Its the mupinensis show!

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”. 

Customer number one:Chinese Thrush1 Chinese Thrush2 Turdus mupinensis Turdus mupinensis2 Turdus mupinensis3 Turdus mupinensis4NB: Fortunately as far as I know this species does not stray to Europe so there has been no opportunity for Lars Jonsson to write anything insulting about it.

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.



14 thoughts on “Its the mupinensis show!

  1. This is a very handsome bird and the images are very excellent, Andrew.. At first I thought the German for him might be schwarzenpocken but then I remembered some of our thrushes with their specked breasts or even the immature robins.
    Those ladies at the end sounded very nice, although traveling without mealworms should be an offense.
    I am most impressed at your journey to the top. You must be a bit more fit than you let on, especially if you were hauling the Dardanelles Bombard with you.

    • Steve, I reached the top in a car! I then had to walk down to the gardens so I guess logically I also had to walk back up. However there was a minor speed gap between downhill and uphill.

      The ladies were fun to chat to but yes, they were simply ill-equipped in birding terms. Perhaps they would make better landscape photographers.

    • Thank you Hilary. I was only teasing. I removed the Like button although I get confused because I still occasionally receive notifications that x liked your post. Most social media sites confuse me at times.

  2. Great photos again and an enjoyable romp with the morning crowd. It does seem like cheating to me too – this baiting burins. Having said that. When it is -30 outside and you really need to see and photograph some birds – going to the winter feeding station is a no-brainer. I’ll have a number 4 today – but the rest of the menu is very inciting too.

  3. This muppet bird, the Chinese Thrush–also known as Eastern Song-thrush in German–is a delicate beauty. You’re an excellent photographer, Andrew, and a wonderful teacher. I was surprised that bait was used to get the photo, but it makes sense. I wouldn’t have noticed it if you hadn’t share that comment.

    • Thank you Marylin. I enjoy ‘teaching’ and always feel my best teachers 40-50 years ago were those who made learning fun. I try to adopt a similar approach.

  4. Wonderful photos here. I was dismayed reading about the smist and about the polluted air. But you had your funny bone on fire as you wrote this post. I am still smiling. Too funny about the guys with the bait and the dogs running in the area of the birds.

    Years ago I went on field trips with some of the young dudes who birded locally and never once did I ever hear of anyone using bait to get a bird photo. Seems like cheating to me but then if time is short and you’re “hungry” for that great bird pic….

    • I also feel it is cheating Yvonne but that is the way these amazing photos are done nowadays. Most have some sort of set up and preparation. It makes me admire all the more the old school photographers who shot with film and mainly in B&W.

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