This Phalarope event along the coast at Matsusaka in Mie prefecture was of a totally different magnitude.
At some point in the late morning I was going through one of the Greater Crested Tern flocks perched on bamboo poles in the shallow coastal waters when I noticed a distant flock of small waders flying by way out to sea. I didn't pay much attention at first as they were too distant to identify but their overall paleness suggested Sanderling. Over the next 20 minutes or so I was there I saw more flocks which struck me as decidedly odd. Not only because I haven't seen anything quite like that before but at high tide, as it was, I'd expect Sanderlings to be roosting above the high water mark rather than flying way out over the water. Plus there was an awful lot of them and even though Sanderling is common along this coast I don't usually see so many aggregations of this size. Unless of course I was seeing the same birds flying back and forth but that would be even more unusual behaviour for Sanderling. Phalarope crossed my mind but as I said they were too far out to identify.
I spent some time driving slowly round the endless fields and when I next returned to the coast a few kilometres further north I immediately saw a flock of waders much closer to shore. They had dashed past only allowing tail views disappearing across the bay but I was sure these were indeed phalaropes and I was kicking myself for not reacting more quickly and getting a Red-necked/Grey identification.
I needn't have worried, after a minute or two another flock came by, then another and yet another. Numbers ranged from about 15 birds in some groups to over 100 in others. Some flocks were a little distant, others just beyond the tideline. Some flocks even gained height over the seawall and headed across the fields behind me. In fact the last flock I saw, about 70 birds, was flying over a village and across the fields as I was driving away at 17:30.
There were a huge number of birds involved and I wonder whether they'd entered Ise Bay from the Pacific and toured the bay or if they'd taken a shortcut across the country from the Japan Sea; I suspect the latter.
|Some of the first closer birds I saw in the shallow water close to shore.|
|Some were pretty close...|
|Some very close...|
|Some were coming off the water altogether.|
|I wonder how many I missed crossing the fields behind me.|
Finally a few of those Greater Crested Tern I'd been sifting through when I first spotted distant waders. The Terns normally sit on the tops of bamboo poles which are frequently very distant in this part of the bay with its extensive shallows. If you're lucky you can catch them with the Black-tailed Gulls on the sandbars.