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Hong Kong Flying Colour 3: Dragonflies
by Agriculture, Fisheries and Conservation Department, HKSAR Government, 111 pages, HK$50. Published by Friends of the Country Parks, 2002.

Butterfly Watching in Hong Kong
by James John Young and Vor Yiu, 342 pages, HK$188. Published by Hong Kong Lepidopterists’ Society, 2002.

Hong Kong Flying Colour 3: Dragonflies is the third in a series of picture booklets produced by AFCD staff for Friends of the Country Parks (previous titles covered birds and butterflies), and comprises photographs of most of the Hong Kong dragonfly species, a checklist, and three pages for ‘field notes’. This is fine, as far as it goes. The trouble is that it really doesn’t go very far. There is no text. Photograph annotations are limited to a species name only. No information is given on habitat associations, diagnostic features, avoidance of confusion with dragonflies of similar appearance, dragonfly sites, or the local status of the illustrated species. Dragonflies are usually sexually dimorphic but the book does not tell you this, nor give any indication of the gender of the individuals in the photographs (sometimes male, sometimes female, occasionally both). The photographs themselves are of variable quality, ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous, although in fairness, the majority are of a high standard. In short, this book will be of little or no use as an identification handbook (in spite of those blank ‘field notes’ pages), and anyone attempting to use it as such will, wittingly or otherwise, come rapidly unstuck. The most useful part of the booklet is the reference page, which contains a single entry. Keith Wilson’s 1995 book Hong Kong Dragonflies is still available. Buy that instead. It may be cumbersome, but at least it tells you how to identify these beautiful insects.

Much more useful for the would-be entomologist is Young and Yiu’s Butterfly Watching in Hong Kong. This book contains numerous handy hints on watching, photographing, and identifying adult butterflies in Hong Kong. Each species is briefly described and then illustrated with up to six photographs, designed to show upper and under-sides of the wings, seasonal forms and, where it occurs, sexual dimorphism. Sites where species are known to occur are listed, and then a wealth of ecological and behavioural knowledge (such as local status, dimorphism, flight period, feeding habits and habitat association) is neatly summarised in a set of information boxes. Preliminary chapters include useful sections on ecology of butterflies, photographic equipment and (best of all) detailed descriptions of most of the top butterfly watching sites in Hong Kong.

Clearly, a lot of thought has gone into this book, and the authors should be applauded for producing a work which so aptly complements Bascombe, Johnston and Bascombe’s epic The Butterflies of Hong Kong at such an affordable price and, moreover, for writing in both Chinese and English. A few criticisms may, however, be made. Neither of the authors speaks English as their first language, and the English text would have benefited from proof-reading by a native English speaker. Less trivially, a surprisingly high proportion of the photographs are of rather poor quality. This stems from the authors’ understandable decision to include only photographs of live specimens in a natural setting. Such photographs are often difficult to obtain, and in their efforts to show the various forms and diagnostic features, the authors have all too often been forced to settle for a less than perfect photograph. Such a problem would not have arisen if pinned specimens had been used, and I think there is a case to be made for having a combination of both. Nevertheless, this is a must-buy for anyone interested in learning the local butterflies.

G.T. Reels



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