Saturday, 30 May 2015

A new camera and a few minutes in the field

After I'd bought my first cheap digiscoping set-up a birder laughingly told me that I'd never be satisfied with it and one day I'd be hooked on taking bird photographs. Utter stuff and nonsense I told him, my digi-gear was purely for gulling and that was the limit of my photographic aspirations. However in 2008 I saw a Eurasian Crag Martin out on one of the islands during spring migration, I believe this would have been the first record for Japan if I'd had a camera to document its occurrence, so I felt investing in some hand-holdable photographic gear was necessary and I bought in a D40 and and Sigma lens. This in no way compromised my previous stand, it was a perfectly practical step. How else could I support claims of any future rares I might find? The recent upgrade to a 7Dii and Canon lens is less easy to justify, in fact I have to confess it's impossible. Ingo was right all along, that digiscoping set-up was no more than the top of a slippery and expensive slope.

I had hoped to get my hands on this kit before my Mishima trip at the end of April but it wasn't to be, even the major Japanese retailer I bought it from doesn't stock the gear. I finally got notification from the shop on Thursday the week before last and my hands on it the following day.

March and April had been pretty quiet months for me work-wise but from mid-May I hardly have a spare moment, nothing surprising about the timing of the camera's arrival I suppose. During the first two frustrating weeks of ownership the only free day I've had corresponded with the one and only day of serious rain, nothing surprising there either really. But I did manage to get out for a couple of hours at lunch time last Friday and along with a painfully sunburned head I got a few shots of the only summer visitor it's easy to see in Kyoto; Oriental Reed Warbler.

I have an awful long way to go getting the hang of this camera, of how to keep my glasses handy to change settings and of using unfamiliar processing software. But these are my first results...

Other shots I liked were of the Carrion Crow at the bottom and this Barn Swallow gathering mud, the rear flank patch is so bold and extensive that the underparts remind me of a White-bellied Storm Petrel!

Friday, 8 May 2015

Mishima: May 6-7, slow days

A very slow day...

Considering the great views I had of Black-winged Stilt in Mie recently this may seem an odd lead shot. But... this was the 100th species of the trip. I've been looking through records of my past visits, the first year I came I saw 114 species in seven days. Stilt makes it 100 in eight.

...a very slow trip in fact.

I covered more of the island today than I have in a single for a long time, itself an indication of few birds, and the woodland would have been very quiet in places if not for the Bulbuls and White-eyes. The tunnel-like, narrow farmers lanes with dense over-arching hedges, so loved by Narcissus Flycatchers, were dead now that the Flycatchers have moved on. Scrubby areas were quite too without large numbers of hidden buntings calling or else dashing between clumps of bushes, the fallow fields around the paddies were still busy with Greenfinches but were also much less exciting without the prospect of buntings popping up from time to time.

The lack of birds did allow time for shots of other things though. Not to mention an increased count of Carrion now that I pay more attention to the crows.

It's not unusual to come across a mole shrew freshly dead in the open like this. It's as if they're active one moment then drop in their tracks.

One of the local terrapins. 

An invasive duo; terrapin and frogs. I remember hearing the bullfrogs were introduced as a food source. They don't seem popular now, if they ever were.

One of several Japanese toads I saw today.

Olive-backed Pipit numbers don't seem to have changed much and I still met with odd ones on woodland paths. All look very smart and I couldn't help but recall the two odd birds I saw on Hegura at this time last year.

Three shots of a typical OBP. There's a bill to forehead length of spider thread visible in the final image.

Repeated below is a single image of each of those two Hegura birds showing their amazingly fine flank streaks and, particularly on one, extremely worn tertials and signs of late moult.

The very fine streaks probably don't strike most people as strange but the hodgsoni I'm used to seeing have broad, bold markings that run together into irregular lines. As yunnanensis has finer flank streaks I'm happy with that ID but such heavily worn tertials in May are still a puzzle. The other consideration is that I'd have expected to see more yannanensis and that these  Hegura birds wouldn't have come as such a surprise.

Differs from the norm with more strongly buff-tipped median coverts, they're usually white or faintly tipped. The tertials are far more worn than anything I've seen at this time of year. The flanks are more uniformly washed light brown from breast to rear flanks compared to the typical clean white or flushed flanks. 

Incredibly worn tertials and inner greater coverts, it looks as though there are dropped rather than just displaced scapulars suggesting it is in (or earlier suspended) moult.

