December 31, 2018

The year turns

I suppose I ought to start with an apology as the last 2 months have been very poor observation-wise. I was asked to come out of retirement to help out a friend in need. Two months will become 4 and then I have promised myself I will forego the filthy lucre and go back to nature.

It has been an odd year with much of the spring migration period lost to recovering from a fall. In summer I discovered the wealth of life around the Peak itself. I stopped my long walks as the humidity was too much for me. At least now I have a full twelve months behind me to compare year on year. That will be a goal for the next 12 months. Perhaps more mothing too.

If I had to pick a highlight it would be the Masked Palm Civet I found lost and distressed. It went to KFBG but sadly did not survive into adulthood.

Not far behind was the trip to Fraser's Hill with Roger Kendrick, Hoi Ling Cheng and Matthew Kwan. And the same group did some fascinating survey work at a site that shall not be named - with guest appearances from Jonathan Yang and Colin Chiu - all fine naturalists and happily for them a fraction of my age. Well, 4 of them anyway!

The year ends on a chilly but sunny day and I look forward to a good start to 2019.

Posted on December 31, 2018 09:06 by andrewhardacre andrewhardacre | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 28, 2018

LNEC revisited

After a long gap I went to the Lions Nature Education Centre yesterday. Not much has changed - some tidying up, a few trees removed but essentially just as it was when I had to stop going due to poor heath.

I found many of my 'old friends' including, to my immense satisfaction, Polycanthagyna erythromelas. Still at the same pond after 5 years, even on the same tree. If it had not been for the fact that it flew a lot (always returning to the same place to hang out) I would have thought it was plastic.

The mosquitoes were as aggressive as ever as I photographed a beautiful stick insect, just a few feet off a main path. I suspect that is where a larva of Kunugia divaricata found its way into my hat. I kept hearing something near my left ear and it would not go away. Eventually I took off my hat and inside was the caterpillar. I restored it to a more suitable environment.

My saddest moment was meeting a local guy, photographing a butterfly. He showed me a photo folder full of pictures of all sorts of creatures, from bugs to birds. Many were clearly taken in the aviary but most were in the wild. I asked him what he did with all his records - did he put them on iNat? He looked shocked. Absolutely not. He then patted my side pocket and pretended to be taking something out. After a little puzzlement I understood. He is afraid people will steal his photos. So I asked if he did it for a living but not so. It is just a hobby. All these records and they don't get captured anywhere. He also dismissed me photographing a changeable lizard, Calotes versicolor, because they are common. Sad!.

For the record all my images are protected by a creative commons licence. You can download any of my Flickr photos and use them providing it is 1) not for profit 2) attributed to me and 3) not manipulated in any way. I am not even sure images on iNat can be downloaded.

I will pay occasional visits to LNEC but from Central it took me longer to get there than it does to Mai Po. It was reassuring to see that people still signal left and turn right (or visa versa) at the Hang Hau roundabout and maintain a spectacularly poor driving ability. and my special award goes to the idiot Audi driver who cut in causing 4 vehicles behind to brake rather too sharply. Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Posted on June 28, 2018 00:22 by andrewhardacre andrewhardacre | 3 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

June 06, 2018

The rains

The long hot dry and sunny month of May left HK with depleted reservoirs and a need for rain. Happily we are now enjoying a decent spell of wet weather.

May has been an active moth-ing month and the sessions I managed to attend plus more walks have edged my observation tally over the 1,000 mark. It is just a number but mildly satisfying nonetheless. Most of these observations have been made within a few miles of home and using only shank's pony.

My Fuji camera gear is proving to be frustrating. The flash unit is overheating and the battery grip is jammed so both have gone back for repair. Happily carrying the old Canon rig allowed me to do better with butterflies and diurnal moths. The Fuji autofocus is a bit slow for small fast moving creatures.

My best find on June 4th was a scarce hawkmoth Hayesiana triopus. I managed some inflight images of the moth nectaring on Pavetta hongkongensis. This plant is in full flower now and hosting a good range of insects, especially lepidoptera. I had tried to photograph Hebomoia glaucippe, Great Orange Tip, for some time. It flies high, fast and erratically. When it finally settled it was only briefly but long enough to grab a few frames. I spent well over an hour just watching this plant.

The walk around The Peak, Harlech and Lugard Road, is a gentle circuit but very rich in rewards at this time. I have walked it before breakfast and throughout the morning and invariably find a number of interesting species. Part of the reason for using this journal is to remind myself next year where and when I should focus my efforts as the year unfolds. Late May, early June is certainly good for this walk.

