Sunday 19 February 2023

Little Gull in Choshi

2022 was my first year in Japan without a new bird, a total blank in terms of ticks. I suppose it had to happen eventually, but worryingly I have to go back over a year and a half to a quick Ishigaki dash for Silver Gull for my last new Japan bird. And that feels forever-ago. So, welcome 2023 and another gull tick; this time a Little Gull in Choshi.

I drove up from Kyoto overnight, taking nine hours including a mid-way nap, arriving in time for a conbini coffee before sunrise. Then it was down to the river to start what would hopefully be a hitch-free, bird-filled day. The first hour was something of an anticlimax, no gull… and no birders? On finally finding some birders I discovered I’d mixed up locations or some such thing and had been looking for a Little Gull at the Canvasback site. So much for hitch-free. These birders had seen the Canvasback but it had been distant and had in any case just disappeared behind the harbour wall.

I didn’t waste time waiting for it and drove across the river into Choshi where the crowd of birders was hard to miss, unlike the Gull which hadn’t yet deigned to appear. Everyone was crammed into a small space at the end of the quay, no one with a great view of the harbour. Time past the way it always does on these occasions; slowly. Thoughts revolved around how long I could survive without food and drink (lunch anyway) and where I’d spend the night. The pain of the drive home not having seen the bird wasn’t so much a thought as darkness at the end of the tunnel. I tried to stay focused on the brighter aspects of the situation, dehydration and sleep deprivation.

Reality wasn’t nearly as bad as imagination would have had it. The bird materialized on the breakwater at about 11:20, it was just suddenly there! And it was a fantastic all-action gull, it jostled with the Black-headed Gulls and flew back and forth for about 30 minutes – none of this preening and sleeping at the back of the flock nonsense. Then it was gone, the performance over and it seems this bird doesn’t do encores. Perfect (lunch) timing, I couldn’t have planned it better myself.

The consensus among the Japanese birders who were seeing this species for the first time was that it was small, really small. They just couldn’t get over how small! I totally get it. A birder in Japan, may never get the chance to see Little Gull, and if they eventually do it will come as a shock to see a gull about the size of a White’s Thrush!

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