Adventures in Mai Po
(Text and Photos by Orca Yu, WWF OPY Leader)
On the day of City Nature Challenge (CNC), the chorus of bird calls signalled the arrival of spring. I was responsible for the checkpoint booths to introduce the spiders and mammals of Mai Po. Some of these species may look scary, but there’s a wide variety like orb-weaver spiders waiting for prey on their web, while the jumping spider can be quite aggressive.
The small-sized spiders may be difficult to detect, but if you look closely at a tree or a wall, you’ll find them in every corner. That’s the real side that I wanted to share with visitors who came to my booth; spiders’ contribution to Earth’s ecology. So when you see a spider in a corner, stop and take a moment to observe its shape, understand its behaviour, and appreciate its uniqueness.
At lunch, someone said that he found a Python bivittatus, so I ran to the nearby fish pond to quickly check. But no matter how long I searched, I could not spot it. Suddenly, I noticed something with an irregular textured pattern on the haystack, basking in the sun. There it was, one of the world’s largest snakes. The Python bivittatus is on the vulnerable species list, threatened by poaching and habitat lost. But perhaps this python can afford to be relaxed with such threats nearly non-existent at Mai Po Nature Reserve.
In the afternoon, I was responsible for manning the mammal booth, which mainly introduced otters and ocelot cats and the importance of faeces samples. The mammal’s faeces not only reveals their whereabouts, it also helps ecologists understand their hunting habits. Unfortunately, there were no otter or ocelot sightings, but the infrared imaging record of Mai Po area helped to fulfil participants’ wishes.
Towards the end of the activity, a Rostratula benghalensis, more commonly known as greater-painted snipe, was found hiding in the grass of the lotus pond. They are so unique no matter their appearance or character, it made me happy just watching them.
In the bird world, the male plumage is normally more colourful than the female’s, but it’s the opposite in the case of the Rostratula benghalensis. The bird also exhibits intriguing behaviour. Polygamous by nature, the males are tasked with hatching eggs and raising their young. Although the female bird may seem an unfaithful lover and incompetent mother, this kind of relationship actually improves the species’ survival rate and increase genetic diversity by sharing hatching duties.
Habitat destruction also threatens the bird’s survival, so seeing a male Rostratula benghalensis this time around, I hoped that the next time I come across it that it would have found a partner and successfully have bred the next generation.
Nature is full of surprises. The peaceful wetland hosts numerous creatures. So long as you observe and listen carefully, you will find countless creatures. Whether it’s a snake or a sandpiper, like human beings, they continually struggle for survival, shining a light on life. They also face the same threat of losing their homes, leaving them with nowhere to forage and breed. “But if we protect them from encroaching development by giving them space to thrive, the term ‘extinct species’ would cease to exist in Hong Kong,” I thought to myself as I watched the sun set over the golden reed field.