On Monday three ladies stopped to watch me photographing a caterpillar. One said she was a school teacher and asked if I would be willing to talk to her class about the wildlife of HK. I am one of the least qualified to educate on the matter but can provide a generous dollop of enthusiasm and some photos if that is all they want!

From next week I will finally have a car to get around more but I will try not to neglect my local patch. Fingers crossed that Fuji fix my camera gear before then.

Posted on June 06, 2018 06:08 by andrewhardacre andrewhardacre | 2 observations | 0 comments | Leave a comment

May 14, 2018

Filling in the gaps.

I have had about 7 weeks of enforced rest or at least very restricted activity after my fall. Happily I am now fit again, just in time for the heat to take its toll. I continue to focus on Lung Fu Shan although Harlech Road was very productive for larvae last week.

It is quite noticeable that the Lung Fu Shan catchment area has a large section with very few observations. This is the section that leads down Harlech Road from the Peak circuit, (as opposed to heading down Hatton Road) and then right along the section of the Hong Kong Trail (1) that joins the resting point above planting area number 1. Below that the section of Pik Shan Path from the big water course (below planting area 1 ) that goes left towards Queen Mary Hospital is also pretty much unrecorded. This was blocked off for a long time so that may account for it.

It looks good for butterflies, beetles and bees/wasps based on today's rather tired exploration. I walked 13.6km in the heat today and felt it. The birds seem to have deserted LFS for now.

My other task is to get used to using the Fuji off a tripod. Macro or close up shots need a lot of DoF and in anything but the best light that means high ISOs or low shutter speeds (or flash). I find the Fuji body a little too small and fiddly for my hands so I have to keep reminding myself that I use it to save weight. As you age you learn to make compromises.

Posted on May 14, 2018 11:15 by andrewhardacre andrewhardacre | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 24, 2018

Migrant time?

Although LFS and Po Shan Road seems to be a better site for migrants in Autumn there are also good records in Spring. The first 2 weeks in April seem to be good and on April 7th 2011 BrendanK noted a flock of 31 Black Bulbuls on Po Shan Road. I hope a few people will find time to walk the area over the next few weeks.

My best sighting this week was Zoothera aurea. I almost trod on it as it fed beside Pik Shan Path and neither of us registered the other until I was almost upon it. It seemed to fly up into the trees but over 90 minutes I failed to relocate it and sadly had no photo. Stephen Matthews saw the same species in the same location on March 26th 2015.

There was a female Black-naped Monarch near the LFS Education Centre this week seen by at least 2 observers. I saw only an Asian Brown Flycatcher. However this week there has been a significant increase in diversity with the first dragonflies spotted, many more bees and wasps, 2 more species of lizard, the first cicada seen (Gaeana maculata) and more butterflies active.

The weather continues to be extremely dry but not yet too humid. Ideal for wildlife watching walks. Most of the water courses are dry or reduced to a trickle. Only the nullah near the education centre and the rocky stream at the far end of Pik Shan Path hold a decent flow.

The highlight since my last entry was a moth trapping session held off Hatton Road. It will be interesting to see what the final tally is but it produced plenty of extra records including Collared Scops Owl photographed by Matthew Kwan. Actias ningpoana was arguably the most charismatic species. The moon moth circled the trap for several minutes, long enough for most of the attendees to see it well.

Finally, it was good to meet Robert Ferguson again at Lung Fu Shan. His "Wildcreatures Hong Kong" Facebook page is a daily offering of useful information and excellent photography. Here is a link https://www.facebook.com/wildcreatureshongkong/

Posted on March 24, 2018 00:50 by andrewhardacre andrewhardacre | 0 comments | Leave a comment

March 13, 2018

Orthoptera

For some reason Orthoptera seem poorly dealt with in Hong Kong. I can not find a good reference source that covers the various life stages. It is not too difficult to find images of the adult forms. The nymphs however are not well documented. If someone has a good source please share!

So I have started uploading some of my older images of grasshoppers and crickets that may find identifications from experts further afield. They ought to be a good project for someone at HKU - they are active, diurnal and don't need a microscope or (to my knowledge) chopping to identify them. I also find them fairly cooperative as photographic subjects.

Posted on March 13, 2018 03:03 by andrewhardacre andrewhardacre | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 28, 2018

The first day of spring?

