Sunday 4 May 2014

Green Pheasants and a mosquito

Continuing my stuck-at-home week I made a couple of local trips, the first an early morning jaunt down to Yawata just south of Kyoto. Early morning because I was woken by mosquito bites at 4am. Living in the city centre mosquitoes are never much of a problem even in mid-summer, but at this time of year the thought of closing the one bedroom window without a screen hadn't even crossed my mind.

I caught the first train and arrived at Yawata at 6am, first walking down one of the spits at the confluence of three rivers, often a good spot to find migrants but today nothing. Quite a few newly arrived singing Oriental Reed Warblers were still a novelty... but not a migrant in sight. Before I'd even reached the first river I could heard the two species that really marked the morning, Green Pheasant and Long-billed Plover. There were pairs of noisily displaying Plovers over all the sandy or shingle islands along the 12 kilometres of river I walked. All these islands will be submerged with just moderate rainfall so they'd better get on with the more serious business. And Green Pheasants, male Green Pheasants everywhere. Displaying males were spaced about every 100 metres along the river, since some of the riverbanks were stripped of all vegetation last year there's still very little cover and the birds are very easy to see now.

While the loss of ground cover made seeing Pheasants easy, the removal of the riverside trees has made the area far less attractive to birds passing through and the only obvious migrants I saw all morning was a flock of about 100 Chestnut-cheeked Starlings hurrying up-river.

At this particular extremely popular cherry blossom viewing spot the "natural" riparian habitat is managed to prevent it reverting to woodland. Thus at this time the vegetation is still low and these popular display mounds haven't disappeared behind emergent spring growth, while still retaining a natural feel which has been lost along the bulldozed lengths of river. 

Seen well, they are stunning birds. 

I wondered if this Eastern Spot-billed Duck was sheltering a brood of ducklings on the way to the river. A problem at this site is the huge number of feral cats, there were several at the foot of the slope between the duck and thicker cover.

In the late afternoon I took a JR train on the Sagano line and got off at Hozukyo station just north west of the city. It isn't the typical Japanese station with people hurrying in and out of various exits. The platform runs the full length of a arching bridge over the Hozokawa rushing below, it's a great spot, the train exits one tunnel onto the bridge, stops to let you off (it's unlikely anyone else gets off) then dives directly into the next tunnel. There's nothing else there, you're standing high above the river on what seems a floating platform wedged between two forested hills in the middle of nowhere. The train was crowded, hardly any standing space, and as I was pushing my way to the opening door I could already hear Blue and White Flycatcher singing. Just step off the train into the sunshine, wait a few seconds till the train busies its way off the bridge, sight and sound gone in the blink of an eye, and be in the still centre of a sphere of bird song, above, below and all around. Magical. Or you could try it in winter when wind whistling in from any direction manages to hit the bridge square on and the mild winter sun over Kyoto, only 10 minutes down the line, has been replaced by a sodden blanket of cloud that would be obscuring the hills if the sleet hadn't got there first.

Today it was really nice, there were six singing Blue and White Flycatchers within a short walk from the station but as I headed up hill they were replaced by singing Narcissus Flycatchers. Now much as I'd like to be building up slowly towards some fantastic sightings and great shots of them the sad fact is the two flycatchers were the only summer visitors I saw/heard. In fact, Willow Tit (heard) was the only species I couldn't have seen had I visited a park in the city centre. But for only 480 Yen round trip train fare it was a beautiful walk and, in a perverse sort of way, all the more so because of the lack of exciting birds.

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