Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Greater Spotted Eagle in Kyushu

I started the 29th at Yatsushiro where I've seen Great Black-headed Gull in the past. The estuary was teamimg with birds but all were at such a great distance it wasn't possible to identify most waders and there didn't seem to be any Great Black-headed Gulls in the large flocks gathered on different mud banks dotted off-shore.

The fields were a better option as far as viewing conditions were concerned and flocks of Saunder's Gulls were doing their best marsh tern impersonations over flooded fields, their high pitched k'yip calls quite un-gull like.

The wet fields provided my only Little Ringed Plover of the trip too. In the dry areas a flock of 200+ Russet Sparrows was good and regular sightings of Chestnut-eared Bunting, rather scarce around Kyoto, only went to emphasise how odd it was not to see any Rustic Buntings anywhere.

Chestnut-eared Bunting is quite easy to find.

Two of many Russet Sparrows in a huge flock.

My wife is worried about the car problem and forecast snow for the area and is pushing me to come home for New Year; and her January 1st birthday would have nothing to do with that I'm sure. So rather than head down to Izumi to see the the great clouds of cranes filling the morning sky I decided to cut across the island to Sadowara on the Miyazaki coast instead. Fantastic a spectacle as the morning crane flight is I can see that again another time, the Greater Spotted Eagle I'm not so sure about. Even though the last one in nearby Kagoshima Prefecture came back every winter year after year. Thought it was a pity to lose birding time driving across, I much prefer to do my driving at night, I didn't think I had much choice if I wanted to see the Eagle.

I arrived on the outskirts of Sadowara, dropping down from the mountains, mid-afternoon and a few hirundines caught my eye. Usually they'd be Asian House Martins in winter of course but these looked like Barn Swallows and sure enough when I was able to stop the only bird still in view was a Barn. An excellent introduction to the area but as time was pressing I didn't make the effort to check if they might have been tytleri. I've been told winter Barn Swallows can be this race.

The next good bird was also a subspecies, an albus Great White Egret. As I was approaching the Eagle site I noticed two egrets standing next to each other at the side of a ditch and was struck by the very obvious size difference. Again I didn't stop to check wanting to hurry on but as it turned out my first stop at the Eagle site was only 100 metres further on and soon after parking the Egret appeared. It was clearly much bigger than the several modestus present and extensive yellow in the legs and feet were also indicators. I'm not sure what the problem was but both feet were deformed.

Great White Egret E.a.albus, there's something unpleasant happening to its.


Unfortunately I was never able to get a shot of them next to each other for direct size comparison, but this is the usual modestus. With very nice feet.

...and continuing with the white theme, there were half a dozen Black-faced Spoonbills present too.

By far the best bird I didn't get a shot of was a Baikal Teal. Unlike the birds I usually see it was really close, unfortunately the battery for my camera wasn't anywhere near close. I'd forgotten to take it off the charger when I arrived and when I'd retreived it the duck had slunk back into the reeds where it spent most (I'm tempted to say all) of its time. It never did come back into the open after that brief lapse of skulk mastery.

The Greater Spotted Eagle had been sitting motionless in a bush all this time but it finally got airborne. If I see an eagle in Kansai it's more often than not a Steller's Sea Eagle and by comparison there really isn't anything 'great' about this Eagle other than its spots, it's strikingly small.

It really lacked the wow factor you get with Steller's. Nevertheless it was a very attractive bird and the aquila eagles look rather classy even if they don't have such impressive size.

The rest of the shots (apart from the first) are more heavily cropped despite eventually getting closer views from a better vantage point.

