Thursday, 11 June 2015

The Painted Snipe Show

A pair of Greater Painted Snipe have been reported breeding at Mai Po since last month. I haven't caught up with them yet, so I decided to use my morning of day off to find them. Though Long Valley have the highest density of this species in Hong Kong, a few odd pairs breed occasionally at Mai Po.

I got there early as I wanted to avoid the scorching sun. However, the sun was already very bright when I got there at 8am with temperature going right up to 30ºC. I found two Little Grebe nest on the way, a single chick was spotted. Grebes build their nests on water, where they float on the surface and are usually secured by tying their "raft" onto stems of grass or other vegetation.

Little Grebe on nest

When I got to the bird hide my shirt was already soaked! The first birds I saw there were a few Black-winged Stilt fledgelings, they were right up in front of the hide. Black-winged Stilts used to be migrants to Hong Kong but have slowly established themselves as a regular breeder. It's always fun to watch these young birds go about their business.

Black-winged Stilt adult and chicks

Their nervous parents were always on the lookout for danger, chasing away any intruders that dare come close into their territory. I haven't observe breeding stilts properly before, and their aggression truly amazed me. Each pair guard their own "air zone" and chase off the intruders with threatening calls and physical attacks, they sometimes uses their long legs to "kick" the intruding birds. For the record, the following were seen being chased by these usually mellow waders: White Wagtails, Black-collared Starlings, Little Egrets, Intermediate Egrets, Great Egrets, Cattle Egrets, Avocets and a Black Kite...However, the only bird that couldn't careless were the Great Egrets, they simply ducked their heads when they were dive bombed and carried on feeding! What attitude!

Black-winged Stilt and Great Egret

Finally, the star of the day. The female Painted Snipe showed exceptionally well today, which was the main reason for my visit because I have had enough of half hidden views at Long Valley, where I usually just get to see half or part of the bird! Here, they come right into the open, though they still remains quite nervous if they see any odd movement inside the hide or when I accidentally dropped my bag on the floor. The lights were not particularly good, but I managed some good shots when a cloud float past, diffusing the hard light and giving an overall more mellow exposure.

Greater Painted Snipe (female)

After two hours of waiting, I finally caught sight of the male with two chicks. They came out briefly into the open. The male was a lot more alert and took extra care when coming out into the open. Greater Painted Snipe have a very unusual breeding habit, firstly, the females are more colourful which is unusual in the animal kingdom (except for us human I guess). During mating season, the females attract the males to mate with her, then she will lay eggs in the nest which the male have already built and leave the male to incubate the eggs. The male will care for the fledgelings once they hatched until they are big enough to be independent. As I see it, all Painted Snipe families are tragic; divorced parents, single Father caring for three kids! The male later led the chicks to another island in the scrape, the sight of Painted Snipes crossing open water in broad day light was quite a sight!

Greater Painted Snipe (male with chicks)

The female was as usual...minding her own business. The bird put on quite a show and gave good photograph opportunities. It's good to see that Painted Snipes are also doing well outside Long Valley. With New Territories to be under heavy development pressure in the next decade, I sometimes worry about the future of our countryside and the animals that rely on it. Hopefully, these amazing creatures can hang on for generations to come.

Greater Painted Snipe (female)

1 comment:

  1. great pictures, Matthew. And a nice blog too. I saw the snipes today - maybe only one juvenile? Not sure.