Tuesday 5 November 2019

Red-Crested Pochard... and not at Lake Biwa!

Apart from a very brief trip to Aichi to see a Laughing Gull in early October, I haven't been birding since my Yonaguni trip in spring! That can be put down to a lack of time in autumn, lack of inclination during the boring Kyoto summer and lack of transport in spring. But: late October is the beginning of Taimyr Gull season, argueably the most important time because so very few Vega have arrived in this area, so I went across to Tsu-shi last week in the hope of getting good views of immature birds.

On arrival, pre-sunrise, I stuck my head over the seawall to get a sense of the action. The tide was high, the sea flat calm and the light just enough for identification. The main gull beach stretches away to the north, gull-less of course at this early hour with this tide, but just below me alive with birds... basically because the sea close in-shore was alive with fish. Hundreds of Great Cormorants, in tight groups were following the fish, flocks of Black-headed Gulls were plunge diving left and right and
finless porpoises were whipping around but rarely breaking surface. Less expected were a couple of Whiskered Terns Patrolling this stretch of beach too, the light was too dim at first, and the birds a shade too far down the beach to get decent shots. No sooner had I made my way down to where they were than the sun rose directly behind them and that was that.

Two Whiskered Terns from the beach before sunrise.

Because the tide was high there was a large number of waders waiting for it to fall, and from the anthropomorphic perspective, with varying degrees of patience. Lesser Sand Plovers and Kentish Plovers sleeping well up the beach in permanent vegetation. About 150 Dunlin and a lone Red-necked Stint were half-heartedly checking through an old tidal wrack left by a more energetic sea and only a handful of Ruddy Turnstones were showing a bit more verve and living up to their names tossing the rotting seawwed this way and that. The actual tideline was marked by the effervescent ebb and flow of Sanderling, I suppose if you never stop running you need to keep eating.

It was time to head to south towards Matsusaka. I knew if I wanted to spend time on the gull beach later in the day, I wouldn't have time to visit all the places I'd have liked to on my first visit for nine months. For better or worse I made my choice and to be honest the creeks, fields, ponds were all rather quiet. It's early days yet and duck numbers were still very low, at least dabbling duck numbers were, there were thousands of Greater Scaup well out on the sea. There weren't any Dusky Thrushes yet which wasn't a surprise but no winter buntings apart from a single Common Reed Bunting heard was. Waders and Crested Terns have mostly gone, gulls and ducks haven't arrived in big numbers yet. If it weren't for Taimyr Gulls coming through now, the last few days of October are as if falling between two seasonal stools.

At almost the last port of call before heading back north to the gull beach I found a female Red-crested Pochard! It was on one of the formerly great coastal pools that are now covered with floating solar panels, quite far off too but as luck would have it a female Eastern Marsh Harrier flushed all the more distant ducks down to my end. The day was suddenly looking up, it had been a good while since the excitement of dawn and this was a Mie tick.

This is the first Red-crested Pochard I've ever seen away from Lake Biwa where, though probably annual, I only ever see them if they happen to take up residence on a part of the lake I normally visit. It would take days to cover the lake thoroughly and being a creature of habit I only visit a select few areas along the eastern side that the short winter days allow. So unexpectedly running into this bird here was a really good find.

I was lucky the Harrier flushed the ducks down to my end of thhe pool otherwise any shots would have been impossible. For a brief moment it was even the closest bird...

A nearby estuary held a few different waders to those I'd seen earlier, single Whimbrel and Bar-tailed Godwit, plus about 150 Oystercatchers. The start performer, however, was a juvenile Peregrine sparring with Large-billed Crows.

It's common place to see juvenile/first winter gulls stand up to provocative Crows whereas loafing adults will simply move a few steps out of the way. I whether or not this Peregrine's response was also due to immaturity, it provided me with some spectacular views as it would frequently fly low, at speed, towards the seawall and shoot upwards at the last moment. Once I'd worked out the routine I could stand in that spot and it would pass just feet over my head. It was hard to say whether the Crows or the Peregrine had the upper hand presumably neither as the performance continued for the 30 minutes I stayed to watch. A group of Crows would chase the Peregrine, not that they stood any chance of catching it if it accelerated but it was usually content to stay just ahead of them. A lone Crow, on the other hand, was asking for trouble as the Peregrine invariably turned on the persuer and tried to strike seemingly with real intent. Unfortunately not one of my shots of these exchanges is sharp. The action took place over a large area, almost a kilometre out to the most distant sandbar, part way up the river in the opposite direction or 400 metres north across the wide river mouth, or as I say just feet over my head. Near or far, the action was always in view and quite engrossing. If it hadn't been for wanting to get up to the gull beach I could have spent far more time watching the spectacle.

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