Here is a slightly belated version of the month's birding
over here in Japan. The first holidays are now coming to a close and I can say
without a doubt that those two weeks were by far the busiest so far in Japan.
And they were great fun: first, an 8-day trip to eastern Hokkaido they day
after school finished; then a two-day turn-around for a trip with the
grandparents to some hot-springs in the mountains; and the very next day a
day-trip down to Kamakura to look for murrelets. Not that the first term of
school didn't have its highlights. Finishing top of the class (albeit of only
12 people) was a welcome surprise, but more importantly, a gradually developing
ability to speak Japanese in every-day life. Far from adequate, but steadily
Once again, I was unable to get out as much during school
time as I would have hoped, due to various factors (including weather, tides, time
etc.). The month's birding started off with an outing down to Sanbanze (Chiba
pref.) to look for some wader photos. This was put on hold when it transpired
that none of the waders wanted to be photographed and spent the next 2 hours
inexplicably circling around and refusing to land. Of course, I got some nice
flock shots, but...
Two days later I felt my luck starting to change: an
afternoon bike-ride down to a local park provided not only my first Japanese
Green Pheasant (two females, no males), but also yielded nice photos of
Hawfinch and in particular Long-tailed Rosefinch. The latter was a surprise in
an urban park, but maybe to be expected during winter dispersals. The flock of
5 birds included one full male (what a stunner!) and one immature male, with
the remainder being females or juveniles.
Rain continued to hamper my activities, and a trip to Meiji
Jingu on a cloudy afternoon got very little: only a fleeting glimpse of a
Goshawk and a view of two Grey Buntings in the post-sunset gloom.
Another afternoon was spent down at Sanbanze (Chiba pref.) looking
for early migratory waders, but there turned out to be very little. In
addition, a low tide made photography hard. The usual Dunlins and Sanderlings
were about, but this time the Dunlins were by far in the majority. One lone
Sanderling sitting by itself reminded me of the potential similarities between
this species and the Red-necked Stint, once size is taken out of the equation. This
turned out to be my last trip to Sanbanze for the month, disappointingly.
The month's birding trip with the Kamakura group was out at
Choshi, a port on the east coast about 3 hours drive from Tokyo. Choshi is
renowned for its collection of gulls, especially during winter, but our visit
on Sunday did little to reinforce that reputation. Apparently Sunday is a rest
day for the boats, so the gulls spend the day out at sea. Or something like
that. Stopping in at the Tonegawa, we once again found the female Baikal Teal
there, along with Smew etc. Choshi itself yielded my first Glaucous-winged
Gull, Black-legged Kittiwakes and
Red-necked Grebe but not the rare Thayer's Gull I was hoping for. A stop at the
buzzard place once again revealed the vagrant Upland Buzzard that seems to be
hanging around for a while. So, amid bad camera focusing problems, it turned
out to be a so-so trip. Not a failure, but not the best by a long way.
The last regular trip for the month was a birding visit to
Yatsu-higata in search of early migratory waders. There was only one wader
present, but it turned out to be my first Eastern Curlew in Japan, so I wasn't
too disappointed. Also, nice views of a stunning breeding-plumage Saunders's
Gull. Then it was time for finishing school and planning the trip to Hokkaido!
Starting on the evening of the 22nd, the trip to Hokkaido,
Japan's northernmost island, was always meant to be a excuse for escaping the
hustle and bustle of the largest city in the world. In order to get some seabirding
under the belt, I went via the inter-island ferries which, although they took a
lot longer than flying, turned out to be quite interesting. After boarding the
ferry that night, and getting a bit of sleep, it was up at 5am the next morning
to do as much seabirding as possible. The ferries in Japan are big: they accommodate
cars, trucks etc, so it is quite a different experience to rolling along in a
little tub off Wollongong. The first shift of the morning was good: my first
Least Auklets, Rhinoceros Auklets, Pomarine Skua, Streaked Shearwater and
Black-footed Albatross. After that, the wind picked up like there was no
tomorrow, making seabirding very difficult. Despite the fact I was standing
behind a shelter about 30m above the water, the spray thrown about by the wind
was so extensive that one had to go in every 20 minutes to clean the binoculars
just so you could see through them. Nevertheless, I also added more
Black-footed Albatrosses (5 in total in the end), 1 Laysan Albatross, 2 Sooty
Shearwaters, Brunnich's Guillemot, Crested Auklet, Ancient Auklet and more.
The next day was spent traveling: from south to east, to
where I would be spending the next 4 days at Lake Furen on the Nemuro
Peninsula. Nevertheless, from the train I added Common Magpie (a surprise, I
didn't know that there was a population in Hokkaido) and White-tailed
The following day, my first at Fuhren, I teamed up with a
couple of birders from Sapporo and we went together on a short boat trip off
the peninsula. Here, in addition to some alcid's photos, we managed to add
Pigeon and Spectacled Guillemot to my growing list. Around the harbour, Black
Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Red-throated Diver were new birds. On the way
back, we stopped to photograph some Red-faced Cormorants, a very rare bird in
Japan. They only visit the very eastern tip of Hokkaido, where I think they can
usually be seen in very small numbers. An impressively beautiful bird, though,
and we managed to see 3 amongst a group of Pelagic Cormorants.
I won't bother you with what I did each day for the rest of
the trip. Speaking in general terms, though, I had great fun at Fuhren. For the
first time since arriving in Japan, I could walk into the nearest patch of
forest and not meet anyone whilst going about my business. Needless to say, I
loved it there. Birds like Red-crowned
Crane, Whooper Swan, White-backed Woodpeckers, Eurasian Treecreepers, Winter
Wrens, Marsh Tits, Willow Tits, Coal Tits, Goldcrests, Eurasian Nuthatches, Bullfinches,
Naumann's Thrush (rare) etc. were present. The stay was made much more pleasant
by the intimate nature of my stay at the Minshuku Fuhren. Matsuo-san, the host,
was himself a very knowleadgeable birder, so it was great to be able to discuss
some of the finer points of the birds and identification after a long day's
birding, particularly the differences between Marsh and Willow Tits (which over
in Hokkaido, are very hard to tell apart). If anyone is going that way in the
future, I can highly recommend staying there, by the lakeside.
And that was about it for the Hokkaido trip. A whopping 32
new species for Japan brought my Japanese year list to something like 144. I
enjoyed every bit of the trip, not least the fact that I could finally be by
myself for a bit and do my own spot of birding and photography.
I will leave it here; I have already written too much :) I
was far from sure what photo I would include for this month. In many ways,
because of some camera problems in Hokkaido, I was tempted to chose another
photo as none really stood out from that trip. In the end, I included this photo
of a female Great Spotted Woodpecker, taken in the forests near Fuhren. I spent long periods of time tracking
both this species and the White-backed Woodpecker through this patch of
beautiful mixed forest, wading through thigh-deep snow-falls and eating fresh white stuff off the passing
pine branches. A truly memorable experience.
PS I hope at least one person manages to make it through
this article! I will try and cut it down a bit for next month :) As always, you can see many more of my photos at <www.flickr.com/photos/callocephalon>.
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