A hard rains gonna fall

Or Toy-Phoon Story.

Here is the latest Tropical Cyclone Bulletin issued by the Hong Kong Observatory.

The No. 8 Southeast Gale or Storm Signal is in force.

This means that winds with mean speeds of 63 kilometres per hour or more are expected from the southeast quarter.

Now that doesn’t sound very bad does it and to be honest, I have been in a lot worse T8s. The windows and doors banged in the night, the outdoor furniture blew over and one chair almost escaped completely, the frangipani tree lost a lot of leaves and the pot plants look worse for wear. A few branches are down on the roads but otherwise this is not going to go down as one of HK’s worst. Nothing like a direct hit, thank goodness.

I went into the town around 9.30am. The restaurants were busy with dim sum diners but the streets were deserted bar a few hardy souls, mostly with camera in hand. As I arrived the rain became harder and I was loathe to expose the M9 to such a potential drenching. Nonetheless I did venture out with the camera protected by the Crumpler Bag  and started to look for images to illustrate the storm. Now typhoon in Cantonese is Dai Fung or simply, ‘big wind’ – rain is not a given. And it is not to be confused with Wui Fung or Hong Kong Bank (HSBC), where fung means prosperous. In any case, the rain did fall hard for a while.

I tried hard to make it look like  T8 and this was about the worst I could get:

Typhoon Sky

There were a few branches down

Logged off

and you can see that the good folk of the local authority have already been out tidying up. Maybe it was a lot worse during the night.

But the real clue to the T8 signal being up was this:

Typhoon 8 signal is up

Not only had the good burghers of Sai Kung tied a red and white ribbon round the trees but they had also erected a plaque in honour of the occasion. This lonely photographer was so excited he was taking pictures of the steps on the pier. I know it was exciting because after he finished I did the same. Now who’s the silly burgher?

And no weather report would be complete without an umbrella.

Umbrella carnage

Frankly, looking at the construction quality I’m surprised this survived any use at all. Perhaps it was its first outing. This woman had a much better one:

Raising the umbrella

Of course this model is slightly less portable but you have to admit very effective.

So that’s it. Typhoon Nesat has seemingly given us an easy ride and not all T8s are anything like as tame. Some are extremely frightening. I don’t mean to belittle the risk its just on this occasion it all seemed just a bit too alarmist. I hope it was the same elsewhere in HK. Originally I thought this was Typhoon Nesta and that would have worried me a lot more. If it had been anything like my Aunt  Nesta from Ebbw Vale that would have been a real reason to run for cover. She passed on may years ago, God bless her, and she was my mother’s best friend but she was definitely an 8 on anybody’s scorecard.


Just after breakfast I heard a flutey whistle. Hmm. That sounded familiar. But  not now, surely? A minute or so later a Hwamei was perched on our garden wall. Now the Hwamei is an occasional visitor to the front communal garden but not at this time of year. Generally it is in Winter. In fact the last decent sightings I had were in February. In fact this is one of the February birds….

As usual, tucked under the hedge. So I was not expecting this visitor in September. Autumn, I thought, has arrived for sure. And I wandered out on to the small sun terrace to check what else was about.

There was something sitting on rock in the bay. And it wasn’t Otis Redding. Usually it is a Black kite but last time I checked they don’t have white heads. Aha! It is Autumn… the Osprey is back. Now this isn’t this morning’s bird but it is one I photographed.

I was beginning to feel good about the day. And rightly so because overhead the distinctive wing shivering of an accipiter told me that the Crested goshawks were over the wooded hillside. A pale rump patch was easily visible as the sun caught the turning body. These birds are common here and occasionally perch out.  Again this is not today’s bird but one of “mine”.

Next up was the always inspiring Peregrine falcon. Now I have only seen this species from the house once or twice before and never so close. This is today’s bird.  Not the best of pictures but all I had to hand was an old Canon 30D and an even older 400mm F5.6 lens from which the lens hood has gone AWOL.

