Thursday 9 April 2020

Amami Nature Observation Forest

The Amami Nature Observation Forest might sound as though it's more geared to showcasing natural Amami to tourists than as a must visit site for serious birders. However, the well maintained trails from the visitor centre at the top of the mountain offer excellent access into the forest. Plus there were very few visitors judging by the total of only 4-5 parked cars over four visits. I never actually saw anyone on the trails. The forest also sweeps right down the western slopes to the coast and, though patchy, continues south along the ridge. It's far more extensive than might be inferred from a cursory glance at the map.

I visited this site four times yet still didn't really do it justice. Though I spent far more time in total further south, admittedly mostly nocturnal and in rainy weather, I ended up with a slightly larger number of species seen/heard from this site. Two visits were largely diurnal and in sunny weather (the only non-rainy periods of the trip), this probably accounts for the greater number of bird species recorded.

The first visit was purely because it provided a convenient place to get some birding in before checking into my hotel after arriving on the island mid-afternoon (March 31). Likewise it was conveniently in the general direction of the airport on departure day (April 5), though I did start birding pre-dawn on that occasion. I also paid a nocturnal visit here on the first day of the trip and spent an 'easy-paced' day on April 2. This easy day because I realised I was overdoing things and needed to get some sleep. Two hours sleep out of 36 was becoming stupidly counter productive so I cut short my April 1 nocturnal jaunt and had a long sleep at my hotel followed by a relaxing morning at this site before a little more sleep to adjusted my routine to going to bed at about 2pm and getting up around 9:30 pm. This worked fine for the rest of the trip.

There were three species I found here that I didn't connect with at all further south plus a couple more I only saw at this site: the three birds only encountered here were Black Woodpigeon, there were always 8-10 along the road near the visitor centre, a ficedula calling briefly down a steep slope off the road running down to the west coast of the island was a presumed Ryukyu Flycatcher which I couldn't get to see despite my best efforts. I can't confidently rule out a migrant Narcissus but Ryukyu is far more likely given the date and place. The third was an out-of-the-blue Ijima's Warbler, more of that later. The other birds of note were Ryukyu Robin which though very common everywhere I went was only seen in the early morning here. The same could be said of Ryukyu Green Pigeon, though a frequently heard bird further south, two birds usually feeding in trees along the roadside here were the only birds I actually saw.

On the other hand I didn't see Amami Thrush here. I did hear one from the road near the foot of the mountain on the east slope while driving up pre-dawn and another, which would have been in the forest hills just south of here, while drinking my early morning coffee at the Family Mart in Tatsugo on Route 58.

If I were to start a convenience store chain list, Amami Thrush is a bit of a blocker as far as the other national chains are concerned as Family Mart seems to be the only big name currently on the island.

One other point of note; on the final morning Grey-faced Buzzards were taking advantage of the fine weather and between about 8:15 and 8:30am I counted 164 passing over the narrow valley I was in. After driving down to the coast and then into another valley further south, there were more Buzzards on the move. If birds were leaving from across the island as a whole, the total number involved would have been vast.

Black Woodpigeons were easily seen, not so easily photographed. The white eye here being the result of the fill-in flash, this still before sunrise.

Ijima's Warbler, the one and only phyllosc of the trip.

I have to thank Yusuke (comment below) for setting me straight with this one. Walking along one of the forest trails, I was initially drawn to an unfamiliar call and on realising it seemed to be coming from a phyllosc dashing around high in the trees high overhead my first thought was whether this could have been Ijima's Leaf Warbler. Surprisingly the bird came down to eye level and sat motionless (when do they ever do that!) offering a totally unexpected chance to get a series of images. Unfortunately they were all more or less head-on and I then made two important errors with the identification; firstly I forgot about the unfamiliar call, or at least carelessly supposed it must have been a different and unknown bird and ignored it, and secondly I imagined I could see the rear crown stripe in the images whereas in fact there's only a greyish tint across the whole of the crown, almost producing grener lateral crown stripes. This imagined crown stripe along with yellowish undertail coverts ruled out both Ijima's and Claudia's Leaf warblers and led to the erroneous identification of Western Crowned on my back of the camera check in the field, one that I gave no further though to.

I've only been to Myakejima once where, I apart from a few glimpses, I only saw one Ijima's Leaf Warbler so this bird is a very good sighting indeed as far as I'm concerned.

A common bird of forest, forest edge, and even not all that close to the forest it would seem, is White-backed Woodpecker Dendrocopos leucotos owstoni. leucotos, ouch, it's such a cracking bird it deserves to be split for that reason alone, but sadly the IOC don't see it that way. What is genuinely surprising though, is why did I only see females? It's not just the four different individuals below, I never saw a male the whole time I was there.

This was almost the first bird of the trip, I had to unpack my bins and camera for this bird chipping away noisily at the roadside. I was even lucky enough to capture a chipped chip in this shot!

This nest was also right by the road and only about 150m from the previous bird. Not sure what ufo I captured here, definitely not a chipped chip.

Demolishing a branch in the forest, they really hammer away. Note the sunshine in this shot, arguably the biggest rarity of the trip.

Demolition moves on apace.

No series of White-backed images would be complete without at least one bird on the ground. There it is.

White-breasted Waterhen wasn't uncommon however, this bird at the top of the mountain aside, they were all in lowland areas, around market gardens, rivers, marshy bits and so on. These images are to try to restore some balance, there have been way too many dry images in this post. Water; water hanging in the air, water failing through the air, water dripping from everywhere, water pooling on the ground... that's what I'll remember. 


  1. Hello Neil, the Phyllosc you have here is Ijima's Leaf. A rare migrant to the Amami Islands so a great find!

    1. Thanks Yusuke, in fact I had been trying to turn this into Ijima's in the field but felt I could detect a crown stripe. Looking through all the images I have, I can't find a crown stripe and certainly other features fit Ijima's. Thanks again for getting in touch.