Snakes alive

A trip to Mai Po Nature Reserve with bird photographer chum, Martin Hale, produced some nice sightings. Besra, Baer’s pochard and the Glaucous gull. However I am developing (no pun intended) a habit of blending my penchant for monochrome in street photography with my natural history shots. And so today we go from macro to moody to…….. mangrove snake, Enhydris bennetti.  And sadly, it wasn’t a good day to be a mangrove snake.

Snakes alive?

This seems to be a case of Murder on the Mai Po Mangrove Express. I did not see the heron actually swallow the snake. E. Bennetti did not seem keen to give up without a fight. Indeed, there was endless wriggling and complaining evident even from a considerable distance. As may be observed, there were plenty of witnesses to this heinous crime, mainly cormorants. I confess (unlike the heron) that I became bored with the sorry saga and diverted my attention back to the gulls. Who was it who warbled, gulls just want to have fun?

The cormorants in fact decided to leave the scene of the incident.

Cormorant chaos

I don’t recall the cause – maybe a passing harrier or possibly the water was lapping a little to high – anyway they all went up together. I am always amazed that there are no collisions when thousands of birds take off together. They seem to be perfectly coordinated, even though the cormorants need a decent runway to get airborne. There is a lot of flapping and slapping, turning and churning and then the chaotic becomes choreographed and synchronized. (I feel an olympic sport coming on as I regard the current ‘sport’ of synchronized swimming’ as marginally less exciting than watching paint dry or England play rugby. The image above was my favourite frame from a sequence of about 15 I shot (roughly 2 seconds of shutter action).

With no witnesses left I suspect the heron got away with it. Self-defence, extreme provocation……….. I’m not so sure. In the upper image he looks pretty calm. Premeditated I’d say. A clinical hatchet job. Another mangrove snake cut down in its prime. Hong Kong Animals says they are ‘mildly venomous, not harmful to man.’ But does add that they are ‘aggressive and bite readily if cornered or handled’. So maybe I missed the twist at the end and the heron bit off more than it could chew.

Snake’s alive? I hope so.


8 thoughts on “Snakes alive

  1. Lucky you! I remember looking into it when I first arrived in HK and was put off by all the paperwork. Something to aim for though… when I have the time! It’s of course a good thing to restrict access to the reserve.

  2. I read in SCMP that Mai Po is opening up, i.e. that you will be able to go there without a permit or an organised tour. Do you know anything about that? How did you get there? Fantastic pics again.

    • Emilie, I saw that the Frontier Closed Area may be opened up but I was not aware that the reserve itself will be fully public. I somehow doubt that if only for conservation reasons. Mai Po is a Ramsar site and would in my view suffer if numbers of visitors were not controlled in some way. However the government is not a rational body and maybe it is opening up the reserve – but technically I think it is WWF HK that would need to do so. Getting there is easy. Follow the same route as to NSW but come off at Pak Shek Au (J9 I think) and turn right at the end of the slip road, Then turn left on to the San Tin Highway I think it is called and basically keep driving along the scenic rusty container route avoiding any temptation to veer off back to the main highways or the border crossing areas. Mai Po is signposted and the access road entrance is on the right at the apex of a bend to the left. Drive along here and park at the Peter Scott Visitors Centre, watching out for sleeping policemen if you have a low slung vehicle. Good luck!

      • Yes. You need to be a WWF HK member, a HKBWS member, have a Mai Po permit AND a Frontier Closed Area Permit. Easy. As a foreign passport holder you can get day permits if you apply in advance. Locals have to go on a group tour. Unless you have all the paperwork above. I have had all the permits since about 1997 so I don’t need anything new each time but I must carry my permits and they do get checked occasionally.

  3. Let me count the number of sympathetic snake posts I have read lately….1. 🙂 We actually like our snakes in the yard here…fortunately they are harmless…but their success means I should post a sympathetic mouse and vole article. Nice heron lunch shot, Andrew.

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