One of the most sought after species nowadays is Baer's Pochard, the shots below are of a bird that spent two winters (2009-'10 and 2010-'11) on temple ponds in the north west of the city. Aside from this bird the only others I've seen in Kansai were a bird I found on Lake Biwa that I failed to see on subsequent visits and a bird that wintered in Osaka. While the total population has decreased alarmingly the odd bird still manages to find its way to Japan each winter but it certainly can't be expected on a visit to Kansai.
Male Baer's in Osaka, 21 December 2013.
A number of years ago I also found two Baer's x Common Pochard hybrids on the Yodogawa in Osaka city. Both were obviously hybrids, which isn't to say all cases will be as clear-cut, but is interesting in the light of recent doubt about some records in Japan.
A video-grab of two distant Baer's x Common Pochard hybrids.
Ferruginous Duck is another irregular visitor from the continent. The bird below wintered in a park in Osaka and soon joined the bread queues with the regulars. There was another male on Lake Biwa one winter but as with all the lake ducks it could be rather far out on the water. The same can be said of Red-crested Pochard however because it's so much larger it tends to stand out whatever the range. Also it occurs more frequently and is probably annual on Lake Biwa and though I don't recall hearing of them elsewhere in the region that may be because they're less newsworthy.
Riyokuchi park, Osaka city.
Like a battleship ship passing through aythya destroyers, it's hard to miss even way out on Lake Biwa.
The rarest duck I've seen in Kansai is Bufflehead, perhaps it's annual in northern Japan but this is the only record I've heard of down here. This immature male spent the winter on a country park lake near Sanda in Hyogo, though it could disappear for a day or two at a time. Where it went was never discovered but it did mean I needed to go there three times to catch up with it.
White tips to the greater coverts indicate this is a male and by the time it left it looked like one too.
The common wintering species in Kansasi are Common Pochard which is numerous suitable bodies of water usually deeper, tidal stretches of rivers in Osaka and there are large numbers and on Lake Biwa. Tufted Duck which is more widespread, seemingly happy on shallower waterways. Greater Scaup which occurs throughout Lake Biwa in low numbers as well as being common in coastal waters where it can combine into huge rafts with Common Pochard.
The only common aythya in Kyoto city.
A female Tufted with an extensive white base to the bill on the Kamogawa, Kyoto city.
Male and female Greater Scaup in Matsusaka harbour, Mie.
A female type (possibly a young male) Greater Scaup with very little white at the bill base, Hokkaido 2013.
A presumed 2CY male Greater Scaup with three females, Tsu city April 2012.
Greater Scaup in Mie, January 2015.
The shot below shows a Tufted Duck x Greater Scaup hybrid, a combination that occurs sometimes but obviously it'll only males that catch the eye.
Tufted x Greater Scaup hybrid, Lake Biwa February 2008.
Record shot of a female Ring-necked Duck through thick falling snow on Lake Biwa.
Goldeneye is another fairly common bird in the region. It's generally more coastal but it occurs on deeper inland waters too, on Lake Biwa numbers are usually larger at the north end. It's very common along the coast and river mouths around Tsu and Matsusaka cities in Mie.
Female with an all dark bill in January.
Female in Ishikawa, February 2014.
Male in Ishikawa, February 2014.
A male showing the scapular pattern.
Then there are the northern ducks, these are far more likely to be seen on the Japan Sea side of Kansai, particularly Black Scoter, which is unusual in the Inland Sea (Seto Naikai) on the Pacific side, while Stejneger's (White-winged) Scoter, Harlequin Duck and Long-tailed Duck probably aren't even annual. Of course news of scarce birds doesn't always reach a wider audience but either way the visitor to the region can't expect to see any of these species even though the scoters become abundant not much further north. The closest place to Kyoto worth checking would be Ise Bay because, as with northern gulls, the Kii Peninsula seems to present an what would seem an improbable barrier to southward movement.
Stejneger's Scoters along with several Black Scoters in Mie, January 2015. They were attracting a number of photographers as might be expected with such a scarce bird, there were also several in Osaka at the same time.
Female Black Scoter.
Immature male Black Scoter.
Male Black Scoter, Hokkaido January 2013.
Harlequin Ducks, Hokkaido 2013.
Long-tailed Ducks, Hokkaido 2013.
And finally the sawbills. When I first came to Japan there were two or three Scaly-sided Merganser within easy reach of Kansai on the Kisogawa near Gifu city each winter. Since then occurrences in the region have been few and usually brief. Over-wintering birds have arrived either side of Kansai but no direct hits. Where birds might turn up is unpredictable but there's no shortage of suitable habitat in the region, even if coverage by birders might not 100%.
Red-breasted Merganser is common in coastal areas but with I wouldn't expect to see more than three or four at most on a visit to Lake Biwa. Goosander, on the other hand, is a common duck on the far north of the lake with numbers dwindling southwards. They can usually be found on the Katsuragawa in Kyoto city, the best area being between Matsuo and Arashiyama stations on the Hankyu Arashiyama line.
Red-breasted Merganser, easy to see on rivers in Tsu city, Mie.
Female Goosander in Kanazawa, February 2014.
Male Goosander in Kanazawa, February 2014.
Smew is common on Lake Biwa but rafts of males are usually well off-shore south of the Rainbow Bridge, whereas females outnumber males in the north and can often be found in small harbours or small ponds near the lake. Some turn up on the Yodo and Katsura rivers in Kyoto city every winter but they don't usually stay long so a bit of luck is needed to connect with them.
Drake Smew on the Katsuragawa, Kyoto city.
Female Smew near Lake Biwa, February 2014.