Tuesday 7 June 2016

Rokkozakki: a weekend in Ishikawa part 1

Last weekend I planned a three-day trip to Ishikawa, mainly with the aim of visiting Hegurajima. I knew the Golden Oriole (a first for Japan) had gone and so too had the Tiger Shrikes as far as I knew - they would have been another Japan tick for me. Nevertheless, though the main migration period might be over the chance of a big rare remained and of course late migrants should still be on the move. The plan involved leaving home on Thursday night and drive up to Wajima and get the Friday morning ferry to the island. Saturday was to be another Hegura day or check out one or two places in Ishikawa depending on how the birding was going, then either back home for a lazy Sunday or keep birding if things were good.

But plans are laid to be upset and the first 'but' came in the form of a call from the office... could I go in on Friday? Okay then, I'd drive to Wajima on Friday night, then spend Saturday on Hegura and take it from there. The lazy Sunday part of the plan was already looking less likely.

The second 'but' was no ferry on Saturday morning and a car park full of disappointed would-be Hegura birders. So... plan B, I'd head up to Rokkozakki (the poor man's Hegura) at the end of the Noto Peninsula and see if there was anything there. I arrived at about 9am so any early morning activity would be over, it could be hard work.

As things turned out it was a frustrating day of birds that got away. After a quite start, there was only a persistent Narcissus Flycatcher singing close by and a distant Lesser Cuckoo, I heard my first Kamchatka Leaf Warbler. That was more like it, a definite migrant. Another chimed in, both were singing and calling. One I was able to see quite well overhead while the other was off to my left. Suddenly an Arctic Warbler started to call, also to my left but closer then the other Kamchatka Leaf. Perhaps it was a female, it never sang but the call was instantly recognisable. This was only my second in Japan but unfortunately it never showed itself. Skipping forward; some 6.5 hours I finally caught up with it, even if only just. I thought I heard the call again about 80 metres away from the original spot and dashed over, I played the borealis song on my iPhone and the bird immediately flew right past my head and perched next to me. With my phone in one hand and glasses in the other I fumbled to find pockets to stick them in. I went for my bins but it was too close to focus on, absolute panic. Finally I resorted to my camera but it wouldn't grab the bird and when I looked again it had gone, never to be seen again. Interestingly the Kamchatka Leaf Warblers never responded to either song or call whenever I played them. So that one didn't quite get away, but what of the birds that did...?

Two potentially good birds came right on top of each other. First an unfamiliar call in thick stuff to my right. As luck would have it, and I was due some, it appeared on bare lower sasa stems through a 'hole' in the dense vegetation. It was a small locustella but I only had it for two or three seconds before a 'huge' Japanese Bush Warbler flew in and chased it off. So it was much smaller than the common bird, that was obvious, but in the darkness of the undergrowth I couldn't even make out if it was streaked or unstreaked. The bill was fine and the graduated tail typical of locustella. But that was it, I didn't get anything more on it. And while I was standing waiting in hope, however faint the hope of a second bite of a locustella cherry might be, I became aware of another call behind me. This one in a more open area of long grass beneath a couple of bushes. I was fully expecting one of the brown phylloscs, just a Dusky Warbler in all probability but I was praying for Yellow-streaked. It hopped up into view on a hanging branch that dipped into the grass and I was amazed to see a bush warbler. It could only have been a 'Korean' Bush Warbler going by call, but which taxon? As expected the way things were panning out, when it dropped back down and didn't reappear. It was another small bird, presumably a female, and now there was potentially good bird on either side of the track. Which one should I focus on? Both were skulkers, neither called again, neither responded to any calls I played to them. Time went by... and nothing. It wasn't my day. There were a few twitches of grass stems that raised hopes but when I finally got to see the cause of one such false hope it was a tiny frog...! It just wasn't my day.

Another cause of distraction in the grass, I kept catching butterflies in my peripheral vision.

As the birds weren't giving themselves up, the highlights at Rokkozaki had to be mammals, a Red Fox and a Japanese Hare. The Hare was a young animal and I thought myself lucky to get a shot of it (very lucky indeed all things considered) but then it came bounding down the track towards me and stopped only a few metres away. It's got a lot to learn.




By late afternoon I'd had enough and thoughts were turning to food. Suzu or Wajima were the nearest places but as the wandering Crested Ibis, now in splendid breeding plumage, had been near Wajima recently I decided to head back there. The drive down produced both large cormorants but nothing much else.

Temminck's Cormorant

Great Cormorant

When I arrived in Wajima the police were out in force directing traffic down inconsequential side streets and generally creating havoc. Wajima was enjoying a festival. When I'd finally filled up both the van and myself I started to make my way north again. The streets around the harbour and along the sea-front were jam packed with cars and yet more trying to join them, lay-bys on the hill out of town were equally clogged. It looked like the day was going to end with a fireworks display on the breakwaters. A less trusting person might have wondered if the Hegura ferry people had decided to have an easy day and enjoy the festival with their families rather than sail to the island. After all the sea had been flat calm all day with hardly a breath of wind. But this is Japan and workers wouldn't conspire to enjoy themselves, ...would they?

On the drive back to Rokkozaki I had a nice Ural Owl sitting on the road close to where I've seen them before. Oh, and the fireworks were pretty impressive. But after only one hour sleep last night I was keen to get my head down and see what tomorrow might bring on the headland.

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