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








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.

The Skinks

How did I ever find the time to work?

We have turned the page from February to March. Nature was a day ahead of the calendar as there was a noticeable change in weather and activity on February 28th. Butterflies flew, ants scuttled, skinks darted around and the birds filled their tiny lungs and sang their cardiac muscles out.

I was especially pleased with the skinks. Blue-tailed. I had never seen one in Hong Kong before to my best recollection. The first taunted me. I saw the skink and the skink saw me. Gone with the wind and frankly my dear, I did give a damn. The head went down. Mine, not the skink’s. Forlornly I shuffled on. Better, I thought, than shuffling off.

Barely three paces along the path another Blue-tailed Skink was sunning itself on the fringe of the leaf litter. I paused and pressed the shutter button. I fiddled with the camera and clicked again. I held my breath and edged forward, Tonto on the trail of the bad guys. Click again. Bad angle though. I wanted to get low. I start to lean forward. I think my bones must have clicked or the skink heard my brain pulsating in my cranium. The crinkling sound of skink retreating through dry leaves. I peered into the undergrowth, hoping to pick out a glimpse of electric blue. No luck. After a while I remembered it was safe to breathe again. I move on.

Plestiodon quadrilineatus

In the next half hour I see three more Blue-tailed Skinks. None waited for its portrait to be taken. At least now I know roughly where to find them. I need a warm sunny day, a rock for them to bask on and some glucosamine to stop my knees waking the dead when I try to kneel.

Since then opportunities to walk have been restricted. People passing through Hong Kong I really want to meet. Family commitments. We have even ordered a car at long last. I have to wait until August or, heaven forfend, September to be mobile but Mrs. Ha has signed off on the expenses claim.

This hiatus has coincided with warmer, muggier weather. The Peak is shrouded in low cloud. Visibility is poor. Just what the insects like. Already the clowns are crawling up the Longan trees. Lantern Flies, crazy, gaudy, bizarre creatures that appear on the tree trunks, passed by and overlooked by most of the hikers and dog-walkers.

Lantern Fly - Pyrops candelaria

The frogs are croaking and the cicadas are doing whatever cicadas do to make such an infernal racket. The mozzies have started to remind me that I am the only free lunch. No snakes yet, which is odd because Hong Kong is full of snake-oil salesmen. Just look at Nathan Road or the stock exchange.

So much to see and so little time to see it all in. Today is another no-walk day but tomorrow I have a free schedule. Weather permitting I will see what has joined the rites of spring. Never mind Christmas, now ‘tis the season to be jolly, tra la la la la and all that jazz. The future is bright, it may be orange.

Podontia lutea