Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Some migrants on Yonaguni

I've already posted regarding the most important migrants from a personal perspective, the Himalayan Swiftlet and Citrine Wagtail, but here are a few other migrants, some more to be expected than others.

There was only this one pair of Garganey during my stay. Last time there were quite a few on a tank favoured by Common Teal. These birds were on the pond/lake at Kubura.  

Grey-faced Buzzards are a daily occurrence, perhaps they are wintering birds rather than migrants, and often easily photographable on utility poles. I've gone with this poor, distant shot because this was such a striking bird, beautifully sandy above and mainly white below. 

There were a lot of Chinese Pond Herons on the island, though six was the largest group I saw they could be seen singly or in twos in many places.

This Whiskered Tern only spend about five minutes over the flooded fields at Hikawa before purposefully heading north over the island never to be seen again.

The only Oriental Cuckoo I saw perched, and the only non-hepatic.

Brown Shrikes are common and found in gardens, field edges and open scrubby areas.

Chestnut-cheeked Starling is a common spring migrant throughout Japan.

Daurian Starling on the other hand is not. There were at least three in the above flock of Chestnut-cheeked and I'd only previously seen a single bird on Mishima (Yamaguchi Pref).

Phylloscopus warblers were disappointingly scarce, I heard one Yellow-browed and eventually saw this Dusky Warbler which was singing from dense cover.

Stejneger's Stonechat is another common migrant throughout Japan and there were several dotted around the island.

The only Richard's Pipit of the trip, briefly on the school playing field. I saw several last time.

Red-throated Pipit could be seen daily, there were usually a few around the margins of flooded fields. 

I was surprised to see a Brambling but I came across two more singles on subsequent days.

Little Bunting is a fairly common migrant on migration islands but this was the only one I saw on Yonaguni. Masked was common and there were a few Black-faced but buntings, like warblers, were disappointing.

Perhaps it was a little early for some migrants even this far south? Perhaps a little late for others as I didn't see any Oriental Plovers or Upland Buzzard though I suspected I might miss these two Yonaguni specials before going.

One of the Oriental Plovers from my previous visit to the island, It's such a great bird I don't need much of an excuse to dig up an old shot.

Monday, 29 April 2019

A few Yaeyama natives

I've already mentioned in a previous post that Iriomote offers a more enjoyable away-from-it-all experience than Ishigaki, the only downside being there aren't any convenience stores providing round the clock coffee. And on the bird front, breeding Black-shouldered Kites are the only birds that can't be found on Iriomote. 

There doesn't seem to be any competition between the Kites and the abundant local Large-billed Crows, they seem to ignore each other, but on this occasion a Crow trying to share a favourite tree of this Kite was pushing the envelope a little too far.

Ruddy Kingfishers of the race bangsi are more numerous and easier to see than the migratory major we get further north. Catching up with Ruddy Kingfisher in Honshu usually means a trip to well established forest but in Yaeyama the can be found in village gardens and relatively insubstantial belts of trees. Typically most vocal activity is at dawn (in particular) and dusk but bangsi does sing throughout even sunny days which I wouldn't expect of major.

To my ear bangsi sounds obviously different to major, akin to a distinct regional dialect. Major gives an explosive but harmonious descending trill, a single entity, whereas the song of bangsi is three or four rapid, descending individual notes, the last of which reverberates.

It came as a surprise then, while watching the Kites, that a very obvious major-type song chimed in with two bangsi that were singing from the dense scrub and low trees beside the airport. I can only suppose this was a northward bound migrant major. If bangsi can also sing in this way, it's the first time I've heard it.

Though Yonaguni is more important as place to see rare migrants than Yaeyama/Ryukyu endemics I do always find it easier to see Barred Buttonquail here than anywhere else in it's range. Just lucky, or are they more numerous here?

A female Barred Buttonquail crossing the road. Chance encounters are reasonably frequent on Yonaguni but I've never seen the species elsewhere despite patiently staring down row after row in cane fields.

The other bird of interest is the nagamichii race of Brown-eared Bulbul which has a toehold in Japan here.

What were these two birds up to? I might have thought anting if they were on the ground, it was very overcast but not raining so not bathing. Perhaps they'd been watching a documentary on birds of paradise?

Quite an attractive bird.

The other bulbul and Zitting Cisticola are probably the two most common birds on the island apart from ubiquitous Brown-eared.

Zitting Cisticola

Chinese Bulbul

Purple Herons are common of Ishigaki and Iriomote but this was my first on Yonaguni, I came across it in the afternoon and it was gone next day.

Purple Heron

I saw three Emerald Doves on Yonaguni this trip and got this photo tick. Previously I've only ever seen one on Iriomote and, as with this trip, heard them on Ishigaki. I managed to creep up on this bird but unfortunately it was about 08:30, less somnambulant hour, and one of that particular road's 4-5 cars per hour came past and flushed it.

Wednesday, 24 April 2019

All four stints in one field on Yonaguni

On my only previous visit to Yonaguni, six years ago, I spent five nights on the island from April 5-9, this time I stayed from April 10-17. I didn't plan a contiguous time span but I was aware of the later timing wondering how this might affect the range of species I'd find. Of course with such a fine margin the weather can have a more significant influence, however the weather was basically the same on both occasions. Mild, largely overcast with frequent showers and with calm interludes between lengthy bouts of strong northerly winds. Not exactly what I might have expected.

