Well, wherever it went, Northern Hawk Cuckoo singing over my house a few nights ago spurred me to visit Ashyu Forest (central Kyoto prefecture) for the first time this spring as soon as I had time. Time turned out to be the weekend, when I also managed to get out to Hegurajima for only the second time of the season.
I didn't have any offshore plans for Golden Week this year but instead I had hoped to make day trips to Hegurajima. This isn't ideal for several reasons. First, the huge number of birders/photographers present during Golden Week means you're never alone on a trail, the best you can hope for is that you aren't part of a shuffling line spaced about 30 metres apart - that actually happened when I was there on May 1st, I almost felt I had to indicate and wait for a gap in the birder traffic when I exited woodland onto the main north/south trail. Second, the ferry only gives you the least optimal midday period on the island to find the birds. Finally, and worst of all, will the ferry even sail? Ferry cancellations aren't unexpected in autumn when the Japan Sea is less friendly, whereas spring is usually less risky. Of course 'usually less risky' doesn't mean sailings can be relied on as spring of last year proved and this year hasn't been any better, last week was the first time there were more sailings than cancellations.
My visit to Ashyu was really enjoyable, it was great to be in the field and not see another soul in 18 hours! Of course I heard many more birds than I saw but Grey Nightjars were good with two birds sitting on the road in the early hours and a third high overhead in display flight after first light. The heard only highlights were a Japanese Night Heron and a Japanese Scops Owl.
Ruddy Kingfishers were singing early in the morning but as it was sunny, apart from a few calls, it was as if they hadn't existed shortly after the sun crested the hills. Cuckoos, Northern Hawk, Oriental and Lesser vanished in the same way. One bird that never even appeared was Asian Brown Flycatcher, where were they? But a much bigger question was raised. I heard a Kamchatka Leaf Warbler singing in the forest and for an instant when it started singing I was delighted thinking it was Japanese Leaf. The only previous occasion I've heard 'Japanese Leaf' here was before the Arctic complex was split and now I wonder whether that too was a passage Kamchatka. It seems this area is just outside the Japanese Leaf range.
|One of several Grey Wagtails around the car park in the forest. 'Car park' means a broad muddy turning area where the road finally ends.|
On the not-a-bird front this monster earthworm was a stand-out.
|At about 40cm long this would give any early bird pause for thought. Note the 10 Yen coin next to it for scale.|
|Shortly after I saw this hummingbird hawk moth daylight was gone and a bigger surprise was an otherwise invisible bush across steep dark ravine lit up by glow worms like a ghostly Christmas tree.|
After nightfall on the second day I drove north to Wajima as it seemed very likely the ferry would be operating the following morning.
There was a time, a long time in fact, I'd be out on the ferry deck from port to port but after multiple sailings each year, year after year, with very little to show for it I tend to catch up on sleep nowadays. Admittedly I visit the island more often in autumn than the more productive spring. When I went out on May 1st I did try for seabirds and the trip produced about 30 Ancient Murrelets in small parties, at least two Japanese Murrelets, ever present Streaked Shearwaters and the Pelagic Cormorants which are still around at that time of year. I had also hoped for good numbers of phalaropes, Red-necked can be common and usually there are a few Grey (Red) thrown in. In the event there were only a handful of Red-necked. This time, two days ago, I did sleep on the crossing but still managed a single Red-necked Phalarope through the window.
|One of several small fly-by parties of Ancient Murrelets.|
|A few were slightly closer.|
|Red-necked Phalaropes with an Ancient Murrelet.|
On the island at the beginning of the month this Sakhalin Leaf Warbler was the only bird of interest I managed good shots of. That was my first ever trip to Hegura when I was glad to be taking the ferry back to the mainland, I've never seen the place so birdless.
|Strictly speaking I ought to call this a Sakhalin/Pale-legged Leaf as I didn't hear it but Sakhalin is the overwhelming favourite here.|
I wasn't terribly optimistic about this trip, even though there have been some really good birds between my visits, because the weather hadn't looked too productive all week. However the hill behind Wajima harbour was thick with Kamchatka Leaf Warblers which put me in a much better frame of mind before the ferry left. Kamchatka were absolutely everywhere on the island, Asian Brown Flycatchers were pretty common too. No wonder there were none at Ashyu, they're all still on vacation!
|Kamchatka Leaf Warbler|
|A clean looking Asian Brown Flycatcher, even paler in the sun.|
|Asian Brown looking dark.|
|No amount of sun is going to make a Dark-sided Flycatcher look pale.|
The best/rarest birds on the island were Black-naped Oriole, a flock of Common Crossbills and a Dollarbird; hmmm so okay, nothing major. But there were so many birds around, and such a variety of scarce stuff, there surely had to be something important waiting to be found. If there was, neither I nor anyone else found it during my four hours on the island.
Cuckoos were fairly obvious, Lesser and Common at any rate.
|Black Woodpigeon is ever present but it's not often they sit about in the open like this.|