The ringing call of the Chestnut-winged Cuckoo can be heard from a distance. They are not easy to find. If you imitate the call they often respond and will come to see who is on their patch. This morning I hear a rattling cackle nearby and thought it might be a Laughingthrush or possibly even a squirrel. Movement caught my eye and some orange colour. Maybe Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush?
To my surprise it was an adult Chestnut-winged Cuckoo and it had come down to the stream to drink. It was heavily obscured but I took a few shots none the less. It flew up the hill and I followed it up to the marsh. I kept hearing the cackling call and then the typical beep-beep, which it repeats ad nauseam. Two birds in fact. Clearly they were settled and a lady later told me she had seen them around for a few weeks. I spent maybe an hour playing hide and seek with them and eventually left with a few frames I thought might serve me well.
I initially wondered if they might be breeding and the species does apparently breed in HK but rarely. It is normally a scarce passage migrant. The bird is large, noisy, colourful and yet still hard to see. They use the Greater Necklaced Laughingthrush as the host species for their eggs. So they would have plenty of choice where we are. The GNL is abundant.
Fortunate are we in Hong Kong for we are not locked down. We can go out in groups of 4 or fewer and we must stay away from other people. I find this no hardship. There is a limited restaurant service if you foolishly choose to go out. No booze. Apparently our CE believes booze makes people intimate and spreads the virus. She has clearly had a few too many herself if you ask me. Life goes on in some fashion. My exercise is, as always, walking up The Peak. The walk around Harlech and Lugard Road, which form a circuit is mainly shaded. So when I walk in the early morning it is too dark for decent photos without flash. Over the last 2 years I have tried to become more proficient using a flash gun if not for the full illumination then for what we call ‘fill flash’. Good diffusers help and I bought some last year that have made a big difference. Generally I am not happy with the results of my flash photos. Today however I managed to take one I was pleased with and so (drumroll) here it is.
It is a caterpillar of course. The species is Trabalapallida. The colours are gorgeous. Yellow and black with bright blue spots, a white ‘beard’ not dissimilar to my own when it is allowed to flourish and a fine reddish orange patterned head with extravagant black plumes. The yellow and black suggest the cat is perhaps a Borussia Dortmund fan. A dedicated follower of fashion, I’ll be bound.
So why do I like it? Well it is fairly naturally lit and the depth of field is enough from head to tail. The focus is sharp and the colours are natural too. There is no motion blur. Yes, even caterpillars can move fast enough for motion blur. For the cognoscenti here are the summary EXIF data:
1/80s at F16, ISO 400 – that is the famous triangle of variables – how wide open is the aperture (F16 is quite small giving greater DoF), for how long does the aperture stay open, 1/80s and how sensitive is the sensor set for – ISO400 is for lower ‘noise’. The flash was set to manual and 1/8 power. The lens was my Tamron SP 90mm F/2.8 Di VC on an old Canon 5D3 body. The flash is an even older MT-24EX twin-flash. I can move the two heads separately and even change the power output of each head.
When you shoot flash the shutter speed is less critical as it is the flash that is illuminating the subject rather than the ambient light. Nevertheless I try not to go much below 1/60.
I am sure there are better (and probably more accurate) ways of describing the process but this is my understanding.
Here is another shot from today’s walk:
This had more ambient light but I still used a little fill flash and it is not very noticeable. It has lit the moth fairly evenly without unpleasant glare or reflections. The moth is Cyclosia papilionaris or Drury’s jewel. The species is sexually dimorphic and this is the female. The male has a reddish brown ground colour with a few white streaks on the forewing.
Beatrix Potter wrote many Tales of but none as sad as that of Sebastian Civet. I confess it may have been Stephanie but suffice it to say the Civet was a mere babe in arms.
In September 2018 Hong Kong was struck by Typhoon Mangkhut. The most damaging storm to strike us in my memory was violent to the extent of bringing down an estimated 60,000 trees. The HK Observatory recorded winds of 250 kph. Old Peak Road was blocked by fallen trees and officially closed. Of course I ignored that and went up as usual. Shortly after the typhoon I heard a strange noise like a crying baby. I hunted around but could not find the source. On my way down later on I heard the same noise and this time I spotted a young man standing below me off the path. I walked down and with him was a baby Masked Palm Civet, Paguma larvata. The young man was just watching so I phoned for advice from the SPCA. They promised to pick up the deserted baby civet and take it to Kadoorie for rehab. It transpired the civet had lost its mum, who was found dead the following day. I stayed with Sebastian / Stephanie for 90 minutes until the rescuer arrived. I gave it water but no food as it had no teeth. The sad end to this is that after doing well at Kadoorie FBG for several weeks the baby had a heart attack and died one night. Spending that 90 minutes with a wild animal in distress moved me profoundly and it took me some time to get over the death. Here then are some images of perhaps the most beautiful creature I have met (Mrs. Ha excepted of course).
The top picture was taken with an iPhone. The kit rubbed against my legs and called constantly, lapping at my mineral water. These creatures are usually nocturnal and hard to see so you can tell what a privilege this was. I just wish it had survived.