Sunday 4 March 2018

Canvasback and other ducks

Canvasback isn't a mega in Japan but it's rare enough that you could wait a lifetime to see one unless you were willing to travel. I think there have been about four records dotted around Japan this winter.

I didn't hear about this bird but saw images on a couple of blogs and guessed where it must be, or at least I could narrow it down to one of two river mouths. I'd been chomping at the bit for a chance to try for this bird, a Canvasback in my usual Mie birding area, no extra driving involved. It had to be on either the Komozu gawa or the Ano gawa but which?

I was working in Tokyo last week and got back home Friday night. After a couple of hours sleep I set off with high expectation that the bird would still be there; which ever river there was.

My mental coin toss came up Komuzu gawa. This sounds so much better than I thought very carefully about which river was the more likely; then made the wrong choice. Tides, angle of sun, distance from the ducks, pig-headedness, they all contributed to me spending all day in the wrong place. I did see a party of five Tundra Swans taking a breather on an off-shore sand bar till the incoming tide encouraged them to continue on their way. This was a patch tick. I really must tot up my Matsusaka/Tsu list one day, it must be getting quite respectable by now.

I drove the 15 or so Kilometres into the city after nightfall and prepared to spend the night in the car park right by the Ano gawa. The beauty of this river is that, unlike the wide Komozu estuary, there's a narrow neck between the tidal flats and the sea meaning everything must either fly or swim right under your nose to get further upstream. This is also where I saw the Bonaparte's Gull last year but I don't usually 'do' this river because of time pressure. It's only if I plan to start the day with gulls (depending on tide and weather) that I'll check here first. From this vantage point you can see the whole length of the best gull beach, behind Tsu university, and get an idea of which car park to use.

I hadn't come prepared for an overnighter, no sleeping bag to stretch out in the back, so as I uncurled my creaking legs and rolled into the carpark I first noticed the surrounding frost. Had it been that cold overnight? I hadn't come prepared with gloves either. I don't know about you but once my fingers pass through the pain barrier I'm fine. I wouldn't like to thread a needle but I can manage focus wheels and shutter release which is all that matters.

Even though the sun wasn't up I wasn't the first person onto the embankment. Though only one other car had spent the night there (Osaka registration) the place was filling quickly. This must be the right place! Whereas yesterday had dawned with a buffeting wind, today was calm. Perfect scope weather though I was hoping I wouldn't need it.

Red-breasted Mergansers and Goldeneyes were performing beautifully, more importantly there was a huge number of Common Pochard. The Komozu gawa had been 99% Greater Scaup with just a smattering of Pochard, and it had been the latter which had featured strongly in the blog posts I'd seen.

Red-breasted Mergansers, Common Goldeneyes, Common Pochards but no Canvasback. Or was I overlooking it? Not unlike gulls the shade of grey can change as the bird swims catching the light from different angles. How much paler is Canvasback and would it stand out? How much bigger is it? Until I knew the answers I was leaning heavily on bill colour. Oh for heaven's sake, turn round will you! A frequent thought as my fingers were passing through the pain barrier.

It wasn't here.

Then the little demon on my shoulder was whispering seductively "coffeeeeee, breaaakfaaaaast" while the little angel on its opposite perch responded "Yesssss!!!" So it was back to the car and off to the nearest convenience store. "Fingers to body control, we are re-entering pain barrier". "Body control to fingers, you don't say?!"

By the time I got back my two shoulder companions, both hands, and I were all feeling much better. The sun was warm, the wind still wasn't blowing but the crowd of birders/photographers were still concentrating on the Red-breasted Mergansers and Goldeneyes. Not a good sign. The tide was dropping and as I scanned through the sleeping Pochards on the far sand bank, boom! A big white one! Really big and really white.

I can say with certainty that Canvasback is one of those birds that can have you scrutinise every one of the common taxon, in this case every Pochard that's turned away or sleeping. But when you see the real deal there's absolutely no doubt.

I learnt it had arrived during my absence and performed just below everyone before going to sleep on the far bank. I should have guessed, there were actually spaces in the car park when I got back.

It's sore thumb time.

Neighbours come and go, the sun goes in, the tide drops... the Canvasback doesn't budge.

A commotion up stream and it's time to wake up.

Time to drop onto the river and give good views... or fly straight out to sea.

The river, the river would be really good...

Sighs... or straight out to sea.

Did I mention there were Red-breasted Mergansers and Goldeneyes on the river?

Mergs before sun-up...

And Goldeneyes after sun-up...

Note to Santa - Barrow's Goldeneye on the Ano gawa please. Oh no: I forgot to write male.

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