Friday, 29 April 2016

A few bits and pieces from the April trip

My three-day trip last week, taking in The Tsu city / Matsusaka (Mie), Hegurajima and adjacent coast (Ishikawa), and on the final day a morning at Kenmin Kaihin Park Kanazawa (Ishikawa) and evening near Yogo (Shiga), was great fun birding across such a wide range of habitats and a great success birdwise recording 131 species. Well above my usual week-long off-shore island totals at this time of year.

Mergansers and boats; an early morning fishing competition in Mie.
Mie provided a few spring arrivals such as Cattle Egret and Chestnut-cheeked Starling...



As well as the usual suspects, Chestnut-eared Bunting and Green Pheasant...


On Hegurajima Pale Thrushes are still quite common but I was surprised to find a Long-tailed Rosefinch. Most have already left and I'm more accustomed to finding the scarce Common Rosefinch at this time of year.

Along with Buff-bellied and Red-throated Pipits, I had two Olive-backed. The very fine flank streaking on the bird below suggests it could be yunnanensis. I've posted previously on two birds I believed were yunnanensis on Hegura.

The northern Ishikawa coast was a little disappointing but one spectacular sight was thousands of Black-tailed Gulls flying up wooded valleys onto fields in the process of being flooded prior to planting rice.

The following morning I was at Kenmin Kaihin Park in Kanazawa. There were lots of thrushes around, especially Japanese, Dusky and Pale. Even with very high ISO it was difficult to get a shot of this Brown-headed in the very early morning when thrushes still venture into the open.

Blue and White Flycatchers had been more common on Hegura, I only saw three here.

In the hills several newly arrived Oriental Cuckoos were singing but Copper Pheasants and Japanese Scops Owls had fallen silent, though the weather wasn't the best when I was there. It was probably still too early for Grey Nightjars and the other cuckoos, either that or the weather didn't encourage song.

There were a couple of Ashy Minivets in Kanazawa but they were quite common near Yogo, about 15 was the largest group I saw. Both places had lingering Rustic Buntings, it was a little surprising I didn't see any on Hegura though time on the island was brief.

Saturday, 23 April 2016

Hegurajima: April 22 day trip

After spending a day and a half in Mie I made my way slowly to Ishikawa. The weather was dreadful, heavy rain throughout and a diversion due to a bad traffic accident didn't help. Of course I didn't mind in the slightest what the conditions were like on a relocation day and all that rain followed by forecast patchy fog over the sea the following morning had me rubbing my hands at the thought of all the migrants that might have made landfall on Hegurajima.

I picked up a few birds on the way, Brown Dipper was the only one I was unlikely to see elsewhere. I was curious what kind of bird list I could build driving round compared to my usual week spent on an off-shore island at this time of year. I was confident I could do better with numbers but could I get the quality?

The ferry to the island is usually an anticlimax, I rarely see much on this route, however there were a few things this time. An Arctic Skua was a first for me on this stretch of water, though I did once have a South Polar. Two groups of presumed Japanese Murrelets I saw turned out to be Ancient when I looked more closely. Two very distant parties of waders flying in close proximity, birds in one group slightly larger, were probably Red-necked and Grey Phalarope as both parties settled on the sea. Streaked Shearwaters were as common as ever.

Morphing murrelets; these expected Japanese turned out to be Ancient.

One of the second group of four which was closer.

A Streaked Shearwater letting its inner Colonectris really shine through; it could almost be a Cory's.

Approaching the island Pelagic Cormorant became common, I only saw one Temminck's out there.


Once on the island it didn't take long to see there were plenty of birds around. There were two or three Daurian Redstarts in the harbour, it's about three weeks since I saw my last around Kyoto, and Bramblings were everywhere, some looking very smart now. They've already disappeared from my usual haunts too. On the incoming side of the balance, Stejneger's Stonechats were very common on the island. Surprisingly I hadn't seen any prior to these this spring, they're usually one of the earlier passage birds on a broad front through my region.

A smart looking Brambling.


Stejneger's Stonechat was possibly the commonest migrant on the island, certainly the most conspicuous.
It didn't take long to find the first non-common bird, well Hoopoe is hardly rare, on the lawn behind the doc's. I bumped into it again later and heard it several times on my for-hour dash to cover as much of the island as practical before the ferry went back. In fact I hardly scratched the surface.


Hoopoe isn't a big rarity but they're always nice to see.
From there I quickly had a look at the coast and found a Swinhoe's Snipe on the grassy path to one of the headland shrines, then into the woodland where I flushed a Woodcock. There were plenty of Great and Coal Tits about, the odd Eastern Crowned Warbler, a Goldcrest and three or four Japanese Robins, heard only of course. A Long-tailed Rosefinch was a surprise, I've seen far more Common Rosefinch on islands in this season over the years.

