Days of future past

Apple is about to become the world’s first 1 trillion US$ company. That is quite a feat. Those of us who use Apple products (mea culpa) are followers of the richest cult in living memory. I have no idea whether somewhere in the fog of history some brutal emperor or sultan enjoyed, on an inflation-adjusted basis, a greater fortune. Maybe. Perhaps a thousand years ago, before the pound in our pocket was devalued, the imperial coffers overflowed with treasures more valuable than an iPhone X or a MacBook Air. Perhaps Genghis Khan was constantly googling to see whether he had overtaken Alexander the Unready’s fortune, by total assets if not by market cap. Or did he fret about the possibility of the Chinese imposing reciprocal tariffs on his exported rape and pillage. Sadly I gave up History before O’ level so I am unable to report in any detail on the wealth, life and times of the great Khan. I suspect I would have had to wait until A’ level for that, anyway.

I think I gave up history around the Dark Ages, which of course are shortly to return. I hear on the quiet that sixpences are much in demand again in Britain so that people have something to stick in the meter to stop the lights going out. I do have a pair of cufflinks made with 1957 sixpences and I shall be putting them on E Bay to see how much they are worth. I fancy they will go well as they should keep a kettle boiling for a good ten minutes or so or maybe see someone through an episode of Coronation Street. It is, I am sure, only a rumour that TV is to revert to black and white 425 lines. If you want colour you will have to use your own crayons and scribble very quickly. But as always, for those watching in black and white, Manchester United will be playing in the red shirts. As a consolation the pop lorry will come round alternate Tuesdays and the bread van will try to do so twice a week if there is any flour. Some of course will flourish. Corporal Jones will do a roaring trade in black market sausages and Walker will get you some nylons if you treat him nicely.

The great Khan is due a comeback and Imran is claiming victory on the back of a campaign to Make Pakistan Great Again. I was never overly smitten with the Khans. I might make an exception for Majid as he graced the Glamorgan cricket team for a few years. If the opposition cries foul (or should that be ‘no ball’?) then I think there should be a 20-over Round Robin to decide who should take over as Prime Minister. It seems much fairer than the British system where only those who have disgraced themselves running through wheat fields are currently eligible for high office.

To take my mind off the daily noise that masquerades as news I bought a new camera yesterday. It is an Olympus TG5. Apparently I can drop it from a height of over 6 feet, jump up and down on it provided I don’t weigh more than 220lb (Hooray!) and I can submerge it in water. Why I should want to do any of these things I have no idea. But I can. I bought it because it is light and takes decent close up shots of insects. It fits in my pocket and has the added bonus of being (reasonably) cheap. So there we are. The answer to the meaning of life, the universe and everything is……. buy another camera. But you knew that anyway.

If you are reading this from darkest Britain, always remember: cheer up, things could be worse. And I suspect if you wait a little they almost certainly will be. TTFN.

Chrysilla acerosa - female

Chrysilla acerosa – female.


It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility. 

It ain’t the heat, it’s the humility. 

And the humility is rising rapidly in Hong Kong.

We now have a car. After holding out for 6 months the lure of bird watching away from Lung Fu Shan prevailed. We went out to buy something cheap and cheerful and came back with a Porsche. I am not really sure how it happened. Mrs. Ha likes driving it, which in itself is mildly worrying.

And so it came to pass that last week I went to the Lions Nature Education Centre in Sai Kung. Long-suffering readers will recall this as my old stomping ground before we made our ill-fated foray to Blighty. Now it is a 40-minute drive away. It greeted me like an old friend. A little older (both of us), and surely a little wiser (one of us, I leave you to guess which). Some tidying up has been carried out but essentially little has changed. Six years ago I found a dragonfly species I had not seen before on one of the ponds. Not rare but uncommon and quite sought after. More in hope than expectation I walked along the path and onto the wooden bridge and immediately I was subjected to inspection by the male dragonfly. Adult dragons live about 7 months so not the same one but the species breeds here and indeed I watched the female ovipositing. As I get older I find comfort in the familiar and I thoroughly enjoyed my two walks.

This week I have confined myself to walks close to home. The weather is unpredictable and the heat and humidity are oppressive. It seems to be an excellent time to see jumping spiders, Salticidae. If I walk along the Harlech/Lugard Road circuit I can be guaranteed a decent selection of jumpers. They are hard to photograph. Firstly the light is low and they move fast. Then they are very shy. As soon as you pause to look at them they scuttle round the back of the railings. Sometimes they peek out to see if you are still there. Or they run out, look up at you in annoyance, wave their pedipalps as if to say ‘go away’, then they scuttle away again. They are also small. About the size of one of my fingernails. My photography is better suited to large, slow moving creatures but there isn’t much charismatic mega fauna on The Peak. Unless you count Wild Boar. I don’t.

At some point I may bore the reader with the tale of two flashguns – it does not end quite like Dickens’ version – nobody lays down their life for a friend – but it certainly is not a happy one. Fuji and the battery grip is another scintillating, ripping yarn that is more in the genre of W E Johns than Dickens. I was rather intrigued by the fact that Johns’ last book was (genuinely) titled Biggles does some Homework. Probably more than I ever did.

Soon the migration season will start again and the birds will lure me to Mai Po. Sadly the gate to the Frontier Closed Area is locked now and if you want to go the floating hides you need to ring the police. If the gate isn’t reopened soon I foresee massive protest marches through Central with birders and bird photographers (for they are different species, dear reader) descending on Legco, demanding freedom of movement. For the record and without wishing to be controversial, the absence of binoculars defines a bird photographer, who may or may not know what he or indeed she is snapping. I am much the same with spiders. I snap first and identify later. This does have its benefits.

I recently posted an image of a very colourful jumping spider. An expert suggested to me what it was and I duly looked it up. I had previously tagged it as a different species. His suggestion is not on the HK list but is remarkably similar and occurs widely in Asia. Observing the differences may require the spider to sit quietly under a microscope for a while. So…….. are we routinely misidentifying all of the ones that look similar as the one we know is on the list and missing a second species? One enthusiastic expert has suggested it is worth collecting a few and checking. Citizen science is exciting and thoroughly worthwhile. So to close here are a few of my snaps from recent outings. And as I started with a quote from the great philosopher Yogi Berra, so shall I close. He once said of Mai Po: No one goes there nowadays, it’s too crowded.

Siler semiglaucus

Polycanthagyna erythromelas _ Tiger Hawker male

Entoria victoria

Heliophorus epicles - Purple Sapphire








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.