OUR URBAN BACKYARD, Lung Fu Shan Country Park (龍虎山郊野公園), Central & Western District (中西區), Hong Kong
Well known for its skyscrapers, Hong Kong actually has another face of lush green hills and pristine beaches to counterbalance the overwhelming urbanity. In fact, out of 1092 sq.km, about three quarters of Hong Kong’s land area is countryside comprised of hills, woodlands and beaches. No matter from which district in the city, nature is never far way. In 1976, the Country Park Ordinance was passed to enforce nature conservation. Under the ordinance, 24 country parks (郊野公園) have been established so far, protecting about 440 sq.km of natural landscape. Across the city, many neighbourhoods are situated within close proximity from one of these country parks, where Hongkongers treat them as urban backyards for morning exercises, afternoon picnics or evening hikes. For us living in Central and Western District, our closest backyard is Lung Fu Shan Country Park on the hill right behind Hong Kong University. We sometimes thought of walking up Lung Fu Shan and the adjacent Victoria Peak to catch the first glimpse of morning sun over the famous Hong Kong skyline. This has yet happened, but we do occasional short hikes when weather permits. From our home, it is just several minutes of bus ride to the trailhead of the 2.75km Lung Fu Shan Trail. Between Victoria Peak (太平山) and Mount High West (西高山), Lung Fu Shan or Hill Above Belcher’s (龍虎山) is a 253m hill right above the main campus of Hong Kong University. In 1998, Lung Fu Shan Country Park was established to protect the small patch of forest around the hill. With just about 0.1% of the total area of all country parks, the city’s smallest country park is home to almost one third of all species of birds, butterflies, amphibians, reptiles and mammals found in Hong Kong. Given the park is situated at less than 30 minutes walking distance to the central business district, Lung Fu Shan is surprisingly valuable to the city’s biodiversity.
Before Lung Fu Shan Country Park was established, I visited the Pinewood Battery (松林炮台) on Lung Fu Shan with my parents several times. Completed in 1905 by the colonial government, the historical battery was heavily damaged during WWII. In the Battle of Hong Kong (December 1941), the battery was under rounds of air raids before it was abandoned on 15th of December 1941. In the 1980’s the military structures were pretty much lying in ruins. For me as a child, the ruined battery was a great place for picnic or to play hide and seek. 11 years after the establishment of Lung Fu Shan Country Park, the ruined structures were listed as Grade II historical buildings in 2009 and become one of the main features in the park. Display boards and a trail linking all the major structures are set up are provided on site to tell the story.
On a fine Friday afternoon, we decided to drop by Lung Fu Shan Environmental Education Centre near the park entrance at Kotewall Road (旭龢道). Operated by Environmental Protection Department and University of Hong Kong, the small interpretation centre housed in a listed historical bungalow just a stone throw away from Hong Kong University was a pleasant surprise. Built in 1890, the 131-year bungalow was home for the watchman who protected the adjacent Pokfulam Filter Beds, the facility used to filter drinking water for Pokfulam Reservoir nearby. The former watchman’s residence is now converted into the visitor centre of Lung Fu Shan Country Park, welcoming anyone who wishes to know more about the ecology and biodiversity of the area. Apart from insect specimens and wildlife photographs, we were particularly interested in the videos interviewing the former residents of the bungalow complex, who were occupying the three historical houses in the complex until 1996. At the centre, we had a delightful chat with the staff there and picked up The Pulse of Nature – Mid-Levels West, a book of writings, illustrations and photographs that offers a variety of perspectives that explores the natural context of Mid-Levels West around Lung Fu Shan.
MORNING SAFARI, Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.14
Day 10 (1 of 2).
There are 26 national parks in Sri Lanka, covering an area of 5,734 km², or slightly less than 9% of the country. As a small nation, Sri Lanka has a diverse range of wildlife, from marine mammals to other big game. The island also has one of the highest rates of biological endemism (16% of the fauna and 23% of flowering plants are endemic) in the world. Having a chance to see Sri Lanka’s precious wildlife in its natural habitat should be a highlight for all visitors.
