Saturday 26 October 2013

Hegura October 10th-14th

10th October
This was our first morning without a typhoon hammering at the windows and though the forecast was for rain the sky looked quite promising. As birds had been making landfall yesterday we set off with high hopes and by about 07:00 the sky was clearing and the wind, initially from the north, gradually moved into the north west.

A pre-breakfast walk around the north end of the island produced our first Siberian Stonechat, Rustic Bunting numbers were clearly up and I pulled back Elegant Bunting that Gordon had seen yesterday. Two Black Terns were still flying round and still attracting a lot of pointless attention from the Peregrines.

Saddly for Gordon the sea was sufficiently calmed for the ferry to be opperating again so his time was cut shorter than he'd wished. He had no excuse not to be on the quay in Wajima to meet his waiting family in the afternoon. So the pressure was on him to find something good before the ferry departed at 3pm. There certainly were new birds arriving but it really wasn't until close to his departure time that things picked up. He had a Great Spotted Woodpecker and I had a Pigmy, there were 4-5 Daurian Redstarts where there had been none, more Siberian Stonechats put in an appearance, there was a Rubythroat and half a dozen Blue and White Flycatchers. No big rares, but an unexpected Korean Bush Warbler was an island first for me and as I write a Black-crowned Night Heron is calling over the minshyuku bringing today's total to 44 species and the trip to 63.

                                                                     The first of many.

11th October
The wind started from the north west this morning, it was darkly overcast and there had already been heavy rain. In front of the minshyuku I found three Middendorff's Warblers, and one Black-browed, a Rubythroat and a Little Bunting. Siskin and Rustic Bunting numbers had swollen dramatically and I witnessed a Northern Sparrowhawk and five Grey Herons come off the sea before breakfast. Things were looking good. But before long torrential rain set in, stair-rods with 10cm high splash back misting above the concrete path, thunder banded and rumbled and the relative calm of a brisk northerly transformed into a howler from the south. The ferry was going nowhere yet again so Gordon made the right call in leaving yesterday.

I plodded round for a while but there comes a point, be it on the landlocked local patch or a high profile migration hot spot, where you have to acknowledge that if your aim is to fine birds and the weather is making that impossible, then you may as well be doing something else. I came back to the minshyuku at about 11am to sit it out and here I am still sitting writing this. This is more like a typhoon than the typhoon!

Things did improve, the rain became bins birdable by 2:30. No tripod, scope or camera: old school. New birds for the trip were Osprey, Dark-sided Flycatcher, which I always think of as a surprisingly scarce migrant, and a Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler. Also of interest was another Korean Bush Warbler which, despite being in a different area from yesterday's bird from a birders perspective, was only about 200m away as the bush warbler clambers. Nevertheless it looked a bit smaller and less bright so perhaps it could have been a female.

With five new trip birds today the total edged up to 68. As I write a Japanese Oak Silk Moth has just banged into the minshyuku door and tatty as it may be, it doesn't look too bad considering the weather it's had to fly through.


12th October
It's 05:15 and I'm waiting for birding light over an instant coffee. The marine forecast is predicting a 45Kt westerly for the day, less severe than yesterday but enough to ensure there'll be no ferry again today. Looking on the bright side it's another day of not tripping over photographers or dipping on other people's birds. But more importantly, though I get to Hegura almost every October, I can't remember a time I've had a strong and sustained westerly originating in Asia.  There has to be something good today!

The day started overcast, but despite my high hopes a Common Kingfisher on the Dragon Pond was the only evidence of new arrivals in the morning.

                                               Most cuckoos pass through brfore October.

There were sudden showers between long sunny spells in the afternoon and movement was more apparent on the windward side. A Kestrel passed straight through, there was a cuckoo on the coastal path, a conspicuous White-cheeked Starling on the lighthouse wires and a Greater White-fronted Goose flew south before doubling back to settle on the harbour 'waste ground'. The real surprise was to flush a scops owl from the trackside near the south end at 4pm. So, things were happening but nothing to really set the pulse racing. There must be more I haven't connected with yet.

Other birds Gordon had seen that I managed to catch up with today were Great Spotted Woodpecker, White's and Eye-browed thrushes hauling the total up to 78.

13th October
The day began with the wind still in the west, no longer so strong but the direction and duration were encouraging. With conditions as they'd been I thought the central path might be the best bet to find a skulker in the open first thing. A sparrowhawk with a Pale Thrush on the path proved I had the right idea, I was just a little slow getting there. I can't complain, it was satisfied with a Pale Thrush, I'd have wanted something better.

                                                                    The early bird.

