Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Kamchatka Leaf Warbler

The number of Kamchatka Leaf Warblers in Kanazawa at the weekend was amazing. It's probably not a stretch to say there were hundreds of birds in the park I was surrounded by singing and calling birds everywhere I went. There was no tail-off in vocalisation throughout the morning because activity would be renewed after intermittent heavy showers.

It's interesting that it's Kamchatka Leaf rather than Japanese Leaf which I always see in big numbers. Japanese Leaf breeds in such low numbers locally that I really have no idea about arrival and departure dates however I'd guess they will be similar to Eastern Crowned which is the common phyllosc in this area. Eastern Crowned are holding territory by mid-April and are effectly gone before October, in fact I find very few by mid-September. Kamchatka on the other hand is much later in both spring and autumn with big numbers now, late May, and again from late September throughout October. They are frequently encountered not just at migration hot-spots but on a broad front throughout the country and are common in and around Kyoto city.

I hoped to get some good images of the birds but in the end I was only able to get good shots of one singing bird that stayed put close enough to allow me to get the following images. It's interesting to see how the different light affects the overall appearance.

Song of Kamchatka Leaf with both double and single call notes between the two bursts of song.

Double and single 'dzit' calls were given by all birds.

Sunday, 28 May 2017

Black-naped Orioles

I've heard a few spring migrant Black-naped Orioles on various islands over the years but they are a real pain to see. In fact I've only ever seen one in Japan, the very first I tried to see. Last week I saw two; twice. Then this weekend one or two more!

I was in Kanazawa at the crack of dawn on Saturday and pretty much the first thing I heard was the rasping call of an Oriole. I couldn't believe it, the third bird in a week. Of course it was no easier to see than any other Oriole but I was able to glimpse the bird in flight occasionally and even perched once. I wasn't the only person trying to get a decent view, make that any view, but photographs were probably less high on my list of priorities than some of theirs.

The area isn't vast so I'd often put in a little time waiting for it while doing the birding rounds, it was almost like taking a break. It was truly astonishing how difficult this bird was to see. Several times I, and an attendant group of others, would have it whistling for long periods in the nearest three or four trees and not even see it when flew out... and started calling somewhere else. However on one of my circuits someone told there were definitly two birds present but whether I saw both individuals I still can't say. However I did finally manage to get a couple of photographs of this bird, a 2CY, I was one of a very select band. Unfortunately the bird was against the light for the brief time I had it so this is the best I could manage.

Friday, 26 May 2017

Isabelline Wheatear plus odds and ends

I've already had exceptionally good views of Isabelline Wheatear in Japan and didn't immediately rush off when I first heard about this bird on the beach towards the southern end of Hegurajima Sunday. It was in the exact spot I saw my first wheatear species in Japan, a Desert, a few years ago. When I did roll up there was a small crowd who obviously had it in view so it didn't take any locating. But I was sorry to see the poor condition the bird seemed in. Poor in terms of plumage at least, it was actually very active and didn't suggest it was sick.

There was one knot of people who gave the impression they were happy to wait and let the bird come to them and a larger group that followed it's every move. Inevitably this meant from one end of the beach to the other and back again. I only spent a few minutes with the bird as I didn't think it was getting any peace and walked the length of the beach-side path slightly behind the crowd as I was already going that way and took the central track away from the beach repeat the pointless back and forth. I must say I was rather impressed with the group not pushing the bird, all the more so as they looked a younger crowd which bodes well I suppose.

So here are the best of a bad bunch of very messy Isabelline Wheatear shots. The plumage looks to have been contaminated by something but as the bird was very active it will hopefully be fine.

Not terribly pretty, I'm sure you'll agree. Compare with the autumn bird in Osaka five years ago...

Before sailing out to the island I saw and heard, especially heard, Japanese Martens crashing around in the trees and 'barking' at each other on the hill next to Wajima harbour. I've seen Marten there before but that morning there was definitely something out of the ordinary going on. I think there were at least three animals involved in the commotion that went on for about 40 minutes as they moved noisily around the hill top. The second time I saw one of them it seemed to have had enough and be on its way, crossing the road via over-arching branches which allowed me to get this shot.

