And a show it was yesterday morning. Most people to go to The Peak in Hong Kong to take in the view. On a typical day you can see the pollution haze stretching for miles and the panoramic views are lost behind a decidedly grubby, yellowing net curtain of cough-inducing smist (rather like smog only mist based). Cycle up there and you could be in the cast for the new Canto Movie, Wheezy Rider. Nevertheless, if you can survive the ascent so far you have the option of carrying on to the summit of Mount Austin, at 552m the highest point on Hong Kong Island. Ignore the allure of some of the world’s most expensive and over-rated real estate and park in the small car park at the end of a narrow road, single track in places – no passing places. And just below you are some gardens. Very popular with dog walkers and occasionally, birds.
I arrived at 6.45am, decidedly chilly and the sun not yet warming the lawns. Another car pulled in at the same time and 3 guys got out – hardcore bird togs. Cameras, long lenses, tripods and of course, the one accessory no modern bird tog should be without, a can of bait. Probably fresh from Mongkok, intended for the fishermen but just what a bird chap needs to kick off the day. The target was the muppet bird, Chinese Thrush, Turdus mupinensis. It is also known as Eastern Song-thrush or in German, with ruthless logic, Chinasingdrossel. I prefer the German name. It does indeed look rather like a Song Thrush, perhaps with a bit of Mistle thrown in.
Camp was set up on the lower lawn. There was a branch available as a perch, left behind by the previous shift. One chap then scoured the area until he found a huge rock, which he then placed strategically adjacent to the branch. This bird gets a choice of breakfast bars. I set up my brand new Walkstool and experimented with shutter speeds etc. Hmmm. 1/50s at iso3200. Not what the doctor ordered. The bait was sprinkled liberally, like Parmesan cheese, along the branch, onto the rock and a few wrigglers on the ground. Within a minute or two the Avian version of Prêt à Manger was open for business and the first customer arrived. Donnez-moi un sandwich repas sans fin et que ça saute s’il vous plaît is Google Translate’s attempt at “Give me a meal worm sandwich and make it snappy please”.
A careful observer will see a sample of the bait in the final photograph. There were other customers and one of those may well get an airing tomorrow. However pretty much everything else was ignored by the hordes. By the time I left at 8.45 the sun was becoming a little harsh and the first shift of paparazzi was ebbing away and the late comers were pitching their claims to a front row seat. On my way out I saw two ladies walking their dogs. They looked at my camera and politely enquired what the excitement was. I explained the cause and roughly how birding works in HK. They were both fascinated and amused. Frankly, me too. There were 2 Zoothera aurea on the lawn behind them. Excuse me, I said, whilst I take a few frames of this rather gorgeous bird. At which point the pack of dogs romping around us made a beeline for the thrushes and they disappeared faster than a speeding bullet. The ladies looked mortified and started apologising profusely. Never mind, I consoled them. You don’t happen to have any mealworms on you, do you? We all had a jolly good laugh and The Muppet Show ended for the day. Mupinensis is probably staging another performance this morning and if there is any justice in the world, come Lunar New Year it will probably be too fat to fly and will be taken by a hungry raptor looking for its own Prêt à Manger. That’s how the food chain works.