Hot Stuff

The second half of May has brought temperatures in the low to mid 30s Celsius. It is brutal. My walks are being curtailed. I start earlier if I can haul myself out of bed. I carry more water. The return on energy invested is falling as much of the wildlife has decided to stay indoors and watch the latest offering from David Attenborough.

On Sunday I went out at 5.30am. Mrs. Ha, bless her cotton socks, was still in the land of nod. The dog didn’t bat an eyelid when I went out. It was barely dawn. I had prepared everything the night before. Sometimes I do this but never manage to summon the energy to get up. When I do I am always grateful that willpower prevailed. The dawn chorus is rather different here. More of a dawn cacophony but I can pick out the main performers with relative ease. The walk up to the Peak was in semi-darkness. About 1.5km of steep ascent. As I walked up the streetlights went off.

My reward was a new butterfly, Bibasis oedipodea belesis, for my list. Just before 7am I saw a butterfly perched on a railing post. Brownish orange underwings – interesting. It took off and I cursed quietly to myself. A few yards further on another sat. And stayed. I took some quick phone shots and then started to edge closer with my camera. A frame and it flew. Up above my head, around in a circle and back down again. Same perch. Wash, rinse, repeat. I had a few rather grainy shots but good enough all things considered. Finally I thought I would try some phone video. That was a step too far. No video.

Bibasis oedipodea - Branded Orange Awlet

Back home I opened my first reference book and immediately found what had to be the species. But the distribution map did not include HK Island, let alone the Peak. I searched against the species name on the AFCD database. Very rare, it said. I processed the photos and concluded the reference sources must be out of date.

I posted the images online with a suitable caveat. Someone told me the species flies at dawn and dusk. Well before 7am fitted well. Nobody argued against the identification. It is quite distinctive. I wondered whether this was a rogue wanderer. Yesterday by chance I was looking at the butterfly list for Lung Fu Shan, the smallest country park in HK, which adjoins the Peak. To my surprise the species is on the list. Maybe this butterfly is not as rare as it once was.

The other result of the heat wave is the resurrection of my perennial quest for the perfect camera bag. My small shoulder bag is perfect for wandering around town. My backpack is fine for a winter hike with the longer lens and some extra warm clothing tucked inside. Summer is tricky. The shoulder bag allows me to carry very limited amounts of water. The biggest risk in a HK summer hike is dehydration. This is often underestimated. I saw people yesterday running in blazing sun, no head protection and no water. This is simply irresponsible. I need something that will carry several bottles of water along side a second lens, insect repellent, lens cleaners, blower, spare batteries, flash, ruler (for measuring caterpillars etc.), coins in case I need a taxi home, magnifying lens, phone, wallet, house keys, antiseptic wipes, possibly a polarizing filter, a supply of my favourite Ethiopian coffee beans in case I stumble across an espresso maker, the complete works of Dickens, my 8 favourite records, a collapsible chair, a roll of Izal and an umbrella in case of rain. Some may occasionally be left behind but nobody ever said photography should be a lightweight pursuit. I also hand carry my tripod.

Sunday afternoon I saw a potential candidate. Quite reasonably priced and well designed, I thought. I did my usual trick of wandering around the shop several times to mull it over before Mrs. Ha decided I would buy it. At home I still liked the design. Lots of pockets. You can never have too many zipped compartments. I transferred my daily burden (photographic not canine) into the new bag and then slung it over my shoulder. I worried the strap might be a little to short. Worth a go though.

Monday dawned bright and early but alas I did not. My departure from base camp was well after 8am. Apart from the dearth of wildlife the bag performed well for a couple of hours. As I drank the water it became lighter as a bonus. As we went into the third hour I felt the strap slowly slipping off. My shirt was drenched with perspiration and the strap was not gripping at all well. I tried to sling it over my head but it was too short. Then I noticed that the strap was positioned at the back of the bag and the weight made it tilt forward. My cunning plan at that point was to change the strap for a backpack style one. Sadly the strap is stitched to the bag. The further I walked the less enamored I was of the design. We made it home together but the jury is out whether we will become good friends and go on a second date. I fear I may have added to my collection of ‘almost’ bags. The quest for the Holy Grail will go on.

In Hong Kong we celebrate the Buddha’s birthday today and it is a public holiday for us. I sincerely hope he has not melted and that at the very least somebody gives him a decent camera bag as a present.

The Barren Rock.

Slowly the world settles back into clear view and my imitation of a drunken sailor fades back into sobriety. My balance has been restored.

I walked 7 km yesterday and enjoyed it. A slow, almost funereal wander. People pause and wonder what I am peering at, fiddling with camera settings. Then, the inevitable “how on earth did you see that?” The answer, my friend is not blowing in the wind, it is simply looking. Familiarity does not breed contempt. It heightens my awareness of what looks different, out of place and therefore is to be explored.

That is how I found the moon moth, Actias ningpoana a few days back. It is a large and quite beautiful moth. It draws ooohs and aaahs from all that see it. This one was sitting right next to a busy path. It was resting on the underside of a hanging leaf so perhaps it is excusable that people just walked past. But each side of the leaf were two paler patches sticking out and to my eye they said two things: that was not how a leaf should look and the shape, colour and size meant it had to be a moon moth. So I gently turned the leaf around and revealed the glamorous creature, a little blusher and some very fine eyebrows. A cross between Julia Roberts and Mariel Hemingway. It also has some slight wing damage. A bird has probably seen the eye spots and attacked them, saving the moth to fly another day.

Actias ningpoana

Actias ningpoana

For 15-20 minutes I stood, took a few photos and shared the star with the passers-by. Each and everyone took their own phone pictures to show their friends, children, students……. And maybe one or two will catch the nature bug. This segues neatly into a few words on the iNaturalist City Challenge.

Between April 27-30th people in 64 project areas around the world went out to record what they could find in their area. They logged observations, identified species and the number of participants was logged. Hong Kong took part and as it stands this is where we stand.Screen Shot 2018-05-01 at 13.37.38

This merits a moment to pause and reflect.

Hong Kong is perceived as a financial centre, a shopping paradise (surely an oxymoron) and an urban jungle. Originally described as a barren rock. It is constantly in need of land for development. Why this should be the case crosses a range of issues that are controversial, emotive and frequently distorted. Currently there are 18 proposals up for consideration as to how the ‘crisis’ should be resolved. The list does not include further restrictions on population growth but does include encroaching on designated Country Parks and building on the Fanling Golf Course.

Surely there can be little of ecological value in Hong Kong? Well finding roughly 2,500 species in just 4 days suggests there is a vast amount to protect. And with well nigh 20,000 observations there is still a substantial amount of evidence to be scrutinized and identified. I would be amazed if we did not end up well above 2,500 with a few new species for the SAR in there. My health was not good enough for me to make much of a contribution. I did attend one local moth trapping session and I ventured out on my first longer hike in 7 weeks. I certainly found something that has yet to be identified and has left me smiling for over 24 hours since I took the photo yesterday. I wish I knew what it is. I originally thought it was a jumping spider but someone rather gently pointed out that spiders have 8 legs and my species is deficient to the tune of 2. It has only 6 legs. With even more tact they assured me it is a leafhopper. And there we stop. The decidedly colourful, funky even, leafhopper is the bug with no name.


I have posed the question of the organizer: what next? What do we do with the data? How will it be used? Can we monitor trends over time? Data is interesting but arguably useless unless put to work. How do we live in harmony with our fellow Hong Kongers, big and small? How do all these species fit together and which fights, for fights there will be, are worth the effort?

I do not have the answers but I hope the barren rock is worth fighting over in ecological as well as political, social and economic terms.