14 July 2012

A Butterfly Holiday in Hong Kong

A Butterfly Holiday in Hong Kong
Mark Wong's travelogue in the Fragrant Harbour

It started with my company announcing our annual R&R trip to Hong Kong this year. I decided to extend my trip to check out the butterfly fauna in Hong Kong and to observe species that I am not likely to encounter in Singapore. After a brief exchange of messages over Facebook with our friends from the Hong Kong Lepidopterists Society (HKLS), we made plans for outings to the popular butterfly watching locations. I was rather excited to catch up with bunch that we brought around Singapore as we have not seen each other in about a year.

On the arranged date, I headed straight to Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve, where I met Rachel, and some of the HLKS members who showed me around. Being awed by the beauty of the Lamproptera curius (White Dragontail), I was rather determined to get a decent shot of it.  Without a doubt, Fung Yuen is the place to go for L. curius as the host plant can be found in abundance at the park.  Every now and then, the L. curius can be observed fluttering, feeding and resting among the bushes.

The Heliophorus epicles (Purple Sapphire) was also on my wish list from Hong Kong.  It didn’t take long before Rachel spotted one very cooperative individual and I had an easy time to document it.

I was also brought to a less accessible area around Fung Yuen by the HKLS members, which provided more opportunities to spot and watch more butterflies.  Among the other butterflies shot at Fung Yuen are: Zemeros flegyas (Punchinello), Isoteinon lamprospilus (Shiney-spotted Bob), Polyura nepenthes (Shan Nawab) and Lethe confusa (Banded Tree Brown).

The day ended with Gigi picking Rachel and myself up from Fung Yuen and I headed for a quick shower and straight to dinner with the rest of the gang with whom we have acquainted ourselves quite well when they visited us in Singapore back in 2011, HKLS members: Ah Yin, Arex, Doctor Lee, Gigi, Manson, and Rachel.   We had a great time catching up and discussed the next locations to head to over the next few days.

Top image, from right to left: Doctor Lee Ping Chung, Arex Li, Mark Wong, Ah Yin, Manson Chan, Rachel Chan and Gigi Lai

The next morning, I dragged myself out of bed to have breakfast to make sure I had enough energy to last throughout the day.  I met Gigi at Fung Yuen, and headed to an elevated area behind Fung Yuen.  It drizzled a bit at the lower altitudes but it was pretty much clear at the top. There were many Papilios fluttering around to whet our appetite for what is about to come.  The scenic landscape of Hong Kong also made the hiking up and down the mountain very pleasurable. I had a great time butterfly watching and shooting the ones that were more cooperative.  We even had a good number of puddlers that were feeding on the damp soil from the slight drizzle earlier.

Before leaving, one of the gems of Hong Kong, Papilio paris (Paris Peacock) came down to puddle beside Gigi’s car.  It was an opportunity for the both of us to shoot this rather skittish butterfly.

We then headed to Wu Gau Tan Country Park after lunch.  The weather had cleared up with blue skies.  We were greeted by a Taraka hamada (Lesser Forest Blue) at the entrance.  It is a Lycaenidae whose caterpillars feed on aphids, quite similar to the Miletinaes here in Singapore.   Upon closer inspection, the more pristine specimens have furry legs as well.

Our other target at Wu Gau Tan Country Park is, Pithecops corvus (Forest Quaker).  Fortunately I manage to catch a glimpse of this wee beauty fluttering around high up at the canopy level.  Although I did not manage to get a shot, it was a good opportunity to observe its behaviour. Along the way, we have also many opportunities to shoot other butterflies.

We headed back to Fung Yuen to search for other butterflies as it was getting late and we wanted to make full use of the available sunlight left in the day.  While looking for the Awls and skippers basking in the last rays of the setting sun, we encountered a cooperative Melanitis phedima WSF (Dark Evening Brown) and Zemeros flegyas (Punchinello) to keep us company until it was time to head back for dinner.

Manson picked me up from my hotel and headed to Mong Kok to meet up with Arex and Ah Yin.  Shopping for electronics goods there was great, and unlike Singapore; it is Tax Free, making some of the deals pretty attractive.  Arex then brought us to a Dim Sum café for dinner.  The food was awesome in all ways possible.

