Plover Cove Biodiversity

by Thomas Gomersall

With only a single, narrow road separating Plover Cove Country Park and Pat Sin Leng Country Park, these two country parks comprise one of the largest areas of protected land in Hong Kong. Amidst the peace and tranquility of the forests and mountain streams, it’s hard to believe that this idyllic place lies just 25 minutes away from the busy industrial town of Tai Po.

For busy Hong Kongers, the tranquility of Plover Cove makes it a welcome place to spend the day hiking, cycling and windsurfing before capping it off with a slice of pizza in Tai Mei Tuk. But most people never go further than Bride’s Pool — if they go into the country park at all — and therefore have no idea of the sometimes truly unique wildlife that lives here.

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Crab-eating Mongoose (Herpestes urva): Though the crab-eating mongoose is active during the day, it is rarely seen by humans as its distribution is strictly limited to northeast Hong Kong and its population is most likely not large. Despite its name, it feeds on a wide range of things besides crabs, including snails and eggs. However, it is a lot more aquatic in its habits than most species of mongoose, being a good swimmer and preferring forest streams as its habitat. It has long coarse hair along its back and when alarmed, it will raise these hairs and arch its back to make itself seem bigger (Shek, 2006, p. 317).

Photo credit: Rejaul karim.rk / CC BY-SA

Yellow-bellied Weasel (Mustela kathiah): As much of the countryside was deforested during the Second World War, it is unclear if the current population of yellow-bellied weasels is the original Hong Kong population or if they are descended from animals that re-colonised Hong Kong from China after the forests grew back (Shek, 2006, p. 301). But the former is certainly plausible as this little animal is quite the survivor, with some studies suggesting that it can survive even in heavily degraded habitat and in spite of intense hunting (Duckworth & Robichaud, 2006; Lau et al, 2010). Overall, however, very little is known about this elusive carnivore aside from the fact that it is solitary, prefers dense forest, is active during the day and hunts mostly rodents (Shek, 2006, p.299).

Photo credit: Shutterstock

Hill Jezebel (Delias belladonna): Plover Cove Country Park is home to a wide range of butterfly species, including rare ones like the hill jezebel. Males of this species engage in a behaviour called hilltopping, in which they will gather near the tops of hills and mountains where they circle around in search of females to mate with or rivals. They are surprisingly aggressive, chasing away any butterfly that comes too close to their territory. (Lo & Hui, 2004, p. 230).

Female plumbeous water redstart Photo credit: Martin Hale
Male plumbeous water redstart Photo credit: Martin Hale

Plumbeous Water Redstart (Phoenicurus fuliginosus): Passerines are generally thought of as birds that perch in trees. But a few species are actually a lot more at home around or even in water. One of these is the plumbeous water redstart, a rare winter visitor to Hong Kong. This little bird spends most of its time perching and displaying on boulders in streams, which it is seldom seen far from. As with several birds, it shows strong sexual dimorphism with the male being dark blue with bright red tail feathers and the female being grey with a black and white tail (Viney et al, 2005, p. 172).

Photo credit: Thomas Gomersall

Indo-Chinese Rat Snake (Ptyas korros): This large, non-venomous snake favours aquatic habitats like reservoirs, ponds and streams (i.e. Bride’s Pool), which it dives into when threatened to hide under rocks. When caught it becomes very aggressive and will readily bite. Despite the name, its preferred prey are actually Gunther’s frogs (Rana guentheri), although it will also take rodents from time to time (Ferguson, 2018).

References

· Duckworth, J.W. and Robichaud, W.G. 2005. Yellow-bellied Weasel Mustela kathiah sightings in Phongsaly province, Laos, with notes on the species’ range in South-East Asia, and recent records of other small carnivores in the province. Small Carnivore Conservation, vol. 33: 17pp-20pp.

· Ferguson, R., ‘Just keep swimming…with the snakes of Hong Kong’, Wild Creatures Hong Kong [web blog], 30 March 2018, https://www.wildcreatureshongkong.org/single-post/2018/03/30/Just-keep-swimmingwith-the-snakes-of-Hong-Kong (Accessed: 4 October 2019).

· Lau, M.W.N, Fellowes, J.R. and B.P.L. Chan. 2010. Carnivores (Mammalia: Carnivora) in South China: a status review with notes on the commercial trade. Mammal Review, vol. 42: 247pp–292pp.

· Lo, P.Y.F. and Hui, W.L. 2004. Hong Kong Butterflies, 1st edn., Friends of the Country Parks, Hong Kong. 230pp.

· Shek, C.T. 2006. A field guide to the terrestrial mammals of Hong Kong, Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, Hong Kong SAR Government, Hong Kong. 299pp., 301pp., 317pp.

· Viney, C., Phillipps, K. and C.Y. Lam. 2005. The Birds of Hong Kong and South China. Information Services Department, Hong Kong SAR Government, Hong Kong. 172pp.

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