It was minus two degrees as I drove towards the hills north of Lake Biwa, after recent warmer weather I was glad I'd re-packed my winter gear. Not only has it been a mild winter but there's been very little snow so it's possible to drive to the top of the hill I was aiming for. Usually huge mounds of snow cleared from the car park at the foot of the ski slope linger well into spring preventing easy access but this year there's a clear run to the top.
At 6am it was dead calm and the air crystal clear. To the northeast were taller snowy peaks and not far to the south Lake Biwa was gleaming in the early light. I parked and began walking along the ridge. The throb of a displaying Copper Pheasant's wings drew me forward but it was too far below on the steep fall-off from the track to see. I had more luck with a Japanese Serow that leapt off the track and paused to stare back at me until I raised my camera. Maybe the sight of something long and cylindrical being levelled at it was asking too much... maybe my much smaller white beard didn't offer much competition.
The first good bird I connected with was a cracking male Common Crossbill. I've seen flocks of them here in eruption years but a single bird during such a mild winter was a total surprise. From a different angle it might have made a great subject catching the rising sun but unfortunately it was more silhouetted against the bright blue sky from the ridge top track.
This great start to the day wasn't to be maintained. Late morning saw me down on the lake and it was immediately obvious that huge numbers of wintering wildfowl had departed in the 20 days since my last visit. All the geese had gone, duck numbers were drastically reduced with no Goosanders or Smew present. The regular Steller's Sea Eagle had returned north too but surprisingly the Tundra Swans were still present; I could pick out one of the two Whistling amongst the Bewick's.
Though most ducks had moved out the wonderful light made photographing the closer birds irresistible.
The afternoon was definitely an anticlimax and I decided to re-locate to Mie which despite it's more southerly position still had plenty of winter birds three days earlier. The last unexpected find was two Kentish Plovers on a gravel shoal where I'd normally expect to see Long-billed Plover! What were they doing so far inland? And as I wasn't intending to hang around for harriers coming in to roost, I was pleased to get a good view of an immature Eastern Marsh along the same river as the Plovers.
I'll add a combined list of species recorded (101) with the Mie section to follow.