Well, it has been the best part of a month since I left
Australia for Japan, and yet those 4 weeks have gone so quickly. Just a quick
note before I continue elaborating: this email is very much anecdotal, a story of sorts. Of course it is about
birding, but it is about birding in another country, another culture. Whilst
not directly related to Canberran birds, I hope it is of some interest and
amusement to some members of the list. If not, please tell me.
So, on the 4th of January, I swapped the wonderfully humid
warmth of wet-season Cairns for the dry, frosty coldness of mid-winter Tokyo.
What a change! Dad had come with me for the first 2 or 3 weeks, just to make
sure I was settled in for the year ahead. And settling in with a pair of
ultra-generous grandparents was not very hard. Lots of items were bought, some
less essential than others but nontheless appreciated. Items like a desk (for
studying), a heavy-duty coat (to avoid freezing), adaptor cords, etc. etc. The
best part of the first week was spent doing such activities, as well as soaking
up the different atmosphere. One of the worst things about Japanese culture is
the lack of cricket, AFL and tennis. In particular tennis, I don't know of any
accessible place where I can play tennis. Or anyone who does play. Nor, for
that matter, can I watch the Australian Open final, which, by the looks of it,
should be very interesting!
During the first two weeks, I didn't touch the camera at
all. I couldn't. You can't photograph birds you don't know! So, then, the first
two weeks were spent acclimatising myself
to the birds. Birds such as Oriental Turtle-Dove, White Wagtail, Brown-eared
Bulbul, Dusky Thrush, White-cheeked Starling, Eurasian Tree Sparrow and
Large-billed Crow replaced Australian magpie, raven, starling and myna. If one
went to a nearby park, Daurian Redstart, Rustic Bunting, Meadow Bunting,
Black-faced Bunting, Japanese Pygmy-Woodpecker, Pale Thrush, Great Tit,
Oriental Greenfinch, Hawfinch, Japanese White-eye or Bull-headed Shrike were
not hard to find. Even the occaisonal Common Kingfisher or Chinese Hwamei. Those,
then are the stock birds. The common ones. Some special places were needed to
see better birds.
The first real 'bird outing' was to a place called Funabashi.
Here, the Sanbanze flats are located on Tokyo Bay, and attract many waders (to
the beach) and ducks (to the sheltered waters). Dad and I made the 2hr trip
there for a "tancho-kai" or birdwalk with the local Saitama branch of
the WBSJ. Birdwalks in Tokyo are very different to those in Canberra. To start
with, 50 people turn up, instead of 15. And 80% of them are hauling around
'scopes and tripods, as opposed to about 0.8% in Canberra. Admittedly, it was a
wader/duck birdwalk, but 'scopes seem to be very ubiquitous on Japanese
bird-walks. One thing that appears to be a constant is the age group: mostly
middle-aged or older, very few youngsters.
The birding, though, was great. Hundreds of Greater Scaup
and lesser numbers of Common Goldeneye
as well as the common ones: Eurasian Wigeon, Northern Pintail, Common
Pochard and Black-necked Grebe. Individual highlights were a female Harlequin
Duck, one Brent Goose amongst the thousands of ducks, several Red-breasted
Mergansers, an Osprey, a Velvet Scoter and a lone Eurasian Curlew. On the
beach, thousands of wintering Dunlin and Sanderling, as well as Kentish
Plovers, Oystercatchers, Grey Plover, Buff-bellied Pipit. The reeds held Common
Reed Bunting and Zitting Cisticola.
The highlight for me was a Common Ringed Plover that I found
just after the outing had ended. Ringed Plovers are rare visitors to Japan, my
first rarity! The local birders didn't seem very interested though...
Meantime, school had started. During the year, I am
attending a language school in Shinjuku, in order to gain a decent (hopefully)
understanding of Japanese. Slow progress, but generally interesting. It is
Monday to Friday, but only half a day, so sometimes I can go birding after
school. I try to get out as much as I can. The transport system in Japan is
very efficient, if somewhat busy during commuter hours. The trains here are run
on seconds, not minutes as in Australia.
A trip to a local airstrip yielded Brown-headed Thrush,
Northern Goshawk, Little Grebe, Common Snipe and Japanese Wagtail. Another
local trip got Mandarin Duck and Red-flanked Bluetail. A bumper trip down to
Kamakura netted a vagrant subspecies (Green-winged Teal) as well as Eurasian
Woodcock, Japanese Green-Woodpecker, Long-tailed Tit, Water Rail, Chinese
Bamboo-Partridge, Varied Tit, Long-billed Plover and many more. Another day
trip in the opposite direction (Nagatoro) produced Mountain Hawk-Eagle (apparently
uncommon here), Common Sandpiper, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Japanese Grosbeak
and Long-tailed Rosy Finch.
I know that is a lot of names. Many of them may not mean
much. But a lot of them are stunning birds. Photography has picked up over the
last couple of weeks, especially with the recent acquisition of a big white
Canon lens. I can't possibly send over all the good birds I have photographed
so far, but if you want to see more, have a look at my flickr site
(www.flickr.com/photos/callocephalon). I post most of my photo-related news there.
In the meanwhile, here is the "image of the month"
so to speak. A male Red-flanked Bluetail in all his glory. Captured at a place
called Meiji Jingu shrine, about 150m from a group of wild Mandarin
Duck--another extraordinary bird.
I hope you are all having a great start to 2010 including
some fabulous birds. Look forward to hearing about the many rare and amazing birds
that Canberra is going to get now that I am away for the year.
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