Day Seven dawned clear and sunny with a slight easterly breeze, not too promising. There were a couple of singing Japanese Thrushes and a Japanese Robin as I headed up a steep road through a wooded area. There was nothing else along the road until it exited the wood and there was a burst of three or four phylloscs and an Asian Brown Fly, then back down to the reservoir where there was a Pond Heron and a new Little Grebe. Along the other side of the Honmura paddies; Common Greenshank.

Most birders had left yesterday or were leaving today and usually I'd be quite excited to have the place to myself but today there didn't seem any hope of finding anything in the light of having covered so much ground yesterday in better weather conditions without reward. So I decided to cut the trip short by one day and leave too.

Back in the village I paid for my room and as I was packing I heard a Northern Hawk Cuckoo starting to sing in one of the gardens, or more likely the woodland edge. Hmm, perhaps it's just as well there won't be many people left on the island and I'll never get to hear about the rarity I missed.  

Species seen 6th:-
Eastern Spot-billed Duck   6
Cattle Egret   6
Grey Heron   3
Great White Egret   7
Intermediate Egret   2
Little Egret   1
Great Cormorant   1
Temminck's Cormorant   2
Osprey   6
Black Kite   common
small accipiter sp   1
Eastern Buzzard   2
Black-winged Stilt   1
Pacific Golden Plover   2 both overhead, the second only heard
Common Greenshank   1 heard
Black-tailed Gull   7
Rock Dove   3
Black Woodpigeon   1
Oriental Turtle Dove   common
Pacific Swift   1
Ashy Minivet   heard only once
Carrion Crow   7
Large-billed Crow   common
Barn Swallow   common from mid-morning
Brown-eared Bulbul   very common, large groups on the move
Japanese Bush Warbler   5 heard
Korean Bush Warbler   1 the same bird as previously
Oriental Reed Warbler   only 1 heard today
Sakhalin Leaf Warbler   still fairly common, often heard calling and sometimes singing but not often seen now that numbers are so much lower
Eastern Crowned Warbler   several singing
Japanese White-eye   very common
Brown-headed Thrush  several in a single party, most thrushes have disappeared, I didn't even hear a single singing Japanese Thrush today.
Pale Thrush   3
Siberian Rubythroat   1 heard
Siberian Blue Robin   1 plus 2 heard
Asian Brown Flycatcher   2
Narcissus Flycatcher   several
Eurasian Tree Sparrow   common around the two villages
Grey Wagtail   1
White Wagtail   1 lugens plus 1 heard
Olive-backed Pipit   4 plus 3-4 heard
Buff-bellied Pipit   1
Brambling   2
Oriental Greenfinch   common
bunting sp   c10 heard

Additional species 7th:-
Chinese Pond Heron   1 this may have been a new bird or one of the Utu bird that I hadn't seen
Grey-tailed Tattler   2
Northern Hawk Cuckoo   1 heard in Honmura
Japanese Robin   2 heard
Eastern Yellow Wagtail   1 flying over, I couldn't make out which taxon

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Mishima May 5: ocularis White Wagtail at last

A number of species I've always taken for granted here in the past don't seem to be present. Peregrine is a good example, I must have seen it every day on all previous visits. Another, taxon rather than species, is ocularis White Wagtail, and there've precious few lugens to be honest, but it finally showed up this morning. No doubt about this bird with it's very different coverts, secondaries and black chin.

Other expected firsts for the trip were Eurasian Teal, Red-rumped Swallow and Yellow-browed Warbler. More surprising were Bulfinch and Great Spotted Woodpecker neither of which could be thought of as rarities but I don't think I've had either on my trips here before. The other was Japanese Leaf Warbler.

Blue and White Flycatchers have all but disappeared while Narcissus and the two common warblers are still numerous in places but birding is much harder work than when I first arrived. On the plus side there were many reports of Mugimaki Flycatcher today, I only saw two but also heard three others singing.

The better looking of two Chinese Pond Herons on the paddies at Utu village today.

Narcissus Flycatcher.

A spodocephala Black-faced Bunting with a twig strategically hiding most of its grey breast.

A female Japanese Yellow Bunting, one of several today and perhaps the commonest bunting on the island.

Probably the highlight of the day was hearing a mole shrew! Why should I be so surprised that mole shrews squeek? Well not squeek exactly, or at all in fact, more of an electronic dzzzz  dzzzz. I was sitting quietly in fairly dark woodland and almost fell off the log when when I heard it. It had to be some mega I'd never heard before creeping round on the forest floor just 15 metres away. Small plants were twitching! It came closer, I could follow the movement of plant stems. Closer, damn my bins were always trained on the wrong gap between plants, I never saw it hop across. Then I saw movement under the leaf-litter and the penny dropped. I finally saw it pop up, its back arch then straight back under. A terestrial version of the finless porpoises I saw recently; on this goes dzzzz dzzzz. Not a mega then, but how could I be disappointed.

