So a couple of days later when I had some free time mid-morning I went to the botanical gardens. Not opening 9am it's often a better bet for a late start than the Imperial Palace Park which would usually be my early morning choice in the city if looking for migrants.
The weather was beautiful so the place was really busy, finding birds was slow and there would always be a someone wandering along to flush whatever might be on view. Passage migrants of interest were single Narcissus Flycatcher and Kamchatka Leaf Warbler and early winter birds included three Daurian Redstarts and the odd Pale Thrush but the first Bramblings of the season were pick of the bunch.
One of a party of about 15 Brambling.
After a couple of hours I heard a slightly distant single woodpecker call, over before I realised and not enough to determine which species it had been. Almost simultaneously a shout went up and photographers were running. The call was from the direction I'd been headed so I was witness to an amazing scene that must have prompted my wife to phone me a couple of days earlier. A crowd of photographers tail-like followed the green comet or like bees behind their queen they'd cluster under the tree in a rush and off the bird would go again. Back and forth from tree to tree, over the pond and across it again. I doubt the bird had entertainment in mind but if I'd been in charge of auditions for a latter day Keystone Cops movie those photographers would have been signed up on the spot.
Bird photographers get a bad press everywhere but I think in Japan most came to birds late without the benefit of a lifetime's experience and lacking basic fieldcraft don't realise that they're doing anything wrong and the culture being what it is no one see going to take them to task over it. I must just add that on my recent trips to Hegurajima everyone I encountered was wonderfully well mannered and behaved.
With the Japanese Woodpecker confirmed as the cause of the frenzy, I could go to work content I hadn't missed anything spectacular.
A couple of days later on Saturday morning I was working in Hirakata and took the opportunity to check the Yodo riverside in the afternoon. The large close-cut grass area is usually good for wagtails and Japanese Skylark and that day was no exception.
White Wagtail, the local lugens, this a presumed adult female
I walked two or three kilometres up stream through a more wooded area but there there was nothing but Brown-eared Bullbuls, a few Bull-headed Shrikes and the other usual suspects in the trees while the river was equally disappointing with a handful of Eurasian Wigeon and the odd Grey Heron.
I made my way back towards the station and at the last clump of scrub before reaching the manicured grass again a Wryneck flew up from my feet and perched in the closest bush. It was too close to focus on so grabbed my camera but through the twigs I needed to switch to manual focus and by the time I fumbled with that the Wryneck had slipped into the reed beyond. I say reeds but it's an impentratable wall, the tallest are four-metre giants with a tangled mass of bindweed running through them.
A metaled track encloses this small rectangle, at one end these dense reeds which give way to thickening into scrub and finally a few stunted trees poke through at the other end. It's all over in 100 metres. And not for the first time it was the last place tried that held all the birds. Apart from the Wryneck and the typical birds of the area of course, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Great Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Japanese White-eye and a year's supply of Bulbuls, there were a couple of Daurian Redstarts, a male Narcissus Flycatcher, a Kamchatka Leaf Warbler and one or two Pale Thrushes. The dense nature of the vegetation meant the idea of getting photographs was a joke but because birds came and went, some not to be seen again, there was a great sense of expectation that something of more interest could have been lurking in there.
A selection of peek-a-boo shots, Kamchatka Leaf at the top (really), a couple of the Narcissus, Pygmy Woodpecker (usually much easier) and a couple of White-eyes. Even the normally brazen Daurian Redstarts were skulkers.
If there was something good lurking, I never did find it.