I sat in my genkan pulling on my boots telling myself I wasn't going to Niigata. I sat in the driving seat and tapped in the coordinates, just out of interest of course, I still had no intention of going. I pulled out of the parking spot behind my house onto Route 1 and turned right towards the expressway interchange two kilometres down the road, instead of left through the city and on up into the hills. But I needed to pop into the convenience store just a little down that way. I continued south from the coffee stop because it's easier than turning right onto Route 1 and because there are plenty of opportunities to swing round onto a parallel road getting me back on track. But in the end I passed all those turnings and the only swinging round I did was onto the expressway.
So, despite my best efforts, I failed not to go to Niigata after all.
After setting off just after midnight, it was well past dawn by the time I arrived at the nondescript end-of-the-road site where the Shrikes have set up home. Who found these birds?! Don't get me wrong, it's a beautiful spot but surely just one of countless such places. Who chose to come down this particular dead-end, into this particular valley bottom?
No sooner had I parked and got out the van than I heard chattering shrikes; I followed the sound and there they were; as easy as that. Not every tick has to be hard work. There were definitely three birds flying round, sometimes they fell silent and at others they were very vocal, I watched for an hour or so and they seemed pretty loyal to that small area. I can understand how it might be difficult to locate these birds if they were silent when any would-be observer showed up. I managed to get a few shots, all appear to be of two individuals, a male and female.
|Singing male with shivering wings.|
|There were a few opportunities to get them down low, out of the strong morning sun, but always very brief.|
After a while I went off to see other stuff before returning to the Shrike location intending to have a more general wander around the area to see what else might be around. I'd already had three sightings of Lesser Cuckoo and heard a Common (Eurasian) Cuckoo earlier in the morning. There had been a confiding Great Spotted Woodpecker, number of singing Narcissus Flycatchers, Ashy Minivets overhead and a more distant singing Japanese Thrush.
I parked in a different spot on my return yet just as before, as soon as I stepped out of the van, I heard shrike chatter. And there it was, a male, a different male to the earlier bird if my eyes don't deceive me; the width of the black mask above the bill is far less broad on this bird. I had read there were two males and a single female in the area. What of the three birds this morning? Was this the third, unphotographed bird? Or was this a fourth bird? I presume this was one of the three birds this morning, it just strikes me as odd that it should be waiting for me in a different spot when I arrived, but it soon flew off in the direction of the earlier sightings about 250 metres away. At no time did I see a juvenile Shrike in the area. There were also at least two Bull-headed Shrikes at this spot.
|This seems a second male with a narrower band of black meeting above the bill.|
|Really vicious-looking serrations on the upper and lower mandibles.|
So, that's it, the trip I was determined not to take; taken. That just leaves Long-tailed Shrike to catch up with, hopefully somewhere closer to home.