Wednesday 24 January 2018

A few geese at Lake Biwa

I already mentioned that the Cackling Goose was the big attraction at the north end of Lake Biwa when I posted about the swans at the weekend. It's only the second I've seen in Japan, and though numbers of wintering birds are increasing nationally it's still a rarity this far south. It's been present all winter but I'd actually forgotten about it till a second person emailed to say they'd seen it so I decided to get up there pronto remembering I blew the only the only opportunity I've ever had to see Greylag in Japan because I put off going to see a 'certainty' till too late.

The timing turned out to be very good, according to the Met Office there had been 75cm of snow just north of the lake a week earlier but this had entirely disappeared because of the unusual mild spell and persistent rain. Now, a week later, reports give a more normal snow depth of 66cm... there's even a rare covering in Kyoto city this morning!

As well as the Cackler there was also the usual contingent of middendorffii Taiga Bean and a few Greater White-fronts. The latter occurs in very small numbers considering the large flocks just over the prefectural border in Fukui, usually fewer than 20 here. Unfortunately I couldn't find any of the rarer Tundra Bean which may be annual but only in very small numbers.

More often than not views of the Bean are restricted to rather distant sleeping birds on the islands off the Wild Bird Center at Kohokucho but this was one of the few and far between occasions I see them in the fields at the opposite side of the lake. When they're on the water at the opposite side (as they were on Sunday) they are even more distant than at the usual spot.

The Cackling Goose dwarfed by the Tundra Swans.

Fortunately it kept coming closer until it was almost at the leading edge of the flock right under our noses.

You just can't ask for closer views than this!

There were nine rather distant Greater White-fronted Geese on Friday and 12 birds gradually coming closer in a different area on Sunday. I didn't hang around as they slowly marched across the field... it was just getting too cold and I'd come dressed for the much milder Friday weather.

The Taiga Bean were in a different area, at the north west corner of the lake. They were far more skittish and difficult to approach even inside the car.

A good example of the swan-like middendorffii bill. The only time I ever saw a Swan Goose in this flock it was smaller than many of these 'Middendorff's' Taiga Bean, they really are huge.


  1. I need Cackling Goose for my J-list, I've been assuming I'll just bump into one near Hakodate............I really should go and twitch one sometime I suppose.

    1. With wintering numbers increasing, it's got to be just a matter of time.

  2. It really is a classic Cackling Goose and you realize how small it is when contrasted against the swans. A few years ago, on the way to Bangkok, I changed planes at Narita, and I have always regretted that I didn't allow a couple of days for a stopover to bird in Japan.

    1. Isn't it just, they are amazingly small, no bigger than a Shelduck really.