Tiny birds on the snow

'Through the Lens', Fujingaho Magazine, February 2015

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Photos and text: Her Imperial Highness Princess Takamado

English Translation: Asia Club, WBSJ Volunteer Group (FURUKAWA Setsu)

Japanese White-Eye (Zosterop japonicus). Family: Zosteropidae. Length 12cm. The smallest bird commonly seen in Japan. Male and female have the same plumage.  Feeds on honey of cherry and plum blossoms in spring, insects in summer, even persimmon fruits in autumn and winter. Many of them move to warmer areas in winter, but this individual was staying here.

get excited when it starts snowing and feel happy when the snow starts to stay.   Could it be because the snow brings us childhood days?   We could enjoy a good roll over in dry, powder snow without getting too wet.   A little wet snow was quite suitable to make a hut, slide and snowman with.   Snow is a wonderful playground for children to foster creativity, offering opportunity to mingle with friends running about and having snowball fights,   Water precipitates onto the earth in various forms; rain, snow, sleet, hail and many others, but snow enjoys the top level of popularity, doesn’t it?

The hardest part of birdwatching in mid-winter is until getting out of bed after awakening.   When at  home, I often yield to the temptation of the warmth of my bed and go back to sleep, but strangely enough, when staying somewhere else, I can get out of bed immediately however cold or snowy.   I feel bothered by rain or sleet, because they damage the camera, but snow is welcome.   You can get active shots when it is snowing, and modestly thick snow carpet creates a beautiful scenery by covering fallen leaves and exposed ground.

The photos shown here were all taken in Nagano Prefecture this year after the heavy snowfall.   The plumage colors of the rustic bunting and the meadow bunting are difficult to identify, when they are among twigs or on the ground, but easier to see with white background.   However, when birds are easy for us to see, we are also easy for them to see.   Therefore, I was forced to spend two days, from morning till evening, in a tent, to hide myself. 

The rustic bunting was grooming itself and looked toward us at the shutter tone.   Recognizing no human, it started grooming again.   It is natural for wild creatures to be always alert, for they are continuously exposed to danger.   We need to show no sign of our presence against their alertness.   It is another fun to pit our wits and wheel and deal against birds through the camera lens.  

In my impression, birds are active not only early in the morning, but the whole day when it snows.   I guess it is because it is harder for them to find food.   Their footprints in the snow are the certification of how deadly they struggle to get food, not of how delightfully they play there.   In fact I noticed them eating nuts and seeds, and fruits fallen from trees by the snow.   The birds I photographed this time are those diligent on that managed to survive in the villages and forests attacked by heavy snow in the year of abnormal climate. 

Meadow Bunting (Emberiza cioides). Family: Emberixiade. Length 17cm. Habitat open surroundings in villages and forests. Mainly feeds on insects in spring and summer, and grass seeds in autumn and winter. When it heavily snows, most birds move to places with less snow.

We often hear the phrase “abnormal climate”, which means the abnormality has been becoming normal.   Recently I am often fondly reminded of the days when seasons changed gently.

HIH Princess Takamado










Main image: Rustic Bunting (male) Emberiza rustica. Family: Emberizidae. Length 15cm. Winter visitor. Stays in mountainous areas at first, then moves to more open places like villages and riverbeds.  Feeds on grass seeds on the ground.

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