How to be wrong and still happy

I usually like to post good pictures of birds. Some are better than others but by and large they pass. Today’s photo is a mess. But I am very happy with it.

Last night as it was getting dark I saw some activity in the jasmine. I knew what it wasn’t but I did not know what it was. It looked like a warbler and it looked biggish. Mentally I wondered if Oriental Reed Warbler ever visited gardens. It seemed pretty unlikely but so did Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler.

The light was simply too poor and the bird too deep in the greenery to attempt photos. I thought however that it would not go far over night. A dawn patrol was called for. Happily dawn is getting later these days so 6.45 was official sun up. I was promptly on parade and after no more than five minutes the bird appeared again, still in the jasmine. I was getting no more than the odd glimpse of movement. And then suddenly it flew up and perched in full view on the Lantana. I had not opened the doors in case the bird flew. So my only shots were through the dining room doors, with reflections from the room lights thrown in for good measure. I had only a 400mm lens on a full frame camera. The resultant images were pretty awful but I was happy enough that this was a new garden tick, Japanese Bush Warbler, Horornis diphone. I posted the image on the HKBWS forum to make sure. A few minutes later, the local guru said simply “Manchurian for me“…..

I was rather puzzled. It didn’t look like Manchurian Reed Warbler but I thought it was not for me to question he who knows everything. So I then alerted others. A good garden bird I thought. Very good in fact. It didn’t take long for someone to point out helpfully that the guru meant Manchurian Bush Warbler, Horornis borealis. My problem was that I didn’t know MBW occurred in Hong Kong. BMW yes, MBW, well search me guv’.

I dug out the last copy of the HK Bird Report and sure enough it seems MBW is now recognised as a HK species but it also stated that reliable criteria for separation in the field remain to be established.  Now I’m even more confused. So I was right…. it was a Bush Warbler. I was wrong…… guru or sifu did not mean MRW. My initial instincts were right(ish). The answer to separation seems to be coming from in the hand examination of birds trapped and ringed here. Guru / sifu had listed why he went with MBW. I guess I should have known that the species was either split or added to the HK list a couple of years back but I didn’t. And I don’t think I am really bothered which species it was. They would all have been new for the garden. But I may have saved myself a face full of omelette. I am sure by know you are either bored rigid or desperate to see the cause of all the kerfuffle. So here it is in all its blurriness:

Manchurian Bush Warbler

Now I think its exciting to get this chappie in the garden but Mrs. Ha, who is once again feisty enough to be classified as ‘on the mend’ simply said ‘its very boring’. I think she mistook borealis for boring just as I mistook horor-nis for horror. Back to my Latin Primer I think.

The excitement however was not over. The domestic helper, whose birthday it is today, came in and announced there was a moth outside. Hmmm. Ok. I suppose I’d better humour her and have a look. Wah! Convolvulus Hawk Moth, Agrius convolvuli. To be honest this would be a much better find in Britain than in Hong Kong. However I’m just a big kid who still likes to find insects that have scare potential. So I picked it up and tried to offer it to the helper as a birthday gift. She seemed unamused. Well, would you run away from this?

C'mon punk, make my day…..


What a treasure. Fits nicely into the palm of your hand.

Agrius convolvuli


My punishment was to drive Mrs. Ha to the TCM shop (TCM = Traditional Chinese Medicine). Not much fun.

But on balance I think it was worth all the hassle and confusion to have a MBW and a CHM in the garden within an hour of one another. Sometimes the quality of the photo isn’t important. For me it was the thrill of the chase, guessing correctly that the bird would overnight (free of charge) and leave without breakfast and then finding something that would have given my Manchurian friend a very good breakfast indeed. Come to think of it, I wonder if the guru meant Mancunian……… I think I heard an accent.

18 thoughts on “How to be wrong and still happy

  1. I think the bird photo was a lucky catch/shot. Being able to add this one to a list of birds in your garden seems like a satisfactory capture even if it is not perfect and you were not quite correct in your ID. So you were off the mark a “smidgen.” It doesn’t matter. You have the record of the bird.

