Friday, 17 June 2016

Fairy Pitta

I'm sitting here today pondering my leech bites. I've never had an adverse reaction before but a couple of these are really itchy and another very red and splodgy. At least they show I was in good quality forest!

Yesterday I was birding in both Kyoto and Shiga forests and though my day began with four hours continuous rain just below a low ceiling of cloud (as I discovered after daybreak) by 6:30 the rain was easing-off, the morning destined for clear skies and a sticky 100% humidity.

I didn't leave the shelter of the van during the hours of darkness; umbrellas and trees don't go well together in daylight let alone at night. All I heard were three Japanese Scops Owls, none of them close, and barking foxes. At first I heard the foxes snuffling, grumbling and grunting behind me and I could see two adults and at least one half-grown cub on the road. I'm unsure whether there was more than one cub as 'it' was racing back and forth mostly hidden by a bend in the road while the adults sat watching over play time.

Once light began to broaden I couldn't justify sitting any longer so pulled on waterproof bottoms (Does that sound any better than waterproof over-trousers? Didn't think so.), grabbed my umbrella and made my way along the woodland edge. It still wasn't light enough to identify many of the small birds flitting in the tree tops but a Broad-billed Roller suddenly appearing flying away for a brief second was a shock, to say the least. This isn't a bird I expect in Kansai during the breeding season, I think I've only seen one here on passage! Then I promptly began the process of talking myself out of it. "It's still pretty dark, the flight was a bit like a Jay... it must have been a Jay" It was a Jay.

I covered the nearby area as much as possible but under the trees wasn't getting much brighter and just before 7am I was back at the van for a break and some roasted almonds in lieu of breakfast. Then, unbelievably, a Fairy Pitta was singing! The rain had stopped (more or less) so I could ditch the brolly before dashing towards the sound; don't stop... don't stop! I struggled to spot it in the tree tops and after a short pause the song was another 150 metres away. And so began a Pitta chase. For a long while this pattern was repeated, it wasn't bothered by me, I could just never pick it up before it changed song perch. This time perseverance paid dividends, I finally latched onto it, this wasn't going to be one that got away; another one that got away.

I was able to watch it for several minutes before it shifted again.

When I first heard the Pitta it seemed in competition with a Ruddy Kingfisher singing from the same location. The big difference was I was able to connect with the Pitta eventually. The Kingfisher, along with several others heard that day (and countless others) remained just a voice in the forest. The Pitta was a photo tick for me, the Kingfisher will have to wait, yet again.

I heard the Pitta once more, very briefly, but it was way off across a broad valley on an entirely different hillside. A second bird? Or this one moving along?

The morning was heating up as it progressed, so was I, there wasn't a breath of air. I was thinking about a move, trying somewhere else and I'd driven a couple of hundred metres back down the access road enjoying the breeze through the open window but decided to check one last spot. A track led to a clearing through a narrow belt of trees and no sooner had I stopped to check some movement in the bushes than a Roller, living up to its name, flopped rapidly across the open space. Ha! Jays with dark rumps don't exist. No, not even in the early half-light. Note to self: don't talk yourself out of good birds in future.

My next stop was a deep, dark (leech infested) valley bottom. I've seen Japanese Night Heron here in the past, Copper Pheasant too. But not today.

Fire-bellied Salamanders are very common in old wet forest but after a lot of rain you've got watch where you put your feet, they seem to think they own the place wandering willy-nilly from puddle to puddle.
Northern Hawk Cuckoo is a fairly common bird, very vocal at night and into early, post-dawn morning before they notice night has given way they're supposed to melt away with the darkness. Where do they go? They go to dark, deep (leech infested) valley bottoms.

Another feature of dark (leech infested) valley bottoms is shredded trees. Deer rubbing off their velvet? Not going up to four or five metres I'd have thought. Bears it is then, though I've only ever seen one here. Another good bird down there was a Japanese Sparrowhawk. I heard a harsh scolding and saw something dashing towards me with a Blue and White Flycatcher in hot persuit. After a minute I'd persuaded myself that it could have been the Hawk Cuckoo, they look incredibly accipiter-like in flight. I was at it again, trying to deprive myself of a good sighting. But for the second time I had another chance to confirm its identity when after several minutes (where had they been all this time?) the Sparrowhawk and Flycatcher came back up the track. The hawk passed by at head height just a couple of metres away, I don't think I've ever been quite as close to a wild bird of prey.

Before light began to fail I took a thoughtfully place but little used road that crosses the mountain. The best bird (not that I saw it) was a singing Japanese Leaf Warbler, something I hardly ever encounter, plus the only (also unseen) Japanese Thrush. The first Grey Nightjar started 'chucking' while light was still good but it was another 40 minutes before others joined in. While I was waiting a terrific roadside White-backed Woodpecker kept me entertained.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

Where next?

After disembarking from the Hegura ferry and back in Wajima once more I quickly returned to the headland that had been so foggy that morning. The foggy morning full of anticipation seemed distant even then, now far more so. And bathed in hot late afternoon sun it could have been another season. There was no sign of the morning's Reef Egret nor of the Japanese Woodpecker but Kamchatka Leaf Warblers were still singing, the single Narcissus too.

My plan was bird here till dusk then head south to a still undecided destination. And bird I did, though I failed to add anything new to the day list and eventually, with a couple of photographers setting up tripods to catch the sunset across the bay, I thought that was enough. I hadn't eaten since pre-dawn so it was time to sample the delights of a local convenience store.

Sometimes when I order coffee in a convenience store I think I detect a friendly but knowing look across the counter; of course a foreigner wants the large size. When I order three large coffees no one bats an eyelid. He must have a car-full outside - a bus even!

