The photos in this post were taken in 2015 and 2016 – I was not only an amazingly attractive, almost young person then, but also a surprisingly bad photographer. I also only managed to see rather common bird species at Shennongjia, a nature reserve in Hubei province, China.

If this does not put you off from reading this post, you are hopeless anyway, so just proceed …

The Brown-breasted Bulbul might well be the most common bird at Shennongjia, so it seems appropriate to start with it.


This photo of a Buff-throated Warbler (I hope it is, anyway – Bella from Alpinebirding will probably correct me in a comment if I am wrong) is remarkable for both the number of insects in the bird’s bill and my amazing incapability to utilize noise reduction to smoothen the background.

Fortunately, some birds like this rather wonderful Chinese Babax family with chicks let me get close enough – and in decent enough light – that smoothening the background was not much of an issue.




If you see a Collared Finchbill before it has washed its face and brushed its teeth in the morning, it looks like this.

“You could have waited to take the photo until I have taken my bath, couldn’t you?”




(yes, I know, too many photos of this one, but I love its colors)


“Please take me with some red objects – it highlights my nice green color”.

“Natural reddish tones would be even nicer”.

My lawyer told me just to call this a Cuckoo species so there will be no lawsuits from irate birders with better bird id skills than mine.

If you think this Daurian Redstart looks bad, remember how unattractive you looked at certain times when you were a teenager.

Whenever the wagtails have a family gathering in somebody’s home, you can usually find the Forrest Wagtail in the kitchen as this is closest to their natural forest habitat – not out in the open in the living room.

In the past, Great Spotted Woodpeckers mostly lived off renting out their old apartments to other species. In many Western markets, this is no longer a reliable income stream as the market has been flooded with birdhouses put up by well-meaning humans not realizing that this completely destroys the property market. Fortunately for the Great Spotted Woodpecker living in Shennongjia, this has not happened here yet.


The photo below shows the zygodactyl toe arrangement (two toes to the front, two to the back) useful for climbing trees …


… while this one shows how the stiff tail feathers are used as a prop against the trunk.

Feeding on moths, as this Green-backed Tit does, is not particularly environmentally friendly as a large share of the moth – particularly the wings – is inedible and thus is just being discarded on the spot.

Grey-capped Greenfinches apparently are a bit like the American population (see, e.g., “The rise in positive assortative mating“) and Hollywood stars in particular, in that high-quality individuals prefer to mate with each other, rather than with nobodies. This is described by two Chinese scientists who could do with somebody to help them correct their English-language papers.

The finding itself is not very surprising though – it would be kind of weird if socially monogamous birds of both sexes were not to try to find the highest-quality partner.

Yes, it looks kind of plain. But does it deserve to be named Plain Flowerpecker? A bit of kindness in naming birds could go a long way.

A male Plumbeous Water Redstart is in this weird transition phase where there are already the first stubbles of facial hair appearing but buying a razor is still a waste of money.

A Red-billed Blue Magpie pretending to be a wet dog.

If you ever wondered why anyone would go to the movies and watch a Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, the lyrics of “Inferno” by the Felice Brothers provide an answer (“Fight Club was sold out. We went to see Inferno instead.”) I started this paragraph without having any idea how to link this song to the Chestnut-bellied Rock Thrush. I still have no idea. Ideas welcome.

I frantically searched the internet for a (presumably British) naturalist/ornithologist with the surname Russet (Lord Elgar Russet?) before discovering that russet means “reddish-brown in color”. Takes some of the mystery out of the Russet Sparrow, I am afraid.





The Verditer Flycatcher has found an interesting way to avoid being parasitized by cuckoos.  It feeds newly hatched chicks entirely with beetles and grasshoppers. These are poor quality and hard-to-digest diet items that are rarely fed to chicks by regular cuckoo hosts (source). Kind of like kicking the bum roommate or partner out by only preparing really bad food.

As a consequence, even though the Verditer Flycatcher does not discriminate against foreign eggs, no cuckoo species has found a viable way to turn it into a useful stepparent.



“Hey, it’s such a beautiful sunny day! Why don’t we all go to our local pool and have a bath!” (Vinous-throated Parrotbills)

(there probably is one bird about one meter away from the little pool, just trying to stay away from the crowd a bit. I identify with that individual)

Coming back to brood parasitism: The White-browed Laughingthrush is most likely an original host of the Large Hawk-Cuckoo. However, with time it has gotten better at rejecting eggs that do not mimic its own eggs well. The authors of this paper think that this may have led to the Large Hawk-Cuckoo partially switching to another host species, the Chinese Babax (see photos above), as this species is not as good at rejecting non-matching eggs yet (source).



Finally, some more reading material as a reward to those who have gotten this far:

“The Bear Who Let It Alone” by James Thurber.

Written by Kai Pflug
Kai Pflug has been living in Shanghai for 20 years. He only became interested in birds in China – so he is much more familiar with birds in China than with those in Germany. While he will only ever be an average birder, he aims to be a good bird photographer and has created a website with bird photos as proof. He hopes not too many clients of his consulting company read this blog, as they will doubt his dedication to providing consulting services related to China`s chemical industry. Whenever he wants to shock other birders, he tells them his (indoor) cats can distinguish several warblers by taste.