Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Japan 2013 - In the park

7 February 2013

Meiji Jingu Forest and shrine

We met Chris at the gates of this large central Tokyo park for an early morning stroll. The area can be a good site for White's Thrush, a species I particularly hoped to see, but can also provide good views of some of the commoner species.

Over the next couple of hours we encountered a range of the commoner species, including 10 Varied Tit, 12 Eastern Great Tit, 4 Dusky Thrush, 30 Pale Thrush, 1 Goshawk (another had recently killed a Large-billed Crow in the top of a tree), over 40 Hawfinch, 1 Oriental Grrenfinch, 30 Oriental Turtle Dove, 5 Black-faced Bunting, 15 Japanese White eye, 20 Brown-eared Bulbul, 8 Grey Bunting and 6 Red-flanked Bluetail, including an absolutely stunning adult male. Two Spot-billed Duck and a Mandarin were hiding under the trees on a small pond.

Brown-eared Bulbul
Oriental Turtle Dove
Pale Thrush

What a stunner! 
One of my all time favourite birds 
They don't get these in my local park!
An immature Red-flanked Bluetail
Varied Tit

Gary and Chris outside the temple
We enjoyed a coffee with Chris before jumping on a train back to Tokyo station to pick up the Shinkanzen up into the mountains at Karuizawa. We arrived early afternoon, checked into our hotel and then headed up to the Hoshino Onsen area to get our bearings ahead of a dawn raid. We initially took the wrong track and ended up walking around a rather up market estate of flashy summer houses. Not the most birdy area, but we still found a Hawfinch, 20 Long-tailed Tot, 1 Willow Tit, 15 Great Tit, 5 Varied Tit, 2 Nuthatch, 4 Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, 2 Japanese Green Woodpecker, 10 Brown-eared Bulbul and 10 Tree Sparrow before dusk fell. We also managed, eventually to find our way back to the car and to work out the right trail for the morning.

Eastern Great Tit
Eastern Great Tit

Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Japan 2013 - Pacific Wanderers

6 February 2013

Tokyo to Hachijojima and return

After arriving at Tokyo's Haneda airport we took the monorail down to the harbour and bought our ferry tickets out to Hachijojima. The ticket office would only sell us a one-way ticket as the weather was unpredictable and we might not land - if we didn't we would return on our outward ticket. While we waited for the ferry Chris Cook arrived and introduced himself to us. Chris had done much of the local groundwork in Japan on behalf of Sarus and knowing we would be on the ferry decided to join us. This proved very beneficial as he immediately helped us change our tickets to a cheaper version, then as the ferry departed provided an interesting commentary on the Tokyo skyline.

The ferry sails from Takesheba Pier at about 22:30 so we were soon getting some sleep on our allotted space on the communal sleeping area. The ferry calls at a couple of other islands, Miyake-jima and Mikura-jima, on the way out, the first in the dark. As we departed our first port of call we moved up onto deck as the dawn arrived and pretty much stayed there until we reached Hachijojima. It was initially raining and continued until we sailed away from Hachijojima, and then cleared. The calm seas on the outward journey turned into a force 8 northerly on the way back, but the ferry is very stable and not even Gary felt any effects. As we left the island the calmness enabled me to spot a couple of whale blows - Sperm Whale - my first sightings. A little later three more distant blows went unidentified and during the trip a couple of sightings of dolphins, but in heavier seas were also brief and unidentified.

