Wednesday, 16 October 2013

Hegura Oct '13: first two days

I headed out to the island on October 8th and though I couldn't post while out there I kept the following daily record of the trip.

My incredible luck held, for the third time my pre-planned departure date was the day before a typhoon shut the ferry service down. Previously I'd been the only outbound passenger while departing birders left on the return sailing leaving me to enjoy having the place to myself. On this occasion Gordon Hay, an English birder and former resident visiting family in Japan, joined me for his first trip to the island since 2002.

                         View of the island from the approaching ferry (taken last year).

                           ">A less typical view of the island from the north (taken last year).

After dumping our gear at the minshyuku we went our separate ways to see how our luck would pan out. Despite each of us seeing a few different birds we both ended up with a total of 33 species for the day. So no records broken then! A few decent birds though; 2-3 Black Woodpigeons (one was found dead today), single Yellow-browed and Dusky warblers, 3 Sakhalin Leaf Warblers and a couple of Red-throated Pipits.

  This Sakhalin Leaf was calling frequently making identification easy, the whitish legs help too.

Good enough to enjoy a beer or two after dinner, then one or two more because according to the TV news Hegura was slap bang in the middle of the approaching typhoon's path. Those records could rest easy for at least another day.

October 9th

I didn't stir till six this morning, a little too much typhoon preparation last night perhaps. We'd cleaned out the supply of Kirin and made a start on the Super Dry.
Unsurprisingly it was wet and windy out, so much so I didn't even think it worth putting on rain gear and took an invigorating stroll along to the harbour in a T-shirt. Correctly judging the midges and mosquitos wouldn't be too much of a problem. Having made the effort and been suitably braced I made a swift return for a deserved coffee and the prospect of breakfast. Gordon, not having the luxury of as much time on the island, pressed on a bit further - but only a bit.

Astonishingly, the rain stopped at about 9 o'clock and we were treated to a dry typhoon, I've never heard of such a thing. The wind no more than went through the motions all morning, then just before noon it almost knocked me off the wall I was sitting on, soon after which a spectacular blue eye crept up from the south, passed overhead and continued north as if auditioning for National Geographic. A tired wind spent the afternoon in a half-hearted  attempt to imitate a real typhoon. But never a drop more rain fell.

After a slow start we actually got in a full day's birding and against expectation birds kept on appearing. Barn Swallows and Sand Martins passed through. A Rook I watched coming off the sea in the morning had far more trouble contending with the attentions of a Peregrine than battling through the wind. No mean aerialist itself, it ducked and dived, twisted and turned, twiced tried landing on off-shore rocks to shake off pursuit only to be swept off by crashing waves, then it must have spotted me. A quick dash and it was across the seawall and plonked itself down beside me. I doubt it actually snubbed its nose at the Peregrine but a good shake of bedraggled feathers before a good preening session suggested it had never been so glad to see a human. By evening there were eight Rooks.

I'm not certain the Peregrines mean business half the time, there're probably lots of easy pickings at this time of year. I watched an Oriental Turtle Dove coming in low, hardly in a fit state to out fly a nicely rested Peregrine, you'd think. The arch pigeon-killer went out to meet it, stooped... and missed. It gave chase over the crests and troughs, across the beach and just gave up. Well, how embarrassing is that? Not a story he's going to be regaling his mates with down at Ye Olde Plucking Post of an evening I suspect. It wasn't a total wash for the falcons though. A two bird tag team managed to nail a bat! Yes, yes, I know, it probably didn't see them coming. The burning question is what species of bat was it? How many bats migrate to Japan? It could've been a first record for all I know. But the star arrival for me was a party of four Black Terns. Needless to say, the Peregrines had numerous attempts to add them to their eaten list without success.

                                              This was the darkest-headed of the group.

Another of the group and there was even a little late afternoon sun to match my mood.

The only other event of note today was rescuing a Black-tailed Gull caught on a fish hook. A prong of the hook passed twice through the web, creating a neat fold, then clean through the middle toe pinning it all together. Two three-pronged hooks anchored the offending fishing lure to a pile of rope on the dock while this single prong of a third hook held the bird's foot fast. Gordon took the bird leaving me the easy job, or so I though, of sliding the prong back out the way it had come. It didn't quite go as planned and that prong was very reluctant to let go of the toe, finally in freeing the foot I succeeded in getting the only two previously unemployed prongs nicely into a finger and thumb, so I'm left unsure which of us was more traumatised in the end.
Actually that reminds me of a time a fisherman brought a Red-necked Phalarope in a bottle into the minshyuku. How it got into a glass bottle is beyond me but a ship-in-a-bottle ain't got nothin' on that Phalarope.

By day's end I've seen 42 species and the trip total now stands at an unremarkable 49.

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