Other shots were better exposed but were blurred because of low shutter speed, luckily it paused at this point allowing a sharper image, either blurred or substantially obscured behind foliage.

Coming back from the island the crossing was quite, much as usual, but a sudden raft of Streaked Shearwaters just off Wajima allowed me what are probably my best shots of this species.

Because the ferry hadn't run the day before I had time on the Noto Peninsula and ran into this unexpected Green Pheasant. Unexpected because I don't usually seem them in such an exposed position, walking along a berm between paddies, in the midday sun. The shots of Kentish Plover chicks were if anything even more of a surprise.

And for a trio of unexpected, this Japanese grass lizard was not only quite happy to share the concrete bench with me but didn't even mind when I pointed the camera at it... it's usually at that point they dash of at incredible speed.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Chinese Bush Warbler...? No, but what then?

On Hegurajima last Sunday with just an hour left before ferry departure time I came across this warbler. It was a strikingly 'different' bird in the field and I felt unlike anything I had experience of. My thoughts were of a bradypterus (now locustella) warbler, something I haven't seen for many years, but the two images I managed to get don't really convey the same impression of the initial sighting and certainly don't provide any evidence to suggest it is a bradypterus let alone the Chinese Bush Warbler I suspected at the time. Indeed the images seem to show a horornis- (cettia-) rather than locustella-shaped tail which implies I massively misjudged this bird when I first saw it and the only realistic possibility would therefore be Japanese Bush Warbler. Even a small female Manchurian wouldn't look strikingly small compared to Japanese Bush Warbler.

I first detected movement in long grass at the side of the track on between an oak plantation with deep leaf-litter and somewhat sparse 30-40 centimetre high grass on one side and a tangled overgrown clearing on the other. After waiting a while I began to think I'd imagined it and walked forward but as I approached the spot a small warbler flew a few metres and landed in the middle of the narrow track in front of me under deep shade. At this point I fully expected it to be a Dusky Warbler because of its behaviour and more importantly its small size as it flew. When I got onto it, it clearly wasn't a Dusky. The view was no more than two or three seconds in duration, long enough to see the most striking features but not to take in the minutiae. Those striking features consisted of a surprisingly uniform brown head with essentially plain lores, rather uniform dark ear coverts (thus the pale lower eye ring stood out) and a sharp, straight demarcation bordering a neat, almost glowing white throat. The upperparts were an unremarkable brown but there was a distinctly warmer brown rear flank patch. This latter point was actually the first thing that caught my attention when I focused on the bird. The tail was definitely longer than that of a phylloscopus but it left me with the impression of being neat, rather than bulky as in Japanese Bush Warbler. However viewed at that side-on angle I could make out the true shape, plus I'd been influenced by the flight view. The bird crept quickly to the side of the track and disappeared into the grass under the oaks. I very much regret not getting a record shot of it at this juncture as ultimately, brief as it was, this was the best view I had.

I moved carefully forward not knowing where the bird was but it seemed to be on the move as twitching grass stems showed something was now about 10 metres off the track. I waited and as luck would have it a minute or two later the bird popped up very briefly onto a low branch just above grass height now about 15-20 metres away. Rather than look at the bird this time I was intent on getting the shot and I rattled off a couple of hasty shots before it dropped back down into the grass. I'm therefore unable to add anything to the original description and saw little more than anyone viewing the images will. I waited until I had to leave for the ferry but there was no further sign of it. It was silent throughout the encounter.

The photographs I was able to get are disappointing and don't rule out Japanese Bush Warbler. This possibility didn't occur to me at the time as, in life, the size and structure of the bird really weren't suggestive of it; it appeared distinctly small and it had lacked the characteristic full-tailed appearance as it first flew away from me along the track. The underparts were brown- rather than grey-hued (expected of worn birds at this time of year) and the head pattern lacked the expected dark eye stripe and contrasting pale supercillium.