On arrival you have to go to the ticket office to buy a ticket back to Tokyo, which with Chris's help was easy. On the harbour wall we found 4 Pacific Golden Plover, 4 Buff-bellied Pipit and 2 White Wagtail. Chris was dropping some Strawberries at a friends house and took us to check their garden - a Dusky Thrush and a Bull-headed Shrike. They were not in so we just had time to do a short circuit (turn diagonally right from the ferry terminal, take the first left almost immediately going directly away from the harbour, then take the next left and left at the end back past a dump to the ticket office), of the roads hoping for a sighting of the endemic Izu Thrush. As we rounded the last left turn Gary found a thrush which hopped into a hedge. The bright orange underparts suggested it might be a female Izu, but it wouldn't come out. We only had 10 minutes so we hurried on. Just then a stunning male Izu Thrush flew out of a field and landed in an open tree - what a cracker. We watched for a few minutes until it flew away then walked on. A female Izu Thrush then appeared on the road. An Eastern Great Tit, 10 Brown-eared Bulbul, 2 Eastern Buzzard and 8 Oriental Turtle Dove were also seen. We raced back to the harbour and just managed to board before the ferry pulled away.

Adult Short-tailed Albatross
Adult Short-tailed Albatross 
Short-tailed Albatross
We watched from the deck all the way back until it got dark - so ten hours of sea birding in total. We stopped briefly at Mikura-jima and checked the birds on the harbour wall from the ferry. These were largely gulls - 5 Vega and 15 Slaty-backed. From the ferry we managed to see about 120 Laysan Albatross, 20 Black-footed Albatross and up to 9 of the globally threatened Short-tailed Albatross (3-4 ad and 6 imm). The supporting cast was made up of 1 Grey Phalarope, 45 Black-tailed Gull, 1 Streaked Shearwater, 3 Pomarine Skua, 1 Fork-tailed Storm Petrel, at least 50 Tristram's Storm Petrel, 1 Brown Booby, 1 Common Gull, 10 Black-legged Kittiwake, 2 Japanese Murrelet, and 3 Murrelet sp (Ancient or Japanese). Few of the Albatross came particularly close, but with the wonders  of modern photographic technology some images were captured.

Black-footed Albatross
Black-footed Albatross
Black-footed Albatross
Laysan Albatross
Laysan Albatross
Laysan Albatross
Laysan Albatross
Laysan Albatross
Laysan Albatross
Laysan Albatross
Laysan Albatross
Laysan Albatross
Laysan Albatross
Tristram's Petrel

Monday, 25 February 2013

Japan 2013 - What no Murrelet's

5 February 2013

Hyuga and Kadogawa Harbour

Our last day on Kyushu. We were up early and straight down to Kadogawa Harbour. We walked out on the outer wall and scanned everywhere. No sign of any Murrelets, but it was early and there were several other sites. We moved around to the opposite side of 
the harbour and scanned some more. Still no murrelets. 

Such a beautiful spot - just a shame nobody told the murrelets

Next we drove out to a nearby headland and checked there - it looked beautiful and there really should have been murrlets, but nothing. Then out to the head itself - nothing. 

With time ticking by we headed back to the harbour and scanned some more, this time from the inner harbour wall - still no Murrelets. 

Black-eared Kite waiting for the boats to return

However all the scanning did find some quality birds.  Black-eared Kites were literally everywhere, perhaps 150 of them around the harbour scavenging fish scraps. Our first Temminck's Cormorants and at least 8 Pacific Reef Egret. Half a dozen Black-necked Grebe proved we could see small birds on the water at distance, even if they would not turn into a Japanese Murrelet. Eight Osprey were fishing from any vantage point. 

There were also lots of gulls - 150 Black-tailed, 100 Vega, 50 Slaty-backed, 6 Black-headed and a single first winter Mongolian Gull. Finally three Blue Rock Thrush provided a small splash of colour, but eventually time was up and we needed to make tracks to the airport at Miyazaki.

Adult Black-tailed Gull
First-winter Black-tailed Gull 
Adult Vega Gull
A smart male Blue Rock Thrush 
White Wagtail

Japan 2013 - Lake Mi-ike and Hitotsugawa

4 February 2013

Lake Mi-ike and Hitotsugawa Estuary

We stayed overnight at a traditional Japanese Minshuku called Yunomoto Onsen, with its own thermal spring and baths.  Overnight and into the morning it was pouring with torrential rain. After breakfast it eased and we decided to head up to Lake Mi-ike, but as we arrived the heavens opened again. We sat in the car for an hour, but with the rain still falling I decided to don the waterproofs and make the best of it. We walked down through the woods to the lakeshore where we found a covered viewing area beside the camp site. This provided adequate shelter and allowed us to watch a few birds until an hour later the rain finally stopped and the sun came out.

