I had a little time this morning but only enough for a quick outing. Where to try? I'd already visited the botanical gardens this week which turned out to be very disappointing, even though an Elegant Bunting was a decent find. Kyoto seems to be just outside the winter range for this species and I don't often see it in or around the city even though it's reasonably common elsewhere in Kansai. In the end I chose Takaragaiike in the north of the city.
I arrived at first light, it was chilly but not yet wintry, only a week has passed since the leaves began to turn and the first frost still feels some way off. Early dustings of snow on the surrounding hills must still be three or four weeks away but it's snow in the mountains further north that determine when woodland birding will heat up. Birds were vocal, plenty of Pygmy Woodpeckers and a Great Spotted, the local Bush Warblers were chacking from the undergrowth and parties of tits and White-eyes were flitting noisily through the trees.
I made my way to the lake. I knew the Mandarins were in and seven could be made out through a screen of overhanging branches. Sitting hunched in deep shade on a ledge at the foot of a wall, as if their colours were an embarrassment to them. No such show of humility from the Mallards and Eastern Spot-bills out on open water but unsurprisingly there weren't any other ducks present. The shallow lake doesn't attract diving ducks but nor does it seem suitable for other dabbling ducks, always so common on neighbouring waters. The lack of depth never deters Great Cormorants or Little Grebes but neither of these could muster more than a single representative today.
Apart from the usual tits and white-eyes the woodland was on the quiet side, no Brambling, Siskin or Goldcrests, and there were very few Pale Thrushes, only two or three Jays whistling softly to each other and a party of 11 Japanese Grosbeaks.
Sika aren't as shy here as in much of the prefecture, where hunting keeps them on their toes, but nevertheless they're more often heard than seen. Today three females with spotted summer flanks crossed through a patch of sunlight on the ride ahead, only the last noticing me and pausing to stare. Then further along the ridge, a rather splendid adult male in its winter coat blocked the track till a jogger sent it leaping downhill.
Moving on I came across a small party of Grey Buntings in the scrub around a rocky outcrop, though the hills aren't high Grey is usually further up the slopes while Black-faced are found along the vegetated streams at the foot and they never seem to meet.
Only two Daurian redstarts and a single Red-flanked Bluetail were heard, confirmation if any were needed that winter hasn't yet arrived. But just as I was leaving I heard a distant Dusky Thrush, a sure sign it's on its way.