Saturday 8 February 2014

A Lifer; Savannah Sparrow!

Savannah Sparrow at Fukuroi, Shizuoka (with Japanese Reed Buntings).

I'd been warned this bird is very difficult to see unless the weather is calm, encouraging it to perch in the open, and I'd been waiting weeks for suitable conditions to be forecast for a time I could make the journey. I was beginning to think it wasn't going to happen and but for an unexpected free day I'd still be waiting.

I arrived on site at 07:15 yesterday, just too late to get a good parking spot. Though the bird's been here for so long and it was a weekday morning, I hadn't held out much hope of having the place to myself but I'd hoped for a good spot. It's taken up winter residence in a 40 x 20m field with just a single side abutting the road. The whole thing made me think of fishing rather than birding, seven or eight cars spaced along the field's edge, each occupant sitting patiently in their spot waiting to detect the hidden presence in front them, hardly much different to seated fishermen lining a riverbank.

I got my first bite at 08:45, the split second view allowed realisation, the catch in the breath, but it was gone before my mind could punch the air. It was almost midday before it popped up again, this time for a full three seconds, dispelling creeping self-doubt and internal debate about quite what I had seen earlier. But by this time it was more a feeling of relief than jubilation. Shortly after 13:00 it perched up again, this time closer and for a full satisfying minute. I consider myself very lucky to get any shots of it.

If the Sparrow is hard to see when there isn't a breath of wind and no sign of rain, I'm not surprised many people don't get to see it when the weather isn't so helpful. Chestnut-eared Buntings were almost always in sight, I counted six birds on view two or three times, there were at least two Japanese Reed Buntings that weren't afraid to show themselves and even Zitting Cisticolas which were happy at the tops of the grass tussocks.

There's been a Pallas's Reed Bunting not far from this field for some time but after playing the waiting game all morning another potential skulker held no appeal. I thought about the Ring-necked Duck in Aichi and headed in that direction but in the end traffic was so heavy I ended up giving it a miss and driving directly home. As well I did really, it took nine hours to get back, I didn't really mind under the circumstances but I'd rather not contemplate how I'd have felt if I hadn't seen the Spug.

Japanese Reed Buntings, the size difference isn't an illusion, the male up top was very, very small.

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