The calendar says February 28th but the wildlife says it is springtime on HK Island. I must have seen more than a dozen species of butterfly today. Several were 'high flyers' that never gave me a chance of a photo. Many seemed to be Dysphania militaris.

My highlight today was not one but 5 Blue-tailed Skinks, Plestiodon quadrilineatus. I honestly don't recall having seen them before in Hong Kong. We used to have Long-tailed Skinks on our patio in Sai Kung but never this attractive blue-tail. The first one I saw disappeared before I could even lift my camera. I thought I was destined to be frustrated by this brief sighting but I had gone no more than 3 or 4 paces before I saw another. This allowed me 3 frames before it slid off into the leaf litter. Two more on Harlech Road and a fifth on a wall on Old Peak Road left me somewhat bemused. You wait twenty years to see one then five come along in an hour.

Birdlife is quiet. Or rather low profile. There is an abundance of birdsong but few sightings. Once again I watched a Blue Whistling Thrush giving a quiet sub-song, which I don't find mentioned in my reference texts. A gentle, low burbling noise.

I failed to find any drangonflies today but the stream at the end of Pik Shan Path showed some signs of life with the water skaters I added to my observations.

It is amazing what a little warm sunshine can do!

Posted on February 28, 2018 10:46 by andrewhardacre andrewhardacre | 0 comments | Leave a comment

February 23, 2018

Exploring Lung Fu Shan records

I was directed by Stephen Matthews to a list of LFS bird records in Porcupine. (The bird fauna of Lung Fu Shan and the University of Hong Kong by Hung Tun Hei, Sung Yik Hei, Fu Wing Kan and Yuen Pui Yu, Environmental Life Science 2004-2007).

The list is extensive and contains some notable records. I was especially struck by records from Spring 2000 of Schrenck's Bittern and Cinnamon Bittern. The observer is known to me, very reliable and unlikely to have made an error. I am trying to clarify with him whether the location may have been misreported. Or they may be fly over records. Neither record appears in the HKBWS report for 1999/2000.

The Porcupine paper led me to delve deeper into the records for LFS in the bird reports. Happily these are now online at http://www.hkbws.org.hk/web/eng/bird_report_eng.htm and are searchable. The Records Committee report for 1999 and 2000 (G J Carey) bemoans the decline in species reports and notes that records phoned into the HK Birdline often did not make it to a formal submission. Possible reasons for this are put forward.

This means that just because a record does not appear in the report does not mean its appearance on the LFS list should be disregarded. I also decided to go into the HKBWS forum for Lung Fu Shan. This is a treasure trove but only dates back to 2006. This does though mean we have an overlap with the Porcupine paper, which is useful.

One anomaly is that the Forum contains many sightings referred to as being from Po Shan Road. Now on iNaturalist most of Po Shan Road is outside the boundary of Lung Fu Shan and without knowing where on the road the bird was seen we can only speculate whether the record is truly LFS eligible. Whether it matters is down to the individual but to warrant inclusion in the citizen science project care must be taken to remain within the boundary. Helpfully the principal observer, Brendan Klick, noted "I have defined Po Shan Road as the area around the s-curves descending from Po Shan Road, past Realty Gardens Buildings, and down to conduit road plus the first ~500 meters of the small concrete trail that runs east from the top of Po Shan Road. From what I can ascertain, this area lies just north of Lung Fu Shan County Park boundary. I have been keeping a list of birds just seen in this very small area."

I then started to search the bird reports again and lo and behold in 2011 whilst Lung Fu Shan gets only 12 references, Po Shan Road gets 17! We are down to micro-patch birding!

This morning I walked along Po Shan Road. I had done so once before in the direction East - West. Today I walked West - East. It is hard to believe that this road produces such amazing records. It should be renamed Flycatcher Boulevard. And true to form I saw almost nothing. I found the concrete trail Brendan mentions and started down it. I asked 3 young Frenchmen where it ended and to my surprise one said, in flawless English, Old Peak Road. I immediately realised that this is the old pirate trail, Cheung Po Tsai Path. There is good background to this path on Gwulo at https://gwulo.com/node/6641

I suspect I was half way along before it became too difficult for me with a heavy pack. I may have missed a trick as on my retreat I saw some fairly overgrown stone steps that may have once offered a route around the blocked area.

