The dusting of snow on the hills around the city has all but disappeared but with a fresh half a metre around northern Lake Biwa, I though a local day was in order. Weather-wise a good choice but as I didn't see many birds it might be better to brave the frozen north as the first birding of the new year.
From Mukaijima station I decided to do the fields first, apart from a Green Sandpiper calling somewhere it started slowly, a few White Wagtails fewer Skylarks and a Buff-bellied Pipit were all I saw as I made my way to the huge by-pass that bisects the area. I could hear rooks calling from the other side so drawn by the hope of Daurian Jackdaws with them I made my way to the closest underpass via a tree that's been a favourite perch for successive Merlins for years and years. Sadly the farmer has obviously come up with a new plan for the land which doesn't require a tree. I'll have to find a new favourite perch.
There were about 150 Rooks and 8 Grey-headed Lapwings in the fields on the other side. With more fallow overgrown fields on this side of the road the species count began to go up, there were a few Rustic and Reed buntings and a lone Chestnut-eared. There's almost always a lone Chestnut-eared, they've got to be the most unsociable of buntings. There always used to be a nice clump of bushes that seemed a magnet for Russet Sparrows in winter but they've gone the way of the Merlin tree. If that was depressing, worse was to come.
The last remaining natural small river running across the fields has had its banks scraped smooth and looks destined to join the ranks of the region's canalised waterways. There was just a single Eurasian Teal along its entire length to the flood gates where it meets the Uji River. The catchment area behind these gates is often quite good and there are invariably large numbers of loafing egrets and Great Cormorants. It's also popular with Long-billed Plover and there were a couple there today.
Once on top of the Uji River levee I could see the work to fell all the riverside trees had been completed. When I first came to Kyoto there weren't any trees and the area has gradually reverted to woodland. Hopefully this felling isn't the prelude to more concrete and if the land is allowed to go through the same stages of natural development it isn't necessarily a bad thing. The area was great for migrant snipe when I first arrived and hopefully next April it will be again. But at the moment it's just bare earth and tree stumps. There were still plenty of Meadow Buntings and a Zitting Cisticola on the embankment and a few Black-faced Buntings in the narrow belt of reeds at its foot.
Further along, back towards my Mukaijima starting point, there's a large reedbed most of which is harvested every December then burnt-off to re-grow in spring thus preventing it reverting to woodland. Because it's under-developed in spring it doesn't have many typical reedbed breeders but it nevertheless attracts quite a few birds in winter and today there was an Eastern Buzzard perched in one of the isolated small trees.
Leaving the river and cutting back across the fields towards the station there was a huge flock of Rooks, 500-600 birds. I never tire of this sight and the promise of Daurian Jackdaw. Distant as they were at first I could hear the distinctive ringing jack call and the question changed from will there be any Daurians to how many will there be. The Rooks were on the move and as they streamed by I counted eight Daurian, though there could have been more but unfortunately they didn't settle.
I took the train directly from Mukaijima to the end of the line at Takaragaiike to the north. By the time I arrived it wasn't the best time of day for winter woodland birding and in fact it was very quite, however there were the usual commoner species, Pale Thrush, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, White-eyes and tits. There were a few Mandarin Ducks on the lake and a Mallard x Eastern Spot-billed Duck hybrid. These hybrids can be very drab but this one was quite attractive.
Along with the Daurian Jackdaws this duck was the best find of the day. Below is a full list of species seen (sightings marked O for Ogura, T for Takaragaiike and B for both):-
Mandarin Duck 5 (T)
Mallard 50+ (T)
Eastern Spot-billed Duck 20 (O), 100+ (T)
Eurasian Teal 1 (O)
Common Pochard 3 (T)
Tufted Duck 1 (T)
Little Grebe 11 (T)
Grey Heron several (B)
Great White Egret several (B)
Little Egret several (B)
Great Cormorant several (B)
Eurasian Kestrel 1 (O)
Black Kite several (B)
Eastern Buzzard 1 (O)
Grey-headed Lapwing 8 (O)
Long-billed Plover 2 (O)
Green Sandpiper 1 heard (O)
Common Sandpiper 2 (O)
Oriental Turtle Dove several (B)
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker 4 (T)
Bull-headed Shrike fairly common (O)
Daurian Jackdaw 8 (O)
Rook 500-600 (O)
Carrion Crow fairly common(B)
Large-billed Crow common (B)
Eastern Great Tit 2-3 (T)
Coal Tit heard (T)
Varied Tit several (T)
Long-tailed Tit fairly common (T)
Skylark 30-40 (O)
Zitting Cisticola 1 (O)
Brown-eared Bulbul common (B)
Japanese White-eye fairly common (T)
Goldcrest heard (T)
White-cheeked Starling several (O)
Pale Thrush 2 (T)
Dusky Thrush 6 (O), 2 heard (T)
Daurian Redstart 1 heard (O)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow common (B)
White Wagtail 100+ (O)
Japanese Wagtail 4 (T)
Buff-bellied Pipit 5-6 (O)
Oriental Greenfinch several (B)
Meadow Bunting fairly common (O)
Chestnut-eared Bunting 1 (O)
Rustic Bunting several (O)
Black-faced Bunting several (B)
Reed Bunting fairly common (O)