Thursday 28 May 2020

Aleutian Terns from the Fukuoka ferry

The draft of this post has been sitting around for ages because I've been birding... a lot. By way of a quick explanation, I went to Tsushima on about April 27 and stayed a couple of weeks after which I was at home (mainly weeding the garden) for a few days before heading off again. So, I have some catching up to do; here goes...

I've never been a big fan of Tsushima; it's too big. Or so I've always thought, more in a minute. However, due to the current health situation it has been the only off-shore birding location accessible by private car, all the birders I met out there had arrived via the ferry in their own vehicles. The empty ferry I ought to stress, the jetfoil service was actually suspended due to the lack of passengers.

I've always thought the stretches of water between Tsushima and ROK to the north, and Tsushima and Iki to the south, would be good for northbound Aleutian Terns in late April or early May, around Golden Week in other words. My two previous trips across these waters however produced nothing other than the predictable Streaked Shearwater fest. This time I was luckier, the return ferry to Fukuoka (May 8) was not only more birdy in general but even produced the hoped for Aleutians! Despite all the fantstic birding over the two weeks out there, this was my only Japan tick of the trip.

Still within sight of Izuhara port we met with the first of two flocks of incoming passerines. I didn't get on to them until they were already past the ship heading towards land but the uniformly brownish upperparts and particularly the very direct flight strongly suggested waxwings. We'd seen a party of Japanese Waxwings on the island just two days earlier and I suspect these were more birds on their way from where ever they'd been lurking in western/southern Japan. I always imagine waxwings should be gone by now and I don't know why this persists. There seem to be many turning up on migration islands into late May. A quick check through my own recent records show May 20 (Hegurajima) is latest, but a number of both species have been in Shiga this week, until at least May 24-25 I believe.

The next excitement was a murrelet. This was almost certainly Japanese of course but it was just too quick and heading away to be 100% sure. I invariably see them not so far from here on the Mishima-Hagi ferry at this time of year. There, usually on the return late afternoon sailing as the birds are gathering off their nesting islands.

With Iki island drawing closer we had our first Oriental Honey Buzzards coming from the north. At first sight it seems odd that raptors fly this same north to south route into Japan in spring as well as on the famous autumn passsage; no doubt these are birds which breed in Japan and are almost 'home'. First there was a lose group of six, soon followed by two more, but interest in the last two was cut abruptly short with the appearance of two Sterna terns, Yes, they may be Onychoprion nowadays, but in the heat of the moment they were definitely still Sterna.

The terns weren't close and might have been reluctant to tick them had the images not confirmed the features I thought I was seeing in the field. My companion on the trip, who is familiar with Aleutian Terns, had no reservations. As I said earlier, this was my only Japan tick of the trip even though the birding had been excellent. So good in fact that I've had to change my rather negative view of the island (or rather islands) as a migration hot-spot. While time spent driving is a problem, knowing more high quality sites means more birding and less exploration. I'd certainly consider going back now, something I'd previously thought out of the question.

Continuing south, the ship doesn't hang around in Iki port, it's hardly docked before it's pulling out again. This was just long enough for me to discover all the vending machines aboard had already switched to cold coffee. Really?! It was surprisingly chilly out on deck despite the strong sunshine so a celebratory hot coffee in the warmth of the sheltered harbour would have gone down a treat.

South of Iki were clouds of feeding Streaked Shearwaters but apart from three more southbound Oriental Honey Buzzards that was pretty much it. All in all, a very successful ferry journey.

Two of the southbound Oriental Honey Buzzards

OHB's weren't quite daily on the island but ones or twos weren't so surprising rising on warming early morning air. The views were unquestionably better on the island. All but one were seen at the southern end of the island, the SW peninsula near the Tsutsusaki lighthouse to be more accurate, and I'd assumed they'd made landfall the previous day and roosted before continuing north. Now I realise they were gathering here waiting to make the jump the other way, south, into Japan. There were also several Japanese Sparrowhawks there on sunny mornings, presumably with the same agenda.

Male Oriental Honey Buzzard over Tsutsusaki lighthouse on the SW peninsula. We had three or four Japanese Sparrowhawks one morning in the same area.

