Tuesday 23 January 2018

Bewick's, Whistling and Whooper Swans at Lake Biwa

I visited Lake Biwa for the first time this year at the weekend, twice in fact. Friday was sunny and Sunday was not, which is why the nominate columbianus images are so much duller.

A lot of people were on the fields (not just the Steller's Sea Eagle spot) because of the two local rares; both Whooper Swan and Cackling Goose were new Kansai birds for me. The Cackling Goose was the bigger draw and this made finding it relatively easy. Flocks of swans were dotted over a huge area but the Cackling Goose flock always had a line of roadside birders flagging the spot across the flat expanse between the Lake and the mountains.

I'd normally try to creep the car towards the flock hoping not to disturb the birds but it seems I've always erred on the side of caution because the swans simply don't give a hoot. The birds were even closer on Friday and actually walked towards the line of photographers with the closest coming to only 10 metres.

The main draw for me was the Cackling Goose and in fact I hadn't known about the Whooper Swans. It was only when the Cackler moved slightly back into the flock that I checked the birds in the next field down the road and discovered two of the white shapes were Whoopers. Whooper Swans are never common this far south in Japan, I've seen one further west in Shimane Prefecture and another at Arasaki in southern Kyushu(!) but this pair were a real surprise. I walked along and could get reasonably good shots, probably the best I've ever had of Whooper, despite all the geese and swans in this field being less close to the road.

After looking at large numbers of close range Tundra I was surprised how strikingly pale-eyed this bird was. According to Brazil (who ought to know) paler blue-grey eyes are not uncommon in Whooper Swans so this was a nice example.

This, dare I say rather smug-looking, Tundra's eye is also blue-grey though much duller.

So if I'm already anthropomorphising then it's safe to say I'd rather buy a used car from this bird. Oh, and this has the more usual dark eye. 

Sunday was much duller and colder with an increasing wind; the beginning of the end of a few days mild weather. I didn't hang around long enough to see if this Whistling Swan would come any closer so these are the best shots I could manage.

The above bird in the foreground and there's another possible columbianus behind it. I suppose this extent of yellow on the bill falls within the range of the nominate subspecies and I sometimes see birds like this paired with classic-looking columbianus, never with bewickii, which tends to support they are also Whistling Swans but eliminating the possibility of hybrid ancestry is impossible.

I suspect it's more likely to be Whistling than Bewick's. As I said I've seen such birds paired with clear-cut columbianus, with young, but never with bewickii.

Thanks to there being numerous small flocks dotted around a large area there was relatively frequent coming and going and plenty of opportunity for getting the prefect flight shots. I was far more interested in the two rarities but couldn't resist trying my hand at flying swans. The shot below was my best effort.

The other swans of interest were two birds with solar powered geolocators; I saw one on Friday, two on Sunday. Add those sightings to only seeing the Whoopers on Friday and Whistling Swans on Monday and it shows how difficult it is to see everything on a single visit. There must still be additional fields I've yet to find that are attracting flocks.

The 'Friday swan' getting a power boost.

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