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.


  1. Dear Neil, I read your account and wonder when something similar may happen in fall? I plan to visit Japan from around September 20-November 20 to study birders. Stig toft Madsen, Copenhagen, Denmark

  2. Dear Stig, study birds or birders? Mid-Sept to mid-Nov is peak time for autumn migration of course. Mid-Sept sees a number of Jp breeders on the way out; cuckoos, Eastern Crowned Warbler etc. and there will be lots of people out on islands checking what's going through. Oct is maybe the best time with plenty of passage species and the first winter visitors arriving while the balance is tipped towards incoming winter birds in Nov. Weather is unpredicatable and there are always late typhoons coming through into Oct. By late Oct the likelihood of finding rare birds is lower and consequently there are fewer birders out on the islands where action is best observed.

  3. Dear Neil, Thanks for your reply. Yes, I intend to study birders/birdwatchers/twitchers/ornithologists. I am an anthropologist-sociologist.
    I have booked a place to stay in Tokyo for one month for a start, and intend to visit various places from there. I just spent three weeks at Skagen in Denmark, a very important spring migration spot, but it was cold and the wind was generally westerly. There weren’t many birds. Birders often wait and watch before they proceed to Skagen. Is it the same in Japan: Do people wait and watch for bad weather, or do they make prior arrangements well in advance to visit islands where autumn falls occur?

    1. Stig, usually birders/bird photographers book accommodation on important islands well in advance according to their company holidays or their perception of when is the best time for birds. Hence getting accommodation at the last minute on some islands can be next to impossible. However if bad weather threatens and ferry cancellations are likely many people won't go for fear of being stuck out there and at times excellent islands at peak times can be strangely empty of birders. This is particularly true in autumn when the Japan Sea is rougher even without storms. Compared to European countries there are relatively few twitchers for whom distance (and money?) is no object and who will drop everything at a moments notice.