How to be wrong and still happy

I usually like to post good pictures of birds. Some are better than others but by and large they pass. Today’s photo is a mess. But I am very happy with it.

Last night as it was getting dark I saw some activity in the jasmine. I knew what it wasn’t but I did not know what it was. It looked like a warbler and it looked biggish. Mentally I wondered if Oriental Reed Warbler ever visited gardens. It seemed pretty unlikely but so did Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler.

The light was simply too poor and the bird too deep in the greenery to attempt photos. I thought however that it would not go far over night. A dawn patrol was called for. Happily dawn is getting later these days so 6.45 was official sun up. I was promptly on parade and after no more than five minutes the bird appeared again, still in the jasmine. I was getting no more than the odd glimpse of movement. And then suddenly it flew up and perched in full view on the Lantana. I had not opened the doors in case the bird flew. So my only shots were through the dining room doors, with reflections from the room lights thrown in for good measure. I had only a 400mm lens on a full frame camera. The resultant images were pretty awful but I was happy enough that this was a new garden tick, Japanese Bush Warbler, Horornis diphone. I posted the image on the HKBWS forum to make sure. A few minutes later, the local guru said simply “Manchurian for me“…..

I was rather puzzled. It didn’t look like Manchurian Reed Warbler but I thought it was not for me to question he who knows everything. So I then alerted others. A good garden bird I thought. Very good in fact. It didn’t take long for someone to point out helpfully that the guru meant Manchurian Bush Warbler, Horornis borealis. My problem was that I didn’t know MBW occurred in Hong Kong. BMW yes, MBW, well search me guv’.

I dug out the last copy of the HK Bird Report and sure enough it seems MBW is now recognised as a HK species but it also stated that reliable criteria for separation in the field remain to be established.  Now I’m even more confused. So I was right…. it was a Bush Warbler. I was wrong…… guru or sifu did not mean MRW. My initial instincts were right(ish). The answer to separation seems to be coming from in the hand examination of birds trapped and ringed here. Guru / sifu had listed why he went with MBW. I guess I should have known that the species was either split or added to the HK list a couple of years back but I didn’t. And I don’t think I am really bothered which species it was. They would all have been new for the garden. But I may have saved myself a face full of omelette. I am sure by know you are either bored rigid or desperate to see the cause of all the kerfuffle. So here it is in all its blurriness:

Manchurian Bush Warbler

Now I think its exciting to get this chappie in the garden but Mrs. Ha, who is once again feisty enough to be classified as ‘on the mend’ simply said ‘its very boring’. I think she mistook borealis for boring just as I mistook horor-nis for horror. Back to my Latin Primer I think.

The excitement however was not over. The domestic helper, whose birthday it is today, came in and announced there was a moth outside. Hmmm. Ok. I suppose I’d better humour her and have a look. Wah! Convolvulus Hawk Moth, Agrius convolvuli. To be honest this would be a much better find in Britain than in Hong Kong. However I’m just a big kid who still likes to find insects that have scare potential. So I picked it up and tried to offer it to the helper as a birthday gift. She seemed unamused. Well, would you run away from this?

C'mon punk, make my day…..


What a treasure. Fits nicely into the palm of your hand.

Agrius convolvuli


My punishment was to drive Mrs. Ha to the TCM shop (TCM = Traditional Chinese Medicine). Not much fun.

But on balance I think it was worth all the hassle and confusion to have a MBW and a CHM in the garden within an hour of one another. Sometimes the quality of the photo isn’t important. For me it was the thrill of the chase, guessing correctly that the bird would overnight (free of charge) and leave without breakfast and then finding something that would have given my Manchurian friend a very good breakfast indeed. Come to think of it, I wonder if the guru meant Mancunian……… I think I heard an accent.


With four days to go before we are due to jet off to Korea’s answer to Hawaii, Jeju Island, Mrs. Ha has gone down with influenza. Also sprach Herr Doktor Mak. I drove her to the clinic this morning and she was feeling pretty grim. Temperature up and down, lacking energy, still worrying about making soup bless her. Dr. Mak thinks she will be fine in a few days. She is sleeping now and I hope some rest will aid her recovery.

The birding trip was abandoned for the day but I did manage another bunting. Each Winter a few Black-faced Buntings frequent the garden and this was the first time this season I have seen them. Here is one peering out of the gloom, wondering why on earth she had flown so far only to land on Hong Kong’s answer to the planet Skaro.

Black-faced Bunting-2

All around the green bits of the colony Special Administrative Region of the PRC there are developers and politicians, corpulent of body and wallet, eyeing up the SSSIs, Conservation Areas and Green Belt, barking out Exterminate, exterminate……

Green was good, concrete is better might be the mantra. We are in an Orwellian world in HK as far as planning is concerned. This is a splendid albeit depressing piece of analysis. I attended a TPB meeting once and felt I had entered another universe. Kafka would have felt quite at home. There are of course heroic efforts going on to prevent the destruction. If they are successful I shall be the first to throw my chapeau in the air and maybe even eat it when it descends. I am not optimistic. Even in the face of obloquy their cupidity knows no limits. “Progress” is ineluctable.

I always like to look on the bright side however. And I am convinced that our corner of Sai Kung will remain forever green. That means that all the birds in or transiting Hong Kong, with or without a visa, will have to pass through or retreat to our garden. My current list of 68 species will rise rapidly and inexorably until there is standing room only, Herons at the back, buntings at the front please and queue in an orderly manner for take off and landing clearance. The case for building HK’s new runway in our garden is watertight. All it needs is an occasional mow and strim and it will be bird-perfect. No planning permission required. Now doesn’t that make sense?




A fling with an old flame

I admit it. I always go back. They say you shouldn’t but as Oscar famously said, I can resist anything except temptation. Somewhere in my head I heard the whisper, “Go on, you know you want to……” And I know I can pick her up any time.

So my wife and I went into town to do some chores and I smuggled my beloved in the back of the car. Every now and again I just have to play with the M9. And yes, the Noctilux was my first choice lens. So no birds today, just a few images taken as we did our chores. I get far fewer scores with my M9 – all that manual fiddling….. I either miss the moment or the critical focus. I always try to zone focus – F4 or maybe a stop either side and set the distance to about 3m. It is alas a bit hit and hope, especially if I shoot from the hip or the 1-pack that protects my hidden 6-pack. Some are passable and here are today’s survivors.



The Abacus

The Abacus

The Reader

The Reader

A Drama in Three Acts?

A Drama in Three Acts?