Monday 8 October 2018

Hegurajima: October 3rd-5th

I was delightedly surprised to be able to get reservations at the minshyuku Tsukasa at short notice. Four nights for the following week and two nights a week later, most early Octobers I can't get a room at such short notice. I was far less delighted... or surprised for that matter... to have one day cut off the beginning and end of my visit by ferry cancellations. A 50% cut, it could have been worse and I'm worried about the chance of a 100% cut later this week!

There had been a clear out the night before my arrival and though birding was good and the sense of expectation as high as ever when arriving on Hegurajima, it was a little slow. There were plenty of the commoner muscicapa flycatchers, a few Stejneger's Stonechats and Kamchatka Leaf Warblers, enough to keep you hopeful and on your toes.

Chestnut-flanked White-eye was the first good bird of the day in the early afternoon though I'd already seen a bird I thought was this species but hadn't been able to confirm it. Over the three days on the island I realised Chestnut-flanked was the default species present; at first I thought perhaps a highly mobile party was responsible for multiple sightings in different parts of the island but it soon became apparent that possibly all the white-eyes present were Chestnut-flanked, and there were many of them, all over the island. Ultimately I only saw two definite Japanese White-eyes during my stay!

The other species I was pleased to see was Brown Shrike. I seem to remember often seeing juvenile/first autumn Brown Shrikes on Hegura years ago but they had dried up until this trip when there were three birds (two juveniles) on the first day. Only one of them lingered beyond that first day.

The first bird, nice crisp markings throughout.

The second bird has already moulted come scapular and mantle feathers. This was the only bird that stayed throughout my stay and frequently perched on the overhead wires.

The third bird looks like an adult female. I'd have liked better views of this pale bird but I only saw it once, very briefly, at quite long range. 

As the afternoon wore on I picked up Middendorff's Warbler, the only one of the trip, then 'Gray's Warbler' which was a personal first for the island. As you might expect views weren't great or prolonged but I was happy enough to have been in the right place at the right time. I heard later that there have been several birds seen recently.

Even a poor record shot is a minor miracle, whether it could be the continental fasciolata Gray's Warbler or Japan breeding amnicola Sakhalin Grasshopper Warbler, I'll never know.

As light was beginning to fail I make my way towards the scrubby area in the harbour for a last scout around before dark. Suddenly a drongo dashed into view above the tree tops to my left, caught whatever it was after, then swung back out of sight! I rushed in the opposite direction to the edge of the quay to try to get a view of the area behind the first row of taller trees. As luck would have it the drongo was perched in one of the few spots that could be seen and I could make out it was... Ashy. I confess I was disappointed, it's a great looking bird, spectacular even, and of course a real rarity in Japan. But it's also my third Ashy on Hegura, Hair-crested would have been nice, really nice. I watched it making sorties from the same perch long enough to get record shots and went to get any birders who were already at the minshyuku. I was back with a couple of birders in less than five minutes and I pointed out the perch with the bird sitting in the same spot. Just as I lifted my binoculars the bird, actually birds, flew. A Brown-eared Bulbul had taken over the Drongos spot on the tree top and it flew conspicuously away while simultaneously the Drongo, which had moved lower in the tree, dropped straight down. This was a corner-of-the-eye view. The other guys' attention was drawn to the Bulbul and they didn't notice the diving Drongo. It was deep twilight by this time and hope was the Drongo would be easily seen in the morning, however it must have left overnight as it was never seen again. It's amazing to think I was the only person on the island who saw this striking and conspicuous species; we all know a large number of rares will go undiscovered but usually imagine they'll mostly be the skulkers. Yet drongos are, if anything, the antithesis of the skulker and still this one almost got away.

Ashy Drongo in the failing light. A good way to end the first day and build anticipation for the second.

It was clear from the get-go that there fewer birds on the island next day. I picked up a few things I'd missed or only heard yesterday, a Siberian Rubythroat, a couple of Yellow-browed Warblers, Black Woodpigeon and nine Little Buntings. The only birds that were new were two Dusky Thrushes that I heard overhead and two Buff-bellied Pipits were probably also just arrived.

Yellow-brows can be quite common but I only had three on this trip. They're more often heard than seen and can be difficult subjects to photograph, this was the best I managed. 

Little Buntings can also be common and tend to sit around for anyone to snap away at.

The final morning was pretty dead by island standards but by mid-morning it became obvious that birds were arriving in significant numbers. Bulbuls were becoming common, three conspicuous Blue & White Flycatchers where there had been none, my first Narcissus of the trip, an up-tick in muscicapa flycatcher numbers, the return of Stejneger's Stonechats after an absence yesterday, a Red-throated Pipit quickly became five and my first spodacephala Black-faced Bunting of the trip turned up. Unfortunately today would be the last chance to get off the island before the next typhoon arrived so I, along with everyone else, left.

A nice male spod Bunting.

One of the fresh-in Red-throated Pipits.

Male Stejneger's Stonechat.


  1. 'Many' Chestnut-flanked White-eyes indeed.............. every spring I check the flocks here and I see 'not any'!!!

  2. I've only seen them on Hegura and even there only on three visits. Since posting these images, the Chestnut-flanked have all left and been replaced by Japanese.