Tuesday 29 June 2021

Silver Gull on Ishigaki

 A better title might have been "Well that was unexpected". It certainly was.

I booked my flight at 22:40 last Wednesday night and flew down at 07:25 the following morning. There's something to be said for booking this late, you can reserve a seat in an empty row and expect the other seats to remain empty. A strategy not without risk, of course.

I'd heard a friend had waited until 17:00 to connect with the bird the previous day and as I would have less than 24 hours on the island, I was a bit tense on the way down. The flight arriving nearly 30 minutes late didn't help: How can they lose that much time because of a little turbulence? The likely answer being to ensure the turbulence was only a little, but I wasn't feeling very understanding at the time. 

It's funny how each minor delay is magnified into a major catastrophe when time is precious, next it was tourists dragging their feet to the car rental shuttle bus. What are they doing?! How long does it take to get through such a small terminal?! In reality they probably didn't take more than five minutes longer than I had. And the rental staff! Why is the guy dealing with me slower than the other guy? Wow, that must have cost me all of 10 seconds. Once done, thanks to Ms Google's directions (though one "slight right" should clearly have been a "go straight"... plus 40 seconds), I arrived at my destination. 

I was really hoping this wasn't going to be a grind-it-out day and that I'd find the bird sitting by the river mouth, get great views then (get some coffee) move on to see some of the other local specialities. Apparently the new arrival is developing a routine which involves loafing at the river mouth when the tide has dropped, but as I said, that hadn't been the case the previous day, so it's debatable whether the bird is aware its supposed routine. Next stop was the main harbour, only 500m along the road.

And there it was! I glimpsed the gull circling over the waterfront as I passed a gap between two buildings. Luck was on my side after all. It had vanished by the time I'd stopped and made my way through the gap, but that had been it, no doubt, a brief glimpse was enough to identify it. But which way had it gone, ahead to the harbour or back towards the river? A mental coin toss resulted in the wrong choice but I was soon on it at the river mouth after a quick scan of the birdless harbour. It would have been even sooner had I not stopped off at a convenience store en route back to the river. Well, it's not as if I hadn't seen a Silver Gull before and one in Japan is much the same as one in Australia as far as appearance goes. Stocked with cold water and hot coffee I was much better placed to enjoy the bird.

There wasn't a huge crowd to welcome our newest addition to the Japan list, some were locals judging by the brief appearances they made on site, while others had also made the trip down from the main islands. For we who had made the journey, a flight view was imperative. So we waited, and waited, and waited. Some moved back from the seawall and under the shade of a lone tree, while the more hardy/foolhardy stuck it out under the sun. The bird sat, occasionally walking a little, on a band bar in front of us; where are the beach joggers and dog walkers when you need them? If this had been my usual gulling spot there would have been countless people along to disturb the gulls by this time. After two and a half hours someone did walk by and flushed it, the relief was palpable, two minutes after that the skies opened and torrential rain hammered down for 20 minutes. Luck was really on my side.

A flock of distant Black-naped Terns had been a constant reminder that there was another tick, Gull-billed Tern, waiting for me the other side of Ishigaki city. That had to be my next stop.

Reaching the bay, I stopped at the first possible spot and saw very distant terns hunting crabs further round the bay; surely the Gull-billed? The only difficulty after that was finding parking close enough to the area I estimated they should be in once I driven further along the coast.

Quite why I'd never run into one in the past is simply a matter of never having been in the right place at the right time. I'd bumped into plenty of White-winged and Caspian Terns but Gull-billed had been a bit of a bogey. As it turned out, there were now three of them present over the exposed mud and sand on the bay. As well as Whiskered, Little and Black-naped Terns and a few wader species.

The waders included Greater Sand Plover (1), Kentish Plover (several), Common Ringed Plover (1), Grey Plover (1), Turnstone (2), Red-necked Stint (1), Whimbrel (1), Terek Sandpiper (2) and the incidental tattler in the first shot above. With such a broad grey flank concolourous with the underwing it looks surprisingly suggestive of non-breeding Wandering Tattler and as other incidental shots of this bird do nothing to disabuse me of the suggestion, it's a great pity I didn't pay more attention at the time. 

Greater Sand Plover, the only reasonably close wader.

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