Chinese photography: The evil hidden behind the masterpieces of nature photos

On June 23, a photographer posted photos of a family of black-crowned yellowbirds in Pingshan county, northern Hebei province, China.

In the photo posted on the social media platform Weibo, two adult black-crowned goldenbirds – easily distinguishable by their golden plumage on their bodies, with black wings and tail, and a black stripe extending from their eyes to the back of the neck – stand in the nest while the chicks crane their necks to be fed.

The bright colors of their bodies make these birds perfect subjects for amateur bird photographers. But, this frame seems “too perfect”.

On another post later, the photographer joked about how he had trimmed the nest, removing every last twig until it stuck out like the tip of a spoon. In a video that he once posted on the Douyin account – the Chinese version of TikTok – also shows this photographer trimming the nest of a family of Indian paradise flycatchers (scientific name Terpsiphone paradisi).

Photo of a family of golden birds in Binh Son district, Hebei province. The photographer trimmed the nest before shooting. Weibo photo

The trimmed nests not only expose the birds to the camera’s lens, but also to the sun and the eyes of predators. And the staging of these photos, which were taken in the name of marking the young birds’ new lives, ironically led to their premature deaths.

Three days later, a blogger specializing in bird conservation posted on Weibo a photo of the same bird’s nest, but taken by a different photographer at a later date.

And quickly for netizens to realize, at least one baby bird was dead, and even an adult bird was seen removing the young carcass from the nest. There is speculation online that it may have died from overexposure to the sun. This Weibo post has been shared more than 10,000 times, sparking widespread outrage at the practice of pruning nests for better bird shots.

But, unfortunately, this is not a rare story. Longtime bird watchers and photography enthusiasts have shared similar stories.

In May 2017, at Nanhui Wetland Park in Shanghai, the vegetation near the nest of a reed parrotbill was cut down and no one saw the chicks that were supposed to be there. In April 2020, a photographer cut off all the things around the nest of a family of long-tailed birds at Heilongtan Park in Kunming, resulting in the deaths of all four members of the nest in a single day. rain a few days later.

And it doesn’t just stop at nest pruning. Over the past few years, needles and wires hidden in food as bait have killed countless birds, while others died from exhaustion after long journeys being chased by cars, or accidentally. was killed after being captured and brought back to the studio.

And yet, the stories also take place on Birdnet, one of the popular online communities in China for bird enthusiasts, which prides itself on highlighting the so-called “natural state” of the species. birds above all else. However, many bird enthusiasts here continue to stage studio photography to depict scenes with a “natural” appearance, with prominent titles such as “A little kingfisher in the rain, prepare to swoop down on its prey” or “A shy crane.”

In light of the ongoing incidents of bird injuries and deaths, discussions of a code of conduct among the bird photographer community in China have not yet reached consensus. This delay presents a clear paradox, that in the bird-watching community, some photographers seem indifferent to the deaths of the very creatures they love so much.

Chinese photography The evil hidden behind the masterpieces of nature photos | Internet

Photographers gather to take pictures around a rare snowbird in Beijing, January 11, 2019. Photo Zhao Rong/Qianlong/People Visual

Behind the scene

In July this year, two diving birds were building nests among lotus leaves in the southwest corner of a pond in the center of Yuyuantan Park in Beijing. This water bird is less than half the size of a mallard, with a plump body and a pointed and straight beak.

This year, the lotus leaves beside the pond did not grow as high as usual, leaving the nests of the birds exposed, just a few meters from the trail near the shore, directly in the eyes of passersby.

“You see, diving birds are responsible creatures: when a couple builds a nest, the male and female spare no effort to weed. After the nest is built, one will incubate the eggs, while the other will incubate the eggs. the other hunts for food,” said a bird photographer who lives near the park.

“They alternate roles every twenty minutes. They’re not like gourds, where only the female looks after the eggs, while the male is free to run around and play.”

This pair of diving birds starts nesting as soon as the small lotus flowers are budding. But tragedy soon followed.

Two consecutive nests – one with three eggs and the other with four – were destroyed by the rain. And as the third nest was built and new eggs were laid, waves from four speedboats patrolling the park’s pond flooded it.

