Monday 4 July 2016


After a long drive back down from Niigata and the Tiger Shrikes I finally arrived in north Shiga around 16:30. The drive was long because of three much-needed cat-naps en route, I'd only had 30 minutes sleep the previous night driving up. Still, there was plenty of daylight to get some birding in before the nightshift started.

There were half a dozen cars parked at the end of the road when I arrived. All but one of their occupants, I would later realise, were staking out the local celebrity Dollarbirds' nest.

Back up in Niigata, I'd visited one Dollarbird site very briefly but didn't hang around as the nestbox is right by the track side and I didn't want to disturb the birds. Though I suspect they're actually pretty tolerant of people.

I first noticed this bird perched nearby.

There were a couple of noisy Grey-faced Buzzards in a nearby copse, I'm guessing they had a nest in there somewhere, the bird that flew out and perched on a telegraph pole was quite unperturbed by my approach; that seems fairly typical of the species judging by their approachability in wintering areas.

Fast forwarding to Shiga again. I could hear Fairy Pitta as I stepped out the van... but was it a Pitta?
I headed into the forest past the Dollarbird stake-out and the patient crowd of would-be admirers. Reaching the Pitta area and heard the song again, now loud and clear, emanating from just a little further up the slope. There was only one guy waiting for it, at the fork of a drivable track, but as he obviously wasn't on it I stopped at some favourite trees and scanned the upper branches. Nothing. I walked off the other side of the track sat down and waited. There was the song again! Even closer it seemed and the guy had his camera pointed up into the trees. I made my way across towards him as carefully as I could and scanned the treetops. Still nothing. With the next burst of song I realised it was the guy playing a recording! I asked him why he was doing it. To which he replied that "everyone does it" then it would appear in the trees... as if everyone doing it made it okay! So I told him not to.

"Everyone does it"? Actually that's not true. On my previous visit a Japanese birder urged me not to tell anyone about the Pitta returning this year because he was concerned about a repetition of last year when apparently so many people had disturbed these birds by playing audio. It is good to hear some people do have consideration for the birds' welfare but I felt like saying it would be better to speak directly to the offenders when he came across them, rather than preaching to the converted.

So, did I hear a Pitta from the van, or only a recording? I'll never know. Another annoying point about people using audio actually! When I eventually returned to the van all six cars had already left, I didn't hear anything of their departure from where I'd been sitting quietly at the Pitta spot, no tailgates slamming nor engines starting. Would I have heard the guy's recording in the reverse direction? None of the Dollarbird gang had reacted to the Pitta song as I was walking in, can they tell the difference between a recording and the real thing? Are they so inured to hearing audio wolf they wouldn't react to the real thing? Maybe they were too intent on their stake-out to notice at all? I presume they'd know a Pitta if they heard one.

As evening drew on and the Dollarbird boys were long gone I ate 'dinner' in the van, the Dollarbird suddenly appeared on the wires right in front of me, almost overhead. Then for the next 20-30 minutes it put on a wonderful show, displaying over the clearing to my right. At times rolling through the tree tops at the back, then it might get way, way up high in great circles before swooping down over the nest site area and coming back to perch on the wires or nearby treetops. An experience no photograph could ever capture.

The poor light added to the atmosphere of the performance, watching the bird using the whole sky was a delight.
I was a little surprised not to have a flyover Nightjar while watching the roller, there were plenty singing, but as night progressed I was even more surprised not to hear any Japanese Scops Owls. I can only guess they're too busy at the moment. I did hear a selection of grunts, gasps, wheezes and squeals suggesting a family group of Ural Owls not far away; a short burst of song confirmed there was at least one Ural there.

I set off back into the forest at dawn. Oriental and Lesser Cuckoos were singing intermittently, Narcissus Flycatchers most of the time and occasionally a White-bellied Green Pigeon would chime in. The pick of the 'heard only' birds was a Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, on the wrong side of a small cascading river and screened by a facing wall of cedars; less than sporting I thought. There was definitely no Pitta singing this morning, and no one even looking either. The roller adulators, this morning ferried in by 11 vehicles, would brook no distraction. Perhaps the male Pitta has moved on if there isn't a female here this year.

Mammals had been disappointing, plenty of macaques of course but apart from them only a single red fox and a couple of sika deer. Though one of the latter was a young animal which when it saw me positively bounced slowly along the track, with all four legs springing together. It had obviously been watching too much Disney.

Once off the track the young sika stopped and followed my movements as I tried to get a better angle.


  1. I don't have any objection to playback but I can see how it could be an annoyance. I don't use it myself. Is it a big issue?

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  3. I think have a stream of people using playback day after day in the centre of a rare birds territory during the breeding season is putting absolutely unnecessary stress on the birds at a critical time. Bear in mind this may be the only 'known' pair within 300kms which will result in a lot of attention. There's nothing wrong with playback used thoughtfully, it's a very useful aid in birding. I would add that it's normally good manners to ask other birders present whether they mind, at least it used to be where I come from anyway.