Birds seen today:-
Eastern Spot-billed Duck   2
Eurasian Teal   8
Little Grebe   2
Black-crowned Night Heron   heard over my accommodation after dark
Chinese Pond Heron   1
Cattle Egret   13
Grey Heron   12
Great White Egret   8
Intermediate Egret   10
Little Egret   8
Great Cormorant   1
Osprey   2-4
Black Kite   common
Eastern Buzzard   1
Black Woodpigeon   1 heard
Oriental Turtle Dove   common
Oriental Scops Owl   1 heard
Pacific Swift   c5
Great Spotted Woodpecker   1 drumming
Ashy Minivet   several
Carrion Crow   1
Large-billed Crow   common
Great Tit   1 heard
Barn Swallow   common
Asian House Martin   c6
Red-rumped Swallow   3+
Brown-eared Bulbul   common
Japnese Bush Warbler   1 heard
Oriental Reed Warbler   10+
Yellow-browed Warbler   1
Japanese Leaf Warbler   1
Sakhalin Leaf Warbler   common
Eastern Crowned Warbler   common
Japanese White-eye   common
Japanese Thrush   1
Pale Thrush   1
Brown-headed Thrush   1
turdus sp   only a few left\
Siberian Rubythroat   2-3 heard
Siberian Blue Robin   1
Blue Rock Thrush   2
Asian Brown Flycatcher   c10
Narcissus Flycatcher   common
Mugimaki Flycatcher   2 plus 3 heard
Blue and White Flycatcher   1
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Grey Wagtail   1
White Wagtail   1 ocularis
Olive-backed Pipit   2
Buff-bellied Pipit   1
Brambling   c18
Oriental Greenfinch   common
Eurasian Bullfinch   1
Japanese Yellow Bunting   several
Black-faced Bunting   1 personata, 1 spodocephala

Monday, 4 May 2015

Mishima; May 3-4, rain!

Another opportunity to pair two days together, again the weather was similar. The first spots of rain began to fall at 05:55 yesterday as I was sitting drinking awful canned coffee overlooking the paddy fields on the edge of the village. It rained lightly or heavily until nightfall and beyond. I didn't mind too much, it was what I'd hoped for after all. Every time I lifted my bins water ran down the back of my neck, gravity and the weight of water my hat had absorbed meant the brim was ever ready to dip inside my collar and tip the surplus in tickling runnels. Fortunately it lacked the chill of English rain so it was little more than a minor irritation but nevertheless I called it a day after only eight hours in the field. Eight hours of very few birds it has to be said.

The only standout bird of the day was a Korean Bush Warbler, its song instantly giving it away. Though I've seen them on other islands this was my first borealis for Mishima, which incidentally is the only place I've ever had cantaurians and I'm still hoping for an armchair tick from that one.

Other new birds for the trip were Dusky Thrush flying over and a Great Cormorant on the reservoir. My camera stayed safely stowed all day so there is no photographic evidence to prove I ever left the shelter of my accommodation.

This morning I left at 05:30, it was still dark. Dawn was late coming even though the rain had temporarily stopped, Emboldened I didn't both with the waterproof over-trousers hence the awful canned coffee was made even more depressing by getting a wet bum. Soon the clouds cutting off the hill tops descended and I suppose at some point became mist. Not long after that a west wind sprang up with intermittent drizzle; west wind, mist and drizzle... it was too good to be true.

New birds for the trip came quicker, Common Kestrel getting the ball rolling followed by Grey-streaked Flycatcher in a tree with five Asian Browns (more than the trip total so far in one tree!). Waders, which have been strangely absent chipped in with a Grey-tailed Tattler and the first Common Sandpiper of the day. It was good to get some different species but they were all just list- padders really.

By 10:00 the mist was reverting to low cloud and a Mugimaki Flycatcher was quickly followed by a White's Thrush then a singing Swinhoe's Robin. Arguably Chinese Bush Warbler could be the arch-skulker as it isn't even on the Japanese list but being realistic Swinhoe's Robin has to take the title. This one was no more than three metres off the path in the crook of a tight bend, I could walk round looking from different angles as it blythely sang away totally unconcerned by me and my frustration. Until it stopped singing and the scrappy tangle of vegetation went from being the most exciting spot on the island to just a scrappy tangle of vegetation.

