Tuesday, 31 October 2017

Dowitchers and Greenshanks at a high tide roost

There were a few late passage waders on October 27th and the first birds of the day, Great Knot, probably fall into that category. However most species I saw are likely to spend the winter locally.

The Great Knot were close enough to chance a couple of shots despite the poor pre-sunrise light. If I'd waited any longer they'd have been against the rising sun so it wasn't as though there was any choice. Perhaps it's just coincidence that the only Great Knot I ever get close to are very early in the morning and the resulting images are never satisfying.

Great Knot

If it isn't dim early light then it's strong midday sun, or that's how it sometimes feels. The regular Common Greenshank high water roost on the other hand is a different matter, it's simply a matter of going when high tide coincides with the sun at the right angle. This dosen't happen every day obviously but last Friday the timing was just right. The Greenshanks were expected, they're always there if they haven't been disturbed, but the Long-billed Dowitchers were not. I've never seen them on the estuaries before and they'd probably been displaced from a pond or lagoon by the high water levels caused by the last typhoon but whatever the reason for their presence they were a pleasant surprise.

Part of the wader roost on the steep concrete riverbank. The Greenshank can usually be found at this spot providing no one has disturbed them but the Dowitchers here are a first for me.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

81 species on Hegurajima

81 species might not seem like a large total for five days birding but there are two mitigating facts: firstly five days sounds like far more than the just over 30 hours in the field that it boils down to and secondly as October progresses there isn't really the variety there was earlier in the season. It really can't compare to spring when you might be lucky enough to get that many in a day. So all told I was quite pleased with the birding, the absence of a tick being the only bugbear... after all the Siberian Accentor I still need isn't so much to ask for on Hegura at this time of year, is it?

The surprises big or small:-
   Zero Tristram's Buntings - I've never struck-out in October before, this is the 'island specialty' that isn't even so difficult to get on the mainland.

   The first trip (Oct 11-13) produced a small number of spodocephala Black-faced Buntings but no personata whereas on the two day trips (Oct 20 and 21) personata were very common and there were no spodocephala.

   Just a single Dusky Warbler but five Radde's. I don't think Radde's is nearly as rare as some people think but this tipped the scales further from general expectation as well as my own previous experience. There was also one unidentified Dusky/Radde's.

   A relatively large and growing flock of Temminck's Cormorants on rocks in the bay behind Wajima harbour, there were 26 birds when I left with more seen flying in later. There were two Great Cormorants in the harbour. I've never had this number of Temminck's along the coast here so perhaps this was a pre-typhoon gathering... the fishing boats were doing much the same the following day.

The only Radde's Warbler that stayed in the open long enough to get a couple of shots off. It seemed like I was the only person connecting with Radde's which was becoming a bit embarrassing, I don't want to get a reputation for stringing Radde's and I'm tempted to keep quite in future. I got on to all five birds (and the lone Dusky) because of the call, I was 25-30 metres past this one when I heard it. Don't other people hear them? Some birders might be too busy chatting and perhaps the photography specialist don't know the calls which could give the impression that they're a rarity.

And with a flash of undertail coverts, it was gone. Back into the depths of the undergrowth.

Black-faced Bunting E.s.spodocephala

I'd say it has to be an adult male with these underlying markings.

A nice shot of the nominate tail pattern.

Staying with buntings...




Yellow wagtails are a favourite of mine, any taxon will do... which is just as well at this time of year.

Like Dusky Thrush, Naumann's tends to perch in the open so it's much easier to assess numbers compared the other thrushes. Naumann's is definitely a very scarce bird, personally I've never seen more than one per autumn.

This first winter male spent a day hanging round the harbour.

The following birds are definitely not scarce...

There were huge numbers of Eurasian Siskin earlier in the month, slightly fewer later, and they occupied all habitats from the shoreline to woodland. Their small size in short coastal vegetation could be quite a distraction when looking for skulkers.

