Sunday, 1 March 2020

Surf Scoter, first tick of the year... decade

For me, colourful birds fall into two camps; Summer... think pheasants, pittas, birds of paradise, or Boot... ducks. The former are often challenging to reach then even harder to see well when you do. In other words very rewarding. Whereas the latter are the personification (birdification) of in-your-face ostentation. If you're under the impression ducks aren't my favourite group of birds, fair enough. I'd point out there are two exceptions though, the eiders and the scoters, honorary seabirds rather than ducks in my book and therefore several rungs higher up the ladder of likability. Sawbills aren't bad either.

Despite some top birds in the country along with rock bottom flight prices due to Covid-19, I went for the honorary seabird option. The main reasons being the Chinese Thrush (new for Japan) was a one-day bird as far as I'm aware, the Bald Eagle is playing really hard to get and there'll be a closer Red-throated Thrush one day. And when it comes to the closeness factor this bird is the nearest to Kansai I've ever heard of a Surf Scoter being. We get hardly any of the commoner species down here let alone a Surf!

The drive up was unstressful and I arrived on site bang on my ETA of 6am. Right as the guy was openning the car park. You've got to love that this Scoter frequently sits just off the car park. Miles of coast you might have to walk along in all weathers and it sits the other side of the windscreen.

Several other people were arriving at about the same time as me and after confirming the Scoter wasn't just off the car park they proceeded to walk way, way down the beach to where there was a large gathering of several hundred scoter. I got back into the van for a comfortable breakfast and as I was approaching the satisfied coffee stage I could see, even with the naked eye, that one of the scoters now in front of me was flashing a white-headed appearance. Great timing. The scope was already trained on almost that exact spot so it was only a matter of sliding off my seat, slightly adjusting the direction and tick. Mission accomplished. So much better than my failed Fieldfare attempt in near gale force hail and sleet a couple of days earlier. Sleet should be illegal.

Apart from one local on his scooter (he told me parking is too expensive to come by car) I had the bird to myself. As yet it wasn't fully light as the early (slightly lightened) images show but unfortunately as day broadened the birds drifted slightly further out. Too far for my 400mm lens to handle at least, but I couldn't complain because the bird remained one of the nearest scoters, birds in fact, on the sea throughout the time I spent there and gave cracking scope views.

On leaving, I had to agree with the local I'd talked with earlier; the car park was expensive.

Monday, 17 February 2020

Chinese Grey Shrike

I think I've only ever seen Grey Shrikes, both Chinese and Great in Kyushu, so a Shiga bird isn't to be sniffed at.

News of this bird is being kept quiet, something I generally have mixed feelings about but in this case it seems appropriate as the bird is somewhat mobile around narrow farmland roads which could lead to an absolute circus if large numbers of people turned up. Which no doubt they would. There is actually ample parking nearby but while the bird is quite approachable by car the lack of restraint shown by a certain percentage of people, once on foot, would likely result in the bird being pushed from pillar to post.

A short row of about 12 or so low, roadside trees offers the best opportunity to view the bird well but getting an unobstructed view for even a lone birder (I was there for two hours and no one else came during that time) isn't easy so I can imagine people further down the line piling out of their vehicles and giving the bird no peace. I just don't see how this site could accommodate a large number of people yet give the bird the space it needs.

The Inadvertent Flycatcher

It almost sounds new to science, doesn't it? "I just got an Inadvertent Flycatcher!" Well, in a sense, it was new to me. I've seen tons of Red-breasted Flycatchers in Kansai but for some reason never a single one in Kyoto city. Until last week.

I was taking a short cut through the Imperial Palace Park, hurrying to catch a bus, when I my pace slowed. A side effect of my brain engaging. "Surely that was a Red-breasted Flycatcher calling about 150 metres ago?" Way to go brain. I hadn't conciously noticed it at the time but its actuality had bored its way up through subconcious layers to force me to miss my bus.

Of course at that moment I still wasn't certain, it may well have been something quite common that a  devious corner of my mind had exploited in order that I shouldn't catch said bus. Luckily, really luckily, it was still calling when I got back to the spot. If it hadn't been, I don't think I'd have given it any time and thus been on time for my appointment.

The views were terrible, even after I'd put on my glasses, but I could just make out the white flashes in the tail as it hopped and flitted in the under bushes gloom. The views were totally insufficient to separate it from Taiga but the vocals were beyond argument; Red-breasted it was.

The next morning I went back with binoculars and camera, and hey presto, there it was. No hanging about, in fact it was sitting right out in the open. "Typical" I thought, "by the time I unpack my gear it'll have disappeared into the undergrowth again". But no, it was still sitting there. So I got off a few quick shots, then a few steadier ones while leaning against a convenient tree... and it was still sitting there. Normally there'll be someone with a generous supply of mealworms and the particular flycatcher will be perching right in front of the massed lenses. In this case I knew I wasn't going to get any better views than this so I packed up to leave. And despite it looking perfectly healthy it was still sitting there. I think I've used up my ficedula luck for this year.