Sunday, 8 November 2015

Eurasian Hoopoe - a bird we should be thankful for

Eurasian Hoopoe is a very peculiar species, you can even describe them as eccentric looking. Ornithologists have placed it in a family of it's own (if you don't count Madagascar Hoopoe as a full species), which make them one of a kind. Their behaviour and habit is also strange, though commonly seen in supposedly suitable habitats such as farmland or agricultural land, they frequently visit city parks in Hong Kong, making their appearances in a fairly erratic fashion. They were considered sacred to the ancient Egyptians and King of birds by ancient Greeks, while they are capable of secreting a foul smell that resembles rotten meat when threatened at nest, and their fledgelings are fully capable of self-defence by squirting streams of faeces at intruders...All in all, very strange.

Eurasian Hoopoe - the strange and weird

News of a Hoopoe at Tuen Mun Park traveled fast. Though I have seen Hoopoes in Hong Kong on numerous occasions, I have never photographed one before. Therefore, I thought it was justifiable to pop into the park shortly after a day of volunteer bird guiding at Mai Po (I had Greater Spotted Eagle, Imperial Eagle & Great Bittern). The bird have been stable for a few days, apparently had no fear of men; a bird for the lazy or tired. One can argue that a bird like this provides no challenge for a birdwatcher, and you will be right. But sometimes, you need a bird or two like this to balance things out, especially when you are tired of pishing an invisible Reed Warbler out hoping to get a few seconds of clean look.

Google maps view of Tuen Mun Park

The park itself is situated in the middle of Tuen Mun town, now a fairly built up area filled with malls and residential estates. Like many city parks, the Tuen Mun Park provides a bit of green for the residents here. However, many "Mainland Singers" have taken hold in this nice park, where karaoke singing fills the air with out of tune mandarin songs. They were indeed annoying, and while we were there their songs echoes throughout the park...

View of Tuen Mun Park overlooking the new V City residential complex (me in the foreground)

It didn't take long for us to find the bird and the 20 other photographers who were surrounding it. I quickly grabbed a few shots, and the bird put on quite a show. Posing and stretching for as long as everyone wanted, it probably did enjoy the celebrity treatment, considering it will never get this much attention if it's up in North West China where they are abundant.

Eurasian Hoopoe - performing

Although this bird have been stable, nobody should take it for granted. After five minutes of a wonderful show, the bird decided it have had enough of the attention, after a final stretch it simply flew over everyone's head and out of sight. If me and my Dad have been five minutes late, we would have missed the bird for today. So, be thankful when you have a bird in your view finder, because there won't always be a bird there for you to look at. The whole event from walking to the park, finding the bird and to us leaving the park with wonderful photographs took a mere 25 minutes. That's efficient birdwatching for you!

Eurasian Hoopoe - one final stretch before it flew

Postscript: It is to my knowledge that birds like this caused many disputes and controversies in whether people should "twitch" or extensively photograph, it is arguable that the crowd could cause the bird to feed less due to disturbance and may affect it's survival during harsh times after a long migration. I myself keep to a guideline of "short visits" for such showy birds, one reason being there's no point to stay a whole day surrounding the bird as you can take good photographs straight away (plus I don't like the crowd so much), second reason being to keep the disturbance to the minimum. Similar tactics were used by me for the Siberian Thrush at Shing Mun a few years back, I was only there for 15 minutes to take a few photographs and left. So, short and brief is probably the best for both men and bird. No doubt this subject will continue to be controversial in Hong Kong birding scene in the near future.


  1. Great posing on the tree roots, too!

    1. Thanks John, I really did like the first photograph too, a beam of sunlight just shown through the trees and landed right on the bird! You can just notice the warmer tones on the bird on that photo.