Brendan does emphasise that Po Shan Road is far better in Fall (Autumn) than Spring. This forum page is very useful as it has a map with species annotations. http://www.hkbws.org.hk/BBS/viewthread.php?tid=12573&extra=page%3D1

Where does that leave me? Well the purist in me feels I should eschew Po Shan Road other than as it relates to LFS. The birder in me says the opposite. One possible solution is to use Po Shan Road as my route to Pik Shan Path. It is more boring walking all the way down Conduit Road and missing the challenge of Old Peak Road but maybe this is an Autumn option. Records will have to be accurate for the iNat project for LFS. I suspect there is a lot more to be discovered in LFS.

Postscript: the bittern records mystery has been resolved. The response received was:

"Those records were from HKU’s ‘lotus pond’, opposite to HSBC ATM. I also had common kingfisher and dusky thrush there. The area is completely changed."

So, as expected, legitimate records, habitat loss means we are unlikely to record such species again.

Posted on February 23, 2018 06:24 by andrewhardacre andrewhardacre | 2 comments | Leave a comment

February 15, 2018

Exploring Lung Fu Shan

The 龍虎山生物多樣性 Lung Fu Shan Biodiversity project is showing low levels of activity. I am slowly building my contributions, trying to add a few each day. My initial target is 100 species and then see how I go. This is the 'quiet' season in the sense that insect life is keeping a low profile and in the warmer weather I hope I will have a surge in records. Part of the problem is my lack of familiarity with plants. Identifying them is usually a long and tedious trawl through reference books, asking local experts and relying on generous help from curators.

I have also started exploring different paths to see if there are any areas I need to add to my walking options.

One dilemma is how often to record the common species. It struck me recently that someone looking at the species list / frequency of occurrence would get a very distorted view of what is common on Lung Fu Shan. The scarcer species appear to be more common that the residents. Do I really need to record the bulbuls each day? How often do I need to record the rarities that hang around for weeks on end before departing? So I have started to add a few of the commoner species such as Magpie Robin and will do so at intervals - maybe monthly.

There are so many people who walk through LFS each day. Hikers, dog walkers, birders, very few add their records. Less than a dozen observers. It would be good to see more people participate. My 72 species to date is a miniscule representation of what is there. One possibility is to do a 'moth night' under the supervision of @hkmoths Dr. Roger Kendrick. Now that would be a boost!

A powerpoint guide to Lung Fu Shan in Chinese can be found here:

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=sites&srcid=ZGVmYXVsdGRvbWFpbnxsdW5nZnVzaGFuaG9uZ2tvbmd8Z3g6MzdkNWFjYzQwOGU3ZDU4Ng

Posted on February 15, 2018 00:59 by andrewhardacre andrewhardacre | 6 comments | Leave a comment

January 31, 2018

Plantsnap - app for identifying plants

This was suggested to me as an aid to helping me with my botany knowledge, which is a complete blank in my brain. I bought it after reading several reviews. Cost HK$28. I was aware that it had a USA / Europe bias but was building out Asia too.

The idea is that you take a picture with your phone from within the app and it will tell you what it is. It gives you a confidence level, alternatives and in some cases further information. You can also take photos with a camera and import them into the app later.

I started off badly. I think my first go (with plants I could ID) had about a 20% success rate. The second go wasn't much better so I contacted the support team. The first feedback was that my images were blurred. Well one definitely was and ironically the algorithm got that one right! The other was pretty sharp when it left me and in my view was an easy species to ID (Chinese Ixora) but the app failed. So lesson one is that you really need a steady hand if the conditions are difficult. I was shooting under dark skies and in a wooded area. Still, my iPhone X normally produces ok results.

The next day I took my Fuji X-T1 and the Fuji 80mm macro lens with 5 stops (?) of image stabilisation. Still I had less than stellar results. So back to the support team. They took my images and essentially cropped them heavily. I had already cropped some but they reduced the images so that the algorithm could pick up a lot of detail from a small area. The benefit of this is to make sure no 'confusion species' creep into the frame. They re-ran my images and most came up with an identification. One was identified as a species that does not occur in HK - the app was close but picked the North American equivalent. The team agreed and the HK species is being added to the catalogue. One I am not sure of. The others look correct.

So there is hope but even after watching the instruction video it needs a fair bit of trial and error. I think it is worth persevering with and clearly it learns as it goes. The support team has been very helpful. If you accept its limitations give it a go. It costs only HK$28 and the more you input the quicker it will learn. I think the best approach is to take better quality photos and run them through the app when you get home. That will also lessen the drain on your data usage.

Posted on January 31, 2018 10:48 by andrewhardacre andrewhardacre | 4 comments | Leave a comment