Wednesday 16 September 2020

10,000/1 outsider romps home in the Ogasawara 'Bryan's chase'

Yet another trip into Ogasawara waters concluded, yet another dip on Bryan's Shearwater recorded. However, even though Bryan's, the popular favourite to provide a Japan tick failed to get under starters orders, all was not lost as a 10,000/1 outsider came through and saved the day.

After a day back and forth on the Hahajima ferry to maximise time at sea, I decided a shower and a spell in my air conditioned room was the only thing likely to lift my spirits; the first Red-footed Booby of the trip, just outside the harbour, certainly hadn't managed it.

This could have been a cataclysmic error had it not been for my cohort on this trip, who, eschewing the refreshment choice of mere mortals, opted instead for a quick dash to a coffee shop followed by a visit to the playing field at the end of the road to try for migrant waders. To try for Ruff to be precise. Think about it for a minute, dipping (again) on Bryan's Shearwater yet still being sufficiently motivated to walk two kilometres in that heat on the off chance that there's a Ruff on the field. A Ruff... year tick or not it's just a Ruff. From the giddy heights of a Bryan's chase to your humble, workaday Ruff. Why might there even be a Ruff there in the first place?! I guess that's what separates the chiff from the chaff.

Showered, dressed in fresh clothes that weren't that unpleasantly persistent seawater-damp, and fridge chilled box of chocolate almonds in hand I returned to my air-conditioned room. This was living... or this would have been living except I could hear my phone ringing impatiently even as I came up the stairs, along the corridor, into the room. Now there are rings and there are rings but my phone had absolutely no business to be ringing at all, let alone with this insistence. This ring reeked of urgency, this was a make or break ring, there could be no inbetweens. Life... or... death. I'd already chucked aside and forgotten my chocolate almonds before I'd crossed the room to my charging phone.

Richard had found a wheatear. Oh come on! We're in the Ogasawaras for heavens sake!

It was about 2km from the accommodation to the playing field at the end of the road, the wheatear field at the end of the road. But which wheatear? I only need one for the Japan set*. Only 10 metres out and already drenched in persperation, 50% from the unrelenting sun and an even wetter 50% from the which-wheatear panic consuming me.

*I have a nagging feeling Eastern Black-eared has now been recorded in Japan, in which case I needed two but I didn't want to consider that completing the set wasn't on.

The wheatear had disappeared by the time I arrived; we all know that particular sinking feeling. The wait began. More people arrived. The wait went on.

"There it is!!!" was the cry. Simultaneously "Here he comes!!!" was my thought as a man in naval uniform approached purposefully. Someone really ought to have been manning the guardhouse if they didn't want birders sneaking in through the open gates. Ostriches have three options, fight, flight or head burying. Richard and I chose the latter, metaphorically speaking, and let the Japanese birders deal with the situation while we continued observing the bird.

I've never had anything but the politest encounters with the military in Japan and to date never been asked to move more than a few metres from my offending position. We were asked if we wouldn't mind going to beach and watching from there. Make a note of it Neil... 25 metres. Of course we wouldn't mind, but it wasn't possible to get the views I'd have liked, as these images will attest, before the bird disappeared again deeper into forbidden territory. BUT the important thing is that it was a Northern and so the four-species wheatear set was complete. Chocolate almonds weren't going to cut it now , the sun was setting and a cold one was calling.

Oh, and what of Richard's Ruff hunt you might ask. Unsurprisingly he hadn't found one given the circumstances. So it was by way of a small thank you that after a quick pre-departure scan of the playing field I was able to tell him there was a Ruff and reeve lurking amongst the Pacific Goldies, Lesser Sand Plovers and Ruddy Turnstones.

Brilliant, who would have thought it a wheatear tick in Ogasawara. The other wheatears I've seen, spread over many years were largely in more expected locations, Desert and Isabelline on Hegura, Pied on Mishima, though my first Isabelline along the Yodogawa half way between Kyoto and Osaka was more surprising.

Images of the other wheatears also show an improvement from my early digiscoping efforts.

Desert Wheatear; Hegura 2004

Pied Wheatear; Mishima 2010

Isabelline Wheatear; Hirakata, Osaka 2012

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