Two Aleutian Terns... if you can pick them out.

Awful as these heavily cropped images may be the key features can be seen; dusky belly contrasting with white throat and the distinctive dark secondary bar on the underwing.  
The upperwing is mainly uniform but there's a paler wedge in the inner primaries and the outers are darker- tipped.
Even more distant but as the bird is tilted slightly this way the paler inner primaries are more obvious.

And speaking of Japanese Sparrowhawks, these images are of birds at the south west peninsula. Do Eurasian Sparrowhawks also fly with this Bulwer's Petrel-like raised head? I can't say I've noticed if they do.

Tsushima trip list
Chinese Bamboo Partridge
Ring-necked Pheasant
Tundra Bean Goose
Mandarin Duck
Falcated Duck
Eurasian Wigeon
Eastern Spot-billed Duck
Eurasian Teal
Pacific Diver
Streaked Shearwater
Little Grebe
Great Crested Grebe
Striated Heron
Chinese Pond Heron
Eastern Cattle Egret
Grey Heron
Great White Egret
Intermediate Egret
Little Egret
Great Cormorant
Temminck's Cormorant
Oriental Honey Buzzard
Black Kite
Japanese Sparrowhawk
Eurasian Sparrowhawk
Grey-faced Buzzard
White-breasted Waterhen
Common Moorhen
Common Coot
Black-winged Stilt
Pacific Golden PLover
Little Ringed Plover
Solitary Snipe
Latham's Snipe
swintail Snipe (almost certainly Swinhoe's on combination of features)
Little Whimbrel
Far Eastern Curlew
Common Greenshank
Wood Sandpiper
Grey-tailed Tattler
Terek Sandpiper
Common Sandpiper
calidris sp (a small species in flight)
Sharp-tailed Sandpiper
Oriental Pratincole
Black-tailed Gull
large white-headed sp (probably Taimyr)
Aleutian Tern
murrelet sp (very probably Japanese)
Feral Rock Pigeon
Oriental Turtle Dove
Northern Hawk Cuckoo
Oriental Cuckoo
Northern Boobook
Pacific Swift
Common Kingfisher
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker
Ashy Minivet
Brown Shrike
Black-naped Oriole
Eurasian Jay
Daurian Jackdaw
Carrion Crow
Large-billed Crow
Japanese Waxwing
Eastern Great Tit
Varied Tit
Chinese Penduline Tit
Sand Martin
Barn Swallow
Asian House Martin
Red-rumped Swallow
Zitting Cisticola
Light-vented Bulbul
Brown-eared Bulbul
Asian Stubtail
Japanese Bush Warbler
Korean Bush Warbler
Oriental Reed Warbler
Yellow-browed Warbler
Japanese/Kamchatka Leaf Warbler
Pale-legged Leaf Warbler
Sakhalin Leaf Warbler
Eastern Crowned Warbler
Warbling White-eye
Eurasian Wren
Chestnut-cheeked Starling
White-cheeked Starling
Siberian Thrush
White's Thrush
Grey-backed Thrush
Japanese Thrush
Pale Thrush
Brown-headed Thrush
Dusky Thrush
Japanese Robin
Siberian Blue Robin
Red-flanked Bluetail
Swinhoe's Robin
Stejneger's Stonechat
Blue Rock Thrush
Grey-streaked Flycatcher
Dark-sided Flycatcher
Asian Brown Flycatcher
Yellow-rumped Flycatcher
Narcissus Flycatcher
Mugimaki Flycatcher
Blue and White Flycatcher
Eurasian Tree Sparrow
Eastern Yellow Wagtail
Citrine Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
White Wagtail
Japanese Wagtail
Richard's Pipit
Olive-backed Pipit
Red-throated Pipit
Buff-bellied Pipit
Oriental Greenfinch
Eurasian Siskin
Japanese grosbeak
Meadow Bunting
Tristram's Bunting
Little Bunting
Yellow-browed Bunting
Rustic Bunting
Yellow-throated Bunting
Chestnut Bunting
Japanese Yellow Bunting
Black-faced Bunting
139 species in 11 days

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