Waders in Deep Bay

Grey-tailed tattler

I got up around 6AM this morning to get ready and head out to my usual spot on the shore of Deep Bay (Hong Kong side), knowing full well that I’d have to wait a bit for the tide to go out no matter how early I got there. I find that I have the best luck during the outgoing tide at this spot, but only for a few hours. There’s a crucial point shortly after high tide where the waders will come in fairly close to shore as the shore expands. After about 2 hours or so, however, the shoreline, along with the waders, is too far out to really expect good shots, so it’s important to be timely.

Unfortunately I arrived far too early and had to wait about 2 hours for the tide to get low enough for any waders to even attempt to start bopping around on the sandbar. Normally this would be fine, and I would have just come later, but the other major factor was heat, which was why I was keen on meeting the tide exactly. By midday we had temperatures of 34C, which, aside from being unpleasant to the point of dangerous in the wrong place, forces a photographer to reckon with image distortion caused by heatwaves.

In my experience, heatwaves are strongest close to the ground, which, unfortunately, is where you want to be for waders. However, while some of my shots were noticeably affected, others happened to turn out okay. Perhaps because the beach was so freshly uncovered by the tide, the ground was still cool enough to not throw off very much heat. Either way I’m happy that not all of my shots were ruined by heatwaves.

As for the birds, I saw the usual greater sand plovers, though not in very great numbers; I only counted 5. With them was a lone lesser sand plover, hugging the shoreline, as well as 3 kentish plovers. The smaller plovers stayed very near the shoreline and well away from me, while the greater sands were more characteristically fearless.

One of the greater sand plovers was very diligently grooming itself in the same spot for quite some time, fluffing itself up even. (I think this one is a juvenile due to the more varied patterning on the wings.)

Most entertaining, however, were the 22 grey-tailed tattlers scurrying about the mudflat, along with 4 very grumpy Eurasian whimbrels. I’ve seen whimbrels at this spot before, but they didn’t behave like the ones I saw today. These ones were clearly interested in feeding at this spot, and had even waited on the beach with me for the tide to go out for some time until one of the locals walked by.

When out on the mudflats, the whimbrels were very territorial and would routinely chase each other off, shouting alarm calls at each other, flying over to the next beach and returning, chasing one-another on foot–it seemed like they just couldn’t stand each other’s company, totally unlike the 8 whimbrels I saw weeks ago who all stayed very close to one another while resting and foraging. If I were to guess, I might think that the group of 8 were too tired from a long journey to bother one another, while the visitors here are more well-established and have their preferences.

Equally entertaining were the tattlers scurrying around trying to stay out of the way of the bickering whimbrels. In one photo I managed to catch 11 of them (count and double-check) keeping cool under the mangroves while the whimbrels foraged first.

One cheeky bird even took a bath! If you ever wondered how tattlers take baths, well, this is it.

This is probably the closest I’ve gotten to a tattler before, and maybe ever will. The last time I was almost this close, the shot was ruined by heat waves. This time though the water in between us definitely kept things cool enough to not throw off any heat, so that was some very good luck indeed.

Otherwise there I didn’t notice anything else in terms of waders aside from 2 shy common sanppipers. There were no little ringed plovers to be found, nor did I see the common greenshank from last time. Hopefully the next time the tide swings back around to coincide with earlier hours, some other migrants will arrive.

Early August Waders

Greater Sand Plover Juvenile (Charadrius leschenaultii)

The last week of July brought some substantial low pressure systems in from offshore, and seemed also to have brought some migrating waders. Mai Po marshes recorded many greater sand plovers, greenshanks, redshanks, and spoonbills, among others during the final days of July. So I decided to make a few trips to my usual spot on the shores of Deep Bay (Shenzhen Bay), to have a try. (Details are secret.) The variety here isn’t as good as what you can expect at Mai Po, but with a bit of luck and care, you can end up getting much closer to the birds, if you manage not to scare them off!

It seemed like the same group of birds were in town all week, in spite of weather differences. Various and at times severe storms earlier in the week eventually gave way to a subtropical ridge of high pressure that should stay for at least a few days. High tide has been peaking around midday, leaving the best time to try in the early afternoon. However, on the southern shores of Deep Bay, the summer sun can be brutal, and unfortunately as it lowers makes it more difficult for birding, so really the stormy days are best.

Upon first arriving, on the 1st, I spotted a black-winged kite. Their hunting strategy couldn’t be much more different from their larger cousins, the black kite. Like other kestrels, they hover in place rather than circling, watiing to divebomb some unsuspecting creature. Unlike other hovering birds, black winged kites cannot support themselves as they hover, so they must fly into the wind to keep afloat.

On the 1st, the four main species of wader we saw included 12 or so greater sand plovers, another dozen or so little ringed plovers, a four to five terek sandpipers, a ten or so grey-tailed tattlers, four or five common sandpipers, and three whimbrels. The tide was low, so by the time I noticed those birds they were already well out into the sandbar and had no interest in coming closer.

Common Greenshank

The plovers, on the other hand, were much more fearless, coming in close to check out the strange man trying to take their picture. I was able to get some decent photos of the little ringed plovers, which appeared to be a mixture of juvenile and adults, as well as the greater sand plover.

Stay tuned for more in-depth posts about the individual birds I managed to photo!

Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)
Greater sand plover (Charadrius leschenaultii)