 The head is not well marked but the underparts show this is a juvenile bird. The species turns up erratically all over the place but most regularly I think up in the Mai Po area. I had seen one perched on a hill in Clearwater Bay CP once so I knew they were in the vicinity. Then last year a pair appeared over the hill opposite us but they are not regular here. To think that we almost wiped this amazing bird out in England through the use of DDT in the 60s. Shades of vultures and diclofenac in the Sub-Continent today. I am sure such tragedies were never intended. They do however show how poorly we understand the eco system. For the many scientific advances I am sure there are also a fair number that are counterproductive without ever being identified as such.

Finally, and pictureless, an early evening White-bellied sea-eagle flapped vigorously up the valley, probably heading towards Kei Ling Ha Lo Wai. Too late this time as I was still distracted by the icing on the day’s cake, the victory by Wales over Namibia (Mighty Namibia, no less), 81-7. As they say in the bars of the valleys, “Laughed? I nearly bought a round”.

So there we are, an excellent day’s birding without leaving home. Counting the ubiquitous kites that makes five raptor species in a day from the armchair. Now you may regard this as cheating. I don’t. I see no reason why birds spotted with a coffee mug in hand should count any the less. And tomorrow, all being well it will be Hey Ho! Hey Ho! Its off to Mai Po we go. And if I see less than 5 raptor species I shall be Grumpy and if I see more I shall be Happy. Remember the joke voted best at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year was “I was told to change my password to one with eight characters so I chose Snow White and the Seven Dwarves.”

So as I have to be up early in the morning I guess I should say I’m feeling sleepy but the other dwarves may misconstrue that. In a PC world where Noddy and Big Ears have been banned from schools I just can’t take the risk. Political correctness is a blight on our society as Enid said. Good night.

Lens review – Summilux 35mm F1.4 ASPH

I was lucky enough this week to be able to buy a new Leica Summilux 35mm F1.4 ASPH. These are like gold dust and I had been on the waiting list since June 2010. Thank you Mr. Sunil Kaul for your help.

I took the lens out for a walk this morning. Just a leisurely stroll with my wife. I chose the M9 body so I could see the results later rather than wait for film to be processed.

I was surprised at how small and light this lens is. The aperture ring has a nice action and doesn’t seem to shift once set. The focus ring is perhaps a tad stiff but I got used it very quickly. You get a full field of view in the viewfinder. Just to be clear, what I mean is that you don’t need an external viewfinder but part of the view is obscured by the lens, just as with the Noctilux but not so extreme. You quickly get used to this. And the lens hood is actually useful, something I can’t say for all the Leica lenses. No flare visible.

The morning was bright but overcast so not good light in some ways. A bit too flat and not great contrast. Skies look unappealing in this light. Here are four images, pretty much unprocessed except conversion from RAW to jpeg and some very minor tweaking – no cropping, no unsharp mask, no contrast adjustment. Just a little check on the colour balance (pretty much none needed) and some modest exposure fine tuning. They don’t immediately exhibit the glow I get with the 24mm Summilux but they are beautifully clean without being too ‘antiseptic’.

Dog of the day – definitely not a basket case

this old dragon boat drum has seen better days [F1.4]

At the local garden centre the stone monks were very fruit focussed [F2.8]

Drying fish are a common sight and smell in the town [F2]

Now you know what happened to Happy Feet – he’s in Sai Kung. [F1.4]

There’s no technical analysis here. Just some examples of what the lens produces unadjusted. You be the judge. By no means cheap – they are list price HK$42,000 here. (Divide by 7.8 if you want US$. If you are lazy I’ll do it for you – its about US$5,384).  I can’t say whether or not it is good value for money – depends on your pocket but it completes my set of Leica lenses of desire – the 0.95 Nocti, the Summi 24, the Summi 35, and the Cron 90. I have a couple of other crons (35 & 50) too but the first 3 will always be my lenses of choice. The Nocti is a monster but you get used to it. I suspect this new Summilux will be my day to day lens. I like 35 or 50 as a focal length but the 24 produces glowing images wide open.

So there you are. I’d love to try this as a landscape lens but it will be a superb street lens on the M9 or M3. I can’t wait to try it in better light.