Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Japan 2013 - Day 1

Japan 2013


Summary
This trip had been in the planning for over 12 months, after hearing about a similar venture by my friend Daniel Lopez Velasco. With Danni's advice I had contacted Nigel Moorhouse at Sarus Bird Tours, who offers a service of scheduling the trip, booking International flights and making the local bookings for domestic flights, hire cars and hotels. This is very useful as very limited English is spoken still in Japan and communications can be difficult. The complexity of the trip, taking in the three main islands also meant logistics would be much easier with local knowledge and valuable previous experience in terms of timings. In hindsight this trip could not have worked so smoothly without Nigel's expert guidance and assistance for which I sincerely thank him and Chris Cook, who provided local ground support and accompanied us on a couple of days, and I whole heartedly recommend anyone considering such a trip makes contact with Nigel at Sarus.

30 Jan - Depart from UK on overnight flight via Amsterdam, arriving at Tokyo Narita late morning then a mid-afternoon flight from Narita to Fukuoka.
31 Jan - 5 Feb - Kyushu taking in various sites from the NW down the west coast and ending on the east coast flying out of Miyazaki, back to Tokyo.
5 Feb - 6 Feb - After arriving at Tokyo Haneda airport we take the monorail and catch the overnight ferry out to Hachijojima and return the next day looking for seabirds. 
7 Feb - 9 Feb - Take the Shinkanzen from Tokyo to Karuizawa in the hills, taking in forest birding and the famous Snow Monkeys. 
10 Feb - Take the train out to Choshi to look at the gulls. This is also a back-up day in case the ferry doesn't go.
11 Feb - 16 Feb - We return to Tokyo Haneda airport and fly to the northern island of Hokkaido. We start at Tsurui for the Japanese Cranes then drive north east to Rausu for Blakiston's Fish Owl and Steller's Sea Eagle, then head down the east coast to Lake Furen, before flying back to Tokyo.
17 Feb Some local birding/sightseeing early morning at Narita-san Shinshoji Temple, before departing Japan and flying home via Paris.

1 February 2013

Kyushu



I picked Gary up at 05:30 on 30 January 2013 and we drove round to Heathrow for our morning flight to Tokyo via Amsterdam. At Tokyo's Narita airport we transferred to a JAL flight down to Kyushu, picked up our hire car and negotiated our way out of Fukuoka in the dark. All the arrangements for this trip had been made through Nigel Moorhouse at Sarus Bird Tours, including international and domestic flights, car hire and hotel bookings. We made a late change to the itinerary in order to try to see the Baer's Pochard that had been found wintering on a small reservoir in the NW corner of Kyushu, and the plan was to get as close as possible this evening to make an early strike as easy as possible in the morning. However we asked the girl in the hire car shop to set the satnav, which she kindly did - for the Ocean Beach Hotel, near Togitsu. The map looked similar to our own diagram with the hotel next to a small harbour and we confidently set off. After a couple of hours and a few wrong turns on the highly complex road network we eventually arrived at the hotel. At the check in the guy, who spoke no more English than we did Japanese, suggested we were not booked. We waved our papers and pointed to the hotel name and he nodded, but he pointed at the map and said we were in the wrong place. Well it had the right name and looked identical to the map, and quite frankly after 21 hours of travelling I decided we were staying anyway. We found a noodle bar, grabbed a meal and got to bed. 

We were out at dawn and it soon became apparent he was right. We were in the wrong town and consequently some way from the reservoir. We managed to work out the satnav and headed off along the coast along some beautiful lanes and enjoyed the scenery and our first Japanese birds - Eastern Buzzard, Daurian Redstart, Black-faced Bunting, Japanese White-eye, Eastern Great Tit and Brown-eared Bulbuls. In one Bay about a dozen Black-tailed Gull were feeding. About an hour and a half later we found the reservoir. It was pouring with rain - not ideal - as we drove around the service road (one thing that became apparent is there are very few no go areas in Japan and you can usually access reservoirs, sea walls, and the like without fuss). An Oriental Turtle Dove and several Pale Thrush fed on the road. We found a parking space, put on our waterproofs and borrowed the two umbrellas from the car boot (Gary had the pink one).  


