Today I did something unusual. I ‘twitched’ a bird in Beijing. But it wasn’t just any bird; it was a JAPANESE ROBIN (Larvivora akahige).
A friend sent me a message yesterday afternoon to say that one had been discovered in a small park close to Beijing West Railway Station and near the 3rd Ring Road. It seemed an unlikely spot for what, I believe, is only the second record of this species from Beijing Municipality. That’s the beauty of birding – just about anything can turn up anytime and anywhere.
I arranged to meet new Beijing resident birder and friend, Jennifer Leung, at 0645 for the short journey to the site, where we met with Zhu Lei and a few of his birding companions. I knew that this bird would be popular with bird photographers, a growing band of which is active in Beijing. I didn’t quite expect the crowd that greeted us on arrival. There were at least 30 photographers already lined up in a semi-circle around the robin’s favoured stand of bamboo. It was very sociable and people were chatting and drinking tea while waiting for the bird to appear.
They didn’t have to wait very long. Someone spotted the Japanese Robin as it headed towards the open ground. Silence suddenly descended on the crowd as everyone focused their lenses on a small stone, around which some meal worms had been placed. Out popped the Japanese Robin and there was a brief volley of camera shutters, as if Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie had just arrived at the Oscars, before the bird darted back into cover.
I concentrated on watching the bird during this first brief appearance. In size and behaviour it reminded me very much of the European Robin I am so used to from home. But somehow it was more exotic, with wonderful contrast between the bright orange throat and black-speckled grey breast. A really beautiful bird.
The robin continued to make regular forays from its favoured patch of bamboo, much to the delight of the photographers and, as the sun moved higher in the sky, the light improved, enabling some good images to be captured, even with my relatively small 400m lens!
A little later I was fortunate when I found the robin foraging along a different part of the bamboo and, as I sat motionless, it hopped to within a metre of me. I just watched in awe as the robin held its head to one side, as if to weigh up what I was, before carrying on along the edge of the bamboo… wow.. what an encounter. It appeared to have a bad eye – on occasions it would close its left eye for several seconds at a time before slowly reopening it. In all other respects it looked healthy and seemed to be moving and feeding ok.. Hopefully it’s not a serious problem.
As far as I know there is only one previous record of Japanese Robin in Beijing. That bird, like this one, appeared in the second half of November. It was photographed in the Botanical Gardens. Many people thought it was probably an escape. However, with this year’s bird appearing around the same time of year, together with another bird in Shanghai in recent days, it seems likely that this bird is wild. I spoke today with a local birder who told me he had, over a ten year period, seen over 300 species of bird in Beijing’s Bird Market (astonishing in itself) but that he had never seen this species there.
Whatever its origins, it is a stunning bird and one well worth spending a few hours observing today. Thanks to Jennifer Leung, Zhu Lei and his friends for their fun company today.
13 thoughts on “Japanese Robin”
Quite a find, especially so late in the year, I would say.
As to whether it is an escape or not, they may not have them in the bird market there, but here in Japan I have experienced at least one robin kept as a cage bird. The song is quite loud and that probably makes it attractive as such – in addition to the appearance, of course.
In the Tokyo area they sometimes occur on passage in the city parks, but they breed fairly high in the local mountains ( and as far as I know are long gone by this late in the year ).
Anyhow, glad you saw it.
Thanks Norm.. that is good background. Whatever the origin, it is a stunning bird. I’ll see what others in the capital think about the likelihood of it being an escape.
Thanks your prompt and as always nice post!
Mr. Wang (the editor of ‘China Bird Watch’, you met him this morning) told me that plus this one, altogether there were only 3 records of the JR in Beijing. The first backed to the 19th century (1878?).
This probably 1st winter male looks a real wild bird to me, and I’m very happy to sharing the fun birding with you : )
Thanks Robbi! For correcting my statistic about JRs in Beijing and also for your company today.. Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow, too! Terry
What with this and that extraordinary robin in Cambodia, it’s all too much! We want one please! Cracking pictures Terry.
Thanks Dave! I am sure there is a robin out there somewhere… you just have to find it! 🙂 I was lucky – someone found one for me…
Great bird…. interesting to see so many photographers, too… just like Hong Kong sometimes.
Thanks John. Yes, I have noticed the growth in bird photography in Beijing even in the short time I have been here. All to be encouraged.
What an awesome bird, regardless of its origin!! Great pics and blog.
Thanks for your comment, Lee! And welcome to the blog.
To the great delight of the very active local bird photography crowd, a small number of Japanese Robins have turned up in Taiwan in the last week or so.
Yesterday I went chasing at one good site in coastal forest just north of Tainan – and failed. The other site, Yehliou on the north coast, seems to still have a couple individuals…maybe this weekend.
I was recently to Okinawa , Japan . First of April 2016 . Visiting Shelanga Castel , it was there I encountered a Japanese Robin. I took a few shoot with my camera , he let me get a few inches from him and I was able to capture the light in his eye. WOW