Thursday, March 29, 2012

Uguisu/Japanese bush warbler - audible but invisible

There is a bird on the branch of ume (Japanese apricot) tree. 
Some Japanese people might think he is a Japanese bush warbler.

Look at his eye which is barely visible among the flowers.   
Now some of you would know what he is.
He is a Japanese white-eye.

 He has the distinctive white eye ring, which gives its name.

Many Japanese people mistake Japanese white-eye (目白 mejiro) for Japanese bush warbler (鶯 uguisu).  There has been a confusion between the two birds among the Japanese people and there are a couple of reasons for that.  For one thing, 梅に鶯, Ume blossom and Japanese bush warbler, is one of certain traditional pairings of flowers and birds/animals like 松に鶴/pine tree and crane (an auspicious pair), 藤に不如帰/wisteria and cuckoo, 紅葉に鹿/maple leaves and deer, and so on.

Ume and Uguis of Hanafuda (Flower-cards)
image via here

48 cards of Hanafuda
image via here
For another, the two birds have the similar appearance, the color of olive green, either deep or pale.
mejiro-colored uguisu-mochi on the uguisu-colored plate

This is a traditional sweet “uguisu-mochi”.  It is slightly oval-shaped rice cakes, sprinkled with green tea powder and filled with bean-paste, which is meant to suggest uguisu, or Japanese bush warbler.  Actually, this is not the color of uguisu but that of mejiro, or Japanese white eye.  The color of uguisu is closer to that of the plate.

Uguisu/Japanese bush warbler, image via here
Japanese bush warblers are drab olive green.  They are cautious and usually remain deep in the shadow of foliage in the grove.

The olive-green birds which come for the nectar of ume blossoms are Japanese white-eyes, while Japanese bush warblers come to Ume trees for insects when they are thick with foliage.  Japanese white-eyes are not so cautious that are spotted out rather easily. 

Ume blossoms are thought to be a harbinger of spring as they bloom much earlier than other spring plants when air is still cold.  The cry of male Japanese bush warbler also heralds the arrival of spring with their distinctive chirps, Ho-Hokekyo, which is a pan to 法-法華経, the Lotus Sutra of Buddhism.  People hear the chirping of a Japanese bush warbler from nowhere and see the appearance of Japanese white-eye among ume blossoms, which caused misunderstanding and confusion about the two birds.

Bush warblers and Ume blossoms have been featured in haiku as seasonal words of spring and often the motif of paintings and other arts.   

song of Japanese bush warbler


  1. Dear Yoko,
    again such a great informative post - I am learning a lot from you about your country and your culture! Thank you so much! I love the beautiful ume blooming, and together with those pretty birds it gave you wonderful photo motives! I enjoyed them greatly and I wait patiently for the next essay and pictures to come! Have a lovely spring time! :-)

  2. The Japanese white-eye is a sweet little bird and looks so delicate amongst the blossom. Such a lovely green colour too!
    The birds are singing here as well because we have had such warm weather and spring has sprung! ;-)
    Thank you for sharing a bit more of your magical culture and beautiful photos.

    Spring Blessings,

  3. What a lovely pairing of the Japanese apricot blossom and the Japanese white-eyes. Very pretty post.

  4. What a lovely idea making a sweet to honour this little bird.Actually I like the subtle colour of the warbler's plumage.I've never come across the flower cards before,looks interesting!

    Enjoy Spring Yoko,

  5. I simply love the third and the las informative and relaxing your blog...sunny greetings from tulipland!

  6. Hi,Stardust.

  7. 子供時代のお正月によく花札であそびました。梅に鶯、鹿に紅葉、萩に猪、花合わせしか知らないけれどいろいろ遊び方があるのですね。

  8. Hello, Yoko!

    You enchanted me already from your last post with the beauty of this little daring bird, the Japanese white-eye. Now I see it has a sister, which seems shyer yes, but nonetheless very beautiful and delicate! Reading about the reason of the common confusion between them, I started smiling, imagining something like an opera performance in which we see a beautiful soprano on the stage, but the actual artist who's singing is behind the curtain.
    I liked the idea of flowers and birds/animals traditional pairings. It's a suggestive example of harmonious cohabitation we, humans, should practice more often.

    Thank you for this page of beauty and also for the warm comment on my blog!

  9. I do really like this blog, all what you write and your great pictures!

  10. Another wonderful post full of bird song and the beauty of the blossoms.

  11. I didn't realize there were so many different plant/animal pairings.

    When I go hiking in the mountains, I sometimes hear uguisu.

    One of my most precious experiences in Japan (so far) was walking underneath the torii at Fushimi Inari Taisha, very early on a summer morning, completely alone, listening to the songs of several uguisu. Magic.

    This post made me remember that ...

  12. i love the green plumage on both birds. the white-eye is very striking, however. :)

  13. My deerest friend Yoko
    You have a big talent in photography!!!
    Congratulations for fantastic photos!!!
    Thank you also for so interesting informations!
    Many greetings and kisses

  14. Your photos are a symphony in pink today! A very interesting post as usual Yoko, thank you!

  15. pasear por tu blog ,es uno de los recorridos mas pintorescos ,realmente es un trabajo muy bueno
    gracias por compartir
    un beso

  16. Oh, I love your posts! What a wonderful pairing, traditionally as well as in your photos. The landscape must be magical with these pretty blossoms! Nice captures of the birds too!

  17. Mam nadzieję, że teraz komentarz pójdzie. Wcześniej się nie dało.Wasze zwiastuny wiosny, kwiaty Ume są piękne. Ptaki, trudne do odróżnienia, wśród nich ślicznie wyglądają. Pozdrawiam serdecznie.*** I hope that comment will go now. Previously not possible. Your Trailers spring, Ume blossoms are beautiful. Birds that are difficult to distinguish, among them look pretty. Best regards.