I'd never bother with breakfast on other islands, a waste of precious birding time, but on Hegura the minshyuku is in one of the birdiest locations on the island and always worth giving another look. This morning was no different with a European Starling on the wires right outside the door and stepping back outside a Japanese Sparrowhawk dashed by. There were four vociferous Yellow-brows and a couple of Little Buntings around too.

                                                    Yellow-brows were fairly common.

                      Geese that don't pass straight through usually end up by the harbour.

The area was suddenly awash with Daurian Redstarts. Ever the optimist, there really had to be something good... !

Well, there wasn't and today was disappointingly quite.

The ferry ran today and a boat-load of birders piled onto the island. The island had gained a few new birds, most noticably the Daurians which are in anycase expected in good numbers now being early-arriving winter visitors, but a lot of stuff had obviously left the previous night. The flycatchers were gone, warbler and thrush numbers were way down and by three o'clock the thought that I should've taken the ferry back even crossed my mind.

Lighter wind and resultant lack of spindrift (airbourne ocean more like) allowed access to a good stretch of shoreline habitat which held two more Middendorff's and the trip's first Reed Bunting.

              Working the little coves is hard work with so much wet salt getting everywhere.

Though rather disappointing the feeling is tempered by the thought migration would be barely perceptible were I birding back in Kyoto. The trip list has crawled up to 82.

                                         Middendorff's aren't always as skulking as other locustella.

14th October
I made it back to Kyoto at around midnight for a 05:30 work alarm this morning. Though waking 30 minutes later than I would've done on Hegura we all know getting up for work is quite a different matter.

But, back on the island the pre-departure lethargy had set in at about noon yesterday. It's not actually lethargy, more an irritable sense of futility, there's not enough time to get stuck into anything. The last chance to find a mega maybe but supposing you glimpse a skulker with potential while hurrying back to the harbour? For me it's more a time to sit and wait, to hope someone else finds something while there's still time to dash off for it. So I wandered back to the minshyuku to pack, dumped my bag at the dock and mooched. Believe it or not the mooching paid off thanks to a couple of Pine Buntings in the patch of confined scrub next to what I think of as the town square down by the ferry dock. Anyone who's been there will know the square of mown grass with a couple of shelters and a few benches for the tourists. Quite why half the area is fenced off rank vegetation with two or three bushes I don't know, perhaps in acknowledgement that tourist pretty much equates to birder out there.

I'd already seen Pine Bunting that morning, one of two new species for the trip, and there had obviously been an influx of Elegant Buntings. It seemed the late arrival of buntings was finally underway. And the other new species...   Moorhen. Ah, well.

Earlier in the morning I'd been lurking in the scrub and trees behind the minshyuku hoping for something to pop up when a screeching Peregrine behind me drew my attention to a rather remarkable sight. Up on a horizontal branch, the island's adult Black Kite was clutching a live Pale Thrush! It even seemed to be milking the situation by affecting the air of nonchalant arrogance that might come naturally to cat. The notion that a Kite is capable of catching a thrush seems a bit far fetched but no more so than it might have robbed a Peregrine. Even if the latter had shown themselves in a less than flattering light over the preceeding week.

                                                         Is this Kite a top predator?

                                                            Was this Pregrine mugged?

The only other sightings of note were Black Woodpigeon in the tree at the side of the minshyuku, it had been there at some point everyday but through the window in the pouring rain isn't as good as in outside in the sunshine, and that the Radde's that had been present all week along the harbour front road finally sat up long enough to be photographed.

                                            One of two very yellow first autumn birds.

The morning had dawned clear and calm and expectation was at a low ebb. I hadn't gone there for the scenic sunrise.

                                                      Nice, but uninsiring birdwise.

It would seem churlish to complain there weren't many birds, churlish and patently nonsense as wave after wave of departing birds were replaced by new arrivals. However the poor showing of herons, the lowest number and smallest range of waders I've ever experienced here, few migrant raptors, low numbers of buntings with no expected Tristram's or not infrequent Black-headed and Lapland and most of all the absence of a major rarity all contributed to a slight feeling of anticlimax. Nevertheless I headed home content that the first long drive home without a new bird for my Japan list had been defered to a (hopefully distant) future date thanks to the surprise Black Terns. Finding my first Hegura Korean Bush Warbler was another highlight. The opportunity to examine so many Arctic complex warblers was also something I welcomed.

The final total was 88 species for the week.


  1. Remembering the time spent together on Hegurajima,


    Gabor (from Debrecen)

  2. Though getting the police to push your car across that muddy field after already having broken a window to get in takes some beating for excitement!

    Cheers - Neil