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.

Leafhopper

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.

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I’ll know it when I see it.

A good print that is.

For the first time in many a long month I took some files to the commercial print shop today. Nothing special, just Fotomax. I had nine images printed at 6R size. Enough to see some detail and gauge whether they hold up to scrutiny off the screen and onto paper.

So what did I learn from the exercise.

Fotomax does not have the same judgment criteria as I do. They were returned to me marked “over/underexposed” and “blurred”. One had the highlights deliberately blown a little for a very strong contrast, one was what I call ‘high key’ and I’m struggling to see the blurring. Two are prints from scans of 50+ year old negatives of which I had lowish expectations. They look far too sharp!

One bird shot had a magenta hue to it, which I should have corrected in processing.

A landscape had a slightly chocolate-boxy feel to it and was arguably too saturated.

And then there are the black and white prints. To be honest I could pick holes with each of them. That is from a technical standpoint. But in all honesty the 5 are pretty much what I would have expected.

One I am happy with!

One I am almost happy with – it could have done with an extra F stop of depth of field.

One is perhaps just a little grainier than I had realized but it is nitpicking.

One looks a little ‘muddy’ in places reflecting the much higher ISO.

The last one is deliberately done in a silhouette style, hence the ‘over exposure’.

Here are the 5 B&W shots. So what do you think?

Bath weir

Breakfast at Tiffany's

B&W version Light in the Underpass

EdinMuseumBW-2

Waverley

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