Thrushes in Winter
'Through the Lens', Fujingaho Magazine, February 2016
Photos and text: Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado
English Translation: Asia Club, WBSJ Volunteer Group (YOKOYAMA Kazuko & KASE Tomoko)
It is possible for us to encounter various birds of the thrush family, depending on the season.
Naumann’s Thrush (Turdus naumanni) Photo: HIH Princess Takamado
Here I would like to introduce three larger species commonly seen in winter such as Naumann’s, Brown-headed and Pale Thrushes as well as Turdus chrysolaus orii, a subspecies of the Brown-headed Thrush, and Scaly Thrush. Different from the former three, the chances to meet the latter two species are very rare. However, as the subspecies bears a strong resemblance to the Brown-headed, it is most likely that I might have misidentified some. I happened to be very close to the individual in the photo turning over fallen leaves to catch worms when I was trying to photograph an Eurasian Woodcock with other cameramen. No one else noticed it. The Scaly Thrush is so shy for its large size that I have encountered this species only three times so far. It lives quietly in the woods and seldom shows up.
Brown-headed Thrush (Turdus chrysolaus) Photo: HIH Princess Takamado
Many people suffered from the unusually heavy snow last year, and so did the creatures in the woods. Quite a few animals must have died of lack of food. As for me, despite my anxiety that the scheduled photographing tour might be canceled due to the snow, we could go on the tour safely. What was more, the snow helped us make even greater achievements. As the birds moved around actively searching for food against the white background of the snow, it was easier for us to find them and be prepared to set the camera before being noticed while waiting in a tent for the photo opportunity. The ground covered with snow, concealing dead and fallen leaves, also led to the more beautiful finish of the photos for the snow served as a reflector board to make birds’ faces brighter. The photos of the Scaly, Naumann’s and Pale Thrushes presented here were all taken on this occasion.
Turdus chrysolaus orii, a subspecies of Brown-headed Thrush. Photo: HIH Princess Takamado
While most of the thrush family have beautiful voices, the Scaly Thrush is rather different, singing like “hee, hee” in a solitary tone. The pitch itself is sweet, but it sings in the woods at night. The voice must have given ill-omened impression to the people in the Heian Era, AD 749-1192, and the bird gradually came to be nicknamed “nu-e”, a fabulous mysterious animal, or “nu-e dori”, nu-e bird. In “Heike Monogatari”, or “The Tale of the Heike”, an anonymous epic account telling of the struggle between the Taira and the Genji clans, there is a description about a monster, with the head of a monkey, the body of a raccoon dog, paws of a tiger and the tail of a snake. It is mentioned as a chimeric creature that “sings in a nu-e’s voice”, but it is not called nu-e in the story. I wonder how and when the nu-e bird got robbed of its own name by something that is not a bird at all.
Don’t you think the Scaly Thrush in the photo looks like saying “human beings are too arbitrary?” Watching birds through the lens, I sometimes feel that they more or less appeal similarly to us, although it may be a mere imagination of my own.
Pale Thrush (Turdus pallidus) Photo: HIH Princess Takamado