Flightpathproject has just returned from Mai Po, where migratory birds are in transit along the East Asian-Australasian Flyway in their thousands. There is poetry in their names: gadwalls and godwits, snipes, stints and sandpipers, tattlers and turnstones.
It’s a challenge, holding the thin green line of marsh, mangrove and mudflats on the border with mainland China. Does the wetland protect the birds, or do the birds protect the wetland?
Their next stop: Australia and southern hemisphere summer.
Lesser Sand Plover, Kentish Plover, Grey Plover, Common Sandpiper, Curlew Sandpiper, Ruddy Turnstone and Whimbrel seen at Ezhara Beach, Kerala 21 November 2014
Grey Plover, Kerala
‘You’ve probably seen the Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola) and not paid it any attention. Singly or in little flocks, these little birds stroll on sandy beaches looking for tiny nibbles in the sand. Every winter, they arrive in droves to the coast of Kerala…’
Flightpathproject is in Thailand 6 March to 26 April 2014
‘The spoon-billed sandpiper Eurynorhynchus pygmeus is one of the most threatened birds on the planet. It breeds on the Chukotsk and Kamchatka peninsulas in the Russian Far East, migrates through Russia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea and China to winter in Bangladesh, Myanmar and Thailand, 8,000km from its breeding grounds.’
From an email to Flightpathproject from birders Abhijit and Hassath (who made their own migration of about 3000km from Delhi to Pak Thale to look for spoonies):
‘…We didn’t have a spotting scope then, and Hassath sat calmly on a big mound while I wandered around in the sweltering heat examining each salt pan peering at various plovers and other small birds. Then I decided we should get going back to Bangkok and called out to her. She ambled over, and said “Hey, isn’t that a spoon-billed sandpiper?” It was…’
‘To date, about 165 bird species (80% of the total for Penang Island) have been recorded in Penang National Park. The best times to visit the park is during autumn from October to November and spring from end of February to March. During these months, it is possible to observe a variety of migratory species ranging from waders to raptors and thrushes…Shorebirds such as Broad-billed Sandpiper and coastal species such as Little Tern have been seen on the mudflats…’
‘The whimbrels, sea curlews, godwits, sandpipers, turnstones, dowitchers, snipes, knots, stints, phalaropes etc, a large group of small to moderately large shorebirds, mainly breeding in cooler parts of the northern hemisphere and wintering on southern hemisphere coasts, wetlands and grassy plains…’
…definition from the Handbook of Western Australian Birds Volume I, RE Johnstone & GM Storr, WA Museum 1998
An illustration from Natural History Drawings: The Complete William Farquhar Collection, Malay Peninsula 1803-1818 (Editions Didier Millet & National Museum of Singapore, 2010)
Sandpiper by Elizabeth Bishop
The roaring alongside he takes for granted,
and that every so often the world is bound to shake.
He runs, he runs to the south, finical, awkward,
in a state of controlled panic, a student of Blake.
The beach hisses like fat. On his left, a sheet
of interrupting water comes and goes
and glazes over his dark and brittle feet.
He runs, he runs straight through it, watching his toes.
– Watching, rather, the spaces of sand between them
where (no detail too small) the Atlantic drains
rapidly backwards and downwards. As he runs,
he stares at the dragging grains.
The world is a mist. And then the world is
minute and vast and clear. The tide
is higher or lower. He couldn’t tell you which.
His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,
looking for something, something, something.
Poor bird, he is obsessed!
The millions of grains are black, white, tan, and gray
mixed with quartz grains, rose and amethyst.
Listen to the poem here (an audio-link should appear but can be a bit erratic):
In for the long-haul:
Annually the red-necked stint (about 35 grams) migrates twice as far as a humpback whale (about 35,000 kilograms), despite being one millionth of its size…
Morley Beach is all glinting shallows today. It’s a long way from Pak Thale, where Flightpath: Thailand will make landfall in a few weeks.
Morley Beach is part of wide and wild Wilson Inlet near Denmark, on Western Australia’s south coast; here are muddy sandflats fringed with samphire groundcover and paperbark forest. Pak Thale is on the busy waters of the Gulf of Bangkok; there, there are saltpans, mudflats, mangroves. For migratory shorebirds, both places offers a rest and refuelling stop on their annual long-haul flight.
A solitary greenshank calls alarm and takes off. Small flocks of resident red-capped plovers run and stop, run and stop along the receding waterline. Summer visitors are arriving – at the moment there are sharp-tailed sandpipers, greater sand plovers, tiny red-necked stints. For the next few weeks they will rest, feed and bulk-up here, before developing breeding plumage and beginning the long journey, via the countries of the East Asian-Australasian flyway, back to their Arctic nesting grounds together.
My Great Aunt by Roland Leach
My great aunt was always looking for a husband.
She had a few and left them all. Attracted to water,
the distance it offered. She was good at loving
from a distance. My great aunt was always looking.
She was a good looker. Took a steamer out of
Liverpool for the islands of the East, imagining
them still as spice islands. Took men of all creed and colour.
Didn’t mind a risk my great aunt, could always find
a racetrack. Fell in love with a young naturalist on board,
grey-coated and too occupied with the flight of birds
to notice her. She liked that. Didn’t like fawning men.
Just attracted to water and distance.
She had her way though. Lured the poor man
in dresses soft as butterfly wings, the colour of macaws,