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Photos and text: Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado
English Translation: Asia Club, a WBSJ Volunteer Group (YOKOYAMA Kazuko, KASE Tomoko)
Most popular among many birdwatchers in winter are red birds and blue birds. Whichever birds in either color appear, we get excited, while those in the color of “daidai” or orange are usually wrapped up just in one word, “brownish-red” . I feel sorry for them, for they are very gorgeous and beautiful if observed actually. As February is the month of Lunar Calendar New Year, I would like to take this opportunity to introduce birds in the color of Daidai, a fruit as a bringer of good luck for the New Year in Japan. Daidai, Bitter orange(Citrus aurantium), has been considered a symbol of good luck, because the fruit has strong vitality for one thing, and, for another, the word “daidai” spelled otherwise in Chinese characters means “generation after generation” , implying an image of prosperity for generations.
Brambling is characterized by its beautiful contrast of orange with black. Its name is written in two Chinese characters, flower and bird respectively, and its Japanese name is ” Atori”. According to “Daigenkai”, a standard Japanese dictionary, the bird has been called Atori, as shortened from “Atsu-tori”, gathering(Atsu) bird(tori), for the birds migrate in large flocks of from hundreds up to hundreds of thousands. Unfortunately, I have never seen them in such a large gathering.
The first photo of bramblings I took was one of a flock flying about 50meters above. They were sailing through the air, fluttering and closing their wings, but in the photo, they only looked like a large shoal of fish, seemingly due to the wrong timing. Learning their habit of forming a group, I became more and more eager to photograph them gathering, instead of a single individual. In years afterwards I have often had chance to take photos of bramblings in a flock feeding on the ground or pecking at mast on tree branches in winter, but I have never been satisfied with any of them.
The photo I selected for this issue was taken in Hokkaido. Birds flighting against a background of snow are beautiful, really looking like “flower birds”. I would like to mention that the photo also conveys their habit as “gathering birds”, of appearing together from nowhere and leaving away with fluttering sound. Thanks to the snow, I finally succeeded in taking a satisfactory shot of the bird. It might be a reward for me from them because I waited patiently in the cold.
The other bird I would like to introduce here is the Varied Tit. The photo on the left page is of a varied tit on the snowy trees behind. The bird has an oversized head and a short tail, giving us somehow an innocent and lovable image. It is understandable that its name in Chinese characters literally means “mountain sparrow”. Its plumage is also in the remarkable contrast, resembling that of the brambling. As you can see in the smaller photo, however, its distinct plumage sometimes merges in the background so that the bird becomes hard for us to distinguish.
We, photographers, want birds to be conspicuous, absolutely for our sake, never for the sake of birds. Generally speaking, being inconspicuous is the security in the nature for them. The color humans recognize as beautiful is that for camouflage as the result of evolution to merge in surroundings.
As a photographer, I might look like a peeping stalker to them. Although it may sound like an excuse of my own, I make it a rule to address them in mind “Please let me photograph you” before I start photographing, and “Thank you! See you again” when I have finished. By apologizing and taking as much care as possible to minimize stress upon them, I would like to continue to enjoy “peeping” and master “secret photographing” for the time being. Someday even in a dream, I wish I could hear them replying to me, “Take us beautifully”.