Wednesday 5 February 2014

Scaly-sided Merganser dip

I tried to see the Saigawa Scaly-sided Merganser last weekend but unfortunately it wasn't on its usual stretch of the river. Nevertheless I could get great views of Goosander and Goldeneye, two species which are usually distant at my usual haunts in Kansai. The three Goldeney proved an interesting set with adult male and female and a first winter female.

The weather was exceptionally mild and though the forecast predicted 70% chance of rain it remained fair throughout the morning. In fact driving up the night time temperatures were astonishingly mild for the time of year, culminating in a 14 degree reading on one of the roadside temperature gauges at 04:30!

A number of birders/photographers gathered at the site during the morning vainly waiting for it to appear and though I walked several kilometres up and down stream there was no sign of the duck.

I gave up at midday, not wanting to waste the whole day waiting for a species I've seen before and made Katano Kamoike my next port of call. There were many Baikal Teal on the lake but as usual they stuck to the far end and the combination of distance and having to view through glass wasn't very satisfying. Three Smew and the flock of Taiga Bean Geese were the only other birds of interest. The sea behind the lake can often be excellent with numbers of divers, grebes and auks off-shore but today it was grey and utterly birdless.

A quick drive round the fields north of Fukui city failed to locate any geese and I continued south to Lake Biwa. Arriving late in the afternoon the Taiga Bean Geese were becoming more active but only the head and neck of a single Greater White-front popping up briefly behind the island indicated any were present and the Swan Goose slept soundly till the light failed despite the increasing activity of the other geese.

With the light from the west a large number of photographers were gathered at the foot of the Steller's Sea Eagle hill but I was more interested in what may have been an albus Great White Egret on the goose island, however with no other herons around for size comparison it was difficult to be sure.

Northern Shiga is normally blanketed with snow at this time of year, even the roads can be treacherous, so it was odd to see the bare, snowless landscape. Coming through the mountains just north of the lake I passed a single small field nestled on the north side of a forested hill, two thirds must never be touched by the winter sun and was snow-covered. Right in the centre of this snowy scrap sat a Japanese Macaque, looking for all the world as though it was wondering if things were any better in Sochi.

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