List of species seen at Yatsushiro(Y) and Sadowara(S):-
Common Shelduck   c10(Y), c20(S)
Gadwall   c15(Y)
Eurasian Wigeon   common(Y), c30(S)
Mallard   common (Y/S)
Eastern Spot-billed Duck   common(Y/S)
Northern Shoveler   c25(S)
Northern Pintail   several(Y/S)
Baikal Teal   1(S)
Eurasian Teal   c10(Y), common(S)
Common Pochard   c40(S)
Tufted Duck   c20(S)
Red-breasted Merganser   2(Y)
Little Grebe   1(Y), 2(S)
Great Crested Grebe   4(Y)
Black-necked Grebe   1(Y)
Black-faced Spoonbill   5(Y), 6(S)
Black-crowned Night Heron   5(S)
Grey Heron   common(Y), several(S)
Great White Egret   4-6 modestus and 1 albus (S)
Little Egret   1(Y), 2-3(S)
Pacific Reef Egret   1(S)
Great Cormorant   several(Y/S)
Eurasian Kestrel   1(S)
Merlin   1 (S)
Osprey   3(Y), fairly common(S)
Black Kite   fairly common(Y/S)
Greater Spotted Eagle   1 juv(S)
Common Coot   common(Y), several(S)
Northern Lapwing   5(Y), 1(S)
Grey Plover   5(Y)
Little Ringed Plover   1(Y)
Kentish Plover   fairly common(Y)
Common Greenshank   6(Y)
Green Sandpiper   1(Y)
Common Sandpiper   4(Y)
Dunlin   100+(Y), c30(S)
Common Gull   c300(Y)
Vega Gull   250+(Y), c20(S)
Slaty-backed Gull   1(Y)
Taimyr Gull   4-5(Y)
Black-headed Gull   several(Y)
Saunder's Gull   50+(Y)
Rock Dove
Oriental Turtle Dove   fairly common(Y/S)
Common Kingfisher   1 heard(S)
Bull-headed Shrike   2-3(Y)
Carrion Crow   several(Y)
Large-billed Crow   several(S)
Varied Tit   1 heard coming through the mountains
Barn Swallow   6-7(S)
Japanese Skylark   several(S)
Brown-eared Bulbul   common(Y/S)
Japanese White-eye   several(Y/S)
White-cheeked Starling   common(Y)
Pale Thrush   1(Y), common in the mountains
Dusky Thrush   fairly common(Y)
Daurian Redstart   fairly common(Y), several(S)
Russet Sparrow   c300(Y)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow   fairly common(Y/S)
White Wagtail   fairly common(Y/S)
Buff-bellied Pipit   fairly common(Y)
Oriental Greenfinch   common(Y)
Meadow Bunting   common(Y)
Chestnut-eared Bunting   3(Y)
Reed Bunting   fairly common(Y/S)

Great Grey Shrike, Kyushu

I drove round from Isahaya overnight and arrived at Tamana early, very early, on the morning of the 28th and waited for dawn. I could hear Northern Lapwings calling very close to the car and as the fields came into clearer view an accipiter, probably a Northern Goshawk dashed by flushing them. Birding was under way.

The main goals here were Great Grey and Isabelline Shrike but I only had the vaguest idea of where to look and so drove round slowly to get my bearings and check all the very many Bull-headed Shrikes. There were lots of bird around which made for an interesting morning. Plenty of ducks and waders on the estuary including the first Falcated Ducks of the trip as well as several Black-faced Spoonbills and Saunder's Gulls. Three Hooded Cranes were joined by a party of 13 White-naped on the fields which were alive with passerines and Peregrine, Merlin, Common Kestrel, another accipiter briefly and Hen Harrier were all adding to the excitement. But no shrikes other than Bull-headed.

As at Isahaya Common Starling was fairly common.

 Four Common Shelducks on the fields provided much better photographic opportunities than the usual distant estuary birds.

Wagtails and pipits were common on the fields and the best birds were a leucopsis White Wagtail and a Richard's Pipit.

Finally, just before noon I connected with the Great Grey! This was my third Japan tick of the trip and as I'd only been hoping for one before leaving home things were going really well.

Things had been going really well but a flat battery in the car brought an abrupt halt to that! I asked a couple of truck drivers if they had any jumper leads, they didn't. However one of them gave me a lift to a garage to get help, it was closed. How quickly things can go south. Nevertheless my truck driving mate wasn't about to be beaten by this minor set back and after a brief spell on the phone he got someone to drive out to my aid and we parked up waiting for the cavalry to arrive. Pretty soon a pick-up came and we headed back to my stranded car. The mechanic told me the battery hadn't been charging, either it needed or replacing or it was just a problem with the negative terminal. Either way he recommended I go straight back to Kyoto and not to turn off the engine for any reason including re-fueling. Hmm. After paying him Y1,000, you can't complain can you, I was on my way again - and not back to Kyoto. I'd lost the afternoon but there were still birds to see.

List of species seen:-
Common Shelduck   4
Falcated Duck   12
Eurasian Wigeon   high 100s
Mallard   100s
Eastern Spot-billed Duck   100s
Northern Pintail   c150
Eurasian Teal   15
Little Grebe   1
Black-necked Grebe   2
Black-faced Spoonbill   8
Grey Heron   several
Great White Egret   2
Little Egret   1
Great Cormorant   several
Eurasian Kestrel   3-5
Merlin   2
Peregrine   1

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Black Storks and Yellow Wagtails, Isahaya Bay

As I already posted, Booted Warbler was the star bird yesterday. But far from the only bird.

