Saturday 23 November 2013

Crossbills at Biwako

A Saturday off is like gold dust, a nugget in fact. So a national holiday was more than welcome and Friday night saw me drive up to the north end of Lake Biwa on a quest to see Common Crossbill. There are plenty of Crossbills around at the moment but I've been stubbornly trying to find my own rather than visit a site they're already know to be.

I waited in a convenience store car park till the black outline of the hills became visible against the pre-dawn sky then drove up the radio mast maintenance road at Woody Pal. I don't know who came up with the name but it always sounds to me like something Weissmuller might have said "Me Tarzan, you Jane... Woody pall". Woody and I have had an on-off friendship, I find it hard to forgive that I've never seen Copper Pheasant there but I have had my only Kansai Japanese Serow and Pallas's Rosefinches. The ridge was awash with Crossbills on Saturday morning; good old Woody!

This was my last do-it-alone attempt, had I failed here I'd made up my mind to go to Kutsuki Forest a little further south on the west side of Lake Biwa where there was also a Pine Grosbeak. The down side of that plan being that there'd be a lot of photographers around too, so I was delighted to have some obliging birds all to myself.

With the rest of the day free I headed towards the Takatsuki-cho area, east of northern Lake Biwa, to try to get some decent shots of the Daurian Jackdaws I'd been tipped off about. As this meant passing nearby Kohokucho Wild Bird Center I dropped in to check if the Swan Goose I saw a couple of weeks ago was still there, it was and three Greater White-fronts had joined the Taiga Beans too.

Woody Pal isn't the only interesting use of English in the area and I particularly like the sign below. Though I'm sure a more simple No Shooting would be just as effective.

It's about this time of November the Biwako Steller's Sea Eagle arrives each year but I was slightly surprised it was already in residence. The trees are still a bit too leafy from the birders perspective but the hillside looked great with the autumn colours in the bright morning sunshine. Three or four strategically placed groups of photographers were waiting for the Eagle to fly from its obscured perch so I left them to it and went in search of Daurian Jackdaw.

One of the patiently waiting groups of Eagle snappers. The numbers are impressive for a bird that spends over four months in the same spot. Every year!

There were hundreds of Rooks and 10-20 Jackdaws just the other side of the Eagle hill. It was lucky I'd made the detour to the Kohokucho otherwise I'd have been searching in the wrong area. Finding a flighty flock of several hundred crows isn't so difficult but getting the required shots of Daurians in amongst them isn't quite so straight forward. Still, though not perfect, the results are good enough for me.

While the white birds are more striking, the dark birds hold the remote possibility that there could be a Eurasian Jackdaw on the fields and are always my first target. Of course there was no sign of Eurasian but the need to sift through flocks has to be satisfied.

I'm not certain how many Daurians were present, 10 was the most I saw in a single group but there were always odd ones, or twos and threes, dotted around. And the Rook flock was always on the move, dividing and merging sub-groups across the expansive fields.

Daurians really are small compared to the Rooks, themselves no giants compared to the local Large-billed Crows, and their give-away high, sharp calls ring out easily audible above the clamour of the Rooks. It wasn't possible to creep up on the birds in open fields, the flock would roll away before me, the nearest birds flying back to become the furthest in continuous movement. The birds flying up onto the wires were no easier, black birds overhead against a bright sky. Finally a few Rooks with two Jackdaws in with them settled in a line of trees across the fields and I managed to sneak up on these.

By the time I'd finished with the Jackdaws the Eagle had obviously flown, the groups of photographers had changed position. A token flight to keep its audience interested. And there it was, now sitting prominently on a broad horizontal limb of a dead pine. Another species for the day list. But I didn't hang around to see if it moved again, I had to get going myself if I wanted to visit some other sites down the coast.

The traffic was heavy and the going slow and when I briefly dropped onto the Notogawa, seeing a Green Sandpiper and a dashing Peregrine, the light was already fading so I hurried on to Lake Sainoko to catch the Eastern Marsh Harriers coming back to their roost. There were four birds cruising over the reedbeds as I pulled up but after only a few minutes the lights of Omihachiman city were bright across the lake and the quick nightfall fell.

What a great day, Crossbills, Daurian Jackdaws, a Swan Goose and the returning Steller's. 78 species all told, not a massive list but some class birds!

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