Sunday, 10 November 2013


The only breeding tern in the region is Little, they'll breed where habitat allows. It can be found on pebble shoals in the Yodo River up to about half way from the coast to Kyoto. It used to breed on land being reclaimed in Osaka but on project completion they disappeared again. Huge numbers gather in Ise Bay in late summer. Common Tern is also reasonably easy to find, it migrates through the region in large numbers but there are few places they congregate and stick around for any time. Land reclamation projects are a favourite but by their very nature have a limited lifespan as the project comes to fruition. As with Little huge numbers gather in Ise Bay making use of reclamation islands near Nagoya and extensive sand flats on dropping tides. The other regular tern in the region is Greater Crested Tern, arriving in late summer, it can be found along the Inland Sea coast and in Ise Bay. They frequently use bamboo posts planted in tidal areas by fishermen.

One of many distant Crested Terns perched on poles in Ise Bay off Matsusaka city in Septemer.

 Other tern species do occur in the region but they are rare and irregular, Caspian and Gull-billed from the continent and Roseate and Black-naped from the south. Of course as the latter pair breed in Japan and can be seen quite easily in the summer months in Okinawa prefecture. Sooty and Bridled Tern both bred in the extreme south and are otherwise pelagic and unlikely to be encountered on a visit to Japan.

Black-naped and Roseate in Okinawa August 2011.

No more than a record shot, this is the closest I've been to Bridled Tern, Minami Iwo.

Marsh terns are more frequent, Whiskered Tern has wintered on Lake Biwa but birds passing through in autumn are the norm but occurrence is unpredictable. Moult timing is variable in this species and the two birds below on the Uji River at Yodo, Kyoto city look quite different, one still with extensive breeding plumage while the other, progressing more quickly, looks closer to non-breeding.

Two Whiskered Terns on the Uji River, October 2012.

Whiskered Tern Hegurajima, October 2006.

White-winged Black Terns are annual in very low numbers, if they hang around it's invariably on coastal ponds which are themselves scarce. Yet again reclamation land is as good as anywhere to try.

White-winged Black Tern, Hegurajima 2013.

Black Tern is by far the rarest of the three in Japan and I haven't heard of it in the Osaka/Kyoto area. The only one I've seen in Japan was in a mixed group of Black and White-winged Black that turned up on Hegurajima during a typhoon in October 2013. To be honest I'm unsure how many individuals were Black, maybe only one maybe more, it was difficult to tell under the conditions at the time and the following morning there were only two birds on the island and they were very mobile and invariably distant in the improved weather.

Two of the Hegura black terns, White-winged above and Black below.

                                                       Black Tern Hegurajima, October 2013.

Returning to pelagic species, Black and Brown Noddy both breed but I've only seen one Black in the Volcano Is. compared to many Brown in the Yaeyama, Oasawara and Volcano Is. White Tern only seems to be regularly seen around the southern Volcano Islands.

Brown Noddy, Minami Iwo-jima.

Black Noddy, Minami Iwo-jima.

White Terns, Minami Iwo-jima.

Kansai is too far south to get much in the way of of alcids, they aren't worth considering when visiting. However for anyone going up to the Katano Kamo Ike in winter it's worth checking the sea for Long-billed Murrelet. I ran into one there once and there have been other sightings in the same place so perhaps it winters in low numbers.  Presumably anywhere along the Fukui or Ishikawa coast could be worth a look. Though in theory Japanese Murrelet might be possible I've never seen one here and they are much easier to find outside Kansai. Rhinocerous Auklet and Ancient Murrelet can be found along the Japan Sea coasts.

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