Saturday 1 April 2017

Biwako & Matsusaka, a two-day trip

I hadn't been up to the north end of Lake Biwa in ages, all winter in fact. Which is surprising considering winter is the best time to go and as a result I haven't even seen Steller's Sea Eagle this winter. I was hoping to get (good if possible) views and maybe even photos of Copper Pheasant but in the event I didn't even hear a displaying male.

Because there's a cell tower at the top of my usual hill there is an access road, well that's why it is 'my' hill in the first place of course, and this access road has been snow-ploughed allowing anyone daft enough to drive to the top the freedom to do so. However it also meant all bar one of my usual pull-offs were blocked by snow. By day the road becomes a shallow stream as snowmelt finds the easiest route downhill between the walls of snow on either side, but at dawn a steeply-angled ice-rink would be a better description of the road as it nears the top. Going upward, be it driving or on foot, always seems safer than going down to me, so I stopped at the summit rather than drop down the final 100 metres to the car park. I nevertheless still had to walk it. If I tried to stand still on the road I began to move down the slope, slowly at first. Gingerly I had to edge my way down trying to get purchase on a litter of pine needles frozen into the paved edge before it disappeared under the snow. Trying not to pick up speed! And all the while wishing I'd actually gone and bought new boots when I'd planned to rather than keep putting it off.

Like a lot of winter woodland birding much of the ridge was, well not birdless exactly but... you know. A few invisible tits calling somewhere off the trail, occasional Grosbeaks overhead. Then, again like so often, all the birds were back at the start point, by the car. Three species of woodpecker, Nuthatch, five species of tit, Jays, Red-flanked Bluetail, three species of bunting, five species of finch and so on.

Red-flanked Bluetail.

As I said, all my usual pull-offs along the road were blocked by snow except for one, the lowest good stop on the way back down. There were two clear signs spring is here...

Bear art? I often come across conifers with huge sections of bark ripped off, it comes away in huge chunks as if it had been badly-fitted to the tree. This hardwood presents a much better canvas.

Bullfinches feasting on new buds; this male (and female below) the expected rosacea.

Lake Biwa itself is a vast expanse of water, the winter panorama without exception broken by countless rafts of countless ducks, as well as more modest numbers of geese and swans. But hardly surprising given the date most of the wildfowl has gone and the drive southward was consequently a rapid one despite the best efforts of some serious road works. I reached Lake Sainoko far earlier than usual. Far too early for any harriers there may be in the area coming in to roost. However I did see five different Eastern Marsh Harriers in the time I spent there. I also had my first Barn Swallow of the year and little did I realise then, that by the same time a day later they would be common.

As usual the harriers were more often than not distant, at their closest they weren't great to photograph.

After a convenience store dinner and a nap it was off to Matsusaka. The route was simple according to the map; pretty much a straight line to Route 1 and I could take it from there. A straight line on major roads but a lot of jinks and route numbers so I let the satnav take the strain. She found an even more direct route! However this involved sticking to a road atop the river embankment; sometimes single track, sometimes very rough, but it was more direct. I don't know if it was any quicker in the end, especially at that time of day as it entailed cutting across several major roads with no signals during rush hour.

The main purpose in Mie was to look for immature Taimyr Gulls but there were a few other things of interest. First and foremost was a Japanese Scops Owl calling at 04:10 in an industrial area at Matsusaka port! It was very close but I didn't see it and it quickly moved further off onto private land.

Another point of interest I'd never seen before was seaweed harvesting by boat...

A seaweed harvest boat. at first I though being in the boat might be the better option but I'm no longer sure.

Simply line the boat up at the end of the row...

...and go!

Long-billed Dowitchers were fairly close for a change but the gulls will have to wait for another post.

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