The drive up had me worried; once on the coastal road in Ishikawa the car was being buffeted by strong wind. So strong that I felt there was little chance the New Hegura would sail and so decided to give up any hopes of reaching the island and instead go directly to a mainland site further up the coast. However as it was obvious I'd never make it up to the headland for dawn and I had to pass through Wajima anyway, I dropped into the ferry office on the off chance and was both surprised and delighted to find the ferry was ready to depart. It turned out to be one of the roughest crossings I've had on the route, quite difficult to sleep. As things turned out, the front bringing wet weather promised by the forecast hadn't reached this area yet. Skies were beautifully clear. Would there be the birds on the island to make the trip worthwhile?
Daurian Redstarts and Elegant Buntings were immediately apparent after landing. I tried the grassy harbourside for buntings, pipits and larks first.
|Red-throated Pipit: perhaps the only 'island speciallity' which is also possible around Kyoto city in winter.|
|Unexpected but no great surprise either, a Common Starling perched briefly on the harbour wires.|
|There were a handful of Stejneger's Stonechat dotted around the coast.|
|The broader tips on the primary coverts suggest this is a first autumn but it's difficult to be sure. A couple of rump streaks are clearly visible here but not in the perched image below.|
|A male Stejneger's Stonechat, this one looked like an adult going by the primary coverts.|
Separating the recently split Siberian and Stejneger's Stonechat is a bit of a nightmare and though the former isn't on the Japanese list it must surely be overlooked and just a matter of time before someone finds it (maybe in a mist net) somewhere. Looking generally washed-out, pale and lacking colour is supposed to be suggestive of Siberian and I would have liked to get a better view of the following stonechat but other birds intervened...
|They don't come much paler than this. It looks small-billed too but you'd need in-the-hand measurements. There's an obvious white 'spot' at the tip of the primary coverts so this one has to be a first autumn.|
First was an odd wagtail on the coastal path, it soon flew down towards the beach, conveniently in the same direction as the pale Stonechat. Off I went tripping and stumbling attempting to pick my way over the many large stones hidden under the dense tangled vegetation, while at the same time trying to step over the unrelenting bindweed vines. Progress was slow and noisy, keeping an eye out for birds and keeping your feet at the same time is never easy at that spot. Bearded Tit!! Where did that come from?!
I heard a once familiar pinging call and looking up in disbelief saw a 'miniature sandy budgie' flying away. It came down about 100 metres away at the other end of the small bay. I tried to hurry but there are just as many hidden rocks under long grass on the flat area between the belt of reed-like vegetation at the foot of the slope forming the bay which was to my right and and the sea to my left. With every stubbed toe and almost turned ankle more and more doubts crept in. Could it really have been a Bearded Tit? The view was terrible and wasn't the call deeper than I remember it? By the time I'd picked my way along the bay with my eyes more down than up, the bird had moved. It rose suddenly from long grass right in front of me about 40 metres closer than the point it had come down. At that distance those doubts were instantly dispelled; it wasn't just a small 'sandy budgie', it was a Bearded Tit! The pinging was spot on. It flew into the 'reeds' about thirty metres away and I waited... and waited. Nothing. It was too windy to expect it to climb the stems so I made my way round to the leeward side of the belt of reedy stuff and sure enough there it was. Again the view was very brief, it flew up onto the taller stems and quickly worked its way inside the belt.
It's a major rarity in Japan, according to the most recent edition of the OSJ list (2012) there have been six previous records. I knew there was little chance I'd get a photograph, there was only a little time before I'd have to get the ferry and the wind was going to keep the bird down, so I went in search of other birders. After five minutes walk I found Yuki Oaki and took him back the the spot. We tried the shore side of the belt first without success then returned to the spot I'd last seen it. It flew up from the same spot and this time posed briefly on the facing reeds, not quite long enough for me to swap bins for camera. We got a perfect view at about 25 metres before it flew back into the thick of the reeds again.
By this time it was necessary to leave for the ferry and, would you believe it, I didn't see a single other birder en route to the harbour. As Yuki was taking the ferry too, we didn't get the news out in time for people to look for it the same day.
Whether the Bearded Tit arrived as a result of the strong air flow from Russia doesn't really matter, I'm just glad the weather chart prompted me to go.
As a postscipt; I'd completely forgotten about the wagtail and stonechat until I checked my camera on the ferry.