With several elephant and even one leopard sightings in our first drive, any wildlife that we saw in our second safari was a bonus. Nonetheless, it was a pleasant experience to venture into the open wilderness early in the morning, when the air was cool and birds were at their most active. As the day warmed up after 8am, most animals seemed to be hiding in the shade somewhere, except occasional elephants that were looking for other ways to cool themselves down. The morning safari was the final act for us before moving on to the South Coast.
Udawalawe Reservoir appeared in total tranquility at 6am.
Again our jeep passed through the Udawalawe Reservoir before entering the park.
Our morning safari began with the sighting of a golden jackal. In both Hindu and Buddhist cultures, jackals are considered an intelligent and cunning animals.
In a safari national park, one of the easiest places to spot wildlife is the vehicular path because of the lack of vegetation.
A group of birds came together for morning choir. Early morning, according to our driver, is the best time for birding.
At the top of a tree, we spotted a pair of malabar pied hornbills. Malabar pied hornbills are omnivorous. Their diet ranges from fruits to small animals and insects.
An adult female white bellied sea eagle can measure up to 90cm, with a wingspan of up to 2.2m long.
Due to their high reproductive rate, good adaptability in different environments, and the diminishing of their natural predators such as leopards, jackals, mongooses, pythons, monitor lizards and eagles because of human activities, the population of peafowls has grown rapidly throughout the island. With frequent damages to agricultural crops, the peafowls have become a headache for Sri Lankan farmers. On the other hand, peafowls have considerably cultural significance for the Buddhist and Hindu, thus a protected species in Sri Lanka despite of their impact to the farmers. For the Sinhalese, the peafowl is the third animal of the zodiac of Sri Lanka.
Endemic to the island, Sri Lankan junglefowl is the national bird of the country.
With a diet including small reptiles, amphibians, crabs, rodents and birds, white-throated kingfisher can be found throughout Asia.
In a woodland, a group of Sri Lankan axis deer were resting under the shade. As soon as they noticed our arrival, they immediately got up and walked away one by one.
Out of the dozen of so Sri Lankan axis deer, we only noticed one with horns.
Once again we bumped into a Bengal monitor lizard. The one we saw was about 1.5m long.
Of course, no visit to the Udawalawe would be completed without meeting the Sri Lankan elephants.
In both safari visits, we had seen both male and female Sri Lankan elephants of various ages and sizes.
In a group of Sri Lankan elephants, we also spotted two babies who were busy suckling milk from their mothers.
Near the end of our morning safari, we had an encounter with a large male elephant.
We saw him stopping at a water pond and splashed mud water onto his body using his trunk. According to our driver, the elephant was “applying sunscreen” with the mud. Apart from sun protection, the mud also protects him from parasite. The evaporation of the mud would also cool off his skin.
After exiting from the park, we passed by Udawalawe Reservoir one final time. This time, we were fortunate to see an Sri Lankan elephant bathing in the water.
AFTERNOON SAFARI, Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka, 2019.12.13
Day 9 (4 of 4).
Udawalawe National Park is often considered to be the best place for elephant sighting outside of Africa. Advertised for 100% guaranteed elephant sighting, Udawalawe should not disappoint anyone who come for the biggest mammals on land. For other animals, especially large mammals like leopards or sloth bears, super good luck and an experienced guide/driver are probably needed for any chance of success. The park is also a fine venue for bird sightings, with both permanent and migratory species.
We didn’t have a whole lot of wild safari experience other than the Brazilian Pantanal. Unlike Pantanal in Brazil where we could choose between boat, 4×4 vehicle, or even a morning safari hike, Udawalawe National Park could only be visited by 4×4 vehicles. All 4×4 vehicles enter the park from one entrance, and most tours would start either at 6am or 2pm, and last for 4 hours. Unlike the famous Yala National Park in Southern Sri Lanka where all visitors flock to chase after the elusive leopards and as soon as one leopard is spotted all vehicles would rush to the same spot, 4×4 drivers at Udawalawe tend to disperse into different areas of the park. The first safari tour we had at Udawalawe was a afternoon drive.
Sri Lankan elephant is usually one of the first large animals to be spotted in the park.
Sri Lankan elephant is the largest of the three subspecies of Asian elephants.
