Tuesday 17 January 2017

First trip to Mie 2017

I haven't had so much time to get out birding since the Kyushu trip but I managed a short visit to Mie last week, just before winter finally arrived.

Early in the day, in fact for most of it, the wind was strong which made checking the sea difficult and the stubble and overgrown fields next to impossible. Coupled with very bright sun and not quite catching the tides as I'd like birding was anticlimactic by the area's very high standards. It wasn't until late afternoon that the wind dropped and some clouds gathered making looking at the gull flocks worth a punt. The most notable thing being not a single Taimyr Gull was to be found.

The day will stick in the memory for two things though. Firstly I finally got good flight views of our local Turkey Vulture and secondly the very un-Japanese scene of a dead bull lying in a dusty unmetalled company parking area! This was so jarring that I had to stop and take a photo.

Not something you see everyday in Japan, not something I've ever seen in Japan actually. It doesn't look freshly dead either and the crows seem to have been at the eyes.

With wintering Steller's Sea Eagle in the region we're no strangers to the spectacular but this bird definitely adds to the Mie experience.

On the wader front, I saw a single Ruddy Turnstone, a couple of Eurasian Curlews and a handful of Common Greenshank, as well as the more numerous Kentish Plover, Sanderling and Dunlin. On the landward side of the seawall were Common (3), Wood (2) and Green (4) sandpipers. With so many waterlogged fields it isn't surprising there weren't any concentrations of Common Snipe and I only saw four.

Wood Sandpiper

Green Sandpiper

Common Snipe

Early in the morning a white-winged gull flew over the car and directly away from me along the seawall. Whether this was an immature Glaucous or a leucistic Vega I wasn't able to tell, though I later learnt a first winter has turned up in the area. Later in the day the adult Glaucous that's taken up seasonal residence here was out on a distant sandbar off one of the estuaries. As well as the absence of Taimyr Gulls I already mentioned there were no Black-tailed either, perhaps they have already returned to their breeding colonies, certainly numbers dwindle to almost zero at this time after having been common till about the turn of the year. On the other hand Common Gull numbers have begun to increase, I don't know why they are relatively scarce in early winter as there are always good numbers through the latter part of the year in Osaka, just across the peninsula.

The small flocks of gulls scattered along the beach north of Tsu were Vega almost to a bird, there was one probable Mongolian which disappeared before I could get confirmation and what appeared to be a Vega x Slaty-backed hybrid. Adult gulls that show obvious signs of hybrid origin, particularly the Vega x Slaty-backed combination, aren't common. Hybridization seems far less frequent on this side of the Pacific, or at least so I gather, I don't have first-hand experience.

The dark-saddled gull stood out among the Vegas on the beach but only because of the shade, structurally it was a good fit with the others so I wanted a better view.

Coming at it from the other side it was no less eye-catching. In fact I might have taken it for a Slaty-backed on this view alone.

Dark-eyed Slaty-backs do occur but they're very thin on the ground, this bird has heavily peppered irids. The primary projection gives the impression of being on the long and narrow side for a Slaty-backed too. While the saddle is too dark for Vega, a typical Slaty-backed would look a little darker in this light. 

This typical Slaty-backed just off the beach didn't come ashore with the other gulls so there was no chance of direct comparison.

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