October 31, 2010

Return to Mai Po

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It's been almost 3 years since my first trip to the WWF Mai Po Reserve.  I had missed the Walk for Nature for the last couple of years, but am happy that I finally signed up this year. I roped in the Resident Froggie to go along with me, as she's never been and keen to check out the wildlife.  So both of us lugged our our camera gear (I brought out my big gun) and trekked up north.

The best times for bird-watching is usually early morning or late afternoon/early evening.  Understandably these are not the time periods where Mai Po is open to the public... So we were reasonably satisfied with a time slot which started in early afternoon.  The good thing is that this isn't a tutored walk like we expected, so we could do things at our own pace and stick around a little longer.

There were a good number of birds today.  The usual suspects around this area are egrets, grey herons, and all the cormorants perched atop trees and depositing their guano onto the trees.  But today we also got to see a flock of black-winged stilts, who were looking around for some food.  They shared the water with a group of cormorants who occasionally came down to bathe themselves.

We walked around the different areas of the reserve - the traditional gei wei (基圍) which are managed separately.  I admired the beauty of the area, with mangroves, reedbeds and waterlily ponds.  What was disturbing, however, was the pervasive presence of the mikania micrantha (薇甘菊).  This is the invasive climber vine which I had helped clear on my first volunteer visit.  Once we reach the inner areas of the reserve, I could see these vines climbing all over the place - especially on top of mangroves inside the gei wei.  If they are not cleared regularly, they could eventually manage to deprive other vegetation of sunlight and nutrients - and eventually kill them off.

We continued to walk along the designated trail, eventually coming to the northern edge of the reserve and hitting the border fence.  Froggie and I joked about our last trip to the border fence and our run-in with the law...

We also saw a few things I hadn't seen before, being a city boy... We saw "mad fish" - a number of them kept leaping out of the water, sometimes multiple jumps and up to a height of over 1m.  I also saw crabs swimming... Of course I know that crabs can swim, but somehow I just always imagined these bottom-feeders crawling along - what else? - the bottom.

The highlight of the day came pretty much at the end.  I finally had the opportunity to see the famed black-faced spoonbills.  These endangered migratory birds are, after all, the star attraction in this area.  Their world population is estimated at around 1,400 and I was lucky enough to see a few of them today.

I was pretty happy to have made the trip today.  The next thing for me to do is to apply for a permit to stay in the reserve overnight, and try to catch more bird action!

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