    I had a sort of similiar happening in September. I had to take shots through the window screen so that I could get a bird on record. I still do not know what it is. I am no longer in the “birding group” so I have no one to help me. I have only guessed that it is Bullock’s immature oriole. Very frustrating. I think an expert could ID it for me but the one expert that I know is out of town carrying on his yearly documenting of his on going field studies in Costa Rica.

    • Thanks Yvonne. Why don’t you post the bird on your blog and we can try and help. I don’t know American birds but lots of folks do and I have a few reference books. It is a shame to have it on your list as ‘not sure’.

      • I’m glad Ms Ha is much better and I wish you both a safe and wonderful vacation. I remember the dog and cat photo that I think you took in Korea and posted that photo for me. I never did get around to reblog that photo and sitll want to at some point.

        I’ll post the photo but it is not nearly as good as yours. If the screen had not been in the way it would have been better. I am probaby off the mark calling it a Bullock’s and I dread to think how red faced I will be if someone can see enough ID marks on the bird and name its true identity. I have gone back and forth. But the bird was a migrant since I saw it during a “wave” and it was here for only two days.

  2. Around Christmas time we often get millions of giant Bogong moths migrating towards the Snowy Mountains from all over Australia for mating sessions. The sky literally darkens from the sheer numbers. Some people eat them and according to gourmet experts, have an almond taste.
    I remember going to a wedding where thousands invaded the wedding venue. It was a hot day and the overhead fans shredded many of those moths which caused a fine dust to settle on the dining tables laden with chicken, prawns, champagne etc.
    Anyway, it was all taken in good fun and the day was great. Those moths are so big, one can actually hear them breathe.
    Good photos Andrew. The moth looks menacing.

  3. Lovely story, I could sense your excitement growing and your brain buzzing as you persevered with the identification. Glad you checked more than one source. A friend of ours was able to get a fuzzy picture of a rare sighting – and kept his ‘bad’ photograph proudly on display as it reminded him of his chance encounter of a feathery kind.
    The moth is beautiful. I am always worried about damaging a moth by handling it. I have to check our butterflies and moth book, but I think we get CHM here – looks very familiar.

    • Well I’m wrong – but still happily ignorant or should that be ignorantly happy? Just checked and apparently we don’t get CHM here. The closest I could find is the hummingbird Hawk Moth – We have seen those for sure. Quite stunning.

      • Hummingbird Hawk Moths are amazing. But very hard to ID when they are active. Its a shame you don’t get CHM Rod. Gerard tells me some of the Australian moths are edible. You could hand then out to the flock!

  4. We found one of those moths on our playground last month. It was just laying there, blending in with the tarmac and one of the students spotted it, so I scraped it gently onto a folder and took it to the science lab for identification. They jumped up and down a bit, logged it then put it outside on a shrub. We didn’t see him again, but he was very beautiful.

    • You did well to treat it with a little TLC Jenny. Too many people are afraid of moths. Must be old folklore I suspect. Creatures of the night although many are diurnal. Good for the students to appreciate it.

  5. Delightful story. Thank you for sharing it with us as we learn more about bird watching AND the excellent photography you give us.

    • Hello Art, welcome! I hope you and Betsy are well. We are off to Korea in the morning so no birds for a while but back soon. Take care and I hope you enjoyed Thanksgiving.

  6. Agree, the quality of the photo doesn’t always matter the most – the thrill of the chase / the fun of the journey makes for a big part of the experience 🙂

  7. Two good finds. Not being a birdie man, I still prefer landscapes, they don’t move I usually check with my guru when it’s anything other than a Robin. If he said it was a lesser spotted wood finch I would go with what he said.

    But I now have a new friend, the RSPB bird identifier. I can now recognise Teal.

I'd be delighted to hear what you think

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