Saturday 16 August 2014

Mt.Misen and Matsusaka wader spots

The 13th of August is maybe a bit late to be heading into the forest with high expectation of finding many birds by song. Nevertheless, as I hadn't had a chance to get into the hills of central Wakayama this year, I was keen to try for a few birds I can't see closer to home. Plus having two free days I could combine it with a first wader check of the season.

I drove down the night before taking a different route to the narrow twisty road I've used in the past, less direct but much faster. It would have been much quicker too if I hadn't missed a turning and driven an hour before realising. This meant I didn't get any sleep as the eastern sky was already pale when I arrived but on the upside I did get very nice views of a roadside Ural Owl, first sitting on the roadside barrier then on an over-arching branch.

I hadn't expected a great dawn chorus but Japanese Thrush was one species still in full voice, Blue and White Flycatcher put in a decent shift too. However some quite common yet hard to see species were totally silent, Ruddy Kingfisher and Siberian Blue Robin in particular spring to mind, so it was quite a surprised to actually see a female Siberian Blue Robin move across a small patch of uneven bare ground on the steep slope below the road. Even more of a surprise was hearing a single Japanese Robin sing sporadically, their numbers are far lower in the area than Blue Robin.

Which species were seen and which missed was a bit of a lottery but the silent cuckoos and Grey Nightjar were firmly in the miss column while Japanese Woodpeckers were very active and conspicuous as were the usually gregarious birds, Red-billed Leiothrix, the tits with Willow the best of the bunch and here and there was the wonderful discordant woodwind sound of White-bellied Green Pigeon that I find so evocative of the better quality mountain forests.

As the morning pressed on I began thinking of the two or three hours drive to Matsusaka. There were going to be exceptionally high and low tides today and tomorrow and I didn't want to mistime my arrival. It really had nothing to do with needing coffee, but I was horrified to find the nearest convenience store was over an hour away...  this is Kansai not the back of beyond!

I made it to Matsusaka by early afternoon, in time to catch the rising tide. The few hours before dusk were enough to convince me to stay overnight to catch the next rising tide but in the event the extremely high tide meant the mudflats had been drowned before dawn and the onset of heavy, persistent rain from about 06:30 reduced visability so much as to make waiting for the falling tide a waste of time.

As things turned out it was just as well I left early as the main route across the Kii Peninsular was closed requiring a lengthy detour along a maze of unmarked single track roads. It just hasn't been my week, only a few days earlier I was driving back from Niigata during a typhoon where two roads had been closed. But back to the birds...

There was a rather unremarkable total of 17 wader species, and nothing out of the ordinary. Well, that's by Mie standards anyway, by Kyoto standards it was pretty darn good. But why go there so often if a disappointing day in Mie weren't far better than any in Kyoto. Obvious absentees were Wood Sandpiper and Little Ringed Plover, others are less predictable but I'd normally hope to see Great Knot, Grey Plover and Whimbrel. To see 20 species isn't anything to get excited about but it's not just about numbers and at this time there are still a few birds in cracking breeding plumage. There were about eight Turnstones and absolutely stunning they were too...

A count of 27 Black-winged Stilts was very good and as usual they were on their favourite pond which puts them just a little too far to get good shots with my gear.

When a Peregrine tried to take a Little Grebe most waders flew off in a panic, the Stilts by contrast gathered in two tight groups close to the reeds. 

It wasn't all just waders of course, and it was probably the one that got away that would've been the highlight of the day (aren't they always?). As I was driving along a levee top I just caught the very small size and flappy flight of a small bittern or Striated Heron. By the time I pulled up it had dropped into the reeds or the river edge but when I doubled back and crossed the river there was nothing on the far side of the reeds, so it must have dropped into the reeds making a small bittern species all the more likely. Another highlight was this Osprey, it's rare to get such good views but this rather bedraggled bird was very approachable.

These two Common Redshank were probably the least common wader species of the day and though even breeding plumage birds aren't spectacular, they are still subtly attractive. The other interesting species of the day was Lesser Sandplover, not because it's rare but they present a more interesting identification challenge.

Lesser Sandplover showing the straight distal edge of the inner primary wing-bar, unlike the bulging bar of Greater Sandplover.

They don't come much smaller-billed than the male on the right in these two shots.

A few males were still very red on the breast but the black line down the centre of the forehead seems to disappear very quickly creating an unmarked white patch.

Of the large number of birds close to breeding plumage, this was the only bird with a strong forehead line.

This female looks much longer-legged and bigger-billed. Just individual variation, or how different might mongolicus and stegmanni look?

The beach turned up something else of interest too, while sitting waiting for waders to come closer I noticed a terrapin walking across the sand. It wasn't too far from the river mouth so it didn't strike me as too odd and not wanting to give up my position to the waders I just took a single shot. However once back home I checked the image and it looks to me like a tortoise!

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