I saw a slight increase in the number of wader species in 2019, perhaps not surprising give more field time, but missed out on two rarer birds Pec Sand (one 2013) and, the regions speciality, Oriental Plover (several 2013). Little Stint (two) was the only interesting species I picked up this time round that I'd missed on the previous visit.

On both occasions the same two areas were best for waders, flooded fields on the eastern outskirts of Sonai and at Hikawa. I wasn't too thrilled to see large scale development taking place at Hikawa and wonder whether those excellent fields may not be there much longer.

All the stints in this post were photographed at Hikawa where birds tend to be closer.

Little Stint...


There were two Gulf of Thailand flagged birds.


And Long-toed...

This bird gets the award for the drabbest Long-toed Stint I've seen.

And this one, with a Temminck's, wins the least obvious prize (no pun intended).

I was puzzled when I first saw this dumpy stint and I made a point of driving closer to get better shots, it took a few minutes for the penny to drop. Long-toed Stints invariably remind me of a long-sighted person struggling with a newspaper because of their upright gait on stretched legs and elongated neck, as if unable to focus on the mud when too close. To my shame I didn't even consider Least Sand until later in the day; oh that sinking feeling! Insert expletives of choice. I slammed on the brakes and stopped dead in the middle of the road (there isn't much traffic except between Sonai and Kubura, you'll see more military personnel jogging than cars), grabbed my camera and by pure luck I'd managed the middle toe money shot. Otherwise the whole trip could have been under a cloud because I never saw the bird again. The really stupid thing is that it's not unusual when I come across a Long-toed for me to wonder whether I'd totally overlook a Least if I ever saw one, and here I was totally deaf to any bell that might have rung.

Long-toed and Temminck's closer now and with a couple of Red-necked teaming-up.

Almost perfect line-up. The non-breeding Red-necked needs to work on its timing a little I think. And WHERE is the Little!!! The long middle toe is clearly visible here, no need to stress about the minutiae.

awash with wagtails

Citrine Wagtail was a Japan tick for me on the Yonaguni trip and it almost didn't seem a surprise because there were simply so many 'exotic' wagtails on arable land and playing fields. In fact I saw a rather remarkable eight taxa. Arguably, the rarest taxon of all was lugens White Wagtail. I only saw a single individual of this, the default taxon in Kansai. I didn't see any Japanese Wagtails, the second most frequently encountered taxon here, only Grey Wagtail seemed in similar numbers to Kansai expectations.

I had frustratingly come across a possible Citrine earlier in the week. It had been mixed in with a flock of Eastern Yellow Wagtails on the rocks below the towering cliffs of the eastern headland but unfortunately the flock flew round the headland, impossible to follow without a boat (or wings). I went back over the next two days and though there were always about 30 Eastern Yellow Wagtails present I never again saw the possible Citrine.

A possible Citrine Wagtail, I got several equally bad record shots but the following image is the only clear shot I managed before the bird dropped out of view amongst the rocks. 

I've never seen a taivana with yellow cheeks like this and a pre-breeding Citrine seemed more plausible at the time. It's a pity I never saw the bird again.

The Kubura school playing fields are extensive and attract a lot of migrants, my only Greater Sand Plover, Dusky Thrush , Richard's Pipit and lugens White Wagtail were all here. The problem is birds tend to be distant but by some miracle the Citrine was not only the closest bird on this occasion but the closest any bird ever came.

A couple of minutes after leaving the school I stopped at the pond and no sooner had I done so than the Citrine followed me down. It was there for no more than three or four minutes then flew back towards the school. At the time I was unsure whether it was the same bird but after looking at the images, it clearly is. 

Taivana and tschutschensis were both very common, probably in equal numbers, more or less, with well over 100 birds seen each day if I went to two or three favoured spots. It wasn't until the seventh day (same as the Citrine) that I found my first thunbergi/plexa Western/Eastern Yellow, two of them in fact. Perhaps it was never likely to be a Western Yellow, but it was nice to dream for a while. The following morning I was able to catch up with one of them again and heard a typical Eastern Yellow flight call.

The vast majority of taivana weren't close to full breeding appearance yet but this one wasn't far away.

This individual wasn't too bad, most looked even more untidy than this.

My feeling was tsuchtschensis were more advanced, a small majority looked very smart whereas the same could be said of only a very small minority of taivana. 

These two plexa never came any closer than this but even at this range their appearance was striking because of the black mask and fine post ocular supercillium. 

The following morning one of them had made it to the road. There is limited white before the eye, which I hadn't been able to see yesterday, but the lores are largely black.

Neither Grey Wagtails (too common) nor the lugens White Wagtail (too distant) make it into this post. The other two White wagtail taxa were leucopsis and ocularis, the former was surprisingly scarce with only eight seen during the week while the latter was very numerous with well over 100 per day.



Typically distant ocularis on the school playing fields.

Black on the chin doesn't reach the bill on this bird, presumably it will soon. 

The huge numbers of wagtails that I infrequently to rarely see were a delight,they were widespread on the island, and but colourful and approachable. Collectively they were one of the highlights of the trip.