The lake is famed for its huge numbers of wintering duck, but the numbers were very low with just 500 Eurasian Wigeon, 20 Eurasian Teal, 20 Pintail, 5 SHoveler, 100 Mallard and 100 Spot-billed Duck. We concentrated our efforts on the woodland edge and trails. Over the whole morning we managed to see 6 Elegant Bunting, 3 Grey Bunting, 1 Black-faced Bunting, 1 Ashy Minivet, 2 Japanese Green Woodpecker, 10 Pale Thrush, 3 Daurian Redstart, 7 Hawfinch, 1 Sparrowhawk, 2 Dusky Thrush, 6 superb Olive-backed Pipit and 2 Red-flanked Bluetail.  Along the woodland trails we came across a lot of toads, which seemed to enjoy the damp conditions and warmth from the track, and a couple of unidentified butterflies. 

Varied Tit - bigger than you'd think
Pale Thrush - the most common thrush seen here
Olive-backed Pipit - at least seven in the campsite
Took some time to get close, but worth the effort
Real skulkers and quite flighty
But with patience
Some nice images
Lots of toads in the woods
You needed to look where you were going
Elegant or Yellow-throated Bunting
A most obliging individual
You should see the adult male!!!!
One of two species of butterfly - the other a small blue type
Daurian Redstart
Daurian Redstart

At 13:30 with the bird activity slowing down we decided to head to the coast. Before leaving home I had heard of an estuary on the east coast at Hitotsugawa that held numbers of birds. It was en route to Hyuga so I decided to divert - another good decision. As we pulled up at the first vantage point over the river a bird of prey appeared over the reeds. Gary instantly called harrier and it vanished. I had really hoped to see an Eastern Marsh Harrier, which are rare in Japan in the winter. I got the scope setup and despite the very strong wind it re-appeared hunting over the reedbeds. It was an immature bird, the type of plumage that might one day turn up in Britain so well worth seeing.

Eastern Marsh Harrier
We moved along the road checking from every vantage point. Large numbers of Spot-billed Duck were feeding in the river with other common species. We found a flock of 16 Black-faced Spoonbill roosting on a small island with a large flock of Pintail, Teal and Wigeon. In among them 20 Falcated Duck and 10 Shelduck, while around them on the mud 50 Kentish plover, 100 Dunlin and 40 Sanderling fed. 

Spot-billed Duck was common here
As I scanned through the duck I found a smart drake Baikal Teal hiding among the Pintail, and with more effort a female with the Eurasian Teal. I had not expected another chance to see this species so we watched as the Pintail dispersed onto the falling tide, eventually leaving the Baikal Teal on his own. Expecting him to fly over to join them I was surprised when he wandered down to the waters edge with two Mallard then turned and walked back up the bank to sit alongside a sleeping Spot-billed Duck. I could not help but wonder how such behaviour would have been interpreted had he turned up on a  British Estuary. 

The sand bar holding the roosting Black-faced Spoonbill and duck
A little cracker - a drake Baikal Teal (right hand bird) is found on the sand bar
Black-faced Spoonbill roosting on the sand bar

We drove to the end of the estuary then inland where we found a sewage farm (no birds) and some concrete pools which held a variety of ducks, grebes and herons. On one bank a line of herons included our first Cattle Egrets, with Little and Great White and a surprising Black-faced Spoonbill. 

The heron roost - including a Black-faced Spoonbill (far right -1)
As I scanned the far end of the lake I noticed what appeared to be a tern sitting on a post. We drove back down the lake and found it still there. A longipennis Common Tern showing its heavy black bill and dark shoulder patch. A most unexpected sighting on a winter birding trip.

The longipennis race Common Tern