Monday 10 February 2014

Grey Bunting to American sparrows

Grey Bunting has been known to breed, or at least hold territory, in the mountains of northern Kyoto prefecture but in practical terms it's a winter visitor. It isn't rare but it is less common than further north in Honshu and rather inconspicuous compared to other bunting species in the region. I can often see them near Fushimi Inari Shrine and at Takaragaiike. There's only one spot at Fushimi they can be reliably found every winter but they do turn up irregularly here and there throughout the woodland. At Takaragaiike they move around more and are invariably in dense secondary growth on the low hills, often near rock outcrops on the ridges running downwards to the north from the spine. Even though these hills are very low, the ranges of Black-faced and Grey are surprisingly exclusive. Grey is always higher while Black-faced is associated with small streams around the base of the hills.

Pallas's Reed Bunting is a rare winter visitor in Kansai (and elsewhere in western Japan), when I first arrived here I spent a lot of time over four or five winters at Ogura checking Common Reed Buntings but did eventually find one. The most recent record I heard of was two winters ago, a little further down the Yodo River towards Osaka. It's much easier, though still not easy, to find one on the off-shore islands in spring or autumn, particularly western Japan in Spring.

Japanese Reed Bunting used to be an annual winter visitor in rank grass habitat at Ogura, either in overgrown fallow fields or along the river, not in reedbeds. However they no longer seem to occur. Recently the woodland which has emerged over the last 25 years has been felled and it will be interesting to see if an increase in suitable habitat will see its return.

Common Reed Bunting is a common winter visitor in the region and can always be found in reedbeds or overgrown fallow fields and river banks around Kyoto and elsewhere.

I've never seen a Lapland Bunting in Kansai, however they are irregular winter visitors on the Japan Sea coast. They're also to be looked for on the off-shore islands from October but they are scarce and arrivals are unpredictable.

Snow Bunting has a similar pattern of occurrence to Lapland but is even less regular this far south. I've only seen one in Japan, just to the west of Kansai in Shimane prefecture.

The American sparrows are all accidental winter visitors to Japan. A well-watched Golden-crowned which spent a winter in a park in Osaka a few years ago is the only species I've known of in Kansai. Close to the region, I found a White-crowned on Hegura and also had a possible Savannah there a few years earlier but views were to brief to confirm it. This winter (2013/14) there is a Savannah in Shizuoka prefecture to our east. According to Brazil (Birds of East Asia, 2009) Fox and Song have also occurred in Japan but none of these can be expected by the visitor.

Male Grey Bunting at Fushimi Inari.

First winter male Grey, Takaragaiike.

Pallas's Reed Bunting on Hegura, October 2007.

Japanese Reed Bunting on the breeding grounds in Aomori.

Winter Japanese Reed Buntings, February 2014.

Common Reed Bunting, Ogura 30 October 2010.

A migrant Common Reed on Hegura, 6 September 2009.

Lapland Bunting on Hegura, October 2008.

I identified this bird as an American sparrow as it flew over low clifftop vegetation on Hegura at a distance of about 100m. How I knew it was an American sparrow I will never know, I'd only ever seen one Zonotrichia before this bird! I was sure enough to spend over 30 minutes in a clump of bushes waiting until it popped up onto the windbreak in the shot above. It disappeared not to be seen again that day, this was one of those occasions I was really glad I had a camera with me. Luckily for other birders it was relocated at the south end of the island the following day. 12 October 2009.

The White-crowned became more confiding when settled at the south end allowing better photographic opportunities.

Golden-crowned Sparrow, Osaka.

Savannah Sparrow at Fukuroi, Shizuoka, 7 February 2014.

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