I decided to head home to a well-deserved game of mah jong. I bade my hide companion farewell and walked back to the right side of the fence.

Such are the pleasures of a day out at Mai Po. Did the 300mm prove a burden or a boon? I can’t answer that. I could not have photographed the herons and spoonies as I did with an 800mm lens – too close. But I would have had decent raptor images. It’s a trade-off. I do have a 400mm lens so maybe I shall try that next time. Such are the challenging decisions to be made in the day of a retired banker. It could be worse.

This is my 50th post. I hope you enjoyed it.


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