Native to the island, Sri Lankan elephant has a widespread distribution in the country.
With a population of 2500 to 4000c Sri Lankan elephants have been listed endangered on IUCN’s Red List since 1986.
Oriental garden lizards are commonly found throughout much of Asia.
The oriental garden lizard can change its colours. During mating season, a male lizard changes its head and shoulders to orange or crimson, and its throat to black.
Much larger than oriental garden lizard, the Bengal monitor lizards can grow up to 175cm long.
Known by their rich colours and predominant diet of flying insects like bees and wraps, the green bee-eaters are common in the park.
Reside in India, Sri Lanka, and much of Southeast Asia, the changeable hawk eagle is also known as crest hawk due to its feature on the head. They are medium size birds of prey, and are usually solitary except in breeding periods.
The number of Indian peafowls or peacocks (male) we have seen in Udawalawe was probably ten times more than the total number of times that we had ever seen these birds in the past. Peacocks dancing, eating, running, and even flying, males, females, or juveniles, you name it, we have seen it.
The steady supply of water of the reservoir is probably the main reason why wild animals gather in Udawalawe National Park.
Even with their distinctive curved horns, no one knows for sure whether these wild water buffalos are truly wild, or if they are descendants of domestic buffaloes. With about 3,400 across the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, wild water buffalo has been listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List since 1986.
Painted storks can be found in wetlands throughout tropical Asia.
Native to the island, the endangered Sri Lankan leopard has a population of 750-900. Spotting one of the park’s 10-12 leopards was like winning the jackpot, given the reserve has 30,821 hectares of land (more than 5 times the area of Manhattan Island).
Usually live in herds, the Sri Lankan axis deer or Ceylon spotted deer once roam freely across the dry zone of the island. Now their conservation status is considered as vulnerable.
Towards the end of our tour, a curious Sri Lankan elephants followed us and get pretty close to our vehicle.
Before leaving the park, we had a unique encounter with two Sri Lankan elephants who greeted each other with their trunks and made a whole lot of sounds.
The greeting gesture of the two Sri Lankan elephants seemed friendly, as if a person was hugged by another person.
After the passionate change of the two elephants, one of the two elephants seemed to be interested in our vehicle and stayed much longer.
Near the main park exit, we spotted a curious mongoose climbing out from a drainage channel. It stayed just for a split second and dashed out of our sight.
CRUZ DEL CONDOR, Colca Canyon, Peru
It was early in the morning. one by one, tour buses meandered through the winding road along Colca Canyon to arrive at Mirador Cruz del Condor, a popular destination in Southern Peru. Everyone was anxious to arrive at the mirador (lookout) early in the morning, when warm air rose from the canyon, helping the majestic birds to take off for their flights from their cliff-side nests. We arrived at the lookout at around 9:00am. There were already many tourists gathering along the cliff for an unobstructed view of the gliding condors.
Condors are the largest flying land birds in the Western Hemisphere. Their wing span can reach to over 3m wide. These scavengers mainly feed on carrion of the South American camelids or domesticated livestock. Andean condors become national symbols for a number of South American countries. In Peru, condors had inspired many folklore and local beliefs. Our guide told us that Andean condors were now threatened by secondary poisoning from the carcasses killed by local hunters.
We stayed at the mirador for about an hour, spending most of the time following the condors through our camera lens. Before leaving, we also checked out the jewelry and souvenir stalls near the stone cross.
Colca Canyon is about 1200m deep at Mirador Cruz del Condor
Condors circling up against the canyon backdrop
A condor flew right above us.
The lookout at Mirador Cruz del Condor
Condor at Colca Canyon
Condor at Colca Canyon
A cross monument at Mirador Cruz del Condor
Condors, tourists and the cross.
Whenever a condor glided above the tourists, it would arose excitement in the crowd.
