Thursday, 30 April 2015

Mishima: bad weather, good birds!

The sky was very overcast when I woke this morning but it didn't look like there'd been any of the forecast rain. No sooner had I got outside than it started. There was drizzle and heavier showers throughout the day with the sun just starting to show as it was setting.

My camera stayed in the bag most of the day but it was bright enough for the bird of the day, a Greater Short-toed Lark I found at about 4:30. Unfortunately it was quite nervous, unlike the White Wagtails it was with (also new in) and these shots were the best I could muster. At least it's identifiable.

Downtown Utu witht the ferry arriving. The Lark was on the strtch of short grass behind the beach.

The day started slowly but by late morning things began to pick up, birds were obviously arriving. The thrushes were the first indicator and by day's end I'd added Siberian, Grey-backed (the other star bird of the day), Brown-headed (very common) and Pale to the trip list.

This pair of Ospreys, the smaller male with a fish, were the only birds I got a shot of in the morning before the rain began and the helicopter was leaving the radar station on top of the highest hill. I was once trying to digiscope a Wryneck through the fence of the small hilltop base and before long a military vehicle arrived and I wasn't surprised they told me I could stand there with my scope and camera peering through the fence... I'd have to stand on the other side of the road! So I moved four metres back and they were quite satisfied with that, bizarre.

The Short-toed Lark and Grey-backed Thrush may have been the best birds of the day, but they weren't the high point. That came in early afternoon with an amazing congregation of birds, or flocks of birds. Along a 50 metre stretch I estimated there were about 30 singing Eastern Crowned warblers, a few Sakhalin Warblers, 23 Ashy Minivets, 150 Bramblings, 20 Siskin, a lone Japanese Grosbeak, a huge number of White-eyes, three Blue and White Flycatchers, uncountable Narcissus Flycatchers
and a Lesser Cuckoo. They weren't passing through in waves, the finches were sitting about being finchy and the rest were dashing madly around without going anywhere. Only the Cuckoo didn't hang about. There wasn't much point in using the binoculars to go through them all, it was really a stand in awe moment. The Minivets below were part of a different flock.

Yesterday Sakhalin Leaf Warblers had been far more common than Eastern Crowned. Of course Eastern Crowned are usually silent unless singing whereas Sakhalins call frequently which can skew perception of numbers, two of the three I recorded yesterday were singing birds, it's no exaggeration to say there were hundreds singing today.

After leaving the Lark by the beach in Utu village I bumped into another good bird, a great bird, and the sun was just coming out to try to do it justice. A wonderful Broad-billed Roller. I can't bring myself to say Dollarbird, it sounds too cheap for such a cracking bird. As a kid European Rollers and Hoopoe were the two most exotic birds I'd dream of seeing.

We'll probably be getting clear skies again tonight and tomorrow so I can only hope there are still some good birds that arrived today waiting to be found. Though as I was writing that I heard a Pacific Golden Plover flying over, we're due a few waders.

Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Mishima; April 29

Golden Week is here at last. It's time to head out to an island and see loads of rare birds. That's the idea anyway, I'm not holding my breath.

What is it about Mishima? The first time I came here Sean Minns showed me round all the hotspots and the weather was great birdwise - our tent would have blown away if it weren't for the weight of our sodden sleeping bags, sodden everything, holding it down - there was stuff everywhere. Each subsequent visit the air pressure has been higher, the sky bluer and the wind ever more difficult to detect with a raised wet finger. Since my last visit I've Golden Week'ed on the Noto Penisular and Hegurajima (great birding on the cheap), Tsushima (boy did it rain) and the Yaeyama Islands (not all of them but Ishigaki, Iriomote and Yonaguni - talk about wind) and here I am back again. Blue sky, calm sea and no birds.

In the past I've always come down either by overnight bus or the train, neither of which allow you to get the first sailing out, but last night I drove down. I was able to get the first of the two ferry trips and fully enjoy trudging up and down this hilly island in the blazing sun. Lucky me. Just making the first boat seemed great at the time but now I'm out here not having had time to do a supermarket run I facing next to nothing to eat apart from an evening meal. It never rains, but it pours as they say. If only it would!

I saw pretty much nothing late morning and afternoon but finally had a stroke of good fortune. Nothing rare but tons of birds in just four or five trees. I couldn't count the Narcissus Flycatchers and Sakhalin Warblers, they were darting around on almost every branch, and there were single Blue and White Flycatcher, Asian Brown Flycatcher, Eastern Crowned Warbler as well as a good few Great Tits and Japanese White-eyes too.

Blue and White Flycatcher. 

Asian Brown Flycatcher. 

Narcissus Flycatcher, try as I might I couldn't get an adult male. 

Sakhalin Leaf Warbler. 

Eastern Crowned Warbler.

