Japanese Birding: Part I -- (Long)

To: <>
Subject: Japanese Birding: Part I -- (Long)
From: Tobias Hayashi <>
Date: Sun, 31 Jan 2010 14:16:34 +1000

Hi all,

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 ( 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.




If It Exists, You'll Find it on SEEK Shopping Trolley Mechanic


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