Hong Kong Park Biodiversity
by Thomas Gomersall
For Hong Kong Island-based nature lovers with busy lives, there can be few places that are as easy to reach and as rich in wildlife as Hong Kong Park. It’s hard to imagine that such a lush, green, serene place could exist in the heart of Central (just next to the Peak Tram terminus), and yet walking along the paths under the extensive tree canopy, it’s surprising how isolated you feel from the hustle, bustle and noise just outside the park.
As well as trees, Hong Kong park also offers a home and feeding ground to a wide range of wild animals in the form of its artificial lake, plentiful flowers, trickling streams and waterfalls and the Conservation Corner — a pond set aside especially as a habitat for rare dragonflies. If you’re a Hong Kong Island resident who can’t afford the time to go to Mai Po Nature Reserve or any of the country parks, then this is just where you need to be.
Yellow Crested Cockatoo: Hong Kong Island residents should be no stranger to this lemony crested parrot, which can often be seen flying above Central, Happy Valley and Pok Fu Lam, screeching loudly as it goes. Although not a native species — the birds here are descended from escaped pets brought from Indonesia — its presence in Hong Kong has been fortuitous. While hunting for the pet trade is decimating its numbers in Indonesia, in Hong Kong this critically endangered bird is thriving with an estimated population size of more than 200. However the scale of its ecological impact, including competition with native birds and damage to trees, is uncertain. For the best cockatoo sightings, climb the observation tower at dusk and look for them in the large trees in which they roost.
Pallas’ Squirrel: Hong Kong’s only squirrel is also an introduced species, this time from Thailand. Like the cockatoos, they are thought to be descended from pets that escaped into the wild in the 1960s. But while the cockatoo’s impact on native biodiversity is uncertain, the pallas’ squirrel’s is likely to be positive as it is helping to disperse plant seeds that previously relied on locally extinct squirrels. Though widespread on Hong Kong Island, Hong Kong Park is perhaps the best place to watch them scurry about in search of nuts and flowers, as the squirrels here have become used to people and are easily approachable.
Blue Whistling Thrush: Although this glossy, dark violet songbird is found across Hong Kong, it is more easily seen on Hong Kong Island than in the New Territories. It is most active at dusk and in the early evening, making it the best time to hear its whistling call. It has been observed to lower its tail feathers and spread them out in a fan shape, as if alarmed. So if you see this bird displaying such behaviour, it may be a sign that you have gotten too close. It feeds mainly on ground-dwelling invertebrates such as snails, crabs and worms and nests near streams, making the park’s artificial river above the waterfalls a good place to look for them.
Plum Judy: This small, reddish brown butterfly may not seem like much at first glance. But in fact it is highly active, spending much of its time performing aerial dances as a way to confuse predators and make it harder for them to target the butterfly’s vulnerable head. This also makes it easy to identify, but not so easy to photograph as it rarely stays still for long. When it does rest however, it is normally on the tops of leaves or flowers that are quite high up. Still, a few can be spotted resting on the aquatic plants at the edge of the artificial lake.
Orange-Tailed Sprite: With its bright green thorax and orange-red abdomen, this damselfly is certainly eye-catching and easily spotted. It is active from spring to early winter and feeds on other damselflies. As its preferred habitat is the edges of slow-moving or stagnant bodies of water, the best places to find it in Hong Kong Park are the artificial lake and the dragonfly Conservation Corner near the conservatory.