Tuesday 26 August 2014

Garganey and 26 wader species!

Trying to find anything interesting around Kansai in August effectively means looking for waders and though the 17 species I saw in the Matsusaka/Tsu area of Mie last week was disappointing there weren't many alternatives to giving it another shot at the weekend. I drove across on Saturday night and spent about nine hours from dawn patrolling the seafront, estuaries and fields clocking up a really impressive 26 species, possibly my highest ever day-total. It may well be that such a wide range isn't unusual but having the luck to be in the right place at the right time to connect with what might be the lone this or that species in the area is the trick. Plus, there'll invariably be one or two usually common species which are mystifyingly absent whenever a very good total seems on the cards. To put it into perspective I very much doubt it would be possible to hit 30 in a day here, even if finding a major national rarity.

Though I didn't get the hoped for major national rare I did manage three species that are scarce or irregular visitors, Greater Sand Plover (1), Latham's Snipe (5) and Broad-billed Sandpiper (2). But the bird that got the day going was a female Garganey. I always get a buzz from finding Garganey, they are a spring and autumn passage migrant in very low numbers, I don't see them every year and rarely if ever in the same place twice so it's a species that can't be actively looked for. A great start to the day. Ridiculous optimism dictates any female (or eclipse male) has to be checked for Blue-winged Teal but there's no deflation when it turns out not to be one; Garganey really is that good. If it had been a passerine, I'd have said it was a new arrival it was feeding with such intent, almost frantically. It seemed just to lift its head from the water long enough for a gulp of air before submerging again. Getting a good view of the head was dependent on some disturbance putting all the birds on edge. When I passed by this pond again later in the day it was nowhere to be seen, either it must have moved on or was taking a siesta in a reedy bay.

I'd thought about settling on the beach before dawn to wait for waders being pushed in by the tide but the very high tide due today was already up to the normal high water mark before then and in any case there were too many people fishing from shore. The fishing website I check for tides predicted today as very good and not only were there a large number of people casting into the sea but the inshore fishing fleet was out in force, many boats had nets down right in the mouths of the broader rivers. Later in the day corresponding extremely low tide meant it was a bumper day for shellfish digging too, it was an altogether bad day to be something edible in the water.

Livelihood or hobby fishermen I can take, but a guy overflying the mudflats with his paramotor was another matter. If his aim was to flush all the waders he did an excellent job, around the edges, up and down the centre, a harrier couldn't have quartered the area more thoroughly. I really can't imagine any purpose to this other than flushing the waders and once they were gone he cranked up the power and gained height over the sea.

And, the Prat-of-the-Day award goes to...

It isn't only wader numbers that fluctuate dramatically, last week there was a single Intermediate Egret, no Cattle and just a few Little but today there were 200+ Intermediate, 20+ Cattle, Little were common and Great White, which had been common last week were in even greater numbers today. Additionally there were flocks of distant unidentified egrets across the fields where ever rice was being harvested.

This adult Cattle Egret showed little sign of breeding plumage, unlike many which were still extensively orange. 

The black-tipped yellow bill of Intermediate is usually visible even at quite long range. 

The very thin neck is also distinctive. 

None of the three least common waders were close enough to get decent photos of, it's always a matter of luck which species might be closer or to distant. Every trip seems different so trying to get reasonable shots of the waders adds another entertaining variable to Matsusaka visits. Below are a few of the closer birds from this trip.

Far Eastern Curlew. 

Eurasian Curlew. 

Far Eastern and Eurasian Curlews.

Terek Sandpiper, the second most common species of the day. 

Grey Plover, a few were still in full breeding plumage but this was the only bird to come reasonably close. 

Grey-tailed Tattler, by far the most numerous wader today.

List of species seen

Green Pheasant   1 plus 1 heard
Mallard   3
Eastern Spot-billed Duck   common
Garganey   1
Common Pochard   3
Greater Scaup   2
Little Grebe   common
Black-crowned Night Heron   1 heard
Cattle Egret   20+
Grey Heron   widespread
Great White Egret   150+
Intermediate Egret   200+
Little Egret   50+
Great Cormorant   very common
Osprey   2
Black Kite   15-20
Moorhen   2
(Eastern) Oystercatcher   10
Black-winged Stilt   33
Grey-headed Lapwing   2
Grey Plover   17
Little Ringed Plover   2
Kentish Plover   fairly common
Lesser Sand Plover   1  This was the most numerous waders only a week ago.
Greater Sand Plover   1
Latham's Snipe   5
Common Snipe   2-3
Whimbrel   2
Eurasian Curlew   1
Far Eastern Curlew   2
Marsh Sandpiper   12-14
Common Greenshank   20-30
Green Sandpiper   1
Wood Sandpiper   1
Grey-tailed Tattler   1000+
Terek Sandpiper   150+
Common Sandpiper   10-15
Ruddy Turnstone   8-12
Great Knot   3
Sanderling   fairly common
Red-necked Stint   3
Dunlin   2
Broad-billed Sandpiper   2
Black-tailed Gull   very common
Feral Rock Dove
Oriental Turtle Dove   very common
Common Kingfisher   2 plus 1 heard
Bull-headed Shrike   1 plus 1 heard
Carrion Crow
Large-billed Crow
Sand Martin   c10
Barn Swallow   common
Japanese Skylark   fairly common
Zitting Cisticola   still many birds singing
Brown-eared Bullbul   fairly common
Oriental Reed Warbler   2
White-cheeked Starling   very common
Blue Rock Thrush   2
Eurasian Tree Sparrow   common
White Wagtail   15-20
Japanese Wagtail   1
Oriental Greenfinch   1
Meadow Bunting   several

Mammals (all on the overnight drive)

Sika Deer   1
Racoon Dog   1
Japanese Marten   1

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