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

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