A BAD one for the road

Well the  Hodgson’s Textured Pipits had a very mixed reception so today I shall offer you one for the road without any tinkering whatsoever. It is as simple as you can get. A humble sparrow. The Tree Sparrow in fact, Passer Montanus.

In my 1969 copy of The Observer’s Book of Birds (priced at a very reasonable 7/-) it says ‘avoids the dwellings of man’. Well of course that is certainly not true in Hong Kong where it is as much an urban as it is a rural bird. I find it mildly amusing that the publisher did not think it necessary to say “British Birds”. I suspect it was assumed that as the world centred around Britain and there were still plenty of pink bits on the map that it was completely unnecessary to state the obvious. The first edition was published in 1937, before I was born and the empire began to crumble. Its age is also betrayed by the word ‘dwellings’. Not too many dwellings around nowadays. How lovely is your dwelling place….. Psalm 84, is perhaps still in vogue (Rod?) but if I go to the real estate agent and ask for a list of dwelling places on the market I think they might mistake me for a sparrow-brain. Finally, the sparrow was clearly so boring that TOBoB only illustrated it with a black and white photo. Scandalous. Here is a bird screaming out for colour. And here it is:

Tree Sparrow Tree-sparrow


I shall be looking out for sparrows in Dubai. The Tree Sparrow is most unlikely but the House Sparrow should be on parade. In fact I may well ask the concierge at the hotel if I can have one delivered to my room. As we all know, in Dubai Disneyland everything is possible and all our wishes can come true.


BAD art

Yesterday felt like I’d thrown a party and nobody came. Ah well, perhaps the muppets are out of favour. Today I throw caution to the wind and mutilate two perfectly decent images for the sheer hell of it.

Today’s bird is the Olive-backed Pipit, Anthus hodgsoni. I looked up Mr. Hodgson in Biographies for Birdwatchers and Brian Houghton Hodgson was a bit of a star. He lived from 1800-1894 and was an ethnologist, author and naturalist. He spent much time in the Sub-continent and was an expert on Nepal, where he spent much of his time. He is reputed to have told Hooker (Sir Joseph, rather than a lady of easy virtue) that “the hardest work of all is idleness”. This is a man who amassed 9,500 skins (of birds) in India and donated them to the British Museum. The collection was later broken up and distributed amongst other museums. Of course 9,500 is a lot of birds to shoot but it was all in the course of science. I wonder how he would get on with the luminaries of the RSPB today. However the primary factoid for which I admire BHH is that he married at the age of 69 and lived long enough to celebrate his silver wedding anniversary. Incredible.

OBP is a common bird in Hong Kong in the winter months. They frequent our garden and have a nice bobbing walk. They don’t like you to approach too close but they bob off rather than fly far. They are quite social birds, almost always travelling in small gangs. I like them because they tend to confirm that the cooler weather has arrived and the humidity has dropped. They have a distinctive ‘teardrop’ marking behind the eye which is a simple but reliable identification feature.

These 2 images are photographs put through a Photoshop filter to give them texture. You either like it or you don’t. I don’t really mind which bucket you fall into.

Olive-backed Pipittexture

OlivebackedPipittexture2BAD will need to take a breather until next Thursday at least. I am off to Dubai to work this weekend. The bills must be paid. I have also been preoccupied with reading the excellent Nestroy biography Bin Dichter nur der Posse. Almost over the finishing line. The decision is then what to read next. The Kindle has a backlog and I have a pile of Dickens to choose from. I must also crack on with my CornDancer labour of love. BHH would be proud that idleness has not yet poisoned my ageing bones. I hope somebody comes to the party tonight even if the host is asleep at the time. We are now a mere week away from The Year of the Horse and that may also interfere with normal service. We shall see.


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.