Thursday 13 October 2016

Booted Warbler(s) on Hegura

I was in two minds whether to make a day trip to Hegura on Tuesday (Oct 11) but once up on the Ishikawa coast I thought "in for a penny..." and off I went.

My usual first port of call after disembarking is to check the patch of scrub in the harbour, it's usually an effective barometer to get a feel for how many and what birds might be around. It wasn't too encouraging on this occasion. Barring a single soft 'chack' which was probably a Dusky Warbler the place was discouragingly birdless. I was later told there had been a clear-out the night before.

On hearing about the Booted in the harbour, between the ferry docking point and Tsukasa, I quickly made my way back down from the lighthouse. To be honest there weren't many birds to impede my progress. I'd been advised to stay harbour-side to get the light behind me so I found myself alone across from a knot of waiting birders on the main path. Just as I was thinking the other side of the narrow strip of bushes and rank vegetation must be better the bird popped up in front of me and flew over a shed to come down about 25 metres further along the strip. I followed and managed to get a brief view at close range and a couple of record shots before it disappeared into the minimal cover again.

This is only the fifth record for Japan, the second for Hegurajima, but as I was lucky enough to find the fourth record and I was reasonably satisfied with the views I'd had I chose to push on as there was a lot of island to cover and now only three hour before the ferry left for the mainland again.

I saw a few good birds, Dusky Warbler, Radde's Warbler, Pine Bunting and heard a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers but failed to connect with anything more exciting. It was clearly a day of quality over quantity and so my route gradually brought me back towards the harbour where the easily seen 'better' birds seemed to be. I felt that with time to do the place justice, clamber through the coves, cover the headlands thoroughly and sit quietly in the woodland there would be something waiting to be discovered. Day trips don't allow that kind of time, it's very much a case of luck rather than hard work to turn something up. It's frustrating because there's nothing like staying on the island for a week or so and waking pre-dawn with a whole day of island bashing ahead.

Crossing the old school playing field I flushed an odd bunting from the grass and followed towards the corner of the field. However the first bird I saw there wasn't the bunting but a Booted Warbler! It showed really well for a few seconds before it submerged into the long grass again. I never did see the bunting again.

On the school playing field.

Next I walked to the Booted spot along the harbour front to find a number of people waiting patiently and I told one guy I'd just seen it on the playing field. I continued along the harbour, Red-throated Pipit and another Pine Bunting, then as departure approached it was back towards the ferry. The birders at the original Booted spot had disappeared and there was now a larger concentrated group with a clatter of shutters and long lenses pointed into the grass behind the larger harbour buildings (and just below the school playing field) where it transpired the Booted was performing very well. I only had a short time before dashing round the corner onto the ferry but managed a couple of decent shots.

After getting back to the mainland I heard people were of the opinion there were two Booted Warblers present on the island, thus fifth and sixth records for Japan, and though I've looked very carefully at my Booted images I don't have good enough comparative shots tell whether I saw two birds. In each case where I have what looks a distinctive feather-wear feature I don't quite have a corresponding view of 'the other' bird. I can say the lore markings look identical and the bird in all three of my sightings, over a three-hour period (original harbourside location, school playing field and behind harbour buildings), has the same greater covert displaced on the left wing. So if there are two birds, I don't think I saw them both.

There was also a Siberian Accentor present in the same area which I failed to see and I doubt there would be many birders leaving the island disappointed to see 'another' Booted Warbler but missing what would have been a Japan tick. That's birding I suppose. But if anyone has a spare Wood Warbler, I'd be happy to trade for a Booted...

The first bird.

The playing field bird; the loral markings look effectively identical.

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