Monday, December 15, 2008

The Great Ibis Adventure

The Ops Gegar Student Leaders' Consultation, organised by FES, happened at the Methodist College on Saturday, 4 October 2008.

Both the PKV's English and Chinese ministries were represented, and I met some of the STOMPers like Luke, Theresa, Esmond and Sock Lee there. d'NA was represented by Tee Ming, Yen Mii and me.

It was quite a tough decision to go for Ops Gegar, as I wanted to keep that Saturday free; my other Saturdays in September were occupied with PKV activities and the Morib field trip. But in the end I did not regret the decision, as it was a good time of learning, meeting people (and meeting people again)... and above all, chancing upon two ibises which appeared to live in the field of the adjacent Methodist Girls' Primary School.

Over lunch, Ann Gie, Hannah and I hopped onto the monorail to Times Square, to look up the ibis (and I to check on Bizandry). It was the Glossy Ibis, Plegadis falcinellus. Hannah expressed her interest in getting a camera, and although it was quite a fruitful short trip, we were 15 minutes late for the next session; Ann Gie and myself for Rethinking CG, and Hannah for Rethinking Leadership.

Armed only with my 11-16mm and 50mm lenses, I could not manage pictures any closer than the one above. I did take a number of photos depicting the ibises in their environment, but I wanted to do some close-ups as well, and so I knew I would return someday.

* * * * *

The date was set: 21 October. It was near the end of quite an emotionally unsettling month which saw me return to watercolour painting for awhile, and it was also the last effective week of the semester. A number of lecturers had already finished their lectures and so I had quite a bit of free time that week.

What I didn't expect was that my sleep prior to The Great Ibis Adventure would be interrupted by a fire drill in college; no wonder there were instructions to clear the college car park the day before.

So there we were, half asleep, lining up for the roll call. The only thing I brought down with me was my camera; I figured it would come in handy for some pictures, and it was only when I reached the car park (Laman Pidato) and amused my friends with my choice of item to save, that I realised it would probably be the first thing I'd grab in the event of a real fire.

Tragically, How was sound asleep in the room when the fire struck. We tried to call him down but he wouldn't budge.

An engine was parked by the Pokok Tanjung and a huge spotlight mounted on a pole rose from it. The siren was quite deafening.

So the firemen gave us a demonstration on how to put out fires using extinguishers, and called forth several volunteers to have a go at it.

It lasted about an hour, and we were done by 4.30 a.m. I decided not to go back to bed, as I was planning to leave about six-something in order to be comfortably in position by 8.00 a.m. I was surprised to find Ai Wei and Shannon online, so we chatted for a while. I believe I also managed to do my morning devotion before leaving, or perhaps I did it on the train.

* * * * *

I left a little later than I'd hoped to, at it was 7.00 a.m. when I reached the field opposite the Engineering Faculty. Thankfully, a bus arrived as I approached the bus stop at 1st College, saving me the journey on foot to the Universiti LRT station.

At 7.20 I was stuck in the platform jam at Universiti.

By 7.50 I arrived at the Methodist College (MC); I'd decided to shoot from there as I could use the wall between MC and the primary school as a blind. The guard, Mr Chan Kum Thong was, however, quite difficult. He said I needed permission from the college's office, and that I needed an appointment to see the person(s)-in-authority. He told me to return at 8.30, and that someone should be able to bring me in to the office then. I bargained for 8.15 and had breakfast at the mamak next to the KL Sentral monorail station.

When I returned between 8.15 and 8.30, he told me to wait until 9.30 when his shift would be over. I told him I could not wait that long (for two reasons: it is usually too hot and uninspiring for bird photography by 10.00 a.m., and I was planning to crash the juniors' 10.00 a.m. - 1.00 p.m. Biology Practical class that morning), and he asked me to try accessing the field from the primary school. I did not know the school was open that day, or I might have tried that alternative much earlier.

It was then, I think, that I heard the loud kee-yawh! cry of the ibis (similar to the Little Heron's, but much deeper and spine-chilling) and saw one descending upon the tree in the distance; it was either then, or at 8.00 when I was about to proceed to breakfast. My heart picked up a few beats in the excitement.

By 9.00, I entered the primary school, easily bypassing the indifferent En Majid, a stark contrast to the very fussy Mr Chan. I have since pronounced it as a consistent rule that the guards of private and of public institutions are from different worlds altogether. I sought permission from the office to photograph the birds, and Fauziah the office clerk was very helpful. "Boleh," she said, with no further questions asked.

Setting up my camera by the field-side, and later crouching in the 'wetlands' below the large tree, I was reminded of my primary school days when chants of "Selamat sejahtera, Cikgu" echoed from the classrooms, and the voices of teachers keeping their pupils in check resounded with a particular sharpness; "Baca sama-sama! Jangan ada yang cepat, ada yang lambat!"

I certainly remember the bug-hunting days in Standard Five, but I don't suppose I would have imagined then that I would someday be crouching in soft-bottomed, waterlogged earth, staking out a bird not normally encountered in the heart of the city.

At first, there were no ibises in sight; there were a couple of herons or so, however, and I busied myself with them while waiting for the 'main course'.

Being a very damp environment with much leaf litter and organic material, molluscs such as snails are quite abundant. I believe crustaceans such as the relatives of freshwater shrimp may also be present. They are the primary food source for the waterbirds which thrive in this serendipitous plot of marshy land in one of the busiest parts of town.

Finally, an ibis came into sight. It alighted on the roof of the office block from which I came. Periodically, a crane from a construction site somewhere nearby emerged over the roof. I felt the juxtaposition of these two creatures--the bird of nature and the bird of man (crane, get it?)--was at once amusing and sobering.

Most of the time, I was leaning against the wall with my camera poised, waiting for the moment the ibis would surely take to the air. At times I think my arms were becoming numb.

At last the moment came! The picture did not come out as sharp or well-focused as I'd hoped it to be, but it was probably the best my D50 and 55-200mm lens combination could manage; neither a fast camera nor a fast lens, but sufficient. An image I was, to be sure, satisfied with.

It settled on one of the branches, and it was on the branches of the large tree that the ibises seemed to spend the hotter hours of the day when we observed them during Ops Gegar.

All in all, a great trip. I thank God for these occasions of setting out early, not quite knowing what to expect, but going in expectancy nonetheless. Perhaps in some ways, such trips can be considered examples of Sivin's 'jump first, fear later' motto.

The ibis story is far from over, and I hope to visit the place again soon.

1 comment:

Kaun said...

truly heart warming Seladang. =) Well written. (And yes. I got the crane pun.)