Wednesday, 21 June 2017

2017... how many new birds at the half way point (passerines)

I decided to split this six-month review into two sections to prevent it being overly long and this is effectively becomes the passerine section. If the non-passerines had a wintery feel, all the big stuff seems so long ago, then the passerine post is more up to date. Very up to date considering I saw the Fairy Pitta on June 20.

I already posted about the Pitta but I have so many shots of it I have to post a few more.

Another spectacular June bird, a 2CY Black-naped Oriole in Kanazawa.

The earliest bird to make it into my first half favourites was a Grey-backed Thrush. On the same day I had great views of a White's Thrush which isn't rare but can be difficult to get good views of, that bird was a bonus.

Grey-backed Thrush in an Osaka park.

White's Thrush in the same park.

Staying with thrushes, migrants can be difficult to get good views of but this Eyebrowed was great.

Flycatchers, warblers and buntings are always top of the list when it comes to less common species. I didn't see any Yellow-rumped Flycatchers this spring but I managed to catch up with a few of the commoner Mugimaki passing through. Dusky and Radde's are the most frequent of the scarce warblers and Tristram's, Yellow-browed and Black-faced spodocephala are the regular buntings that usually require a trip to one of the islands to see, to date Tristram's is the only one I sometimes see at coastal sites.

A 2CY male Mugimaki, apart from the hint of a white flare behind the eye the bird also had white flashes in the base of the tail.

Believe it or not this is a Dusky Warbler, I first got onto it by call and tracked it through the undergrowth. I like this shot because the upperparts (apart from the tail) look distinctly greenish and light shining from above appears to give it a bold crown stripe. 

Radde's Warbler a week earlier in the same clump of undergrowth. There can't be any doubts about the identity of this one.

Manchurian Bush Warbler may not be rare but its scarcity combined with secretive nature means I see far fewer than the two phylloscs. Larger males can be obvious when seen but females won't stand out on size alone and I wouldn't be surprised if I've overlooked some silent females assuming they were Japanese.

Female Tristram's Bunting, the males were more camera shy. When I first came to Japan I expected Tristram's and Yellow-browed to be on a numerical par as scarce migrants, because they were often mentioned in the same breath, but over the years Yellow-browed has proved far more difficult to see. However this spring both were fairly well represented on Hegurajima and matched my original expectations. I've seen a few Tristram's on the mainland, as many as three birds together, but I've yet to see a Yellow-browed away from islands.

Yellow-browed Bunting, for me at least this was a good year for this species.

Black-faced Bunting spodocephala. Another reasonably frequent bird off shore that I don't see on the mainland. 

Chestnut-flanked White-eye is maybe more frequent on islands further north (?), I seem to hear of fewer reports from islands off western Honshu.

I saw my first Tiger Shrike in Japan as recently as last summer. There were several on Hegurajima during my later visits this spring.

Finally I want to add two birds which in a sense are the antithesis of highlights in so much as they are so common that they don't make it into other posts. Both Oriental Greenfinch and Varied Tit are good looking birds that that suffer from being too common as far as making it onto this blog is concerned so now is as good an opportunity as they are going to get.

A bright male Oriental Greenfinch.

Varied Tit.

So, half way through 2017 and Bonaparte's Gull is the only new bird of the year. Fingers crossed there will be more on the way and that this year won't set an unwanted record of fewest new birds ever.

Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Fairy Pitta

I'd been thinking of going to look for Fairy Pitta at the weekend but decided to have a lazy couple of days at home after a string of full 48-hour Hegurajima trips recently. However I didn't have to go to work today and as the rainy season officially started in our region a week ago (blue skies ever since) I thought I'd better take the opportunity while photography is still an option and also before the forest turns into a leeches' playground. The forecast says heavy rain tomorrow but the sky has already changed from blue to a premature dusk in the last hour so I think the met office blew their second bite of the precipitation cherry.