No mega then; time to move on. Just as I was coming out of the trees I noticed a Japanese Sparrowhawk mobbing a Goshawk, or so it seemed at first glance judging by size but when I got the bins on them I was surprised to see a Northern Sparrowhawk mobbing a smallish harrier. Was this going to be the mega?! No, a Hen. I should have guessed, why do I get so excited over every bird? Because it's Hegura I suppose, it could have been a Pallid...

A mega approaches?

It's almost as if it sees me watching so closes its fingers to keep me guessing.

I wasn't fooled for a moment.

Next stop the harbour edge, it always holds something of interest. On the way I noticed there were no photographers at the hide, platform I should say, overlooking a shallow pool constructed to attract whatever is lurking in the undergrowth. It's funny really, two other people had taken the same ferry out in the morning and I only saw two others on the island. Great season, great weather, loads of birds and the place is all but deserted. Yet in a week, the Golden Week holiday, I bet the place will be packed to the gills. It's so difficult to book accommodation then which is fair enough with so many birders having inflexible work schedules but a good few of the visitors are retired. Why aren't they there now? The birding is fantastic and I very much doubt the Japanese national holiday will loom large in the birds' migration strategy. But as I was saying, the observation platform, I'm glad I stopped to take a peek. There was nothing rare but there were tons of birds flitting around, the best for me was an Asian Stubtail. Stubtails were singing all over the place, they're a common summer visitor around Kyoto, but they aren't the easiest thing to photograph.

Asian Stubtail: a photo tick.

One of 12 Blue and White Flycatchers I saw on the island (nine were males).

Red-flanked Bluetail.

Presumably a 2CY by the look of it.

I finally got down to the harbour area where the highlight was a party of three Greater Short-toed Larks. I see this species every spring, but three, I've never seen a flock of them before!

Red-throated Pipit with Greater Short-toed Lark.

A "flock" of Greater Short-toed Larks.


Then it was ferry back, a bite to eat behind the wheel and check out some fields further up the coast for waders to make use of the remaining day light. This wader checking idea was on the strength of having heard a Greenshank's chu-chu-chu behind Wajima that morning but apart from a snipe (I suspected Latham's) that crept off through the grass and into thicker cover before I could get down to the serious business of identification there was nothing.

So the wader idea was a bust but it had been an enjoyable day. In terms of quality I'd come up with a few species I don't see very often and in the numbers game, after 2.5 days in the field, I was on 123. This was definitely better than being based on an off-shore island. One more day to go.

List of species recorded today:-
Green Pheasant   2 plus 2 heard
Eurasian Wigeon   2 NP (Noto Peninsular)
Eastern Spot-billed Duck   7 NP
Eurasian Teal   c40 NP
Streaked Shearwater   100s
Little Grebe   1 NP
Grey Heron   3-4
Great White Egret   5 plus 7 NP
Little Egret   1 plus 4 NP
Great Cormorant   2 Wajima harbour
Temminck's Cormorant   1
Pelagic Cormorant   c50
Osprey   1 NP
Black Kite   2
Hen Harrier   1
Northern Sparrowhawk   1
Woodcock   1
Swinhoe's Snipe   1
snipe sp   1 NP
Common Greenshank   1 Wajima
phalarope sp   two small flocks seemed to be one of Red-necked, the other Grey
Black-tailed Gull   common, c1000 on flooded fields NP
Vega Gull   5
Slaty-backed Gull   1
Arctic Skua   1
Ancient Murrelet   8
racing pigeon   1 the pigeons on Hegura are always kitted out in racing legwear
Rock Dove   several NP
Oriental Turtle Dove   several
Common Kingfisher   1 NP
Hoopoe   1
Bull-headed Shrike   1 heard NP
Carrion Crow   c50 NP
Large-billed Crow   1
Great Tit   several
Coal Tit   several
Barn Swallow   3-4, several NP
Asian House Martin   c20 NP
Greater Short-toed Lark   3
Brown-eared Bulbul   fairly common NP
Asian Stubtail   2 plus many heard
Japanese Bush Warbler   common
Arctic Warbler complex   1
Eastern Crowned Warbler   c10
Japanese White-eye   common
Goldcrest   1
Chestnut-cheeked Starling   3 NP
White-cheeked Starling   1
White's Thrush   1
Japanese Thrush   1 plus 1 heard
Eyebrowed Thrush   1
Pale Thrush   common
Dusky Thrush   common
Japanese Robin   5 heard
Red-flanked Bluetail   1
Daurian Redstart   8
Stejneger's Stonechat   common
Blue Rock Thrush   1
Dark-sided Flycatcher   1
Asian Brown Flycatcher   1
Narcissus Flycatcher   1
Blue and White Flycatcher   12
Eurasian Tree Sparrow   several NP
Grey Wagtail   1 plus 2 NP
White Wagtail   several
Japanese Wagtail   several NP including a juvenile
Olive-backed Pipit   2
Red-throated Pipit   2
Buff-bellied Pipit   1 plus c10 NP
Brambling   30+
Oriental Greenfinch   common
Eurasian Siskin   1
Long-tailed Rosefinch   1
Hawfinch   1
Meadow Bunting   sev NP
Elegant Bunting   1
Japanese Yellow Bunting   1
Black-faced Bunting   common plus 1 spodocephala and 1 possible sordida (this isn't on the Japan list according to the most recent OSJ list, more of this later)

