What’s in a name; Kinki or Kansai? And does it matter anyway? Well, it seems asking the locals how many prefectures there are in one region or the other can elicit a different number. Mie either gets the nod or it doesn’t depending on which question is posed, some even throw in Fukui. This confusion aside the six prefectures of Kyoto, Shiga, Hyogo, Osaka, Wakayama, and Nara aren’t in dispute. I’ve never tried to tot up my Kansai list so to answer my own question, it really doesn’t matter at all. I’ve no need of list boosting gerrymandering because the only relevant consideration is which good birding areas can be easily reached form my home in Kyoto city. So my personal Kansai is an alternative vision which stretches through Fukui into southern Ishikawa to take in goose grounds and wintering seabirds but ignores large most of Hyogo which doesn’t have any birds I can see elsewhere. Mie definitely gets the nod, it’s easily doable in a day and is great for passage waders, wintering wildfowl and some northern gulls that don’t usually make it to the western side of the Kii Peninsular where I do my gulling.
Birding is best in winter, there’s a far larger range of species and greater variety of places worth visiting. The region is very different to Hokkaido and it rarely gets cold enough to be an inconvenience, there’s no need to go through the time consuming ritual of putting on and taking off layers of clothing at every stop. However there’s a big difference in snowfall between the Pacific and Japan Sea sides of the country. Northern Shiga tends to get the most snow, more than coastal areas of neighbouring Fukui, and if renting a car it’s important to remember that the expressway there is frequently closed to vehicles not equipped with either winter tyres or chains. Confirm with your rental company that you’ve got winter tyres if you’re picking up a car on the snow-free Pacific side.
Spring weather can be beautiful but there are often chilly, even wintery, days into April but this is a great time to be out looking for migrants. Temperatures build quickly towards the arrival of the rainy season in June. There are plenty of dry days during the rainy season and the temperature is often very pleasant but humidity is increasing and by the end of the rains, about six weeks later, the combination of very high temperatures, dreadful humidity and relatively few breeding species means birding can be disappointing and sticking to the mountains of Nara and northern Kyoto are the best bet for a good variety of birds. Basically, avoid coming in summer if at all possible.
By September I’m champing at the bit to get out more, apart from the odd typhoon conditions are rapidly improving, waders are moving through, birds of prey are passing over and the city parks are attracting migrant passerines again. October continues to be an exciting time to be in the field with late migrants and early winter visitors.
This is a personal view of the region and such is its size and the range of birding options there are still many potentially good areas I’ve never even visited. From a visiting birder’s stand point this isn’t a must do part of the country and those on dedicated birding trips aren’t likely to come here, however I still get to take a lot of visitors out birding, conference attendees, those on business trips and people who want to incorporate a bit of birding while sightseeing in Kyoto and Nara. I plan to post information on as many local sites as possible which I hope will be of use to anyone who may have a day or two to spare in the area.