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

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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

Humbug and other sweets

Two months ago today we boarded a FinnAir flight to Hong Kong. Two weeks ago we parted company with our beautiful Hampshire home. The process, barring a few formalities, is complete. It remains only to sort out utility bills. Southern Water wants to charge me £100+ for water during the period the house was empty and unused. As we were in HK we could not take a meter reading so they have estimated our usage. I had warned them a long time in advance that the house would be unoccupied but hey, they say I should have given two days notice of sale and so they can estimate the reading at whatever they like unless I can give them the actual reading. Which of course I can’t. Rogues.

Nevertheless we feel settled in our rental apartment. My walks have been slightly curtailed by events, dear boy, events. The odd lunch has intervened. A day of work. Some minor contributions to the wedding preparations. But I do have a new improved, whiter than white, Daz sparkly walk. Non-bio of course. This has been introduced to try and capture two extra sites of possible bird interest. Instead of looping round Harlech Road I know go up and over the Peak. This is an extra climb but worth it. Then I have worked out how to include Pik Shan Path without doubling back on myself. The problem with this is that it also means my walks now take considerably longer. No point in simply walking through or along these paths. They must be explored. That takes time. My longest absence was 8 hours. No lunch.

Carrying the camera gear is not too bad. The Fuji performs adequately enough. I keep tinkering with my technique as I try to find the best way of using what is admittedly a much slower autofocus than the old Canon bodies. I have added the 80mm macro lens to my armory, effective 120mm. I have carried it for 2 weeks in my backpack and hardly used it. The bugs are, as it were, snug in a rug somewhere and not coming out to play. And the birds stay over the hill and far away. Hence the order of a 1.4x tele-converter for delivery today.

There is little sign of Christmas here. Somewhat surprisingly we received yesterday two physical cards. Real ones you can touch, handle, read and throw away (recycle) later. I am in favour of a virtual Christmas. In an ideal world I would virtually ignore it. We do have a proper Christmas lunch. Each year we decamp to the club, where a buffet is available. This could, I suspect, feed a small country in remote parts of Africa, for a year. It is the one day of the year when the dress code is slightly relaxed although the younger cost centre was refused entry a few years back for ‘inappropriate footwear’. Quite right too. But jacket and tie are not mandatory. Mobile phones may be used for taking pictures but not of course for making calls. The meal always starts with lobster served at the table. I am not allowed shellfish so usually one of the others wolfs mine down. I on the other hand will ask for extra stuffing. There is an obligatory visit from Santa. I always try to see if I can spot a bottle of Black Label sticking out of his coat pocket but it seems club rules forbid even a modest snort on this occasion. Probably the designated sleigh driver will have a tincture or two after his ordeal is over. I know the guests do. The trick is to wait until the desired foodstuff is almost finished, and then join the queue. By the time you reach the front a splendid new side of beef / turkey / pork / venison etc. will have been produced and the juices are soon dribbling down the chin (or chins in many cases). The Christmas bread and butter pudding is a thing to be treasured and devoured. Away with the traditional pudding. Stick a sprig of holly in the B&BP and ho ho ho, you too can weigh like Santa. Go back for seconds or thirds. Help it slide down with the club’s superb chocolate mousse. Perhaps a token slice of fruit to assuage the conscience. Followed by coffee. Mrs. Ha and I are teetotal so we shy away from the brandy sauce, the butterscotch schnapps and the lashings and lashings of Bolly. This then is pretty much our sole concession to Christmas. A couple of hours of sheer unadulterated gluttony. It would be no great challenge to turn into a pumpkin at 3pm.

At some point I do try to find some Christmas music. The first challenge this year will be to find the CDs, as yet unpacked. I don’t think my family really ever appreciated Noddy Holder screaming “it’s Chrissssssssmaaaaaas”. So I will go for something a little more genteel. Slade was never Easy Listening even in the 70s. Which reminds me that I have also so far overlooked to plumb in the rather antiquated CD player. I am sure that millennial child will do everything by Wi-Fi or shout, “Alexa, play some Christmas carols”. I don’t think our CD player has valves that need warming up but it definitely has wires for the mains and the speakers. Our outrageously smart TV connects to something that looks like a speaker (but may be something completely different) by Bluetooth. Except it doesn’t. Despite several visits from John Lewis’ tech team and a couple from the Sony engineers nobody ever managed to get it to work. So we resorted to yet another cable. I was also assured that I could ‘stream music from my phone to the TV’. Fascinating but for the fact that I a) don’t have any music on my phone and b) have no idea how to do it even if I did. How much simpler it was when Christmas morning consisted of a darned sock containing a few nuts, some squashed satsumas and chocolates, a Rupert the Bear annual and a battery powered Dalek. The Dalek was happily not full size and as far as I recall never exterminated anybody. Dad occasionally hoped it would. His mother gave him the same present each year. Well, similar anyway. He would get an ounce of St. Bruno Flake and a Giles annual. And socks. Always socks. Each year he would go through the pretence of having no idea what was in the paper package. He would shake it and make some outrageous guess whilst Granny H smiled happily thinking what a wonderful surprise it would be for little Jimmy.

Far-fetched as this may seem to the youth of today (who is the youth of today? Has anybody met him?) it is largely true. So simple. And that is why I have such a jaundiced view of Christmas today. It has lost all meaning. As one cartoonist wonderfully captured it this week, the Three Wise Men would today probably bring Gold, Frankincense and Bitcoins. And on that bubbly note, I wish both my readers a very happy holiday and please remember to give thanks to the good folk of Alabama. Amen.