Friday 14 February 2014

Pine Bunting to Japanese Yellow Bunting

Birding the off-shore islands is wonderful for buntings, some species that would otherwise be considered rare in Japan are reasonably common, others that are scarce to rare out there have to be considered megas on the mainland. Island birding is essential to even get close to all the species on the Japan list, nevertheless Kansai does quite well. And they're such great looking birds, how could they not be one of my favourite families here.

Pine Bunting is one of the island specialities, it's fairly common on Hegura in October, not just singles but parties of up to 10 wouldn't raise an eyebrow. While most species which are reasonably common on Hegura also make it through to Kyoto in small numbers, buntings seem to buck the trend. Though I can easily imagine them making landfall unnoticed on the Japan Sea coast of Kansai, I've never even heard of one in the Kyoto area. Perhaps they just aren't rare enough to hit the local headlines.
Meadow Bunting on the other hand is something which is hard to miss around Kyoto! Anyone  talking a walk along the Uji/Yodo or Katsura rivers is guaranteed to see them. Not only are they common but they typically feed in the open adjacent to cover, such as on the short grass of levee banks, and perch in exposed positions before dropping into cover when flushed.
Tristram's and Yellow-browed are often talked of as migrants in the same breath but in my experience Tristram's are relatively far more common. I see them at a rough ratio of about 20:1 on the islands. As yet I haven't seen either around Kyoto, or even in Kansai for that matter, and though they tend to be island specialities I see Tristram's along the Ishikawa coast in both spring and autumn. By contrast I've only ever seen Yellow-browed in spring. The Tristram's I find on Mishima (Yamaguchi) in spring (mid-April to early May) are often in forests on the hills whereas Yellow-browed are usually in gardens or more open scrubby areas.
Chestnut-eared Bunting is resident in Kansai but more numerous, or at least more easily found, in winter but is a low density bird and easily missed. It is rather unsociable by bunting standards but it is widespread in its suitable habitat of overgrown fields or areas of rank grass along rivers. Ogura is the number one site around Kyoto, there will be odd ones on fallow overgrown fields and sometimes along the Uji River. A reliable spot for them is at Lake Biwa on the north bank of the Aichi River immediately east of route 25, just before it empties into the lake.
Little Bunting is a common off-shore island migrant, it's even possible to see small flocks in spring though singles are more the norm in autumn. They are a rare winter visitor and scarce migrant in Kansai, the last I saw here was a fly-over along the Yodo River in October 2012 when I was looking for a Pechora Pipit that turned up and made waves locally.
Rustic is a far more common winter visitor and can be found along rivers, reedbed fringes, overgrown fallow fields and even small ditches across arable land. They can be in twos or threes or quite large flocks and small numbers linger well into April when males can be in breeding plumage.
I occasionally come across Elegant Bunting in woodland or exceptionally city parks in Kyoto in winter, however they aren't common here. Further north in the region they are frequent and I'll usually see them in woodland around Lake Biwa, in the hills at woody pal, snow permitting, or along quiet roadsides skirting the lake.
Yellow-breasted Bunting is so rare now I hardly ever see one on the islands, they're totally off the radar in Kansai - if they were even on it.
None of the Japan rarities, Chestnut, Black-headed and Red-headed can be expected. Though Black-headed is probably the most regular of the three. In my experience Chestnut is more likely in spring, the other two in autumn.
Japanese Yellow Bunting is an early May migrant in small numbers along the river systems in Kyoto, it can't be expected but there's a reasonable chance of finding one then. Obviously anyone visiting Japan would be much better off going to the breeding range. I've only found one bird here during autumn.

Odd Pine Buntings can turn up anywhere on Hegura but the vast majority end up on the rough ground along the harbour front. This was a lone male, 11 & 12 October.

Part of a flock of about eight birds spent a few days along the harbour front, Hegura 13 October.

This female-type Pine was part of the above flock.

Meadow Buntings are everywhere along the rivers here, this Male on the Yodo at Hirakata (Osaka), 1 February.

Breeding male on the Yodo River (Kyoto), 28 April.

First winter Meadow, 1 February.

Adult female Meadow, 1 March.

A very attractive isabel Meadow on the Yodo River near Ogura, 22 October 2010.

Another isabel about four years and 10km down river from the previous bird, 1 February 2014.

Male Tristram's Kemmin Kaihin Park, Kanazawa (Ishikawa) May 2014.

Female Tristram's on the edge of the school field, Hegura 7 October.

First winter Tristram's at the drinking pool on Hegura, October.

The central path on Hegura was good for Tristram's  before it was covered with concrete.

Male Chestnut-eared on Mishima (Yamaguchi), 30 April.

Chestnut-eared Bunting, Kyushu.

Though often solitary, they can be quite conspicuous. This at Ogura, 13 November.

A attractive male Little Bunting on Mishima (Yamaguchi), 29 April.

Little on Hegura, 14 October.

A male Yellow-browed in early May on Mishima (Yamaguchi), this isn't yet a full breeding humbug.

Female Rustic on Iriomote, 4 April. 

Female-type Rustic on arable land near Lake Biwa, 26 January.

Breeding male Rustic on Mishima, 1 May.

Breeding male Rustic on Mishima, 29 April.

Fresh female Elegant Bunting on Hegura, 7 October.

Fresh male Elegant Bunting on Hegura, 9 October.

A more worn male at Woody Pal (Lake Biwa) 2 December.

Male on Hegura, Oct 2015.

Black-headed Bunting, Hegura, October 2007.

Same bush, different bird, 11 October 2011.

Male Japanese Yellow Bunting on Mishima, 5 May.

Female Japanese Yellow Bunting on Mishima, 29 April.

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