29 Oct 2013

A flavour of winter - Mai Po

The flared cowl of a startled cobra would be a highlight of any David Attenborough wildlife documentary.

They are pretty gripping in real life, too, as I discovered in a quiet corner of Mai Po Marshes Nature Reserve yesterday.  Cycling slowly towards a bend I entered a carpet of dry leaf litter and - right beneath my front tyre - saw the sudden movement of a large black snake.

The snake's head flared as I looked down and the white cobra nape "spectacles" were clearly visible.

"Goodness !" I exclaimed; - or words to that effect.  The writhing snake was lost to view behind me as the momentum of the bicycle carried me onwards.  But then there was a loud, hissing, scratching sound from the rear of the bike...

"It's coming to get me !" I panicked and jumped off the bike, only to discover that the snake was well away and the "hissing" was caused by a dry leaf stuck between the tyre and the rear brake pads.

And all the birds were pretty distant when I got to Ponds 16/17…. still, at least I'd had some exercise !

Anyway, I recovered my composure sufficiently to return to Mai Po this morning (Oct 28th). The only movements along the track to the boardwalk were the flittings of Japanese White-Eyes and a lone  Daurian Redstart. Nothing more sinister than White-breasted Waterhens scuttled into the undergrowth at my approach.

At the farthest Mai Po boardwalk hide, a couple of "surprise" birds, namely Large White Headed Gulls and fear of a different kind ... - how to identify these things when one is seasonally out of practice ?

And there is the business of negotiating the ever-shifting sands of gull taxonomy...

Heuglins is our commonest LWHG, but it has yellow legs.  For the pink (ish) legs and white-tipped outer primaries (even though this would be an earliest winter record) I'd have to go for Yellow-legged,
er, Mongolian, er, "Caspian Gull"...

 Larus (cachinnans) mongolicus ??
or Larus cachinnans (mongolicus) ??

I'll get back to you on this one, after I've asked around.

Meanwhile, here are some easy waders !

Common Redshank - Tringa totanus

Common Redshank - Tringa totanus

Common Redshank - Tringa totanus

Common Redshank - Tringa totanus

Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia

Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia

Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia

Common Greenshank - Tringa nebularia

Great Cormorant - Phalacrocorax carbo

Temminck's Stint - Calidris temminckii

Temminck's Stint - Calidris temminckii

(Top right) Black-faced Spoonbills - Platalea minor

Black-faced Spoonbills - Platalea minor

Black-capped Kingfisher - Halcyon pileata

I tried to exude waves of warmth and friendliness, but the Kingfisher wouldn't come closer than about forty metres from the hide.


  1. I still haven't seen a Temincks Stint anywhere ever. Didn't know they had dangerous snakes in Hong Kong...................

    1. Two cobras, two vipers, two kraits, Coral snake and a couple of sea snakes in the "serious" category, Stuart, plus some other back-fanged species that don't pose any real threat unless you jam a finger in their mouth and force it to have good long chew.

    2. Fortunately, Stu, Mike, they don't all appear at once !

  2. I always enjoy your photos, John! The Temminck's Stint looks so cute. I've yet to photograph one nicely. As for the gulls, we'll just have to wait until the knowledge is more settled, I guess......

    1. Ayuwat, the gulls are easier if there are more to compare together - my new rule is that I may not even try identifying them if there are fewer than 10 in view !

  3. Looks like you had quite an "adventure" at your favourite haunt. John, it will take much more than warmth and friendliness to get close to this fella! Beautiful images as always.