Eurasian Siskin

Bramblings were equally common, equally catholic in their choice of habitat and equally tame. Fortunately their larger size made them more obvious and less of a distraction... other than them being great looking birds.

Olive-backed Pipits are ever-present.

Finally some of those early morning Temminck's Cormorants congregating on inshore rocks in Wajima...

As a footnote, there's quite a lot of infrastructure work taking place on the island, it's strange to have dumper-trucks running round all over the place and to see this barge ferrying materials to the island.

The final load coming across before the typhoon was due to arrive the following day. This was the calmest I'd seen the sea all month.

And a very subjective and unscientific approach to listing all species during the sum of the observation periods:-
Japanese Quail   1
Greater White-fronted Goose   2
Mandarin Duck
Eurasian Wigeon
Eurasian Teal
Tufted Duck
Streaked Shearwater
Grey Heron
Great White Egret   1
Temminck's Cormorant
Peregrine   3
Black Kite
Japanese Sparrowhawk   1
Eurasian Sparrowhawk   at least two, it's never easy to estimate numbers for such a mobile species but I saw two together circling with the Goshawk early one morning.
Northern Goshawk   1
Common Coot   3
Pacific Golden Plover   2
Grey-tailed Tattler   1
Common Snipe   7
'Swintail' Snipe   1
Black-tailed Gull
Vega Gull
Slaty-backed Gull
Black Woodpigeon
Oriental Turtle Dove
(one racing pigeon with full bling)
Ashy Drongo   1
Bull-headed Shrike   4
Rook   12
Large-billed Crow
Coal Tit
Brown-eared Bulbul
Japanese Bush Warbler
Pallas's Grasshopper Warbler   1
locostella sp   1
Black-browed Reed Warbler   1
locustella/acro sp   1
Radde's Warbler   5
Dusky Warbler   1
Kamchatka Leaf Warbler   in large numbers mid-month, small numbers later
Yellow-browed Warbler   3 all heard only
Japanese White-eye   common later in the month
Goldcrest  1 mid-month became one of the commonest birds later
Eurasian Wren   1
White-cheeked Starling   2
Siberian Thrush   1
White's Thrush   2
Japanese Thrush   2
Eyebrowed Thrush
Pale Thrush
Naumann's Thrush   1
Dusky Thrush
Stejneger's Stonechat
Blue Rock Thrush
Red-flanked Bluetail
Daurian Redstart
Grey-streaked Flycatcher
Brown Flycatcher
Narcissus Flycatcher   1
Mugimaki Flycatcher   2
Taiga Flycatcher   1 heard
Taiga/Red-breasted Flycatcher   1 (possibly the same bird as above)
Yellow Wagtail   2
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail
Olive-backed Pipit
Red-throated Pipit
Buff-bellied Pipit   2
Pechora Pipit   1
Eurasian Siskin
Oriental Greenfinch
Japanese Grosbeak
Pine Bunting   2
Meadow Bunting   2 on the 11th
Chestnut-eared Bunting   2
Little Bunting
Yellow-browed Bunting   1
Rustic Bunting
Elegant Bunting  
Black-faced Bunting
Grey Bunting   1

Friday, 27 October 2017

Caspian Terns in Mie

Birding started with three Great Knot on the beach yesterday, still tricky to pick out before sunrise, but the sky was clear and dawn bright and clear when it came. And not much later I was optimistically scanning the off-shore bamboo poles for Crested Terns when these two birds caught my attention, also tricky to pick out.

The two in the centre on top of poles were clearly terns but at this distance it isn't possible to see the bill let alone what shape or colour it might be. Still, I suspected Caspian.

Caspian Tern is annual but rare in Japan; I saw my first as recently as January 2016 in Kyushu. So why did I think those distant specks were Caspian? The simple answer is the the four specks in the following image.

At the opposite end of the network of poles are five specks perched together on a stretch of rope. Four terns and a Black-headed Gull. These specks are distinctly smaller than the previous specks. 

