Friday 18 January 2019

Blue Concrete Thrushes

The status of Blue Rock Thrush has changed markedly during my time in Japan; when I first arrived it was an almost exclusively coastal breeder as implied by its Japanese name of Iso Hyodori. Inland records were limited to the occasional bird that wintered on tall or prominent buildings, usually meaning in city centres or rural/suburban train stations. I'm unsure when the change began in earnest because they tended, then as they do now, to frequent sites birds wouldn't normally be looked for: not unlike Black Redstarts in the UK. Singing birds in several factory complexes I visited from 2000 were still a novelty but the surprise of finding an inland breeding Rock Thrush quickly changed to one of surprise at finding so many inland breeding Rock Thrushes!

Though quite common inland nowadays, they aren't necessarily obvious and many are probably overlooked. Factories are still a favourite location, one large manufacturing complex I visit in Shiga has two pairs which never seem to leave the confines of the plant. These birds will be quite unknown to the average birder who wouldn't have access to such places, likewise birds way up on roof tops above busy city streets are almost sure to be overlooked unless they are singing. There's a bird that sometimes sings from the roof of my house but its infrequent appearances there, or in the car park to the rear, are no doubt due to a preference for the much taller buildings near by.

Despite their inland spread it remains coastal areas where they are most easily seen. They're common along beaches (with tetrapods), seawalls, canalised river mouths, in other words anywhere with concrete. The more concrete the better it seems. Their affinity to concrete structures is so pronounced as to be off-putting and I rarely bother to stop and photograph them unless I come across an irresistibly posed bird. Consequently I have a lot of random Rock Thrush images disconnected to anything else I might have been looking for at the time which never make it onto the blog. This post starts off with some of the recent ones...

It wasn't really light enough so early in the morning last weekend to take advantage of the opportunity. This bird continued along the roadside until it disappeared behind a truck parked across the street.

Same day, different concrete. A classic bird-on-tetrapod shot. A Dusky Thrush just out of view was naive enough to think it could blithely hop past carrying a corner of rice cracker!

Even sans the reappropriated cracker, the Dusky Thrush wasn't allowed to pass this tetrapod. Time and again, without putting down the cracker, the Rock Thrush would fly at the Dusky until the latter determined there was probably nothing along the beach to the south that couldn't be found with far less effort to the north.

A September male in the same general area. The moth is possibly identifiable but not by me.

Another view of the same bird, the concrete nicely out of focus. Below are two more strongly marked, fresh-plumaged September males.

This is probably my favourite Blue Rock Thrush shot, simply because it's the only one I've taken locally without even a hint of concrete. I was surprised to discover some small island populations (eg on Hahajima, Ogasawara)  are at home in wooded situations completely removed from human structures.  

APRIL on Yonaguni. A worn uniformly blue and red male, compare with the fresh September males above.
And yes, it is on concrete.

MAY on Mishima. A smart looking spring female this time. 

JUNE Wajima. I suppose I don't see as many June birds but I've never seen any other that looks as brown in colouration or has such abraded primaries.

Note to self: look out for Rock Thrushes in June.

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