Friday 19 May 2017

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

After bad weather has prevented me from getting out to the island on each recent occasion I've had the free time to go, the forecast finally looked promising for a sailing last Friday. After working till 8pm on Thursday I hurried home and prepared for the drive up to Wajima... by all accounts birding had been great on all the Japan Sea islands a few days earlier, but how much would still be there?

I arrived in Wajima later than usual so couldn't get in any local birding before heading for the ticket office, and once there it was pretty obvious the ferry was running. The car park was packed and nearby roads lined with birders' cars. This was the first time I've had to go to one of the big car parks across the river and walk back.

Once on the ferry I took the opportunity to grab some sleep rather than hang on the rail as there's often little more than Streaked Shearwaters to show for the effort. I find it difficult to get excited about this ferry route to be honest. The crossing was calm and the visibility encouragingly poor with the Japanese mainland quickly disappearing from sight, there might even be the odd new arrival.

I wasn't one of the first off the ferry for a change and was a little surprised to see a knot of people hurrying off towards the centre of the island and decided to follow just in case. It turned out they were headed for a Black-naped Oriole vigil so I dropped out of the race about half way but this quick march in that direction turned out for the best. Some way along the central track I heard a singing Rufous-tailed (Swinhoe's) Robin in the undergrowth to my left, a bird often heard but rarely seen on the islands in spring. Not 50 metres further I paused to check a Narcissus Flycatcher (there's always a chance of Yellow-rumped) lurking down a narrow cut into the sassa, where photographers will often display Olympian patience while tempting skulkers into the open with mealworms, and just below the Flycatcher another Rufous-tailed Robin hopped into my field of view! It posed on a stone for about three seconds then flitted into thick cover on the other side of the cutting. Three seconds... what a view! Though I've heard countless over the years this was only the second I've seen. What a great start to the day!

Yellow-browed Warblers were everywhere, fantastic little birds, but they can be tough to photograph. Sakhalin Leaf Warblers weren't far behind in number judging by all the calls but surprisingly I didn't hear a single Japanese Leaf Warbler. There weren't many Eastern Crowned Warblers around either but as they aren't as vocal as the other phylloscs present it's possible to underestimate their number. These are a few of the warbler shots I managed.

Radde's Warbler... one day there'll be a Yellow-streaked.

Radde's again, that bill looks brutal.

Radde's again.

Sakhalin Leaf.

Sakhalin Leaf.

Japanese Bush Warbler with three more shots below.

It might make a mystery photograph challenge but it's actually one of the few Eastern Crowned I saw that day.

Siberian Rubythroat can be hard to see let alone photograph, I had reasonable views of three birds while I was there.

Not everything was skulking in nature, quite a few things were happy to perch up. None more so than this rather out-of-place Cattle Egret...

This Brown Shrike stayed far enough away to prevent a medium-sized lens like mine making much of it, I should have brought my scope.

More heavily cropped and from a different position.

This bird is confusus I'd guess, but that looks like a black tail through the twigs. Perhaps I shouldn't have taken people's word for this being Brown.

A Bull-headed was more obliging, the Tiger Shrike present was far less so... I didn't even see it.

There are often Siskins on the island and they tend to be far more easily photographed than in the forests in Kyoto.

Female Siskin.

Before I knew it my time on the island was up and it was back to a crowded ferry. I was surprised how many of the same faces were heading back after day-tripping.

Originally my plan had been to head up the coast to the end of the peninsula the following day to see what might be about there. However the forecast insisted there would be heavy rain from midnight to well past dawn. I couldn't make up my mind what to do; if there was going to be filthy weather I'd rather be on flat Hegura than slithering on the steep slopes up the coast. The soles of my boots are worn smooth; I've been meaning to get new ones for ages but when there's a choice between birding and shopping there really isn't a choice at all. Because slithering means at least one eye on the terrain rather than looking for birds Hegura was clearly the better option but this only held true if the ferry sailed. Ultimately, after prolonged dithering, there wasn't enough time to get up the coast before first light so I had to hope the ferry was going. Which turned out very well indeed.


  1. Those strong south westerly winds earlier in the month that brought the yellow snog from China seemed to bring a lot of good birds, I've seen many nice birds on Hokkaido blogs by birders who went to Teuri. Not to mention Tobishima and of course Hegura. Maybe May 2017 was a vintage one ,shame I didn't make it to any of the islands!

  2. The biggest problem with the islands has been so many ferry cancellations this year!