Romani ite domum

Christmas Day. A beautiful sunny, balmy day in Hong Kong. In these times of turmoil, a rarity to be grateful for. As we left our lunch venue the pavements were crowded with domestic helpers partying on their day off. We argue about which table is the best, they fight over which stretch of pavement they can camp on for the day.

2019 has been a very sad year. We lost my wonderful godson, taken in his sleep aged only 30. You never truly recover from sudden bereavement. Last Sunday Mrs H and I sat in the Club enjoying afternoon tea and listening to carols. Without warning the tears welled up and I thought of how much my father would have enjoyed the singing. Thirty-three years since he died but the music he loved still moves me today.

I notice the quickening pace of obituaries, which fall into the category ‘surely he/she can’t have been that old’ and then I realise I am not much younger. But there are rewards too. Our granddaughter is now one year old and she brings joy to our life each day. She is starting to walk, her vocabulary grows by the day, she laughs all the time and we treasure each moment with her. Somehow the aches and pains of ageing melt away when she is with us. Personal contentment is a blessing.

I have been working hard this year. An accident. I took on a small role that has grown like Topsy. It leaves me less time for my traditional reading but has taken me into areas I thought were beyond me. A different path for the curiosity that has always driven my life.

The other sadness this year has been the descent of Hong Kong into chaos. It is hard not to take sides and of course I have my own views on where the blame lies. The irony is that we have been largely untouched and suffer no more than minor inconvenience. Just once the tear gas drifted along the street where I work. The eyes and throat stung and inhaling was unpleasant. For some however the fight is one of life and death, for freedom and democracy, for a future for the young and generations to come.

In the financial world the bulls have routed the bears and the pessimists are depressed that they have wasted so much angst on things that never happened. Then they smile a wry smile and hope for war, plague, pestilence and a 50% fall in stock prices that would make them truly happy. For many people if not most the stock market is an abstract concept at best. They may vaguely be aware that their pension has some linkage to stocks and bonds but otherwise the principal goal in life is to make ends meet. Fortunate are we that can do a little for others.

At some point I suppose I have to confront the closest we have come to war, plague and pestilence and that is of course Brexit. Perhaps in a few years time we will have to admit that Brexit was verily a good thing and saved us all from drowning when the good ship EU went down with few survivors. Or perhaps the Leavers will come to realise that the only thing they left was their senses. Scotland may be cast adrift somewhere in the North Sea, gradually sinking under the weight of refugees from the south. PM Johnson, now conducting parliamentary affairs (a speciality of his) in Latin will stand up in an empty House and proclaim Romanes eunt domus. Of course, not only the Romans but everybody else will have long since gone home. I mean, what did the EU ever do for us?

The one constant in my life, family aside, is my camera. Any camera in fact. I walk, usually without a particular goal and photograph whatever crosses my path. Birds and moths still command a special place. The streets of Hong Kong are always interesting as they change with the times. Whether Britain leaves or remains, Hong Kong stays free or not, whether the stock market goes up or down I can still find satisfaction in my wanderings with a camera. I have few needs and wants today beyond decent health for me, my family and friends. If I had a wish list it would be for more tolerance, more honesty, less pollution and a lot more humour in the world.

I wish all my remaining followers a healthy, peaceful and prosperous 2020.

The only ‘smoke’ bombs we enjoyed seeing this year. Party time in Amsterdam.

Smoke on the Water

All the Rembrandts – another Dutch delight.

Alle Rembrandts

Hong Kong in 2019

Cry for Freedom

And the side of Hong Kong of which I shall never tire:

Inside the Man Mo temple





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








All fall down

Temporarily confined to barracks.

Not a bad place to be honest but wandering the paths of Lung Fu Shan is better. Soon I will have to start planning how to keep my fitness regime going when the temperatures top 30C and the humidity approaches the level when I can resemble a wet rag by the time I have gone a mile or so. Perhaps I need to turn into a vampire naturalist. I shall spend my day in a coffin (or perhaps hanging upside down in a wardrobe) and only venture forth after sundown. Sometimes I look in the shaving mirror and wish there were no reflection but I suspect it is not a good sign. And the only stake I want is a medium rare Wagyu. With apologies to all vegans but I can’t live off limp lettuce and nuts. If the taxonomy of Iberico pork is changed to something akin to a vegetable then sign me up. (Editor’s note: the spell check suggested Liberace for Iberico. Play it again, Lee.)

The birdlife of LFS has been a bit elusive recently. Loud yet elusive. And although the insects are certainly in the ascendance they have yet to burst forth as they doubtless will after a few decent downpours. The ground is dusty, dry and unforgiving as I recently found out. There is a good argument to be had for calling Spring in Hong Kong Fall. With no rain the trees shed their leaves like the cast of Oh Calcutta flinging off their inhibitions. That helps me hear the rustle in the leaf litter that can betray the lizards or a foraging bird. I can think of no other advantage.

The Koel has started calling and whilst it may be the harbinger of Spring it also annoys the wotsit out of Mrs. Ha. Heaven forbid we should have a Large Hawk Cuckoo nearby. All night long… brain-fever, brain-fever. I heard it first on a trip to Nepal in the early 90s. I suspect it is the same bird that has followed and taunted me ever since.

My highlight recently has been a (probable?) Besra dog fighting with a Black Kite. Not much of a contest as the kite dwarfs the accipiter. Still, it added another raptor to my LFS list. The wasps are starting to emerge and the first couple of dragonflies have graced us with their presence.

I continue to grapple with the dilemma of how much camera gear to carry. My Fuji kit is lighter but less flexible. The long lens is reasonable for birds but useless for butterflies in confined spaces. It just does not focus close enough. The Canon lacks the reach of the Fuji but has excellent close focus. Weight however is a problem. For close ups either macro kit is fine but if I really want to be serious I need to add the tripod. More weight. Then I need spare batteries, lots of drinking water and a few more bits and pieces. Plus my binoculars. If I am willing to forego the hope of good quality photos I can chuck the lot and carry a bridge camera. These actually do a decent job if something wants to be photographed and the light is excellent. At some point that tipping point will come.

The astute among you (well one out of two ain’t bad) will be wondering why I am confined to barracks. Sadly I had my second spell in hospital of the quarter. I seem to be up and down like the S&P at the moment. A recent fall has apparently disturbed the balance mechanism in my ears. It was originally suspected that I had had a stroke but the brain scan revealed nothing (pause for reader to insert amusing comment here………). Had it been 30 or 40 years ago I would have attributed it to a veritable mammoth of a bender but since the liver handed in its pink ticket 12 years ago I can discount that. The only logical conclusion is that when cranium and rock come into rapid and unplanned contact the cranium comes off worse. I was out faster than an English batsman in NZ. At some point I am assured I will be able to see straight, walk straight and possibly even talk straight. Will I be able to play the piano afterwards? Who knows? I couldn’t beforehand.

So there we are. LFS will have to do without me at least for a few days. I suspect Mrs. Ha will geo-track me from now on, lest I should make a habit of somersaulting base over apex again, auditioning as it were for The Rocky Horror show. If I could do the time warp I would probably go back to about 1990 and make sure that wretched Brainfever Bird never caught up with me.

Iberico pork on the hoof.

Pig on a Po Shan Road

Smile though your head is aching….

Smiley the Spider