The two images suffer greatly from strong light breaking through the canopy with camera settings adjusted for the deep shade and unsteady hands due to haste. Hence they aren't sharp, particularly the first, and rather over-exposed.

As I said, I can't add anything to the very brief original description and anyone looking at these images will see as much as I did in this view. However the plain-lored appearance comes across well, as does the clean white throat though this isn't as striking as in the original view in a darker situation. There's a visible white eye-ring below the eye (this I could make out in life) and a very fine whitish supercillium beginning above the eye and stretching quite far back. There's no  prominent eye stripe but a darker area immediately behind the eye may or may not be a photographic artifact (I didn't see this in life), likewise a hint of a darker latteral crown stripe. In both these images the crown and ear coverts are a greyer-brown than I thought when the bird was in deep shade. The breast is brownish, darkest at the sides, the pale belly is visible here but the warmer brown rear flank patch isn't. Also not visible here but which I did notice in the field is that the lower mandible was entirely pale below becoming whiter at the tip - that may just be visible in the images. I didn't notice the leg colour in the field but the shaded leg and foot looks very pale in the images.

Why isn't it a Chinese Bush Warbler? It would be remiss of me not to state the obvious. Firstly this bird appeared to have plain not barred undertail coverts, illustrations always show strongly barred utc. Interestingly however, most images I've looked at do not (eg Oriental Bird Club images), they range from uniform brown to uniform creamy-white. In other words some seem to lack the pale tips, which is easy to imagine on worn individuals, but others seem to lack the dark bases which is difficult to explain. Undertail coverts barring is probably more difficult to detect in the field than illustrations suggest, though birds which do have dark utc should still be eye-catching. Secondly, and most importantly, my two images suggest a horornis rather than locustella tail shape. Whether this is the result of an image creating a false impression or it is accurate hardly matters, it's damning either way in the light of my not getting a clear view of the tail. The problem of the plain head remains, I don't recall ever seeing a Japanese Bush Warbler with this head pattern but no horornis that could plausibly occur in Japan shows it either. It's natural therefore to default to a strangely marked common species rather than try to shoe-horn a rarity to fit the description.

This brief view/description and limited images would never pass mustard for a record of a rare bird, and I certainly would never count one on these views, but I'd be interested to hear people's opinions about it as it doesn't seem to closely match any of the very few possibilities within a Japanese context.

Sunday, 21 May 2017

Two one-day trips to Hegura... part two

Even more than yesterday I was keen on finding my own birds rather than chasing other people's in the short time I had. Nevertheless I was still lucky enough to bump into two Black-naped Orioles on two occasions without putting in the effort many others had. Unfortunately I wasn't so lucky with a male Chestnut Bunting which was the other found-by-others bird I'd have liked to see, the back of someone's camera was the closest I came.

The good news was there had clearly been an arrival with all that overnight and early morning rain. Phylloscs were even more common and I saw a lot more Eastern Crowned. Whether they were really new in or I was merely connecting with more I can't be certain but there were a also a couple of stubbornly silent Arctic-complex warblers I hadn't seen yesterday and there were most definitely far more Asian Brown Flycatchers. A small group of Chestnut-flanked White-eyes were discovered in the harbour during the day. As an aside, the lack of definite Japanese Leaf Warblers interesting as I saw and heard several in a coastal park the following day.

Not the greatest Chestnut-flanked White-eye shots, they stayed deep in the bushes and I was on count-down to ferry departure, but this was a well marked bird. Despite the brevity of the views the expected longer primary projection was striking but I confess I hadn't expected such a distinctly darker face.

As I said Asian Brown Flycatchers were far more common, I also added Grey-streaked and Japanese Paradise to my trip list, Blue and White were up in numbers but I saw just the one Mugimaki. Possibly the same bird as yesterday.

Asian Brown was common.


2CY male Mugimaki.

That Chestnut Bunting I missed was frustrating but other buntings were fairly easy to find, though there was just a single late Rustic that I saw.

Tristram's Bunting

Yellow-browed Bunting

Female spodocephala Black-faced Bunting.