The times they are a-changin

Hong Kong is a sad, browbeaten, political and economic shipwreck but today we celebrate. We can exert ourselves in the country parks without a mask. The Maskstapo have retreated and I can climb The Peak without suffering oxygen starvation and steamed-up glasses. At 6am I rose and went out as the sun heaved itself over the horizon. For the first time since early in the year there was a slight chill in the air. Everything was dew-bedecked and not much stirred in the hedgerows. I walked 12km in total. In my backpack an optimistic ‘bird lens’. It stayed there as I drew a blank on migrants. To be honest the macro lens did not see a lot of use either. My rule of thumb is if I see one new species or make one acceptable photo on my wanderings then it has been a successful outing. Today I found a friendly mantis, Hierodula patellifera. There is a tree that normally buzzes with bees and wasps and hosts a few nectaring butterflies. Today it was empty. However as I started to walk on I felt I was being watched. I turned and looked up slightly to find myself staring at HP. It hardly lived up to its name of Giant Asian Mantis. Quite modest in size but beautifully camouflaged. There was no Fee Fi Fo Fum about this one. I took quite a few photos and left it to resume whatever it was doing. Perhaps like me it was contemplating the destruction of civilisation. Lorelei, the original Rheinstone Cowgirl, lures us towards the rocks of September, which lie in wait as we nonchalantly think we have navigated the treacherous waters of August. I can’t wait for 2020 hindsight and, please, pretty please, the end of the orange supremacist in the White House and his odious family and parasitic entourage.

I came out of retirement almost 2 years ago to work part time for 3 months. That was the plan. Like most best laid plans it went agley. Enough is enough though and I am semi-retiring again. At the most I will do 2 days a week so I can walk more and spend more time with our granddaughter. We have, fingers crossed, a grandson on the way too. Life will never be empty or dreary. I never expected to require a navigation course in Duplo avoidance. I never expected to become the world’s leading authority on Peppa Pig. I hear ‘Baby Shark’ every day and have become an expert in changing batteries in toys to stem the tears of disappointment when they run down after only a week of non-stop use. I have spent more time in Mothercare than a camera shop. I even helped change a nappy (diaper) once. I wonder how today’s parents would cope if nappies still had to be boil-washed and reused rather than discarded. My next challenge is how to pay the school fees that will be needed to keep the grandchildren out of the local schools.

What else is changing? Well the aches and pains become more frequent and soon we will leave our Mid Levels eyrie and live in our own apartment for the first time since we bought it in 2011. Smaller but closer to the grandchildren. What to do with Lulu is a problem as dogs are not allowed. Probably I will rent a small dog-friendly apartment for her and one of our helpers and I will use it as a study, library and photography refuge. We can’t give up Lulu. She is almost 12 years old and has been a faithful if temperamental companion and she deserves to live out her days in comfort.

What hasn’t changed is the pleasure I take from photographing the local wildlife. Here are a few of this summer’s snaps.

Hierodula patellifera

Acherontia lachesis

Spirama retorta

Ascalohybris subjacens - an Owlfly

Sphenocorynes feae -  staring into the abyss

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Which one made me happiest, I wonder.

 

Flash!

Fortunate are we in Hong Kong for we are not locked down. We can go out in groups of 4 or fewer and we must stay away from other people. I find this no hardship. There is a limited restaurant service if you foolishly choose to go out. No booze. Apparently our CE believes booze makes people intimate and spreads the virus. She has clearly had a few too many herself if you ask me. Life goes on in some fashion. My exercise is, as always, walking up The Peak. The walk around Harlech and Lugard Road, which form a circuit is mainly shaded. So when I walk in the early morning it is too dark for decent photos without flash. Over the last 2 years I have tried to become more proficient using a flash gun if not for the full illumination then for what we call ‘fill flash’.  Good diffusers help and I bought some last year that have made a big difference. Generally I am not happy with the results of my flash photos. Today however I managed to take one I was pleased with and so (drumroll) here it is.

This is either an Arctornis larva or a Trabula. Checking with the experts.

It is a caterpillar of course. The species is Trabala pallida. The colours are gorgeous. Yellow and black with bright blue spots, a white ‘beard’ not dissimilar to my own when it is allowed to flourish and a fine reddish orange patterned head with extravagant black plumes. The yellow and black suggest the cat is perhaps a Borussia Dortmund fan. A dedicated follower of fashion, I’ll be bound.

So why do I like it? Well it is fairly naturally lit and the depth of field is enough from head to tail. The focus is sharp and the colours are natural too. There is no motion blur. Yes, even caterpillars can move fast enough for motion blur. For the cognoscenti here are the summary EXIF data:

1/80s at F16, ISO 400 – that is the famous triangle of variables – how wide open is the aperture (F16 is quite small giving greater DoF), for how long does the aperture stay open, 1/80s and how sensitive is the sensor set for – ISO400 is for lower ‘noise’. The flash was set to manual and 1/8 power. The lens was my Tamron SP 90mm F/2.8 Di VC on an old Canon 5D3 body. The flash is an even older MT-24EX twin-flash. I can move the two heads separately and even change the power output of each head.

When you shoot flash the shutter speed is less critical as it is the flash that is illuminating the subject rather than the ambient light. Nevertheless I try not to go much below 1/60.

I am sure there are better (and probably more accurate) ways of describing the process but this is my understanding.

Here is another shot from today’s walk:

Cyclosia papilionaris

 

This had more ambient light but I still used a little fill flash and it is not very noticeable. It has lit the moth fairly evenly without unpleasant glare or reflections. The moth is Cyclosia papilionaris or Drury’s jewel. The species is sexually dimorphic and this is the female. The male has a reddish brown ground colour with a few white streaks on the forewing.

Both images processed in Lightroom Classic.

 

The Tale of Sebastian Civet

Beatrix Potter wrote many Tales of but none as sad as that of Sebastian Civet. I confess it may have been Stephanie but suffice it to say the Civet was a mere babe in arms.

In September 2018 Hong Kong was struck by Typhoon Mangkhut. The most damaging storm to strike us in my memory was violent to the extent of bringing down an estimated 60,000 trees. The HK Observatory recorded winds of 250 kph. Old Peak Road was blocked by fallen trees and officially closed. Of course I ignored that and went up as usual. Shortly after the typhoon I heard a strange noise like a crying baby. I hunted around but could not find the source. On my way down later on I heard the same noise and this time I spotted a young man standing below me off the path. I walked down and with him was a baby Masked Palm Civet, Paguma larvata. The young man was just watching so I phoned for advice from the SPCA. They promised to pick up the deserted baby civet and take it to Kadoorie for rehab. It transpired the civet had lost its mum, who was found dead the following day. I stayed with Sebastian / Stephanie for 90 minutes until the rescuer arrived. I gave it water but no food as it had no teeth. The sad end to this is that after doing well at Kadoorie FBG for several weeks the baby had a heart attack and died one night. Spending that 90 minutes with a wild animal in distress moved me profoundly and it took me some time  to get over the death. Here then are some images of perhaps the most beautiful creature I have met (Mrs. Ha excepted of course).

Masked Palm Civet

Paguma larvata - Masked Palm Civet

Paguma larvata - Masked Palm Civet

The top picture was taken with an iPhone. The kit rubbed against my legs and called constantly, lapping at my mineral water. These creatures are usually nocturnal and hard to see so you can tell what a privilege this was. I just wish it had survived.