Sunday 8th October 2017

Strictly prohibit leisure

Despite a sign proclaiming the above, today I enjoyed my last day of leisure before starting my teaching here in Suzhou. I took the sparklingly clean Suzhou metro for just a few stops, and then negotiated a less than sparklingly clean street with no pavement and ran across a busy highway to reach the Shihu Lake Scenic Area…and scenic it was.

Shihu Lake is flanked on its eastern shore by numerous blocks of flats

But to the west it adjoins a hilly area, the Shangfeng Hill State Forest Park

The Sky Mirror Pavilion, with Shangfeng Hill behind

Although the zone closest to the entrance was busy with Sunday sightseers, it was not long before I was able to enjoy being semi-alone, and the tranquil lake with its backdrop of wooded hills was a joy to behold.

A boat passes in front of the distant hills

The walk around the lake crosses several stone bridges

The dreamy wooded hills, topped in the distance by the Hanyuan Temple

I walked along a causeway across the middle of the lake and then headed up the western shore. Birds were not much in evidence, apart from a few Night Herons and Little Grebes, but I was soon enjoying a fine selection of butterflies, many of which were attracted to the ornamental flowers growing along the shoreline. The highlight was undoubtedly the unfortunately named Common Bluebottle, Graphium sarpedon, which occurs all the way from India to Japan. Two of these agile and active butterflies were fluttering over the flowers, as usual with their wings constantly moving even when feeding, making photography difficult.

The Common Bluebottle is a spectacular species

Catching 2 Common Bluebottles in one shot was a fluke, even if they are not quite sharp

A Painted Lady posed cooperatively

As did a beautiful female Indian Fritillary

The other main highlight was several more Lesser Purple Emperors, Apatura ilia. At first I wondered if they might be Freyer’s Purple Emperor, Apatura metis, especially as they were often to be seen flying around and settling on narrow-leaved willow trees, which are apparently the larval food plant of that species, but my photographs clearly show a large black spot near the outer margin of the forewing, which is apparently diagnostic for the Lesser, not Freyer’s Purple Emperor.

The bold black spot on the forewing proclaims this to be a Lesser rather than a Freyer’s Purple Emperor

I saw at least 5 Lesser Purple Emperors during the afternoon

A few birds appeared in this quieter area, including a small flock of Masked Laughing-thrushes, Black-throated and Eastern Great Tits, Long-tailed Shrikes and some unidentified leaf warblers.

Chinese Comma butterflies were numerous here, but my attention was drawn to a new species for my China list, the Chinese Bush Brown, Mycalesis gotama. I had seen this species many years ago in Japan, where it is also common, but it is always nice to reacquaint oneself with butterflies after not having seen them for many years.

Chinese Commas were numerous around the lake

The Chinese Bushbrown was an addition to my list

Another old friend from Japan that flew past without settling at all was the Japanese Swallowtail, Papilio xuthus, but I contented myself with photographing a Pale Grass Blue, Zizeeria maha, that posed with its wings open for once, and a Common Grass Yellow, Eurema hecabe, that was too engrossed in nectaring deep in a flower to notice me approaching.

A Pale Grass Blue sat with its wings open

A Common Grass Yellow was busy with nectaring

A pleasantly rustic scene close to bustling Suzhou

Lotus plants thrive at the northern end of the lake

An ancient residence

The contrast between the traditional and the modern takes some getting used to

I finally reached the north-western corner of the lake, where a large area behind a derelict temple had been turned into a foul rubbish tipping area, but all in all it had been a very pleasant and relaxing walk, and it came as something of a shock to find myself back in the maelstrom of bustling Suzhou again as I walked back to the metro station.

The pace of development here is frenetic

Public To Lets? Are they really for rent?!

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