  18. Yoko, everything seems to be so beautiful in your country! Birds, flowers, pictures! Thank you for this interesting and lovely post:)

  19. Wonderful! I love it that in Japan everything is meaningful and connected in a natural way. You are very good at explaining and giving examples. Thank you so much.

  20. Gorgeous blossoms and birds, thanks for showing us the differnce between the white eye and the warbler, I really like the beautiful little white-eye. Thank you for sharing this,

  21. Hello there!!! Thank you for doing a special post on these birds. I was hoping you'd revisit these colorful birds next to the blooms. I enjoyed your commentary on the differences between the two birds. Chris

  22. Gorgeous pictures of blooming flowers as usual. I enjoyed reading all the varied information about the two birds, they indeed look so similar in appearance except for the white eyes and the slight variation in color. Thank you so much for sharing this wonderful post, stardust.

    Have a wonderful weekend. :)

  23. While walking in the woods in early spring, I sometimes heard the song of an evangelist of the Lotus Sutra or a full fledged opera singer in the making; ke,ke, kekyo kekyo kekyo...making me smile.
    Speaking of Hanafuda, it has some negative image. When I played Hanafuda with my mother or my father at a nursing home just for fun, some lady frowned at us.

    The shots of Ume and Uguisu, oops, a white-eye are fabulous!

  24. cosmos – I’m disappointed that “some ladies” in your comment are biased against the cards and couldn’t have warm thoughts. Probably they associated
    “hanafuda” with “yakuza” who use/used hanafuda for gambling. I've learned the name “yakuza” derives from “8,9,3” relating to the score of “oichokabu” game. I enjoyed “hana-awase” game, which is easy, beautiful, and fun, with my children when they were young. It’s a good idea to play “hana-awase” with the elderly. I’ll do with my mother.

  25. It's educational.If we know about flowers more, we can enjoy seeing them and tell our children it.
    In addition, it's valuable to write and share it in English.

  26. 二週間ほど前に散歩中一度鶯の鳴き声を聞いたきり、今年はまだその幸運に預かっていません。目白は小柄で可愛いですね。でも目白押しと言われるほど沢山の目白を一度に見たことはありません。庭には、たいてい番でやってきます。

  27. Really beautiful photos! I sometimes come across white-eyes in my garden. I don't have Ume trees but several camellias which are now in bloom. It seems that they love their nectar. I sometimes put several slices of orange in the garden. It's always fun to see the birds!!
    Thank you for another lovely post!!

  28. Greetings, Yoko!

    Once again I am mesmerized by your gorgeous photos of blossoms and birds and trees. You were able to get some wonderful pictures of birds - not always easy to do. Everything is filled with such beauty!

    And you always provide so much information about the Japanese landscape - the flora and fauna, the culture, religion, etc.

    Thank you!

  29. Interesting :) I'm a person, who is very interested in learning about other cultures particularly the ones far from mine. Japanise culture is such 'magical' and exotic compared to Finnish. And Ume trees are so beautiful !! All of your photographs actually are :))

  30. What an interesting and informative post. The Apricot is also the first to bloom here in Italy.

  31. It is a tricky thing trying to tell one bird apart from another but you have managed to detail the distinctions perfectly. I like the soft tone of the feathers in each variety, one gentle green and another with a hint of gold. I can almost hear their songs through your lovely photographs and words, stardust. :)

  32. Very nice series Yoko!
    Beautiful plant and we love the bird shots!
    Have a nice weekend
    Yvonne & Raphael

  33. They are so similar, it would hard to distingish from a distance. The bush warbler sings a sweet song!

  34. Wonderful photographs. The flowers are so beautiful and you caught the bird perfectly. Thanks for teaching me about both the birds.

  35. Your photos seem to carry the fragrance of blooming trees, and I can hear the sound of the birds singing! Thank you for your support for my blog; I value it very much, and your comments make me feel calmer.

  36. Hi Yoko, From your wonderful photos and explanation, I believe I could tell the two birds apart. However, I'm equally fascinated by the sweet which is something I've never tasted. Unfortunately, I'm easily distracted by sweets!

  37. Such an interesting and beautiful post, the images are gorgeous, the little bird so sweet, thank you for sharing here :)

  38. A beautiful sound. If I get to Japan I will recognise it now! :) My favourite sound of an English bird is the skylark. I have never seen one, they fly very high in the sky and their song is always a faint and joyful twittering . usually over open fields. There's a very famous poem about a skylark that was written by Shelley. Maybe you know it@

  39. Gorgeous blossoms and I love the bird in amongst the branches!

  40. Stroll trough your blog is always a magical moment and I been really fortunate meeting you
    Love from Spain

  41. Hi Yoko! :)
    Such a lovely bird, and the song is beautiful.
    And the apricot flower are so beautiful. It´s a lowely season.
    Now the spring is coming to us and slowly the flower coming up. The birds who left us i autum began to come back. I really like it.
    Wich you a good weekend.
    Hug from me.

  42. I'm very glad I read this posting as I have no longer an ambiguous idea about mejiro and uguisu. We've seen lots of mejiro in the branches of the plum trees, bearing so many little flowers, and we've already heard once the uguisu singing. Last year we really had the chance to listen to a concert coming from among the deep foliage of a tree in the grove close to our residence.
    Thank you so much for offering such usual information AND such wonderful shots!

  43. Belleza,
    belleza toda,
    a los rosas y verdes,
    alegría toda,
    gracias belleza
    gracias colores
    gracias vida
    gracias Stardust.



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