Friday, 25 April 2014

Ruddy-breasted Crakes and waders

Continuing from the previous post, I'd managed 44 species in the hills yesterday I was hopeful of seeing over 100 species for the weekend. A modest total for many places perhaps, even in a day, but I've never even hit 90 over two days in Kansai.

I'd driven out of the hills to the nearest convenience store on the approach to Lake Biwa and at 22:30, after an hour sleep and more importantly a long anticipated coffee, I set off for Mie prefecture and the second largely sleepless night. Being a Saturday the roads were still quite busy until cutting across the Kii Peninsular towards Mie. At about 02:00 I began to meet groups of cyclists heading in the opposite direction, presumably a long distance event as they were strung out over many kilometres, the first and last on either side of the central mountains. It's reassuring to know there are others of questionable sanity out there and when friends double check and exchange those knowing glances "You spent... two nights... in the mountains or driving... with no sleep... just to look for birds?" it's a relief to at least imagine diluting the doubt behind the smiles by redirecting their misgivings towards the obvious 'real' nutters. My favourite was two or three years ago birding during a typhoon in northern Okinawa. Every few metres I'd have to stop to drag a fallen tree limb from the road, the only other vehicles I saw all day were two police cars and a highway maintenance truck, but when I came down to the coast road at one point a fisherman was braced against the parapet casting out into the boiling East China Sea. I felt so incredibly normal!

These trips are usually punctuated by convenience store stops and I grabbed another hour of sleep and a coffee fix before driving the final kilometre to my planned starting point. It still wasn't light when I pulled up onto the Kumozu River levee to finish my coffee and switching off the engine I heard a singing Ruddy Crake close to the van. Then another... and another. Brilliant, this is something I never hear around Kyoto, what a great start to the day. Surely I could make 100 today.

Just as I'd been surprised by the number of summer visitors already singing in the mountains yesterday, several Oriental Reed Warblers were in full song where there had been none last weekend. But it wasn't just the birds that were changing, large expanses of fields had been flooded through the week and farmers were already planting rice at sun-up. This could potentially attract more waders or just make finding them more difficult.

Persistent drizzle and occasional heavier showers fulfilled the promise of the slow leaden dawn and while one benefit was low-flying Pacific Swifts, the great views of Dusky Thrushes and Chestnut-cheeked Starlings didn't result in the kind of photographs I'd have liked.

Another advantage with wet weather is that Green Pheasants, suddenly common, come into the open more and for longer, but not so the Chinese Bamboo Partridges that remain heard but not seen. For some reason they are far more cooperative in some other parts of Japan.

Just as there had been last week, there were eight Spotted Redshanks on a nearby coastal pool. But unlike last week most were now coming into breeding plumage, unfortunately good shots were impossible through the morning murk. Waders generally were more abundant than last week with large numbers of Lesser Sandplover, Grey Plover, Dunlin and Bar-tailed Godwits. There were also big numbers of Whimbrel all along the coast, this a species which hadn't present at all last week but a single Great Knot was the only other new species.

The very dull conditions meant afternoon birding was curtailed not allowing time to visit some areas which would have guaranteed a few additional species such as Sanderling. Frustratingly Common Reed Buntings which had been common last week were nowhere to be found. Perhaps they've all left but were the Blue Rock Thrushes, they aren't winter visitors. Why are there always some certainties that can't be found? Common Goldeneye seem to vanish long before the other ducks. Nevertheless, my weekend tally came to a record-breaking and extremely satisfying 110 species.

Bar-tailed Godwits.

List of species
Chinese Bamboo Partridge   several heard
Green Pheasant  
Falcated Duck
Eurasian Wigeon
Eastern Spot-billed Duck
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Eurasian Teal
Common Pochard
Tufted Duck
Greater Scaup
Red-breasted Merganser
Streaked Shearwater
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Grey Heron
Great White Egret
Little Egret
Great Cormorant
Osprey   1
Black kite
accipiter sp   1
Ruddy-breasted Crake   3 heard
Common Moorhen   2
Common Coot
Eurasian Oystercatcher   c30
Grey-headed Lapwing   5-6
Grey plover   c25
Little Ringed Plover   2
Kentish Plover
Lesser Sandplover
Common Snipe
Long-billed Dowitcher   1
Bar-tailed Godwit
Eurasian Curlew   5
Far Eastern Curlew   2
Spotted Redshank   8
Common Greenshank   3
Wood Sandpiper   1
Common Sandpiper   5
Great Knot   1
Dunlin   c1000
Black-tailed Gull
Common Gull   sev
Vega Gull
Mongolian Gull   1-2
Slaty-backed Gull   2-3
Vega x taimyrensis intergrades   more common than Vega
Black-headed Gull
Saunder's Gull   2
Feral Rock Dove
Oriental Turtle Dove
Pacific Swift   30-40
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker   1 heard
Bull-headed Shrike
Jay   1 A big surprise in some coastal pines.
Carrion Crow
Large-billed Crow
Great Tit   2
Barn Swallow
Zitting Cisticola   several
Brown-eared Bulul
Japanese Bush Warbler   several
Oriental Reed Warbler   fairly common
Japanese White-eye   several
Chestnut-cheeked Starling   c40
White-cheeked Starling
Dusky Thrush
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
White Wagtail
Japanese Wagtail   1
Buff-bellied Pipit   several
Oriental Greenfinch
Meadow Bunting
Chestnut-eared Bunting   1
Black-faced Bunting

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