December 2, 2007

Excursion to Mai Po Reserve

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Yesterday DB Asia Foundation organized a volunteer day at the WWF Mai Po Reserve. I had always wanted to visit this nature reserve (I missed the opportunity last year), since access was fairly restricted, so I signed up for this event.

We arrived by coach and was given a quick briefling by the staff. Our mission today is to uproot and remove one of the species of plant invaders, the Mikania micrantha. This is a climber vine originating in South America and probably brought in by migratory birds. Its growth rate is extremely fast, and it latches onto native flora and climbs on top, eventually blocking out sunlight and killing the plants underneath.

A staff from the reserve demonstrated how to uproot the vines by hand or use the scythe to cut it. We had to identify the plant by its distinctive heart-shaped leaves and the its small, pretty flowers. We then split into groups and set off to work along one of the gei wai, the traditional shrimp farming pools that comprise a large part of the reserve.

Removing climbing plants and weeds may sound easy at first, but this thing was growing everywhere...and the difficult thing is that the climber winds itself around the native plant, so often you can't remove it by just simply pulling on it or cutting it with one swing of the scythe - doing so would remove the native plant at the same time. So I had to carefully unwind the Mikania before the removal can be done.

One of the DB staff brought along her three daughters, and it was just a field trip for them. They were happy to be out in nature and out of their home, and pretty much sang the whole time in the fields. We were treated to traditional Chinese children's songs and even to Phantom of the was pretty entertaining (and funny). These kids just had boundless energy!

Even though we only worked in the fields for less than 1 1/2 hours, I thought we did pretty well in terms of cleaning up the Mikania. We had 5 large plastic buckets in which to dump them, and I think each had to be emptied quite a few times during the course of the afternoon.

We went back to take a bit of break for snacks and drinks, and proceeded to do a bit of bird-watching with our guide. I had brought along by camera and zoom lens but unfortunately forgot my 2x extender. As a result, 200mm just wasn't going to reach close enough - and I already knew that. I don't think I got any photos which were stunning enough. But we did see a lot of birds - tons of them perched on top of trees (and depositing tons of droppings on the leaves and grass below). In the late afternoon we saw flights of birds returning from feeding at sea.

I was very happy to have finally visited Mai Po, and to have done some work for the benefit of this reserve. I look forward to going back again.

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