I took a visiting Irish birder out at the weekend, who despite just arriving in the country was up for a 3am start from his hotel. He was interested in bird photography and was keen to get good views of some local birds. Finding woodland birds is always a risk outside the spring song period but with luck it's possible to connect with some good birds and the chance of getting good shots is often better than coastal or lakeside locations.
After picking him up we drove to the north of Lake Biwa and our first stop was a vain attempt to see Ural Owl but, perhaps more unexpected, we did hear a Japanese (Collard) Scops Owl singing. My first of the year.
The morning turned out to be heavily overcast with a constant threat of rain, not so good for photographic prospects, and Birdable light was slow to penetrate the forest. Disappointingly there was far less bird activity compared to the crystal clear morning a week earlier. However a male Copper Pheasant was drumming in the same spot as last week, as then just out of sight down a steep slope. Further along the track, again in the same place as a week ago, a Common Crossbill called overhead as it flew between knots of pines clustered around two high points along the ridge. Surely the same bird as last week as they are so scarce in this part of the country.
The best sighting of the morning was a party of three female Copper Pheasants flushed from the steep hillside below the road as I fortuitously stopped the van in just the right spot. It's a pity they hadn't been slightly further away, then they may not have burst into flight the instant we pulled up.
Eurasian Siskin: one of the most numerous birds on the mountain.
We dropped down to Lake Biwa mid-morning and had reasonable views of Long-tailed Rosefinches at a favourite spot of theirs. Black-necked Grebes were dotted all along the shore still very common but now much better looking.
Black-necked Grebes, most are in breeding plumage now and these lake birds are invariably closer and consequently easier to photograph than many of the coastal birds I see in Mie.
Lake Biwa is rather disappointing now as far as wildfowl goes. Most ducks have left, numbers are drastically reduced and some species have disappeared completely. Baikal Teal, never easy to see here, always lead the exodus but even north-end specialities like Goosander have gone (I did see one this week), as have the ubiquitously abundant Northern Pintail. Bean Geese had already departed before my previous visit and this week the Tundra Swans have followed suit.
I didn't see any Smew last week but this time there were two pairs displaying on a pond at the north end. Drakes always gather in large rafts way out on the water at the southern end of the lake, while redheads stick to the northern end and are frequently found on satellite ponds or in tiny fishing harbours. So to see males and females together is in itself a sure sign that they're on the move.
Along with the Smew, there was a Eurasian Spoonbill on the pond. I've seen wintering birds here many times in the past but not for three or four years. As this was only my third visit here this winter it is possible I have overlooked this bird until now but I strongly suspect it has wintered somewhere else and is now drifting towards where ever it needs to be.
List of species recorded:-
Copper Pheasant male drumming just below the ridge, group of three females flushed from steep slope below the road lower down the mountain.
Most ducks have now departed, the following small numbers remained at the northern end on Lake Biwa.
Falcated Duck c10
Eurasian Wigeon 100s
Eastern Spot-billed Duck common
Northern Shoveler c40
Eurasian Teal c40
Common Pochard 5
Tufted Duck c30
Common Goldeneye 3
Smew 2 displaying pairs on a small pond.
Little Grebe 4
Great Crested Grebe 6
Black-necked Grebe 50-60
Eurasian Spoonbill 1 my first at this site for three or four years
Grey Heron 30-40
Great White Egret 5-10
Great Cormorant c30
Black Kite common
Common Moorhen 3
Common Coot common
Grey-headed Lapwing 2
Vega Gull 1
Black-headed Gull several
Rock Dove 6
Oriental Turtle Dove 3 (a record low?)
Japanese (Collared) Scops Owl 1 heard
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker common
Great Spotted Woodpecker 1
dendrocopos sp 2-3 calling
Japanese Woodpecker 1 heard
Bull-headed Shrike 2 plus 1 heard in lakeside scrub
Carrion Crow common on fields
Large-billed Crow more common in the hills, fewer on the fields
Great Tit common
Coal Tit common
Varied Tit several
Willow Tit several
Long-tailed Tit common
Eurasian (Japanese) Skylark frequently heard singing on arable land
Brown-eared Bulbul surprisingly few, under 10
Japanese Bush Warbler c8 seen or heard, birds now becoming vocal even in dull weather
Japanese White-eye very surprisingly only a single bird seen and no others heard
Wren 2 heard on the mountain
White-cheeked Starling some small flocks plus odd ones here and there, probably about 30-40
Pale Thrush 2 small groups totaling about 20 birds
Dusky Thrush common on fields
Red-flanked Bluetail 1 female on the mountain
Daurian Redstart 1 heard at Lake Biwa
Blue Rock Thrush 2 in built up areas further south
Eurasian Tree Sparrow common along lakeside and on arable land
White Wagtail common on the fields
Japanese Wagtail 3
Buff-bellied Pipit c15 in a single party
Brambling 5 flushed form the mountain roadside and a few others heard flying over, but no big numbers still in the area
Oriental Greenfinch a few on lower slopes and common around the lake
Eurasian Siskin unlike Brambling, still in big numbers on the mountain
Long-tailed Rosefinch 4 at a favourite lakeside spot
Common Crossbill 1 presumably the same individual as a week ago
Bullfinch 3 plus several heard in two places
Meadow Bunting fairly common
Black-faced Bunting heard at only one location
Reed Bunting still common in reed beds