Sunday 25 September 2016

Nordmann's Greenshank and Chinese Sparrowhawk... some of the worst pictures ever!

I enjoy my job (as much as it's possible to enjoy work) but sometimes it does seem never ending. And if birding has been impossible over the last couple of months I can't really complain; July and August aren't exactly 'must-bird' months in Kansai. September on the other hand... well that's when I do miss getting into the field. Fortunately the recent rush at work is over and with almost two weeks free time I made my first birding trip earlier this week.

Chinese Sparrowhawk is an easy species to see in Japan if you go to the right place at the right time. The right place has to be Tsushima where the migrating birds are funnelled on a narrow front before fanning into northern Kyushu on their way south. The right time is mid-September when thousands pass through. Elsewhere in Japan increasing amounts of luck are needed to connect with them and I've obviously never had nearly enough. So as they haven't been coming to me, it was time for me to put myself in their path.

September is also a good time to look for migrant passerines and Tsushima has a great track record as a rare migrant hot-spot. To be honest though, I'm just not a big fan of the place; it's frustratingly large and I spend more time worrying about things I might be missing somewhere else on the island if I'm not finding good birds. If I am finding good birds, then I'm even more worried! So not Tsushima then. In the end I decided to try Eboshidake, one of the mountains in northern Kyushu, which has the added attraction of allowing a visit to Daijugarami. The latter has got to be the number one wader site in Japan and I was feeling unreasonably confident of finding a major rare.

My drive down to Eboshidake (about 750km) was delayed 24 hours by a typhoon and I set off on Tuesday night (20th Sept) arriving at the mountain top just after 10am on Wednesday morning. There were about 15 people stationed at the watch point, and at that instant a promising Peregrine came gliding by. Great birds Peregrines, I love them. Ten minutes later there was an Osprey and after about 40 minutes an immature Chinese Sparrowhawk came past. Success! I stayed a couple more hours but the only additional birds were a couple of adult Chinese Sparrowhawks chasing each other high overhead and a large female Eurasian Sparrowhawk at eye level.

Unfortunately the only shots I got of the Sparrowhawks are dreadful quality, and only of the immature.

The shots I managed of the Sparrowhawk are poor to say the least, I was too excited and it was too far.
Another shot of the bird moving away.
I didn't try to get any shots of the following two birds as I imagined there would be plenty more coming along just behind them. Right... in fact no more appeared and I was informed a north wind usually means a poor day for them. I don't know whether they select a different route locally or don't move through this area at all. The hawk counters didn't move to a back-up location so perhaps not the former case, or at least that was my thinking at the time. It therefore came as a surprise when I checked the official count a few days later and found 370 Chinese Sparrowhawks were recorded, as well as 28 Oriental Honey Buzzards and other bits and bobs. But I'm not disappointed I left when I did.

It took just under two hours to reach Daijugarami. I hadn't looked up the tide tables, there wasn't much point as I'd have to accept the situation whatever it might be. As things transpired the tide was well on its way out towards the horizon but there were still hundreds, probably thousands, of waders spread across the flats. The species count rose slowly but steadily though the distance and looking into the afternoon sun reflecting off the mud didn't help. I was definitely less confident about finding that mega I'd been banking on. A Semi p into the sun at 800 metres anyone?

A couple of young guys knowing the game was up for the day were leaving and I asked what they'd seen. Their reply had me wondering if was making a mistake with the Japanese name... four, yes that was FOUR, Nordmann's Greenshank! Have there ever been four Nordmann's together in one place in Japan? I certainly knew where I'd be on the rising tide tomorrow!

Apart from the waders a few marsh terns flew by on two occasions, and continuing the theme of awful images, these were the only two semi-decent shots I got of Whiskered.

Whiskered Tern and Barn Swallow.
Whiskered Tern and mudskipper.
With nothing to do overnight and my sleeping bag too hot I spent some time trawling round the paddyfields but a single Black-crowned Night Heron and a number of Skylarks roosting on the roads were all I had to show for it.

A number of road-roosting Japanese Skylarks were unexpected.
The following day was a national holiday, something I'd quite forgotten until about 20-30 birders drifted in during the morning. Only 20-30 at such a quality site... on a national holiday; amazing! The morning was full of doubt and scepticism but at about midday I found my first Nordmann's - they did exist after all.

Though the flats are vast and most waders distant at least a few individuals of most species came reasonably close. This Nordmann's on the other hand was a very reluctant bird, it stayed way out on the incoming tideline. Not only was it distant but invariably head-on and, as if that wasn't enough, mostly asleep. And I mean really asleep; for two hours it only ever popped its head up when the incoming tide forced it to move a few metres closer. Unfortunately it wasn't to be a very high tide that day with the high water mark falling a disappointing 400 metres or so short of expected. After watching the sleeping Nordmann's for two extraordinarily long hours it finally started to feel a little hungry. No sooner had it begun to move when a Peregrine shot across the mud and put everything up. Well really! Great birds Peregrines, I love them, but there's a time and place for everything and this was neither for a Peregrine. Oddly enough when the birds re-settled one of the first I saw was another Nordmann's. Good? Yes of course, but as the tideline was now well on its way to the horizon again and the flocks came down at the water's edge the views were even worse than of the first bird.

Time for more awful record shots...

Nordmann's in flight with a Marsh Sandpiper and a few Grey Plover.
Way out on the tideline flashing its white underwing. A Common Greenshank on the right.
Here with a Terek Sandpiper. At times the Nordmann's suggested a giant Terek as much as a Common Greenshank.
A rare occasion when it showed its bill to advantage, definitely a Terek feel to this.
An even more heavily cropped shot; it isn't a Terek.

At 14:30 I called it a day. I didn't feel like waiting till the following morning to try again so I decided to start back to Kyoto. Apart from the less than perfect views I was well satisfied with two Japan ticks.

I'd only driven about 50 metres when I heard a Japanese Leaf Warbler calling from a small clump of bushes behind the seawall. This was quite unexpected. I normally only get Kamchatka Leaf coming through Kyoto city in October. I thought I'd heard a Japanese Leaf the previous morning at the sumit of Eboshidake but it only called once and I dismissed it at the time. It seems Japanese Leaf must be moving through Kyushu at this time. There's always something to discover.


  1. I've posted far worse pics, don't worry!

  2. Thanks Stuart, it was good to get amongst a few good birds for a change.