Friday 24 January 2014

Grosbeaks in the gardens

I had a free morning yesterday and decided it was about time I checked out the botanical gardens, a fair barometer to guage what's going on in the area. Rather than take the subway right to the gates I got off early and walked up the Kamo River, as much because it's a pleasant walk as in expectation of seeing anything unusual.

As I waited at the signal to cross the road to the river there were Japanese Grosbeaks in the bushes and trees on the other side, really close to the people waiting on the pavement. A taste of things to come. As I strolled up the river there was a constant coming and going of Grosbeaks in the line of trees to my left along the top of the bank and when I eventually reached the southern gates of the gardens there were about 100 more feeding in the trees over the ticket office.

Rather than head straight into the gardens I pushed on upstream. The divide between the typically cloudy, snowy Japan Sea weather and the clearer skies of the Pacific side of western Japan cuts east-west through the northern part of the city in an often obvious fashion, and this was a typical day. Not unlike slicing through the top of a soft boiled egg the weather along the northern edge of the city can be very disappointing. No more than a kilometre north of the botanical gardens a fine sleet was falling and though now close to the hills not even their outlines were appearing. Turning back for the gardens summits to the south, running away into the distance, stood out against a bright sky. A real Kyoto moment.

The botanical gardens is always a good bet for Grosbeak whatever the season and though there can be large numbers in winter I don't think I've ever seen this many before. Apart from the flock by the gate there was another very large flock feeding in sasa within a wooded area. Before I reached them I was amazed by the noise, loud and continuous, a popping and crackling like the crescendo of a distant fireworks display that climaxed in a confusion of whirring wings and flashing vents and bars as they burst upwards to perch overhead. Flocks aside, small parties were perched in trees and birds were flying around throughout the gardens.

There weren't any other surprises, birds were much as I'd expect for the time of year, but the were still a few good birds around; confiding male and female Red-flanked Bluetail, a few Dusky Thrushes, a Falcated Duck on the river. Most pleasing of all though, just that birds were relatively approachable and it was possible to routinely get the kind of views that are the exception in local forests.

Falcated Duck   1
Eurasian Wigeon   c50
Mallard   20-30
Northern Pintail   15-20
Eurasian Teal   15-20
Tufted Duck   2
Grey Heron   3
Great White Egret   2
Little Egret   3
Great Cormorant   c10
Black Kite   1
Black-headed Gull   50+
Oriental Turtle Dove   common
Common Kingfisher   1 heard
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker   2
Carrion Crow
Large-billed Crow
Eastern Great Tit   fairly common
Long-tailed Tit   2 parties
Brown-eared Bulbul   common
Japanese Bush Warbler   2
Japanese White-eye   several heard
White-cheeked Starling   common
Pale Thrush   several
Dusky Thrush   12-15
Red-flanked Bluetail   3
Daurian Redstart   1 heard
Eurasian Tree Sparrow   very common
White Wagtail   5
Japanese Wagtail   7
Oriental Greenfinch   8
Japanese Grosbeak   200+
Black-faced Bunting   several

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