23 Jan 2022

The world from a drawer of old negatives

 Part One: -  the “Sea of Grass” in 1991

Our 21-day quarantine requirements are a big disincentive to leaving the Territory, and we couldn’t go to China even if we wanted to.

So, I’ve been “scanning” old slides and negatives, and was pleased to stumble over these negatives in one of my folders. (I won’t pretend that my filing has been very diligent).

Some reminders of long ago and far away.

Thirty-one years ago, this would have been a Christmas and New Year Trip to join up the Public holidays with some casual leave.

WWF HK was set up in 1981, and - in its early years - had quite a lot of liaison with officialdom and nature reserves in mainland China as well as educational programmes in Hong Kong. It was WWF who had the contacts, and had sent a group to visit Caohai a couple of years earlier.

Curious youngsters

To me, in those pre-internet days, southwest China had an air of mystery.  Even though the total number of species to be seen during a few days there could never match places like Malaysia or other nearby tropical destinations, the trips were fun because we never knew what we might find.

We flew Dragonair from Hong Kong to Kunming, then got an evening train, to be dropped off at Liupanshui at 03:00hrs.   Met by our hosts from the Guizhou Forestry Bureau, the sun rose over western Guizhou as we headed for Weining. Once there, we could scope Black-necked Cranes from our accommodation block.

Cameraderie and cold beer.  Birds, people and scenery. Clear air and good winter weather.

Most of the bird shots were taken on slide film and here are a couple from a sunny day.

Weining Town in the background

On the particular day I used this print film, the weather had turned cold and we had been persuaded to try a smaller reservoir in the hills a few miles from the main lake.

The cold snap meant that the lake was actually steaming, it was very atmospheric.

A Kowa scope and a Slik aluminium tripod look a bit old-fashioned now, but they did the job.

Guizhou is a province with many ethnic minorities, and these included Miao and Muslim Hui villagers. 

People were naturally curious to see what the foreigners were doing.

My yellowing notes of what we saw that day have long been discarded. We scoped the waterfowl carefully after a rumour of Crested Shelduck (but it was just a rumour). 

But there were buntings in the hedgerows and White-cheeked Laughingthrushes near the village - all too quick for Kodachrome 64 and my efforts at manual focus with my 600mm lens.

The remoter the area, the warmer the welcome. Dried corncobs were used as cooking fuel, in a place where, by necessity, nothing got wasted.

Two of our number walked around the lake, while the rest doubled back to the vehicles at the end of the track.  The place had an “other worldly” feel. 

On the way back the windows of the vehicle frosted on the inside with the moisture from our breath.

I really had wanderlust for travel in those days, and since then I’ve been lucky enough to have travelled over a lot of southwest China. But Ill still remember the Sea of Grass as a special place.

22 Dec 2021

Outer Island Birding, Hong Kong

View from the Pier, Kat O

With overseas options closed off by the prospect of a 21-day quarantine on return to Hong Kong, like everyone else we’ve been exploring corners of HK we haven’t seen much of before.

To my shame, in 43 years in Hong kong I had never been to Kat O Chau (Crooked Island).  At the end of November, we put that right. There are ferries out there at the weekend from Ma Liu Shui, and By Golly, they’re popular. 

Kat O was a centre of HK’s mid-20th century fishing industry, and the school there (now closed) had 300 pupils at one stage.  Mechanization led to over-fishing and fish stocks collapsed in the mid-1960s.  Like other rural communities there was a wave of emigration and the fields and houses on Kat O fell to disuse and decay.

From the high point of Kat O island, the visitor can look north to Yantian on the mainland, where things have gone the other way - agriculture has been superseded by a Container Port servicing Shenzhen and other places in east Guangdong.

Down in Kat O village, this Plumbeous Water Redstart looked like it had just arrived for the winter.  It was competing with Daurian Redstarts for insects in a broad drain behind a row of partially-ruined houses.

Nothing says “50s” like an asbestos-tiled roof

Plumbeous Water Redstart - (f) - (Phoenicurus fuliginosus)

Three days later, we got a hot tip concerning the location of an Oriental Scops Owl on Lamma Island.

Lamma Island has changed too, but, - unlike remote Kat O - it’s only a short ferry ride from Central so there a traditional lifestyle has been supplanted by an influx of outsiders as residents.

Despite having specific directions we needed the help of the locals to spot this one. I had fully expected a crowd of birders/photographers at the owl site already, but my preconception was entirely wrong in this case.

We hadn’t seen Oriental Scops for a dozen-or-so years, so it was great to see this one.  And Lamma is a great spot for a “Post Twitch coffee and cake !

Oriental Scops Owl (Otus sunia)

Oriental Scops Owl (Otus sunia)

This species is a rare passage migrant in Hong Kong. It was around for about four days and then moved on.

In a flash, it’s Christmas, so all the best for Christmas and the New Year.

3 Dec 2021

2nd Dec 2021 - A clear winter morning at the Mai Po boardwalk.

A clear cold morning, and the tide came higher than predicted.  

I didn’t find anything unusual, but some typical early winter birds presented some photo opportunities
Grey Heron - Ardea cinerea

Dunlin - Calidris alpina
Common Redshank - Tringa totanus
Chinese Pond Heron - Ardeola bacchus
Eurasian Wigeon - Mareca penelope
Eurasian Wigeon - Mareca penelope
Eurasian Curlew - Numenius arquata
Black-faced Spoonbill - Platalea minor
Saunders's Gull - Chroicocephalus saundersi
Saunders's Gull - Chroicocephalus saundersi
The usual suspects

26 Nov 2021

Finally, some cooler weather !

A cold front arrived with clouds and flurries of rain on November 22nd.  The temperature in the New Territories was a nippy-for-us thirteen degrees centigrade.

Japanese Quail

Jemi and I met up with friends in the fishponds south of Mai Po at Tai Sang Wai. The main reason to go there were reports of Rook and Carrion Crows among the Large-billed Crows so common around the fishponds.

We couldn’t make out any exotic corvids for certain, 

Chestnut-eared Bunting

Little Bunting

Japanese Quail (f)

Japanese Quail (f)

but two species of bunting and a Japanese Quail were the highlights.

two Large-billed Crows

A Black-shouldered Kite lent a tropical flavour to proceedings

Black-shouldered Kite

Black-shouldered Kite

..and pond life continued as usual...

Black Kite harries Large-billed Crow

As we left, an odd-looking female duck was spotted in a grass-filled pond.

Falcated Duck (female)

I had mistaken it for a Gadwall, but our birding companions pointed out that it was, in fact, a female Falcated Duck. 

Stejneger's Stonechat

Mmmm....some duck revision by me will be necessary as our winter wildfowl numbers build up.