Saturday 10 May 2014

Migrants on the Noto Peninsular

The drive from Wajima to the end of the peninsular at Rokkozaki reminded me of birding on Tsushima, there are so many attractive patches of habitat along the route it's hard to know where to stop, but daylight was a factor I drove directly to Rokkozaki to check-out how suitable the area looked in reality rather than just on satellite imagery.

The small harbour village of Noroshi was remarkably quite, one or two locals and the odd motorcycle tourist, despite the large car parks tour buses hadn't made it past the Senmaida terraced paddies as far as I could see. I made my way directly to the lighthouse on top of the hill above the village. It's a very short walk through a mix of woodland, vegetable plots and ornamental shrubbery. In the hour before dusk I could confirm the area along with the fields in the flat valley bottom and nearby forest on the next ridge combined to make an attractive patchwork of habitats which could be very productive in the right conditions. Migrants were conspicuous enough to make the prospect of dawn birding quite exciting.

It starts to get light at about 5am at this time of year and I began the day walking the fields until there was sufficient light to bird under the trees. Apart from Asian House Martins overhead and a hidden Green Pheasant displaying in some reeds there was dishearteningly little about but once on the hill there were plenty of thrushes, Siberian, Eye-browed, Japanese, Brown-headed and Dusky. A flock of Japanese Waxwings was a nice surprise as was a male Tristram's Bunting. There was a spodocephala Black-faced Bunting too, it looks like I was right about the place being a good migrant trap. There were singing Asian Stubtails and Blue and White Flycatchers and though it became quieter as the morning wore on I added Pacific Swifts, Ashy Minivets, a Siberian Rubythroat, Chestnut-cheeked Starlings and Narcissus Flycatchers. There was even a mid-morning Red Fox.

Brown-headed, one of many thrushes in the trees on the headland. 

After often hearing Ashy Minivet overhead it was nice to get one below the canopy.

I had planned to spend a full day but by early afternoon I decided to move on to my final destination, Kemmin Kaihin Park further down the peninsular in Kanazawa. This excellent coastal park is always a great spot for migrants (and winter visitors) so I though it might be good to give it an evening followed by an early morning as I had for Rokkozaki.

Immature Temminck's Cormorant exercise routine.

One thing I hadn't given much thought to was the number of photographers there would be at the park in Kanazawa, I'd been the only person, let alone only birder, wandering round the hills and fields at Rokkozaki but there were knots of photographers gathered at all strategic locations in the park. This isn't a great problem in itself but it detracts from the thrilling sense of expectation that any rarity is mine for the finding.

One of the first migrants I found was a Lesser Cuckoo and the resident Azure-winged Magpies are always great to see as it's a species I can't see around Kyoto. There were warblers, Oriental Reed, Yellow-browed, Sakhalin, Eastern Crowned and Stubtail as well as thrushes, Siberian, Brown-headed, Eyebrowed, Japanese and Dusky. All these in the last couple of hours before sunset, once again I was full of high hopes for the following morning.

I settled down in the car for an early night but was suddenly roused by a couple of fighting Racoon Dogs in the car park. Later two more animals were searching for roadkill on a nearby bridge, moving aside to allow cars to pass. Hopes of hearing owls during the night came to nothing.

By 05:45 some of the same photographers who had been there the previous evening were already hurrying to their favourite spots, and who could blame them - the birding was excellent. I found two more Tristram's Buntings to add to the three I'd seen the previous evening, there were two male Siberian Thrushes, a Common/Oriental Cuckoo, a couple of Rubythroats and Siberian Blue Robin. I heard Common Greenshank overhead and Green Pheasants were displaying in the scrub behind the dunes.

One of many Eyebrowed Thrushes. 

Asian Brown Flycatcher.

There were four male and one female Tristram's Buntings in the park.

Everything had been going really well up to this point. Too well? At 07:00 I jumped up onto a sawn-off length of felled tree trunk to look for a singing Rubythroat, lost my balance and had to jump back down. Unfortunately another section of the same tree was laying there and prevented me taking the step back my momentum required and over it I went. Like any good birder would I grabbed my bins with one hand and camera with the other as I back flopped over the trunk. I might have dropped into some springy bushes but no such luck, there was a 6-7cm high wooden spike, a cut-off piece of branch sticking up, and I planted my right kidney area right on top.

I lay a moment to take stock and plan how to stand up, no easy feat, that took a couple of minutes. I was feeling incredibly weak and groggy and my only thought was get back to the car in case there was worse to come. Each shuffled step seemed to take an age but suffice to say I did make it back to the car and started a slow and painful drive home. Making my way through the park I was vaguely aware of lots of birds to my right and left but one bird in particular, a male Tristram's, wouldn't move out of my way... I could have bent down and picked it up. My only thought at the time was one day I'll be amazed by that bird.

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