Feeling much better I was ready to go again and my mind was made up; Shiga. I'd head down to Shiga and try for owls tonight then in the early morning... early morning stuff. There was no great rush heading south and four hours later, at my first port of call, I picked up a wild boar in the headlights. It wasn't as spectacular as it might sound, in fact it was a spotty little piglet that looked way to young to be out on its own. This was followed by a racoon dog, another young animal that insisted on bounding along the narrow potted, crumbling asphalt in front of me rather than diving off to one side or the other. One side was steeply up, the other precipitously down, not so daft after all then. And there were also sika deer, several, including a handsome multi-pronged buck that blocked my path until I reached for the camera. I didn't hear even a single owl, none of the usual nocurnal singing cuckoos either, no Grey Nightjar. I confess I slept for at least half the three hours I was there but if an owl or anything else had started up I'd have woken. Certainly if it had been reasonably close at any rate, it was a dead still night. The moon had set early and the stars were fantastic from the hill top.

At about 2am I it was time to try somewhere else. So off I went, and the second choice proved a good one. On arrival was met by singing Grey Nightjar and both Lesser and Northern Hawk Cuckoos; still no owls but birdwise this was a massive improvement on the previous stop.

Once day proper got going birding was pretty good, Japanese Woodpecker and Narcissus Flycatcher were two of the commonest birds (okay, maybe there might have been more Brown-eared Bulbuls if I'd been counting), there were several Oriental Cuckoos higher up and I was able to locate White-bellied Green Pigeons sitting prominently in a couple of spots. Also there were a few Blue and White Flycatchers but only two Japanese Thrushes singing. I've had surprisingly few Great Spotted Woodpeckers lately, just a bad run I suppose, especially considering the way Japanese have been lining up for me. Then I heard the unmistakable drumming of one not far off, I followed the sound round the contour of the hill and it must have been sitting in a track-side tree as it immediately took flight across the valley as I appeared round the bend. This was my first compared to over 20 Japanese seen or heard over these two days, and my first for about a month. Even White-backed have been putting up more of a show than that.

One of about 20 Japanese seen. 
Narcissus were common but not always willing to sit in the open.
Another bird that was quite common but difficult to see well, sticking mainly to forest understorey. It's one I don't often come across on my usual travels; Red-billed Leiothrix.
Mammals had been performing quite well and I added Japanese macaque to the trip list here.

There were quite a few macaques around.
Photobombed by a sika deer.

It must have had a flea in its ear seeing me there... sorry.
Unsurprisingly the deer didn't hang around, the macaques lingered a little longer but they weren't comfortable with my intrusion.
And back at the car park, right next to the van, I heard another Great Spotted Woodpecker. That bad run must be at an end.

Monday, 13 June 2016

Island alive with Kamchatka Leaf Warblers

Last Sunday I visited Hegurajima and was surprised by how many Kamchatka Leaf Warblers were on the island. I went back to the island this week (10 June) and found there were even more, far more in fact. They really were everywhere; from sprigs of emergent vegetation amongst the harbourside pebbles, through dense, nigh impenetrable hip-high coastal vegetation to the island's woodland spine. I posted Quite a few images of examinandus in the the last post so just a single bird this time.

It seems that this may be peak time for these north-bound birds. They're also late going the other way in autumn, passing after the vast majority of locally breeding Japanese Leaf and Eastern Crowned Warblers are long gone. Incidentally, I don't see much difference in plumage between autumn migrants and these, presumably more worn, birds in June.

Black Woodpigeons were still prominent and if I'd had the luxury of time, I think it would've been possible to get some good images of these birds that were sitting up far more often than autumn birds seem to do. As it is I'll have to make do with this.

I did get some shots of the Pigeons flashing iridescence in the sun but never a whole bird; a neck here, a belly there, perhaps a crown peeking over some foliage. Four hours on the island isn't long enough to worry about the prefect Pigeon picture.

A female Japanese Paradise Flycatcher was an altogether different challenge. It wasn't afraid to show itself but there weren't two consecutive seconds that bird wasn't on the move.

Everyone's due a little luck sometime and this male (it was singing) Lesser Cuckoo sat up nicely for me.

A 2CY male perhaps? It has a striking rufous hind collar and brownish pale-tipped coverts.

As usual the ferry journey was disappointing, lots of Streaked Shearwaters but nothing else to speak of. Not even a cormorant. Nevertheless, it's always good to see any details of any shearwater plumage.

Sunday, 12 June 2016

Waiting for the Hegura ferry

I arrived early in Wajima early, with enough time to do some birding before the ferry left, otherwise it's such a waste of a bird-filled dawn when sunrise is at 4:30. The sun may rise then but you'd have been forgiven for thinking it simply hadn't bothered that particular morning. Dense fog, or more accurately a blanket of low cloud, kept light to a minimum and gave everything a drippy grey uniformity.

Funnily a female Blue Rock Thrush, which would normally be no more than variations on a grey theme anyway, managed to transform itself into this fetching brown...

There were several singing Kamchatka Leaf Warblers that remained invisible in the foggy tree tops and a Narcissus Flycatcher that brightened the gloom of the understorey. When the clouds eventually began to rise a small number of Pacific Swifts were circling the light house on the hill top. So there were migrants around. Hegura might still produce something at this late date.

Both Japanese Pygmy and Japanese Woodpeckers were easy to see in the early morning murk.

The other highlight while waiting for the ferry was this Pacific Reef Egret. They are often too far out on the rocks to allow photography but high tide didn't leave this bird too many options.

One other pleasant surprise was a bedraggled Japanese Marten but it made off before I could get a decent shot of it.