‘Snow fairies’ in a winter wonderland
Long-tailed Tit plumage varies substantially across its range, and the pale head of the subspecies found in Hokkaido, Japan, along with its inquisitive behaviour, has long inspired many a nature lover. Discover more about these real-life ‘snow fairies’ in the latest ‘Through the lens’ article.
“Through the Lens” Fujingahou Magazine, December, 2022
Photos and text by HIH Princess Takamado
The subspecies of Long-tailed Tit found in Hokkaido Japan, known as Shima-Enaga in Japanese, is becoming increasingly popular lately. They attract not only birders but also non-birders’ hearts. I’ve been spending time going through pretty photos of Long-tailed Tit, and if I continue I’m afraid I’ll miss the opportunity to discuss the bird, so I’m going to take the plunge and show you a picture of Shima-Enaga.
It was taken in Teshikagacho, Hokkaido, where I first saw Shima-Enaga, on February 1st, 2018. Although I was fine while I was concentrating on shooting photographs, when I stood still and waited for the birds, I felt the blistering cold. Another unforgettable memory from the day was that I made the mistake of taking photographs using a tripod with a hydraulic head, despite the negative temperature. Because the oil had frozen inside it, the lens could not be swung from side to side, so I had to move the tripod every time the birds moved. Since then, I have visited Hokkaido several times, and always make sure to take a different tripod in winter.
On a different note, when I visited “The Bird Watching Cafe, Chitose”, which is owned by the photographer Mr. Tadashi Shimada, I heard an interesting story about the use of fat for bird feeding. I would like to share it for those of you who have a feeder in your garden. Once pork or beef fat gets on your hands, it’s important to scrub them with soap and hot water to remove it. This is because if it gets on a bird and sticks to its feathers, it reduces their insulation and may therefore negatively impact the birds’ health. If you make a wooden crate and put a wire mesh inside to hold the fat, birds will stay in the crate, minimizing the potential for fat to stick to their body. I’d never thought of this idea!
Some may point out the ecological impact of bird feeding, which is still relatively poorly understood. It seems important to follow proper procedures, such as choosing the right type of feed for the appropriate season, placing fresh and good-quality food, and keeping birdfeeders clean.
Returning to the main subject of this article, Shima-Enaga has a white face and a round, fluffy, snowman-like shape when facing forward. It has an easily illustrated form, with black eyes, stylish pink eyelids and a small triangular black beak. The species’ friendliness and adorable gestures are what likely makes people fall in love with them. Indeed, the way it tilts its head and looks at me inquisitively often makes me smile.
For many warm-blooded animals, individuals of the same species often weigh more in colder regions. In extremely cold regions, this larger body size may be advantageous, as it reduces heat loss. It therefore seems miraculous that Long-tailed Tits, which weigh only 8 grams, live in Hokkaido, where winters are harsh, and its shining appearance makes it look like a real-life “snow fairy”.
White-cheeked Starlings have a long association with human society in Japan, however this relationship has become strained as their large flocks increasingly roost within cities. Discover more about the challenges these starlings face in coexisting with humans.