Tuesday 7 April 2020

Amami Thrush - reaching 500 IOC for Japan

Following Brazil, I past the 500 point on my Japan list well over a year ago, however my tortoise of an IOC list still lagged. By the end of 2019 I was only two short, so, 2020 would surely be the IOC year. There's only been a single year in the last decade when I saw only one new bird, I was confident 2020 was a when not an if. The Surf Scoter at the end of February left me poised on 499, and also with a choice; it would be easy to go to Tokyo where there are a couple of established aliens I could add but would I really want Rose-ringed Parakeet as my 500th? I think not.

With Corvid-19 making holes in my schedule I saw the opportunity to go for Amami Thrush. This was an attractive choice not only because it was the only Amami (bird) endemic I didn't have but also because Amami the only major southern island I'd only visited once. Other influencing factors being the Thrush seems far more common and easily seen nowadays and that my previous visit was in my pre-camera owning days.

Staying with Corvid-19 a moment, in the week before I went to Amami I spent 10.5 hours standing on crowded commuter trains to and from work. Going to Amami meant 5.5 hours on near empty flights and buses to and from KIX. On the flight back there were 10 passengers in the 54 seats in front of me (the flight down was emptier) and the airport bus to Kyoto had only one other passenger onboard. On top of that there's sitting in an office compared to sitting alone in a car in a remote forest to consider. Birding definitely wins!

My focus was very much on nocturnal fauna and I did very limited daytime birding, only on arrival and departure days did I go anywhere unconnected to nocturnals. I settled into the routine of going to sleep at about 2pm and getting up around 9:30pm, spending the night and following morning in the forests. The two dedicated daytime trips were in the hope of finding paddyfields brimming with migrant waders, in the event I failed to find a paddyfield let alone waders. I'd had Swinhoe's and Pintail Snipe together on my previous visit.

One of the commonest birds on the island has to be Pale Thrush, they are everywhere. It felt as if they were especially common along forest roads at dawn, before I connected with Amami Thrush they were frustrating to say the least. I had my first Amami Thrush sighting on my first full day on the island, pressure off, and that bird was obligingly predictable. I could park at any time and, if it wasn't already on view, I knew I wouldn't have to wait long before it appeared to patrol its favourite stretch of road.

With unlimited time, this bird would give unrivaled opportunities to get frame filling shots in perfect light. Even with five days on the island it wasn't quite as easy as might be surmised. If it came up the nearside it was impossible to photograph through the windscreen and to close as it squeezed by below the open window. Thus 50% of sightings could be discounted from the photographers' perspective... but what amazing views! If it came up the offside, it was sometimes in the roadside gutter out of sight, sometimes it would dash past on a whir of legs and only a few times would it pause right next to the car. These few optimal times need further assessment, sometimes it was in fog (low cloud), sometimes in pouring rain, sometimes when it was still almost totally dark and only a few when the conditions were just right. Goldilocks has no idea how easy she had it.

If you want better shots than those look elsewhere. You're waisting your time scrolling down any further because that's definitely as good as it gets in terms of close/sharpish.