Saturday 4 January 2014

Lake Biwa New Year birding

I left home at 03:30 yesterday and drove up the east side of the lake, the long way round, to avoid snowy roads. As it turned out the roads were clear and even the fields had only a shallow covering. I didn't have long to wait till first light and first up was a Red Fox disappearing into the mist across snowy fields. I no longer see many foxes here so that was a good start.

As usual I tried for a few woodland species at dawn, at a location I hadn't tried before, the habitat was pretty good but finches in particular were conspicuously absent. Just winter woodland luck, or lack of it. Next stop was Green Sandpiper, there's always one in the same field, I like to get it for my day list. I've never kept a year list since I came to Japan but I find day listing round Biwako keeps me on my toes.

The next stop was Kohoku for the Steller's and Swan Goose, the former was exactly where it's supposed to be but the latter took a bit of finding as most of the geese were on a different very wooded island. When the geese are on the closest island they can still be difficult to observe in detail as most are asleep and/or on the wrong side. Today they were further off  viewed through lakeside trees and hidden behind drooping branches on their chosen island. It was hard enough to find the Swan Goose or any Greater White-fronts, trying to find Tundra Bean was an altogether more difficult proposition, and it's never easy. There were some interesting looking geese there even if views weren't good enough to be conclusive. There were very small birds with middendorffi head and bill and at least one huge bird with a far more serrirostris bill shape. Put a serrirostris bill on one of the small Taiga and the distance involved would make ID very difficult.

Geese on the close island. There's massive size difference between these two, the bird on the right was outstandingly small amongst the normal Taigas. It was also odd in having an all black bill, though it was a middendorffi concave shape.

The triangular bill shape on this bird is obvious at distance but can serrirostris be as large as middendorffi?

An even more heavily cropped version. It lacks a forehead stop and doesn't have a large arched grin line so middendorffi for me but deep lower mandible creates an unusual silhouette. The orange band so close to the tip probably enhances the short appearance but it is already very short.

Here are two of three or four birds together on the water that were more convincingly Tundra. Unfortunately they were not only more distant but soon disappeared behind the trees. The bills were less obviously triangular but had arched grin lines with the highest point mid-way along the upper mandible, they had clearer foreheads and were very small with shorter necks.
 This last shot gives a better like for like size comparison with the swimming Taiga on the right.

For the second visit this winter there weren't any Baikal Teal off-shore. Last time I put it down to not spending enough time scanning the distant flocks but this time I gave it a really good go and still nothing, really disappointing. There has been quite a bit of snow up here so it was without much hope I had a quick look behind the Eagle hill, sure enough even though most of it has gone so have most of the Rooks, and with them the Daurian Jackdaws. After another quick look for Baikal I headed south to less snowy pastures too.

Traffic wasn't as bad as it often is on Sundays so I could make better time and stop off at one or two more places but nothing really stood out and I arrived at Sainoko for the harriers coming to roost. Surprisingly there was only one Eastern Marsh but a fly past by the far less common Hen Harrier more than made up for that. Much more surprising though was hearing Chinese Penduline Tit out in the reedbed, I haven't had any in Kansai for a number of years.

Nine species of raptor was good, somehow I never make 10 in a day. Merlin and Peregrine were the guilty no shows on this trip. The Kestrel flew in as I was walking along a riverbank and didn't seem in the slightest bothered by me. It soon pushed on Merlin-like across the fields.

Full list:-
Swan Goose   1
Taiga Bean Goose   150-200
Tundra Bean Goose   3-4 possibles
Greater White-fronted Goose   3
Tundra Swan   3 - where are they all?
Gadwall   10-20
Falcated Duck   3 - they're missing too!
Eurasian Wigeon   very common
Mallard   common
Eastern Spot-billed Duck   common
Northern Shoveler   10+ as usual on lakeside ponds
Northern Pintail   c15
Eurasian Teal   common
Greater Scaup   100+ most in one flock with just a handful of others
Common Goldeneye   25+
Smew   3 redheads on small ponds
Goosander   common
Little Grebe   common
Great Cersted Grebe   very common
Black-necked Grebe   5-10
Grey Heron   common
Great White Egret   10-15
Great Cormorant   common
Eurasian Kestrel   1
Osprey   3 the highest day count I've had here
Black Kite   common
Steller's Sea Eagle   the usual bird in the usual spot being watched by the usual crowd, it's got to be the most watched Steller's in the world
Eastern Marsh Harrier   1
Hen Harrier   1
Eurasian Sparrowhawk   2
Northern Goshawk   1
Eastern Buzzard   1-3
Moorhen   2
Common Coot   1,000s
Northern Lapwing   18
Green Sandpiper   1
Common Sandpiper   2
Dunlin   the regular winter flock on the concrete blocks at the north end
Common Gull   c100
Vega Gull   6 unusual here
Black-headed Gull   3
Feral Rock Dove   1
Oriental Turtle Dove   several
Common Kingfisher   2
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker   fairly common
Great Spotted Woodpecker   1 heard
Bull-headed Shrike   fairly common
Jay   1 heard
Rook   200+
Carrion Crow   common
Large-billed Crow   very common
Eastern Great Tit   several
Varied Tit   2-3
Chinese Penduline Tit   small party heard
Long-tailed Tit   several
Skylark   15-20
Zitting Cisticola   1
Brown-eared Bulbul   common
Japanese Bush Warbler   3 heard
Japanese White-eye   fairly common
Wren   2 heard
White-cheeked Starling   common
Pale Thrush   2
Dusky Thrush   8
Red-flanked Bluetail   1 plus 1 heard
Daurian Redstart   1 plus 1 heard
Eurasian Tree Sparrow   very common
Grey Wagtail   3
White Wagtail   common
Japanese Wagtail   several
Olive-backed Pipit   8 at the regular site
Buff-bellied Pipit   5-10 all flyovers
Brambling   1
Oriental Greenfinch   common
Long-tailed Rosefinch   2 plus several heard
Meadow Bunting   common
Rustic Bunting   5-6
Elegant Bunting   3-4
Black-faced Bunting   several
Reed Bunting   fairly common

weasel sp   1 (probably Siberian)
Red Fox   1  

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