One good thing about the low cloud/mist was the thrushes no longer considered me a threat for some reason. Maybe the thought I'd be too slow moving trying to prevent water running down my neck. Brown-headed were sitting up all over the place but buntings could still be tricky. Back home I'm confident enough to identify all the regular species by call but here there are too many possible species that I only hear irregularly and I want to get a decent sighting before I'll put a name to anything. In fact I only identified 14 individuals today two Tristram's and 12 Japanese Yellow, there were probably far more of the latter.

Maybe it was a Black and White Warbler in a past life. 

The other Tristram's was more confiding. 

A fairly typical view of a Japanese Yellow Bunting. 

And the rear aspect. There were quite a few in this field, in fact I stopped counting for fear of duplication.

One very interesting bird today was an Eastern Yellow Wagtail x ? hybrid with a black face. This stood out from a great distance, I saw it on the seawall at about 100m and I couldn't believe it. It flew over the wall and disappeared and I had to go legging after it. I caught up with it on the rocky shore where it had teamed up with three Grey Wagtails but the path didn't continue far and I couldn't get close to it before it flew again and I lost it. Though black on the face there is a tiny spot of whitish before the eye which probably rules out the rarer taxa.

Tschutschensis seem rather variable but this would be taking things to extreme. It's something I'll have to look into more when I get home.

As a matter of interest here are two more birds I saw in the past, both early May.

This bird is a slightly duller green above but does have a black mask, however the white supercillium is prominent, I'm now wondering whether this isn't a hybrid too.  

Also duller green but this has a completely grey mask concolourous with the crown, a typical tschutschensis.

In early afternoon the sky suddenly began to clear though the wind was unchanged which I thought was odd if the front had passed through. No doubt there's a technical term for clouds like the ones below but to me they're 'funny clouds'.

Earlier in the week a birder told me he'd seen the Kara shigi sagi "it's behind the paddies over there" he said and told me it has been here for some time. I mistranslated this to Chinese Pond Heron (Aka gashira sagi) and the following morning headed off to the back of the paddies to try to find it in the scrubby reed bed between the paddies and the sea. Sure enough, there it was...

However today someone else told me they'd seen it and the penny dropped, they were talking about Swinhoe's Egret. I asked where it was and he told me it was on a stretch rocky shore which actually is behind those paddies where I came across the Pond Heron. Off I went again and quickly found it. The funny thing is I've never seen the Pond Heron again since the misunderstanding.

Swinhoe's Egret.

Birds today:-
Easten Spot-billed Duck   7
Little Grebe   2
Cattle Egret   7
Grey Heron   5
Great White Egret   9
Intermediate Egret   11
Little Egret   2
Swinhoe's Egret   1
Great Cormorant   1
Common Kestrel   1
Osprey   4
Black Kite   common
buzzard sp   1 flushed from a tree in the mist
Common Greenshank   1
Wood Sandpiper   4
Grey-tailed Tattler   1
Common Sandpiper   7
Black-tailed Gull   3
Rock Dove   14
Black Woodpigeon   1 plus 1 heard
Oriental Turtle Dove   common
Oriental Cuckoo   1 heard
Ashy Minivet   heard once or twice
Carrion Crow   2
Large-billed Crow   very common
Japanese Waxwing   1
Great Tit   2
Barn Swallow   common
Brown-eared Bulbul    common
Japanese Bush Warbler   several heard
Korean Bush Warbler   1 heard (yesterday's bird)
Oriental Reed Warbler   2 plus several heard
Sakhalin Leaf Warbler   common
Eastern Crowned Warbler   common
Japanese White-eye   common
White's Thrush   1
Japanese Thrush   several
Brown-headed Thrush   common
Pale Thrush   several
Japanese Robin   many heard
Siberian Rubythroat   4 heard
Swinhoe's Robin   1 heard
Blue Rock Thrush   4
Grey-streaked Flycatcher   1
Asian Brown Flycatcher   12
Narcissus Flycatcher   common
Mugimagi Flycatcher   1
Blue and White Flycatcher   8
Tree Sparrow   common round human habitation but one along the coast road, a personal first
Eastern Yellow Wagtail   1
Grey Wagtail   5
White Wagtail   2
Olive-backed Pipit   2
Red-throated Pipit   1
Buff-bellied Pipit   2
Oriental Greenfinch   common
Japanese Yellow Bunting   12
Tristram's Bunting   2
bunting sp   fairly common