I arrived at the expanse of fields at about 10am and drove down the central road to the seawall to get a feel for the area. I didn't really expect to connect with the Storks on the way across, but it would have been nice. I was at a loss even where to start looking and a systematic approach might not be the best option with a potentially mobile target. But luck was on my side and after an hour, almost out of my search area towards the south, I caught site of a Stork flying off in the distance. It landed atop a utility pole and fortunately stayed there as a landmark while I made my way towards it. As I approached it dropped down onto the fields where I realised the other bird had been all along. I would never have found the birds at that location had I not seen one drop in, it really was amazing good luck to have been facing the right way to glimpse the distantly flying bird. A truck flushed them onto utility poles not far off as the Stork flies but it was some minutes before I could make my way dog-legging across the fields and bridging the levees across the flood gates. It was well worth it!

I'd almost forgotten I was in crane country but noisy flock of 33 Hooded Cranes crossing the fields was a reminder of what a great place Kyushu is for birding, though some birds, like this beautiful, very pale Merlin, I can see in Kyoto.

Hooded Cranes

The most productive location I found was an old maize field that was being cut. A huge flock of Rooks drew attention to it and though there were no hoped for Daurian Jackdaws with them there were plenty of other birds gathered around the rapidly shrinking stand of withered crop. About 50 European Starlings were easy to see, others less so. A Japanese Quail flushed by the harvester was totally unexpected.

Starlings perched in the final row of maize, everything was gone within 30 minutes of my arrival.

While the Quail was a surprise, it was nothing to the shock of finding the Booted Warbler of course and I can't resist posting a couple more shots of it.

There were also about 200 Buff-bellied Pipits and the same number of White Wagtails attracted to the feast. Though the only Red-throated Pipit I had was a bird calling overhead earlier in the day. There weren't any unusual White Wagtails as far as I could see but three Yellow Wagtails were far more exciting.

These are possibly the only winter Yellow Wagtails I've seen in Japan and it was interesting to see how much they differed, one very dark, another extensively yellow below and the third a pale grey individual.

Two shots of the dark bird with a very dark mask and almost thrush-like breast.

I only saw this bird briefly, it was much greener above and yellower below.

A very grey individual with greenish mainly restricted to the ear coverts but with some on the crown and mantle while pale yellow was limited to the throat.

As the afternoon wore on several Racoon Dogs came up onto the roadside and it was distressing to see how badly they're suffering with mange.

List of birds seen:-
Japanese Quail   1
Green Pheasant   1
Common Shelduck   1
Mandarin Duck   c50 on a reservoir en route to Isahaya
Eurasian Wigeon   100+
Mallard   common
Eastern Spot-billed Duck   common
Eurasian Teal   9
Common Pochard   common
Little Grebe   5
Great Crested Grebe   2
Black Stork   2
Grey Heron   several
Great White Egret   c5
Little Egret   10+
Pacific Reef Egret   1 en route
Great Cormorant   several
Eurasian Kestrel   4-5
Merlin   2
Osprey   several
Black Kite   several
Eastern Marsh Harrier   3-5
Hen Harrier   2
Eastern Buzzard   1
Moorhen   several
Common Coot   several
Hooded Crane   33
Northern Lapwing   c45
Common Snipe   1
Green Sandpiper   3-4
Rock Dove
White-bellied Green Pigeon   1 heard en route
Oriental Turtle Dove   fairly common
Common Kingfisher   5-10
Bull-headed Shrike   5-6
Rook   c500
Carrion Crow   fairly common
Large-billed Crow   several
Great Tit   1
Long-tailed Tit   a party en route
Japanese Skylark   common
Brown-eared Bulbul   fairly common
Japanese Bush Warbler   1 heard
Booted Warbler   1
Japanese White-eye   several
White-cheeked Starling   several
European Starling   50+
Pale Thrush   common
Dusky Thrush   fairly common
Daurian Redstart   common
Eurasian Tree Sparrow   common
Eastern Yellow Wagtail   3
Grey Wagtail   1
White Wagtail   very common
Japanese Wagtail   1
Red-throated Pipit   1 heard
Buff-bellied Pipit   common
Brambling   80-100
Oriental Greenfinch   several
Japanese Grosbeak   1 heard en route
Meadow Bunting   several
Black-faced Bunting   several
Reed Bunting   fairly common