This week we have asked award winning wildlife artist Szabolcs Kókay if he would share some of his experiences observing and painting Spoon-billed Sandpiper. Szabolcs is currently featuring several of his Spoonie paintings on a variety of products through Redbubble. 30% of his artists’ margin is going straight to NGO Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China, helping to protect the Yellow Seas mudflats, a key staging region for the Spoonies and many other migratory wader species.
You can find some of Szabolcs’ products by clicking here.
‘Chasing Spoon-billed Sandpipers by the Yellow Sea’
‘I don’t exactly remember when shorebirds become my favourite bird group, but I clearly know why. Their incredible variety of colour, size and shape gives me a lot of inspiration both as a birder and a wildlife artist. There’s something about their bill, as Slender-billed Curlew is my ultimate favourite amoung them (being extremely lucky having seen one in Hungary back in 1996), and Spoon-billed Sandpiper was also a dream species for me to observe.
I was very keen to see one in fresh summer plumage (I find the smaller sandpipers most attractive in spring with all the frosty feather edges). Visiting their breeding ground in Eastern Siberia would have been too expensive and impossible, so it still remained a dream. I had to find another place, so decided to try to find them on their migration route. That’s how I ended up on the tidal mudflats of Rudong, North of Shanghai, China, in May 2013.
I’ve been accompanied by a fellow artist from Ireland, Robert Vaughan. During the first days experts of the Spoon-billed Sandpiper in China organization helped us to locate the best areas where the shorebirds were feeding and roosting during high tide. Finding Spoonies without them would have been an impossible task! After the frustration of the first few days, I became better and better finding the needle in the haystack, and could locate 1-2 Spoon-billed Sandpipers amoung the mass Red-neked Stint flocks each day.
Plumage-wise the Spoonies looked exactly like the Rednecks, and it really didn’t help when they stuck their characteristic bill into their back feathers while resting. Luckily after a few days, I started to ’feel’ the subtle differences, and patient scanning almost always ended up with success.
We also bought long wellington boots in a local shop, and waded into the mudflat during low tide looking for feeding birds. Spoonies have a different feeding action, they were always found in the small remaining pools of water, this was a huge help in locating them. Devoting 10 full days for this task brought us reward, as it was on the last but one day, when we found a bird immediately after the tide started receding, very close to the shore. This experience ended up in an oil painting.
Beside the Spoonies, I’ve seen many incredible, new shorebird species, even the other holy grail, Nordmann’s Greenshank. The only thing I missed was Asian Dowitcher. A male bird was seen on the day after I’ve left. But this gives me a reason to go back!
I came home with loads of sketches, photos and videos, more paintings should come from these in the coming years.’