Thursday, 21 April 2016

A few spring migrants

I arrived in Mie yesterday hopeful of seeing a wide variety of waders; that didn't happen. In part because I spent hours trying to get good views of a couple of snipe, one clearly Swinhoe's but the other less easy to separate from the much less common Pin-tailed, but mainly because there doesn't seem to have been a massive change since my last visit 10 days ago. A few Wood Sandpipers and Whimbrel are the only signs on new arrivals apart from the migrant Swinhoe's Snipe. However the Spotted Redshanks and Long-billed Dowitchers are looking much closer to breeding plumage now.

First up was a Spotted Redshank backlit by the first morning sun.







Two of seven Common Greenshank.

Long-billed Dowitcher with Wood Sandpipers.

The Long-billed Dowitcher relocating to a quieter pile of rocks away from the Wood Sandpipers.

Jousting Wood Sandpipers.

Elsewhere it was business as usual with the Wood Sands.

Spotted Redshanks with Long-billed Dowitchers and Black-winged Stilts.

Very few Sanderling were coming into breeding plumage, this was the most advanced I saw.

Grey-headed Lapwing.

List of species recorded:-

Green Pheasant   4 plus several heard Gadwall   100+
Falacted Duck   17  
Eurasian Wigeon   low 1000s
Mallard   10s
Eastern Spot-billed Duck   fairly common
Northern Shoveler   c60
Northern Pintail   c40
Eurasian Teal   100s
Common Pochard   40-50
Tufted Duck   c200
Greater Scaup   1000+
Red-breasted Merganser   c20
Little Grebe   common
Great Crested Grebe   5
Black-necked Grebe   7
Black-crowned Night Heron   1 heard
Cattle Egret   1
Grey Heron   common
Great White Egret   common, numbers clearly up
Little Egret   c20
Great Cormorant   common
Peregrine   1
Osprey   2
Black Kite   2-3
Ruddy-breasted Crake   1 heard
Common Moorhen   1
Common Coot   c40
Eurasian Oystercatcher   49
Black-winged Stilt   4
Grey-headed Lapwing   c10
Grey Plover   c40
Little Ringed Plover   3-4 plus several heard
Swinhoe's Snipe   2
Common Snipe   8
Long-billed Dowitcher   3
Bar-tailed Godwit   c15
Whimbrel   3
Far Eastern Curlew   2
Far Eastern or Eurasian Curlew   1
Common Greenshank   7
Spotted Redshank   7
Wood Sandpiper   8
Sanderling   60+
Dunlin   100s
Black-tailed Gull   1
Common Gull   4
Vega Gull   c40
Taimyr Gull   6-7  
Black-headed Gull   c400
Rock Dove   c8
Oriental Turtle Dove   several
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker   1 heard on drive to Ishikawa
Bull-headed Shrike   5
Jay   1 on the drive
Carrion Crow   common
Large-billed Crow   a few
Varied Tit   several heard on drive
Long-tailed Tit   several heard on drive
Barn Swallow   only a few passing through
Japanese (Eurasian) Skylark   common
Zitting Cisticola   3 plus 4-5 heard
Japanese Bush Warbler   2-3 heard on drive
Oriental Reed Warbler   2 heard
Japanese White-eye   several on the drive
Wren   1 heard on the drive
Chestnut-cheeked Starling   1
White-cheeked Starling   widespread in low numbers
Dusky Thrush   still common
Blue Rock Thrush   1
Brown Dipper   1 on the drive
Eurasian Tree Sparrow   common
Grey Wagtail   2 on the drive
White Wagtail   c6
Japanese Wagtail   1 on the drive
Oriental Greenfinch   fairly common
Japanese Grosbeak   1 on the drive
Meadow Bunting   several
Chestnut-eard Bunting   several
Common Reed Bunting   4

On the way there:-
racoon dog   1
Sika Deer   2