A couple of minutes later I bumped into a scops owl - brilliant. I've only ever had, heard or heard of Oriental on the island so I presume that's what it was but my view was of a small stubby bird with round looking wings doing an incredible jinking glide through the thick understory along the slope below me. It obviously perched after just a few metres but flew again before I located it. Definitely bird of the day.

The others are listed below.

The forecast claims there'll be rain tonight... not much wind though. Fingers crossed there's more to report tomorrow.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck   6
Streaked Shearwater   c200 around a fishing boat on the crossing
Cattle Egret   1
Grey Heron   3
Great White Egret   6 including one albus
Intermediate Egret   8
Little Egret   4
cormorant sp   c10 probable Temminck's approaching the island
Osprey   3-4
Black Kite   very common, birds always overhead
Common Greenshank   1
Green Sandpiper   1 heard
Oriental Turtle Dove   twos and threes regularly
scops owl sp   1 presumed Oriental flushed twice at 17:30, this is the only species I hear here
Ashy Minivet   heard overhead quite often
Carrion Crow   3
Large-billed Crow   common
Great Tit   c5
Barn Swallow   fairly common over paddies
Asian House Martin   4
Long-tailed Tit   heard once
Skylark   1 heard
Japanese Bush Warbler   (only) 1 heard
Sakhalin Leaf Warbler   c25
Eastern Crowned Warbler   1 plus 2 heard
Japanese White-eye   fairly common
Wren   1 heard
Chestnut-cheeked Starling   1
Japanese Thrush   1
turdus sp   many heard or glimpsed
Siberian Rubythroat   2 heard
Red-flanked Bluetail   1
Blue Rock Thrush   1 heard
Asian Brown Flycatcher   1
Narcissus Flycatcher   c20
Blue and White Flycatcher   2
Tree Sparrow   fairly common in the 'town'
Grey Wagtail   1 plus 1 heard
Olive-backed Pipit   6
Buff-bellied Pipit   1 heard overhead getting off the ferry
Oriental Greenfinch   fairly common
Hawfinch   1
Japnanese Grosbeak   2 heard
Meadow Bunting   1 heard
Rustic Bunting   1
Black-faced Bunting   several heard

Monday, 20 April 2015

The mountains and the sea; a postscript

I woke in the harbour at 4:20 and made my way directly to the nearest convenience store for morning coffee, the first of many, then to the beach to see where and how many gulls there might be. But first, to follow up on the post in the even earlier hours of the morning. When I finally got home and checked The Wild Mammals of Japan (S.D. Ohdachi et al 2009) I found the mole was Japanese western mole Mogera wogura. A mammal tick, excellent.

Sunrise, when it came, did nothing to lighten a silver-grey sea. It seemed more lit from within, and as flat and featureless as the sky above. Perfect conditions to see anything moving on the water. Flocks of Greater Scaup were dotted here and there, birds in the closest seemed unnaturally distinct and the more distant flocks were clear to the naked eye. Each like an oval black stain on grey cloth. Not a single bird could go unnoticed.

But it was the Finless Porpoises that really caught the eye - there were so many. They're fairly small, roll low in the water and are finless, of course. In other words hard to see unless conditions are just so. And this morning they were indeed just so; animals were heading north and heading south, some were fairly close in others almost into the far-off mist that hid the horizon. None were possible to see well but it was good to know they were out there in good numbers.

The same couldn't be said for the gulls, though that can't really come as a surprise. By April 19 it's a wonder there were still so many around. There were two groups of gulls on the beach, one in each direction naturally. I chose the one with a couple of first winters in the mix and made my way down there. There were about 60 gulls in the flock, roughly 45 Vega and about 14 Taimyr.

Half a dozen Taimyr with a single Vega. 

As I was edging closer and almost ready to sit on the sand I noticed a walker coming along the tideline and sure enough he just kept on coming straight through the flock flushing them. Some re-settled not far up the beach and I repeated the edging closer process but before I was close enough to consider sitting the walker reached his exercise limit. A couple of quick stretches and he was coming back and as if on invisible elastic, straight through the flock again.

I grabbed a few shots fairly randomly before the gulls inevitably flew again. This time a few settled on the sea but most left. Soon it began raining so I went for more coffee but when I returned there wasn't a gull to be seen on the beach.

The last lingering birds drifting away. Perhaps the last lingering gulls of the season.

Saturday, 18 April 2015

The mountains and the sea

I woke in the mountains north of Kyoto city yesterday, It was cold! A heavy frost had formed in the valley bottom and patches of hard, icy snow still lingered. The cherry trees were still in full bloom here, about two weeks behind the city just a few kilometres away.

After listening to a fairly subdued dawn chorus of mainly resident species, a lone Oriental Cuckoo showed spring was on the way, I dropped down to start birding along a valley bottom track. No Copper Pheasants this morning but a few Blue and White Flycatchers and Japanese Thrushes added their voices to signal the change of season hasn't quite wound its way into the hills yet. The biggest surprise was a singing Grey Bunting, perhaps the first time I've heard the song here. Otherwise it was the expected species, Brown Dippers along the river and one or two drumming Great Spotted Woodpeckers.

