Thursday, 1 January 2015

Another try for Isabelline Shrike

I'm getting rather behind with trip posts, which is surprising considering there's only about eight hours of good birding light per day, but between overnight drives and trying to get a little sleep in the car there still just aren't enough hours in the day.

On the morning of the 30th I was at Kadogawa to the north of the Greater Spotted Eagle site but a thorough scan of the harbour and the surrounding sea failed to produce the hoped for Japanese Murrelet. There was very little on the sea in fact, just a few Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes but Black-tailed Gulls in the harbour was an addition to the trip list.

Whatever the mechanic did to the car battery seems to have done the trick, it is charging now and the engine can be safely switched off. Though I'm still a little nervous every time I come back to the car and turn the key.

After the early morning failure I headed back across the island to the east coast to give the Isabelline Shrike another try; I now had a precise location. Though I found one in October it is nevertheless the rarest  bird in Kyushu as far as I'm aware of and more difficult to see than Scaly-sided Merganser in Japan. The only other bird of interest I've heard of is a Shore Lark in Fukuoka.

The expanse of fields at Tamana is huge, but far more manageable than that at Isahaya Bay. I must say I like this place, a good estuary, the fields of course but with more scrub and trees than Isahaya, plus some natural (un-concreted) ditches. The only thing it lacks is a good reedbed.

I don't know how long ago these fields were 'reclaimed' it must have been a long while ago as the overspill village outside the defensive 'Great Wall of Tamana' is itself old.

What must once have been the sea wall, it runs several kilometres across the area, behind it is mostly residential with discontinuous pockets of arable land. It makes quite a landmark.

Shots bravely taken from the untamed side of the "Great Wall".

The place is far less manicured than Isahaya Bay, lots of scrub, more natural drainage ditches and the fields have a greater variety of crops. 'Blessed with' and 'overhead wires' aren't expressions you'll see in the same sentence too often but they provide an excellent network of perches. Just ask anyone looking for Great Grey Shrike! That white blob in the centre is a Black-faced Spoonbill, there were four in this ditch when I was here two days ago.

How are the fields here different from my local fields at Ogura? Hmmm...

I arrived at about 2pm and immediately went to the Isabelline Shrike location I'd been given. There was only one shrike on that stretch of river bank and initially to looked promising but it was both mobile and difficult to approach. I could see it when it flew onto the wires but when it dropped down it tended to be out of sight. Though it looked good at times, at others it looked far more like a female Bull-headed which ultimately I decided it must be. It would have helped if I'd known the gender or age of the Isabelline.

After a while I decided to look for the Great Grey again and see if I couldn't get any better shots while light was still good. Luckily it was in a track-side bush rather than on wires across the open fields though it meant I had to view it through the windscreen.

There wasn't time to check many other areas but I had to have a look at one or two good looking fields popular with pipits last time I was here. But was side tracked by the Lapwings, I can never resist looking at Northern Lapwings, they're such beautiful birds. They can be hard to approach but there was a flock at the edge of a field which were quite unperturbed by my presence. There was even a Grey-headed Lapwing further out, a scarce bird in Kyushu.

Just catching the last rays of the sinking sun.

Northern Lapwing; my favourite wader.

As I live in the heart of Grey-headed Lapwing country this wasn't so interesting for me but many people will visit Kyushu without seeing one.

As a postscript, I've heard that though the previous winter there was an Isabelline Shrike here it's a Brown rather than Isabelline at the site this winter.

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