In September and October Crested Terns are always to be found in this area, Common and Little Terns are already somewhere warmer. So either the large specks are Crested and the smaller specks a species that should already have departed for warmer climes or the small specks are Crested leaving only one possible option for the larger specks. The scope was no help, I couldn't make out any detail but I counted 9-10 of the smaller specks and when I caught one in flight it was possible to rule out Common Tern and confirm they were indeed Crested. Ergo the others are Caspian. I'm sure Conan Doyle would approve of this reasoning even if it might leave birders unimpressed.

I took a series of shots hoping that with the aid of my pc I'd be able to detect a humongous red bill. Amazingly I could, both the large specks show a definite aggregation of red pixels about the face, completely lacking from all the small specks. However using the pc as an identification tool became academic as events in the field unfolded.

That afternoon, about 5km north as the tern flies, I was watching a Merlin terrify the local wader population when glancing up from the scope I saw a carrot flying straight towards me!

Enough to grace the face of the finest snowman. I was lucky enough to see a Caspian Tern on a seawatch at Whitburn, UK in the late '60s and though I've largely forgotten the bird (other than it was flying south) I still remember my initial impression was "It's like a Herring Gull carrying a carrot!". 

And it just kept on coming...

and coming...

What a fantastic view... forget the specks! It flew around the river mouth and while I was checking the images on my camera I almost missed it passing even closer. After a while it settled on a sandbar amongst the gulls and would have been reasonably close for anyone who might have been on the opposite side of the river.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Ashy Drongo and Black Woodpigeon

I'm falling behind on my Hegura posts; I spent two nights on Hegura the weekend before last, which as the first overnighter I've managed for three years but before I could post all about that visit I've been out on two one-day trips. I was due to stay on the island again but because of the impending typhoon the minshyuku had closed early to allow the owners to go on their planned trip to the mainland. This was a great pity. Obviously it's so much better to stay on the island as it eliminates the time pressure that comes with a day trip. And for me there's nothing better than sitting with a coffee as the first hint of light begins to throw the eastern clouds into relief, thinking about which spots to check first and what new birds the day could bring.

I've already posted on my personal highlight of the first trip, Pechora Pipit, but another personal second record for the island and one that almost got away was Ashy Drongo. As I was making my way to the return ferry someone told me there had been an Ashy Drongo at the south end an hour earlier so after dumping my pack at the harbour I dashed down there and could grab a couple of record shots before departure time.

Rather distant views of an Ashy Drongo. This is a first winter bird, though the images aren't good enough to see much detail, the white face patch of the adult is ghosted on a clearer view, the tail isn't fully grown and there's a very distinct moult contrast in the greater coverts.

I think I was lucky it was on view when I arrived as I only had a few minutes to spare before heading back for the ferry.

Three years ago and three days earlier in the month this Ashy Drongo was at the school...

To anyone who's visited Hegurajima, there's no mistaking where this is.

A much better view of the short-stayer three years ago.

October always brings returning winter visitors, finches, buntings, thrushes and Daurian Redstarts. Often there might be ones or twos one day then they'll be everywhere the next, only for numbers to dwindle until the next big arrival. Two of the most reliable, and obvious, October birds are Rook and Greater White-fronted Goose. There were 12 Rooks on the first visit then half a dozen the following two trips, all immatures. Greater White-fronts never stay long, the lack of suitable habitat soon persuades them to move on.

Immature Rook can look quite like Carrion Crow, a species I've never seen on Hegurajima.

Greater White-fronts in the harbour area.

While hunting for migrants on the island it's not unusual to come across Black Woodpigeons, though getting good views is a different matter altogether; I'm still waiting since I buying a camera. This time I came close and the following shot was the most unobstructed I'd managed to date. Then as failing light and driving rain forced me back to my minshyuku I found this second bird right outside my window! Because of poor light and shooting through glass the result isn't as good as I'd like but I'm slowly getting there.

Almost a clear shot of Black Woodpigeon.

A through-the-window shot, still not quite the standard I want yet.