Part 2 - The Long Wait
I took a rest and sat on some driftwood listening to oriental skylarks while Pete set up his scope and started to scan. I scanned with binoculars and saw a few distant terns flying. Pete said he saw them through his scope and they were gull-billed terns. I set up Forest’s scope, and took a look to confirm the ID.
Eventually, Pete called me over to his scope. He was looking at several white egrets, which I quickly IDed as little egrets. One of the birds was a little bigger and beefier, but that didn’t jump out at me. Pete then said, “You see the bird with the black bill and yellow lores?” Then it dawned on me. Chinese Egret. Pete also noted he had never seen one with a black bill before, but he said that its posture, short-legged look, and straight neck thickening at the base (as opposed to the more snake-like necks of the little egrets) stood out.
We discussed it for a while, with me trying to eliminate intermediate egret, since the black bill threw me and the field guide picture looks nothing like the bird. However, Pete was sure and I concluded the field guide was showing breeding plumage and this bird was still in winter plumage, hence the black bill. (Once back on dry land, I was able to check some on-line resources which showed the other plumage, and was convinced for certain that Pete was right).
I watched the bird for a while, trying to learn the unique field marks that Pete pointed out, when he called me over again. Given his penchant for goodies, I began to hope against hope for a spoon-billed sandpiper, but when I looked through the scope I saw a little gray sandpiper. I looked at the bill – nothing special. So I asked, “What is it?” Pete replied, “Sanderling in breeding plumage.” Forest asked me if it was a new bird. I said no, I’d even seen them at home in Pennsylvania, but seeing them in breeding plumage was different. I’d only seen that before in Alaska.
After a while, I stopped scanning since only the same few species were turning up, and went back to my log for a sit-down. Pete said he was going off to see what was at the edge of the water. Forest suggested that the tide would eventually push the birds to us, so there was no need for a long walk after our slog through the mud. I took his advice, took out my snacks and had some lunch.
Wendy, Forrest, the boatman and I, slowly passed the time with conversation, mostly about whether the tide would actually come in, since the waterline was so far away. Forest talked about some of the other birding sites in Fujian such as Wuyishan and a nice forest park that he also guides to. I got to practice my Chinese a bit and I helped Wendy understand my American jargon. We had an Oriental Greenfinch singing in the trees behind us. But beyond that, things went pretty slow.
Pete eventually came back from his walkabout, with the news that he’d found a white-faced plover, the recently split (or future split, depending on who’s counting) from Kentish plover and a gray-tailed tattler. While I was not going to go on a long barefoot hike for the plover, because Forest assured us that the tide would come in bringing birds with it, I was somewhat energized a bit, and started scanning again. I turned up the usual – mostly sanderlings and the occasional Kentish or lesser sandplover. But the numbers were higher. The tide was definitely moving things our way.
After a while, Forest went down to the shoreline while Pete finished his lunch, after which he joined in the scanning. He found another gray-tailed tattler, which I got onto, then I found a very white-headed plover. I had Pete take a look, but he said it was a very white Kentish. He explained the key field mark from a distance was that on a Kentish the bill, eye-line, and eye formed one solid black line. On a white-faced, you could see a white gap between the bill and the eye. Right after that Pete said, “Here, I’ve got a white-faced plover.” I got on it and saw what he explained, At certain angles, there was a quite noticeable white space between the bill and the eye. I watched it a bit more until a breeding plumaged Kentish puffed itself up in a threat display (or a breeding display?) and chased it off.
It was still only around 3:00, but Pete was getting antsy, so he headed down to the water line to join Forest. I contemplated following, but the boatman assured me that the terns would come in closer. In fact he pointed to a nearby sandbar and said in Chinese, “That’s where they’ll be.” He also said that when the tide comes in, it comes in fast and there was a chance you could get trapped out there. That was good enough for me, so we continued our conversation, this time with the boatman talking about birds he’d seen, a little bit about Shaolin Kung Fu, and of course, whether the tide would really come in. During this stretch we added a pair of flyover far eastern curlews to our day list.
It started to cool off and I gave Wendy my coat to wear. We watched a farmer herd a flock of a few hundred ducks across the flats to a feeding place, but by around 4:00, the flats still were not inundated. Forest came back to get his scope, and told us that shorebird numbers were still increasing, but no sign of the terns yet. As he talked, three Eurasian curlews flew over, calling. Forest agreed that it was safest to stay where I was, and he would call Wendy on her cell if anything of note showed up. Then he headed back to join Pete at the water line.
Immediately after he joined Pete, Wendy’s cell rang. The message was “Get out here, now.”