I arrived not long after 4am to find a phalanx of photographer already in place, I was the twenty first on site. The first seated row comfortably strung across the track, the second row, also seated, had their tripods further extended at the ready and I joined the third row... not seated. In the half light it was easy to imagine ranked musketeers but the front row wouldn't need to reload so I wouldn't be stepping forward to take their place. Lucky I'm not short.

It was all well orchestrated, we first comers had taken station looking back up the track the way we'd come, only 10 metres from one of the Pittas' favourite feeding spots, and the subsequent tardy and ever-growing mob (I counted 42 vehicles when I left) camped at the top of the slope facing us, a good 100 metres from the hoped for action.

Then we waited... and waited.

We heard Pitta singing on four occasions but it wasn't until we'd been there nearly six hours that someone spotted a bird to our right coming uphill from the rear. I could hear leaf-tossing just over the ridge, it was close. Another anxious 30 minutes passed. Then there it was right in front of us, shutters clattered, the mob up the hill probably couldn't see more than a speck.

It stayed foraging then collecting nesting material for half an hour before flying off left. No sooner had it gone than someone in our group received a call that there was a Caspian Tern in Osaka. Cue a charge up the hill back to the cars as the many Osakans happy with the mornings outcome needed to get back in a hurry. The mob at the top of the slope offered little resistance as we pushed (politely) through, I must say I felt a little sorry for them. But hey, if your going for a bird, a woodland bird in particular, get there early; you don't want to arrive at half passed morning. Hmm, that's probably a bit harsh considering everyone was well behaved.

Perhaps it was the location and that a feeding spot was known but today was far more orderly than in previous years, the bird was given its space, no were recordings used and a large group behaved as well as any large group can. Splendid.

And this was the bird, just a few shots of many.

Thursday, 15 June 2017

2017... how many new birds at the half way point (non-passerines)

Looking back at annual additions to my Japan list over the past 10 years shows some striking ups and downs. 2010 stands out as a miserable effort numerically with just Pied Wheatear and Ferruginous Flycatcher; both on Mishima. While 2014 provided a bumper crop with an amazing 21 new birds.

So how is 2017 faring? Well as we approach the half way stage not too well it has to be said, just the one new bird to date. Mind you Bonaparte's Gull isn't bad, plus it had all the the thrill of a self-find even though it wasn't.

I've realised this is going to be a long post with the number of images involved so I'll split it into two sections. Some of the images I've posted before but others are of birds that didn't fit into any post for one reason or another. I'll start with a couple of shots of that exciting Bonies.

A dinky Black-headed; well done the original finders.

Comparing underwings it suddenly becomes much easier.

Sticking with underwings and this time it's the Black-headed that's the odd man out. Three Saunder's Gulls with a Black-headed for comparison, Saunder's is a more southerly breeder and they acquire their black head (and depart) much earlier.

Still with gulls, this fantastic Thayer's was in its tenth winter on the beach in Tsu city.

Quite approachable on its own.

Here with Vega and Taimyr Gulls.

A better shot of Taimyr Gull.

And the final gull to make the cut is an interesting Vega. In 2013 Peter Adriaens wrote about a useful supportive feature helping to identify American Herring Gull in Europe, stating that European Herring Gulls rarely show an isolated grey mirror in the solid black of p9-10 whereas a larger percentage of American Herring Gulls do.
Here is an example of Vega Gull with the same feature. I'm uncertain what percentage of Vega show this feature because I haven't been looking for it, however it stood out on this bird so I'm guessing not many. Something to look out for in the future.

A clear example of a Vega with an isolated grey mirror on p10.

Moving away from gulls but still on the water this Greater Scaup x Tufted Duck hybrid was only the second I've come across.

Greater Scaup x Tufted Duck hybrid in a large flock of Greater Scaup.

There are plenty of long-legged white birds in Japan, these two species are the rarest of the bunch...

Chinese (Swinhoe's) Egret.

Black-faced Spoonbill.

I started the year in Kyushu, famous for its leggy wintering stuff...

White-naped Crane.

Common Crane.

Sandhill Crane.

Hooded Crane.