Tuesday, 25 April 2017

An Urban Fairy

Fairy Pitta - Pitta nympha

It was April of 2015 that I saw my last Fairy Pitta at Tai Po Kau, that was a huge birding moment in Hong Kong personally, I can still remember how overjoyed and exhilarated that day was for me. Seeing a Pitta; any Pitta is worthy of being a highlight in any given country or places, but to see one in the concrete jungle of Hong Kong was absolutely amazing.

Flashback - the Tai Po Kau Pitta from April 2015

I received texts that a Fairy Pitta was spotted by John Chow at Ho Man Tin, the hills of Ho Man Tin had been his local patch for last few years, and thanks to John this spot is now known as one of the best places for migrants in Kowloon Peninsular. The exact location is Ma Tau Wai Service Reservoir Playground, the best spot for birds there is a small platform on the hillside next to the pumping station. Bang on time, as most Pittas should be passing through Hong Kong mainly from mid April to early May.

My dad and I got there just before 8am, there were already more then a dozen birders looking at the bird. This is my dad's lifer and I presume it is for many other birders present. The bird kept out of view for several minutes but finally showed itself briefly, foraging actively on the ground. At one point it was on the feeding with a few Tree Sparrows! Certainly a sight you don't see everyday. We spent just around fifteen minutes there and left the place as more birders arrived to pay a visit to this rarity.

Fairy Pitta - quite a good show for just under fifteen minutes!

I heard from other friends that after we left more and more people arrived, and it seems that some of those people weren't behaving as they should, being overly noisy, littering, breaking branches or plants...and as a birder you can't help but to be concern of the well being of the birds. It's a huge dilemma in today's birding scene in Hong Kong whether to keep the rarity hushed up or to disclose the location publicly. The first option seems to have created a lot of arguments and had torn the birding community in half, for example 'birders vs bird photographers', while creating a lot of 'closed circles', where only some birders may benefit from certain bird news, while some being completely oblivious. This situation for me is not the best in the interest of both birders or birds.

As a birder, I think it is important to keep the public educated about the birds around us, theoretically the more bird lovers there are, the easier it is to protect the birds in our city. So, hushing up bird news in a way stops people from enjoying or getting into this hobby as pure birders, instead those interested will turn towards the community that they can gain most access, in this case bird photographers circles. This seems to have been the case in recent years, where most new 'birders' were introduced to photography first and birding second, where they might not have the basic conservation knowledge of a naturalist and becomes objective orientated bird photographers, where their prime concern became whether they can take good photographs or not and not the well being of the birds.

I can't say I blame those people entirely, as they were never introduced to those concepts of conservation, sure a lot of their actions probably won't benefit the birds, but isn't it a better way in educating those just starting in the hobby about the correct way of birding instead of barring half the people from the excitement of birding? There will always be 'bad blood' in any hobby, but the current method in hushing up bird news seems to have created more trouble then good in my opinion with both parties growing further and further apart, even more conflict amongst birders, while the photographers continue with their own way...a vicious cycle looping continuously.

Rome wasn't built in one day, and these kind of problems certainly can't be fixed overnight, I believe birders needs to take on a more active role, not just simply condemning those who doesn't follow proper birding codes, but to educate more new comers on the correct way of birding. And ultimately, the birds will benefit from more controlled birders who put the well being of the birds above getting good photographs.

Just my two cents on this subject, although much is debatable and I am sure there are tons of different opinions out there. Either way, I wish this Pitta will find it's way to it's breeding ground safely, unharmed. Hopefully, it will visit us again sometime in the near future!


  1. Hi Matt: Congratulations on seeing the pitta. I have seen a few in my day but as a family they are very difficult birds to see. My last sighting was in Singapore several years ago. The debate rages on regarding birders versus photographers and it is not confined to Hong Kong I can assure you. Peehaps over time more people will come to realize that the welfare of the bird comes first and their perfect picture is not the most important thing in the world. I am glad that your father got his lifer!

  2. Fairy Pitta is a great bird, and, obviously drawing a lot of attention.
    I agree that the behaviour of some birders and or photographers is disappointing. It is a big issue these days.