The next day started with bad weather, as it rained quite heavily throughout the morning.  I met Ah Yin at Sha Tin station for breakfast and waited for the weather conditions to improve.  We decided to head to Fung Yuen as it is geographically located at the centre of all the country parks. We took the opportunity to shoot some butterflies that came out despite the rain.

We met up with James Young, the chairman of HKLS, and he brought us out for lunch.  He recommended that we head to Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve for more butterfly shooting.

Tai Po Kau is one of the oldest Nature Reserves in Hong Kong, and almost untouched for nearly a century.  There are host plants for the Lamproptera curius (White Dragontail) around, but perhaps due to our late timing and the rain, we did not manage to spot any.

The butterfly activity was notably good despite the bad weather.  We still saw quite a number of puddlers.  We were quite lucky to be able to shoot the Graphium doson (Common Jay) which is not that common in Hong Kong as well as Singapore.  They were puddling along the road below a man-made. Although the Common Jay is very skittish typical of the Graphiums, we still manage to nail a few good shots after persisting for a while. 

We also had a chance to shoot the Graphium cloanthus (Glassy Bluebottle), which according to Ah Yin, are also not very common in Hong Kong and are seasonal.  Picking a pristine one among the lot is quite a challenge as they are also rather skittish and do not stay still when puddling.  Once again after some persistence from the butterfly photographers, we manage to have some decent shots.

On my final day, I checked out of the hotel and met James Young, who he brought me to Sai Kung, a marine conservation area at the extreme east of Hong Kong.  On a clear day, one can see mainland China across the sea.  Sai Kung also boasts many spectacular landscape scenes.  The colour of the water from the dam is a deep blue with hints of green, surrounded by the mountainous landscape of Hong Kong. It is a contrast from the Hong Kong Island and Kowloon Peninsular itself.  James mentioned that 70-80% of Hong Kong is filled with country parks.  Much of what Hong Kong is known internationally is for its immensely dense cityscapes, but one must visit one of its many country parks to experience the true Hong Kong.

We took a hike down to the coast line in search for the Thoressa monastyrskyi (Monastyrskyi's Ace).   This particular skipper is rather unique.  It was discovered by a Russian; hence the species adopts somewhat a Russian name.  It is also endemic to Hong Kong, with the exception of it being found at a small nature reserve in Vietnam.  The life cycle of T. monastyrskyi is also unique, the larvae feeds on bamboo, but its life cycle lasts a full year.  James had been monitoring this species for the last year and knows exactly when they will be out in full force.  The T. monastyrskyi was quite abundant at Sai Kung when I visited, and they are almost at every turn basking in the sun or puddling on damp surfaces.

Throughout the hike up and down, it was very enjoyable to listen to James share his vast knowledge of the early stages of butterflies with me.  

We then headed back to James Young’s “research apartment” where I witnessed his dedication to the research of butterflies and the detailed life histories.   I was like a child watching an expert working his craft by asking all sorts of questions to what James was doing.  I am delighted and appreciative that James took the time and effort to explain to me what he was doing although he was busy taking care of his “caterpillar farm”.

We headed off for dinner around the corner of his block and had some mouth-watering roast goose, before heading off to the airport for my departure back home to Singapore.

Text & Photos by Mark Wong ; Edited by Khew SK

Acknowledgements : 

I would like to express my sincerest gratitude to the HKLS members who took their precious annual leave to bring me about during my stay in Hong Kong.  I am very touched by the great hospitality shown by the HKLS members that made my stay an incredibly enjoyable one. It was also wonderful that all the members shared their vast knowledge of the Hong Kong butterflies with me, which gave me a more profound appreciation of the winged jewels of Hong Kong.

On the behalf of Butterfly Circle, we would like to thank Dr Lee from HKLS who generously gave us copies of the “Photographic Handbook of Hong Kong Butterflies (4th Edition)” and the HKLS pins to distribute among our members.  I would also like to thank the management of Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve on giving me the book “A Haven for Butterflies and People – A Hong Kong Story Fung Yuen Butterfly Reserve”.  And also special thanks to James Young who gave me a personally signed copy of “The butterflies of Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve”.  This trip was also made possible by Gigi and Arex who helped me plan my butterfly watching itinerary with the the rest of the HKLS members.