A professional nature photographer named Yan witnessed it all. He said: “The mother bird swam in frantic circles around the nest as she watched her and her chicks slowly sink to the bottom.”

Chinese photography The evil hidden behind the masterpieces of nature photos | Internet

A diving bird swims in a pond in Handan, Hebei province, on December 24, 2020. Jin Hua / People Visual

The pair of diving birds then have to start all over again.

So, under a lotus leaf near the shore, two gray birds began to painstakingly knit another grass nest – their fourth. But, before the nest was complete, the female laid her eggs on a nearby lotus leaf. Yan says: “It can’t hold the egg much longer.”

For several days, Yan spent every morning documenting the trials and tribulations of the couple’s family of birds. Most recently, he documented their struggles to survive during a massive storm.

With an umbrella tucked between his neck and shoulders to cover his body and let his pants and shoes wet from the rain, he captured on camera the little birds recklessly protecting their eggs in the pouring rain. . During this process, he often wondered how these eggs would be protected in a hailstorm.

But not all bird photographers share a steadfast “moral compass” of being just an observer like Yan.

And while it’s difficult to count the exact number of birds injured or killed by careless photographers, Sen Lin – a lover of hiking, bird watching and photography in the 1980s – recalls a The incident exposed the dark side of this community.

It was about five years ago, when someone spotted a Japanese flamingo at the Tiantan complex in Beijing. This migratory bird, like a sparrow but with finer plumage and a melodious, chirping song, is known to almost never fly over Beijing on its way south.

However, just days after this initial discovery, someone captured a close-up of the bird, showing the tip of a needle sticking out of its throat. It can be easily inferred that the bird swallowed the needle when it ate a photographer’s bait.

No one knows what happened to the bird after that.

Chinese photography The evil hidden behind the masterpieces of nature photos | Internet

A photographer checks photos taken at Yuyantan Park in Beijing, August 21, 2020. Zhao Naiming / Qianlong / People Visual

Close your eyes and close your ears

While the photographer photographing the black-crowned yellowbirds in Binh Son openly jokes about pruning their nests, many others – whether they take pictures in the studio or set up outdoor scenes using bait – refused to acknowledge his crude methods.

At Yuyuantan Park, a bird photographer mentioned a photo she saw in a WeChat group, showing several eggs in a nest and no branches in the way. The photo was taken from above.

Suspicious that it was taken with the trimming, she wrote a polite message on WeChat to ask the photographer who posted the photo how he or she had taken the photo. Many of her messages were sent but no response was received.

In another at Laoshan City Amusement Park, just 10 kilometers west of Yuyuantan Park, a bird enthusiast named Cai recounted a photographic story about a family of Eurasian owls living on walnut tree. In her photo, three feathered owls all look in her direction, eyes wide and alert.

But Cai is not the only one attracted to owls. Whenever a rare bird species is discovered, it takes very little time for this information to spread like wildfire on WeChat groups. And right after that, it was only a matter of time before a bunch of tripods appeared around.

“The moment when the owl makes the slightest movement – even when it’s just opening its eyes – you can hear dozens of shutters at once.” a media report on July 8. That night, someone even shone a flashlight directly into the owls’ eyes until a park employee intervened.

For this city’s nocturnal birds of prey, rest during the day is essential. But in some photos taken in broad daylight, their eyes widen – staring into the lens, almost as if issuing a warning.

Chinese photography The evil hidden behind the masterpieces of nature photos | Internet

A Eurasian owl after being rescued in Zhengzhou, Henan province, April 2020. People Visual

According to photographer Yan, the lure of birds with bait is not entirely negative, but he claims to always want to hold himself to a higher standard.

“If traps are needed, I’ll forage from their natural habitat, leaving behavioral patterns unaffected,” he said. he said. “You can’t eliminate the entire bird photography community because of a few extreme cases.”

Not every bird photographer is an experienced professional who has traveled around the country like Yan. Many are active only near their homes or in their cities, and they share their work with like-minded people on WeChat groups or on forums.

These amateur enthusiasts receive recognition from others who share their interests. Li Qiang, former president of the Friends of Nature Wildlife Association, once remarked that no matter what prompted them to pick up their cameras, bird photographers have the same goal: to take pictures. Beautiful close-up on birds.

But, not all amateur photographers taking these photos necessarily do…

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