Japanese Birding: Part 3 -- (Long)

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Subject: Japanese Birding: Part 3 -- (Long)
From: Tobias Hayashi <>
Date: Sun, 4 Apr 2010 18:23:57 +1000

Hi everyone!

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 increasing.


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 Sea-Eagle.

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 <>. 


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