Stone plaque at Cruz del Condor
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Read other posts on Peru Trip 2010
1. Peru Trip 2010
2. Bumpy Arrival, Lima & Arequipa, Peru
AREQUIPA & COLCA CANYON
3. Monasterio de Santa Catalina, Arequipa, Peru
4. Plaza de Armas, Arequipa, Peru
5. Volcanoes and Vicuna, Pampa Canahuas Natural Reserve, Patahuasi, and Patapampa, Peru
6. Yanque, Colca Canyon, Peru
7. Cruz del Condor, Colca Canyon, Peru
8. Farming Terraces, Colca Canyon, Peru
PUNO & TITICACA
9. Road to Titicaca, Colca Canyon to Puno, Peru
10. Afternoon on Taquile Island, Titicaca, Peru
11. Morning on Taquile, Titicaca, Peru
12. Inka Express, Puno to Cusco, Peru
CUSCO & SACRED VALLEY
13. Pisac & Ollantaytambo, Sacred Valley, Peru
14. Salinas de Maras, & Moray, Sacred Valley, Peru
15. Lucuma Milkshake & Plaza de Armas, Cusco, Peru
16. Saksaywaman, Cusco, Peru
17. KM 82 to Wayllabamba, Inca Trail, Peru
18. Wayllabamba to Pacamayo, Inca Trail, Peru
19. Pacasmayo to Winay Wayna, Inca Trail, Peru
20. Winay Wayna to Machu Picchu, Inca Trail, Peru
21. Machu Piccu, Inca Trail, Peru
22. Machu Picchu in Black and White, Inca Trail, Peru
23. Afterthought, Inca Trail, Peru
LAST DAY IN CUSCO & LIMA
24. Farewell to the Incas, Cusco, Peru
25. Last Day in Peru, Lima, Peru
DAY 10 (2 of 4) – TRANSPANTANERIA HIGHWAY, PANTANAL, BRAZIL
Aliton from Pantanal Nature (our tour company) met us at 7am at the lobby of Hotel Mato Grosso. At his car, we met a couple from England who had also booked their tour with Pantanal Nature. We drove out of Cuiaba. On the way, we picked up a few bottles of water, and filled up the gas before entering the Transpantaneira Highway. The Transpantaneira Highway is a dirt road built in early 1970s intended to bisect Pantanal from north to south. Only 145km of the originally intended 397km was built. With 145km and 125 bridges, according to some, Transpantaneria has the highest concentration of wooden bridges in the world. The road work also created many ditches on both sides, accidentally providing water ponds where caimens and waterbirds love to gather, especially during the dry season. During the 1.5-hour drive on our way to the lodge, we saw caimens, rheas, and many kinds of water birds.
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Read other posts on Pantanal, Brazil
Day 9.1 – Trail of Waterfalls, Chapada dos Guimaraes
Day 9.2 – Stone City, Chapada dos Guimaraes
Day 10.1 – Pantanal
Day 10.2 – Transpantaneria Highway, Pantanal
Day 10.3 – Pousada Rio Claro, Pantanal
Day 10.4 – Rio Claro Boat Tour, Pantanal
Day 11.1 – Morning Safari and Forest Walk, Pantanal
Day 11.2 – Rio Claro, Pantanal
Day 12.1 – Morning Walk, Pantanal
Day 12.2 – Pouso Alegre Lodge, Pantanal
Day 12.3 – Afternoon Walk and Evening Safari, Pananal
Day 12.4 – Night of Caimans
Day 13.1 – Farewell Pantanal, Brazil
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South America 2013 – Our Destinations
Buenos Aires (Argentina), Iguazu Falls (Argentina/Brazil), Pantanal (Brazil), Brasilia (Brazil), Belo Horizonte & Inhotim (Brazil), Ouro Preto (Brazil), Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Paraty (Brazil), Sao Paulo (Brazil), Samaipata & Santa Cruz (Bolivia), Sucre (Bolivia), Potosi (Bolivia), Southwest Circuit (Bolivia), Tilcara, Purmamarca, Salta (Argentina), Cafayate (Argentina), San Pedro de Atacama (Chile), Antofagasta & Paranal Observatory (Chile), Chiloe (Chile), Puerto Varas (Chile), Torres del Paine (Chile), Ushuaia (Argentina), El Chalten (Argentina), El Calafate (Argentina), Isla Magdalena (Argentina), Santiago (Chile), Valparaiso (Chile), Afterthought