Japanese glimpses 2.

Subject: Japanese glimpses 2.
From: "Wim Vader" <>
Date: Fri, 13 Apr 2001 09:38:00 +0200


At Matsuyama, on Shikoku island, the smallest of the four main islands of
Japan, I was the guest of Prof. Ichiro Takeuchi of Ehime University, and
disposed of a comfortable guest room on the agricultural campus. This is
situated outside the town proper, but still in a densely populated area,
and my morning walks, during the two hours before I had to start on the
amphipod business that brought me here, were therefore of necessity
confined to the local roads, the small paths connecting them, and the open
playground area along the local river. We were blessed with wonderful warm
and sunny spring weather during my entire 4 days stay in Matsuyama.

Birds there are plenty here, but of no very great diversity. Tree Sparrows
and Gray Starlings nest under the eaves of the houses and also Barn
Swallows are common everywhere, while the sights and various weird sounds
of the local crows are always around. Where there is but a little open
ground, a Dusky Thrush is sure to hop around, while an overgrown garden
also yielded a few Pale Thrushes in the denser shrubbery.Oriental Turtle
Doves are everywhere, foraging mostly on the ground, but asking their
hoarse: Who COOKS for you? (with many variations) from the trees, wires or
A large flock of c 200 smallish birds in the air turned out to be
Brown-eared Bulbuls, and these I later found again in a grove of blossoming
cherry trees along the river, apparently eating the blossoms or their nectar.
In the shallow river there were many European Teal, but no other ducks, my
first Moorhens in Japan, and a Gray Heron fished from the bank.

The second morning I returned to the cherry trees at 7 15 am, just in time
to see the flocks with bulbuls arrive and at once take over the entire
area. Otherwise the scene is virtually unchanged, with all the teals the
only ducks around, and the same heron fishing from the same place---but now
he had got a companion in the form of a Little Egret. Also the three
Moorhens turn out to have a constant companion: a lone Little Grebe hides
in the reeds when they do (the first five minutes after my arrival), and
comes forth when they do---during all these mornings it never went further
than 10 m away from the moorhens! A Japanese Wagtail tripps along the
untidy gravelly banks, and a Common Kingfisher flashes back and forth over
the river surface, where also Barn Swallows hunt constantly. In the river
itself, here quiet and sluggish, large lazy fishes swim, no doubt Japanese
The only new year bird today before I have to turn around and start doing
some real work, is a dapper and colourful Bull-headed Shrike, who time and
again pounces in the grass from his vantage point in a low sapling, as far
as I can see without much success.

On my return that afternoon half an hour before sunset all the bulbuls have
left already (they must have a communal roost somewhere), while a large
flock of some 200 Gray Starlings now has collected in the top of some trees
and indulges in the most Japanese activity of communal bathing: every now
and then 20-50 birds descend to the river banks and splash around merrily
and in a tight flock for some minutes, before again joining the group up in
the trees. When I left the scene around sunset, they were still at it!

Further upstream, where the river crosses a main road, I suddenly met a
compact chittering flock of some 50 House Swifts, that later scattered and
hunted high in the skies. They were the only swifts I saw during my entire

On the last morning I just sat for an hour or so on the river bank near the
cherry grove (A playground for small kids), with the early morning sun
behind me, trying to fix the picture of the scene in my mind (My camera
malfunctioned from day 1 on this trip). I have been here four mornings in a
row now, and already recognize and greet some of the regulars who air their
dogs here every morning, and the dumpy old woman, who always walks laps on
the other bank of the river and who passes regular as clockwork every ten
minutes. She must have been told that she needs more motion!

The teals, all in pairs, have mainly food on their minds, although I see
some mild head-pumping by some males---it does not get them anywhere. On
the other side of the small weir, where the carps swim, the now two
Moorhens and the lone Dabchick still keep close  together, once they
venture out of the reeds. In front of me, a Little Egret fishes,
alternately trembling each leg for every step forward he (?she) takes, and
peering attentively down in the water to see if something gets stirred up;
he regularly succeeds too.
And all the time I sit here Barn Swallows flit around, Brown-eared Bulbuls
rumour in the cherry trees (now rapidly losing their blossoms), Tree
Sparrows and Gray Starlings flit back and forth across the river, and Dusky
Thrushes hunt on the grass. A Japanese Wagtail pays a short visit, and
during the entire hour I enjoy the company from my last new Japanese bird,
a Common Sandpiper, that  teeters and forages for insects all over the weir
and the stones near the river bank.

On the way home I hear for the first time here the unmistakable song of the
Bush Warbler, but alas, the sound comes from a house and the bird is no
doubt in a cage.

This bit of river lies squeezed among a sea of houses, and there is a
little corner of nature left here only because the river banks have been
set aside as a playground for small children, and because the Jpanese do
not molest birds. For the newcomer to Japan there is still a lot to see and
enjoy also here, though. Beggars can't be choosers: where I am when is
usually not decided by the birding opportunities , but by other
considerations. So I take my birding pleasures wherever I happen to be, and
am duly grateful for all the extra enjoyment that this hobby gives for free
no matter where one might be.

Now, while I write this in my room in the guest house 8 April, a Great Tit
is 'sawing' right outside the window, and behind the house I hear the
unmistakable cozy chattering, irritated rasping and 'remote shorebird
calls',  that all spell greenfinch to me (Oriental Greenfinches here, but
they really sound just the same). Makes me feel right at home!

                                                        Wim Vader, Tromsø Museum
                                                        9037 Tromsø, Norway

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