Back on the hill top, the sun had quickly lifted the temperature by 15 degrees and things were far more pleasant. A splendid male Japanese Woodpecker was good as were Nuthatches and a Treecreeper. None are unexpected but they aren't always easy to see either. Jays were common and mixed species groups of tits, Great, Varied, Coal and Willow were everywhere. A couple more Oriental Cuckoos were singing somewhere too.

The big excitement of the morning came as I was leaving. low on the slopes driving down a small mammal was scuttling across the road, I didn't think I'd get there in time to see what it was but on reaching the uncovered gutter at the roadside it plopped straight in rather than jumping over the narrow gap. A mole! Only my second in Japan. The only other had been not so far from here swimming across a slow stream. I felt that previous animal had been larger, but age and individual variation, and far more likely my memory, mean that doesn't count for much.

I'm uncertain about its identity and hope I can sort it out when I get home tonight but I don't have much to go on and none of my shots are in focus - even worse than usual. I must really have been excited. I don't know but perhaps the relative tail length might be my only hope of putting a name to it.

Just as a matter of interest these are a couple of shots of a (dead, obviously) Japanese Shrew-mole.

I crossed Lake Biwa and drove to Matsusaka where the tide was already too high and most estuarine waders were way way out on a distant sandbar. Oystercatcher was the only identifiable species. A few Bar-tailed Godwits, Far Eastern Curlew and Whimbrel did fly onto one of the estuaries briely. So much for the shoreline stuff.

The fields proved even slower; not a single wader bar Grey-headed Lapwing. The area flooded pre-planting is immense and any chance of finding something like Long-toed Stint is minimal unless there were a flock of more conspicuous waders to draw attention to a favoured field.

There were about 400 Black-headed Gulls concentrated in about four or five fields, even these would have been easy to miss driving round kilometres of tracks let alone the odd secretive wader.

The wader pool had to be next. Spotted Redshank numbers were up and there was a Greenshank but just a single Dowitcher. After the five that have been here for so long seemed more closely bound than the Three Musketeers, I wonder whether they've finally gone and this is a new bird.

Male Black-winged Stilt showing the green sheen to good effect here. 

The Spotshanks, while generally gregarious seem surprisingly intolerant when feeding and several birds were keeping strictly to their own corner of the pool. Unfortunately 'my' Spotshank wasn't one of the two blacker birds. The closest of the two close-to-breeding birds was just within digiscoping range.

The bird patrolling the edge close to me was less spectacular.

Day List (Just the bare bones)

Eurasian Wigeon
Eastern Spot-billed Duck
Northern Shoveler
Northern Pintail
Eurasian Teal
Common Pochard
Tufted Duck
Greater Scaup
Red-breasted Merganser
Little Grebe
Black-necked Grebe
Grey Heron
Great White Egret
Little Egret
Great Cormorant
Black Kite
Common Coot
Eurasian Oystercatcher
Black-winged Stilt
Grey-headed Lapwing
Little Ringed Plover
Kentish Plover
Common Snipe
Long-billed Dowitcher
Bar-tailed Godwit
Far Eastern Curlew
Spotted Redshank
Common Sandpiper
Common Gull
Vega Gull
Black-headed Gull
Rock Dove
Oriental Turtle Dove
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker
Great Spotted Woodpecker
Japanese Woodpecker
Bull-headed Shrike
Carrion Crow
Large-billed Crow
Great Tit
Varied Tit
Coal Tit
Willow Tit
Barn Swallow
Red-rumped Swallow
Long-tailed Tit
Japanese Skylark
Zitting Cisticola
Brown-eared Bulbul
Japanese Bush Warbler
Japanese White-eye
White-cheeked Starling
Japanese Thrush
Dusky Thrush
Brown Dipper
Blue and White Flycatcher
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail
Japanese Wagtail
Oriental Greenfinch
Eurasian Siskin
Eurasian Bullfinch
Meadoww Bunting
Grey Bunting

Saturday, 11 April 2015

Mie, April 9: Tundra Bean Goose

After relaxing by the wader pool for an hour I thought it time to head back to the Tundra Bean fields and as luck would have it the Goose had moved back onto the fields where I'd first seen it yesterday morning. The weather was much better now and the bird much easier to photograph.

As the Kansai middendorffii populations left several weeks ago, it's interesting to speculate on where this goose might have wintered; possibly not even in Japan given that Tundra distribution in Japan is even more northerly?

The neck and bill look proportionately even shorter in flight than on the ground.

I've previously posted on a confusion of bean geese at Kohoku on Lake Biwa but the following shots are of some clear middendorffii there to compare with this goose.