Oriental Turtle Dove in the early morning gloom

A large flock of some 400 Pochard were floating on the reservoir and we began to check through them carefully. The female Red-crested Pochard was quickly picked out, followed by the drake Baer's Pochard. As we looked more closely I found a presumed hybrid Baer's Pochard x Pochard, a dainty female type aythya duck that resembled a Ferruginous Duck, a very dark grey drake Pochard, and another female that showed some features of a Redhead, though not all. A couple of Little Grebe, 10 Mallard, 4 Spot-billed Duck and 30 stunning Mandarin were also present and a Ruddy-breasted Crake put in a brief appearance in the marshy area. Along the road were a smart male Daurian Redstart, 10 Pale Thrush, 1 stunning male Dusky Thrush, 1 Varied Tit, 2 Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, 10 Long-tailed Tit, 2 Eastern Great Tit, 10 Black-faced Bunting, 1 female Hawfinch and 6 Japanese White-eye.

Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker

We watched the Baer's for some time. As we departed an Osprey flew in to fish and 5 Japanese Grosbeak flew out of the Cherry Trees beside the entrance road. 

We had intended to drive to Yatsushiro aiming to arrive just after midday, but with ou delayed start and longer than planned views we were running late and opted for an alternative. I had heard of a place near Saga airport where Saunders Gulls could be seen so we opted for a diversion in the hope of catching the high tide. This proved to be a great idea as we arrived at Higashiyokacho just as the tide was dropping. We were able to drive literally along the seawall from where the huge numbers of birds could be viewed without disturbance. It was still raining and the light was awful but we enjoyed the excellent birding here for the next three hours.

Daurian Redstart

The ditches along the approach roads held many Great-white Egret, Grey Heron and Little Egret, while most posts supported a Bull-headed Shrike.  One small tree had a flock of some 35 Oriental Turtle Doves and a couple of smart Siberian Meadow Bunting appeared at the roadside as Japanese Skylark sang overhead.

Bull-headed Shrike

On the estuary we found 1 Redshank, 3 Greenshank, 40 Kentish Plover, 30 Lesser Sand Plover, thousands of Grey Plover, a few Bar-tailed Godwit, hundreds of Eurasian Curlew, thousands of Dunlin and a Common Sandpiper. Alongside were several hundred Shelduck, 150 Pintail, 50 Mallard, 25 Eurasian Wigeon, 2 Shoveler, 100 Teal, 11 Falcated Duck, 250 Grey Heron, 3 Little Egret and an Osprey. The highlights however were the 50+ Saunders Gulls that delighted with close views and 10 Black-faced Spoonbill that were initially roosting within a few feet of the viewing area.

Black-faced Spoonbill
Black-faced Spoonbill
Black-faced Spoonbill
Black-faced Spoonbill fly off to feed at the tides edge
Saunder's Gull (adult)
Saunder's Gull (adult)
Saunder's Gull (first-winter)
Saunder's Gull (adult)
Saunder's Gull (second-winter)
Saunder's Gull (second-winter)
Saunder's Gull (adult)
Saunder's Gull (adult)
Saunder's Gull (adult)
Saunder's Gull (second winter)
Heuglin's Gull


About 25 Heuglin's Gull were also present on the mud, though not so approachable. WIth the tide receding we drove around the sea wall and tracks finding a number of buntings, finches and thrushes. A small flock of Siberian Meadow Bunting played hard to get, but eventually gave themselves up. The 150 Oriental Greenfinch were far less approachable. Other buntings included 3 Reed, 3 Rustic, 2 Chestnut-eared and 2 Black-faced. By 16:00 the rain was really heavy and the light fading fast so we began the long journey down to Izumi where we stayed the night.

Siberian Meadow Bunting (male)
Siberian Meadow Bunting (female)

Dusky Thrush
Oriental Greenfinch
Oriental Turtle Dove
Oriental Turtle Dove
Oriental Turtle Dove

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