Today is the start of the 2020 Lunar New Year Flower Fair in Victoria Park, HK. This year is not the usual mix of flowers, food, political novelty toys and celebratory new year symbols – it is the Rat this year. Anything remotely political has been banned by HK’s Spoilsport in Chief, Curried Lam. The beleaguered CE has cancelled our fireworks, attacked the fair and encouraged people to be good comrades instead. Nonetheless I went out with Mrs. Ha to buy our floral decorations there – a blossom tree for good luck, red berries, bright flowers and some pussy willow. The harbingers of spring. The vendors were not universally joyful at the new arrangements. Maybe next year we can go back to colour.

Lunar New Year Flower Fair - slow selling day 2020

A not very gruntled flower seller wondering why nobody is at the flower fair

The TVB folks did find one buyer to interview

TVB journalist Hailey Jo interviewing at the LNY flower fair

But before we left home we had our dose of good cheer as we were babysitting over night.

Miss Sunshine


Peak Cisticola

This morning I did a pre-breakfast cardio work out and walked up to Victoria Peak Garden. I took with me a new Fuji X-H1 and the 100-400mm lens I use for birds. There were a few birds around but all high up. Not a good test for the new combo.

As I walked up to the top garden I spotted a bird perched on a low fence. The soft sunlight was shining on it.

Zitting Cisticola

The usual procedure is I edge closer and the bird flies away. That was what I expected. Instead it just hopped on to a nearby bush and I started my approach until:

Cisticola juncidis

Cisticola juncidis

Cisticola juncidis

I moved slightly to vary the background – the purple and the green are just different foliage behind the bird. Then I decided to try to walk around and photograph with the light behind me rather than across the bird. And then it flew. I never refound it.

This is a Zitting Cisticola and it really should not have been on Victoria Peak. But migrants can turn up anywhere and it will doubtless move on, possibly to Mai Po or Long Valley. I was very happy indeed with this new bird for my patch.

Most birds don’t allow close approach and this ‘bonus’ shot is more typical. Small in the frame this needed a decent crop just to get to this size.

Ficedula albicilla

This is a Taiga Flycatcher. Very similar to Red-breasted Flycatcher they can be separated on call and this one called. I confused them in my mind but after checking on Aves Vox this is definitely a Taiga, burning bright.

Hot Stuff

The second half of May has brought temperatures in the low to mid 30s Celsius. It is brutal. My walks are being curtailed. I start earlier if I can haul myself out of bed. I carry more water. The return on energy invested is falling as much of the wildlife has decided to stay indoors and watch the latest offering from David Attenborough.

On Sunday I went out at 5.30am. Mrs. Ha, bless her cotton socks, was still in the land of nod. The dog didn’t bat an eyelid when I went out. It was barely dawn. I had prepared everything the night before. Sometimes I do this but never manage to summon the energy to get up. When I do I am always grateful that willpower prevailed. The dawn chorus is rather different here. More of a dawn cacophony but I can pick out the main performers with relative ease. The walk up to the Peak was in semi-darkness. About 1.5km of steep ascent. As I walked up the streetlights went off.

My reward was a new butterfly, Bibasis oedipodea belesis, for my list. Just before 7am I saw a butterfly perched on a railing post. Brownish orange underwings – interesting. It took off and I cursed quietly to myself. A few yards further on another sat. And stayed. I took some quick phone shots and then started to edge closer with my camera. A frame and it flew. Up above my head, around in a circle and back down again. Same perch. Wash, rinse, repeat. I had a few rather grainy shots but good enough all things considered. Finally I thought I would try some phone video. That was a step too far. No video.

Bibasis oedipodea - Branded Orange Awlet

Back home I opened my first reference book and immediately found what had to be the species. But the distribution map did not include HK Island, let alone the Peak. I searched against the species name on the AFCD database. Very rare, it said. I processed the photos and concluded the reference sources must be out of date.

I posted the images online with a suitable caveat. Someone told me the species flies at dawn and dusk. Well before 7am fitted well. Nobody argued against the identification. It is quite distinctive. I wondered whether this was a rogue wanderer. Yesterday by chance I was looking at the butterfly list for Lung Fu Shan, the smallest country park in HK, which adjoins the Peak. To my surprise the species is on the list. Maybe this butterfly is not as rare as it once was.

The other result of the heat wave is the resurrection of my perennial quest for the perfect camera bag. My small shoulder bag is perfect for wandering around town. My backpack is fine for a winter hike with the longer lens and some extra warm clothing tucked inside. Summer is tricky. The shoulder bag allows me to carry very limited amounts of water. The biggest risk in a HK summer hike is dehydration. This is often underestimated. I saw people yesterday running in blazing sun, no head protection and no water. This is simply irresponsible. I need something that will carry several bottles of water along side a second lens, insect repellent, lens cleaners, blower, spare batteries, flash, ruler (for measuring caterpillars etc.), coins in case I need a taxi home, magnifying lens, phone, wallet, house keys, antiseptic wipes, possibly a polarizing filter, a supply of my favourite Ethiopian coffee beans in case I stumble across an espresso maker, the complete works of Dickens, my 8 favourite records, a collapsible chair, a roll of Izal and an umbrella in case of rain. Some may occasionally be left behind but nobody ever said photography should be a lightweight pursuit. I also hand carry my tripod.

Sunday afternoon I saw a potential candidate. Quite reasonably priced and well designed, I thought. I did my usual trick of wandering around the shop several times to mull it over before Mrs. Ha decided I would buy it. At home I still liked the design. Lots of pockets. You can never have too many zipped compartments. I transferred my daily burden (photographic not canine) into the new bag and then slung it over my shoulder. I worried the strap might be a little to short. Worth a go though.

Monday dawned bright and early but alas I did not. My departure from base camp was well after 8am. Apart from the dearth of wildlife the bag performed well for a couple of hours. As I drank the water it became lighter as a bonus. As we went into the third hour I felt the strap slowly slipping off. My shirt was drenched with perspiration and the strap was not gripping at all well. I tried to sling it over my head but it was too short. Then I noticed that the strap was positioned at the back of the bag and the weight made it tilt forward. My cunning plan at that point was to change the strap for a backpack style one. Sadly the strap is stitched to the bag. The further I walked the less enamored I was of the design. We made it home together but the jury is out whether we will become good friends and go on a second date. I fear I may have added to my collection of ‘almost’ bags. The quest for the Holy Grail will go on.

In Hong Kong we celebrate the Buddha’s birthday today and it is a public holiday for us. I sincerely hope he has not melted and that at the very least somebody gives him a decent camera bag as a present.