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Birthday blessings - Karuizawa, Japan, 28 Nov - 1 Dec 2019

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Old Monday 2nd December 2019, 14:57   #1
MKinHK
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Birthday blessings - Karuizawa, Japan, 28 Nov - 1 Dec 2019

A long weekend getaway for my 50th birthday combined the acquisition of my first new scope for 15 years with a few days in Karuizawa, the beautiful mountain resort an hour northwest of Tokyo.

Nowadays I hardly use a scope as I do the vast majority of my birding on foot and by public transport, covering large areas of sometimes difficult terrain, and frequently in unpleasantly hot and humid conditions. But I do have a view over the water towards Hong Kong Island, and could in theory pick up more here with a scope that was not as elderly, dented and misted as my current second-hand Zeiss. It may have had one previous careful owner, but the current one most certainly is not cut from the same cloth!

Anyway, some desultory browsing and a HK-based birder offering an as-new Swarovski ATS 85 (plus digiscoping kit) eventually led me to the Kowa TSN-883 and WZ-11 zoom offered for a combined price of 1,600 on the BIC Camera website. BIC is one of two gigantic Japanese camera chains and, since Kowa is a Japanese brand, it seemed feasible that this “too good to be true” price would be kosher. The downside was that the scope and lens were in stores in different parts of Tokyo, and the online ordering function was not up to sending the bits to a single location (ideally I would have liked to pick it up at Haneda airport on arrival) so a mini tour of Tokyo (with three suitcases between two of us) eventually enabled the purchase of the body, lens, scope cover and a Manfrotto 700RS2 tripod head, before boarding the bullet train to Karuizawa.

Our hotel, the very beautiful Hoshinoya (which we got for an amazing 80% discount by booking early), was right in the heart of the key birding area and early this morning I headed up into the forest in pursuit of a cast headed by the beautiful endemic Copper Pheasant. Significantly more optimistically I was also hoping to connect with Solitary Snipe here – it is found along the river nearby, albeit generally deeper into winter. I had dipped on both species in January, so this was a reasonable excuse for a second attempt.

As I left the room a movement in the trees above my head turned out to be a dozen Japanese Grosbeaks eating sycamore seeds. Lovely as they are I’ve seen them a few times, and as dawn is always the prime time for pheasants I headed up into the forest. The path follows a stream along the floor of the valley that is fed by small rivulets along its slopes. More movement here between the leafless trees revealed six or eight more Japanese Grosbeaks, two Hawfinches and a couple of Dusky Thrushes coming down to drink and wash at one of these rivulets – lovely!

Arriving at the pool I followed the path on the left up some broad shallow steps and cast a casual look back along a path that also climbed, but doubled back towards the entrance. I was utterly blown away to discover that a dark brown blob sitting the middle of the path some 50 metres away was a male Copper Pheasant! And there, against all expectation, he continued to sit for a good ten to fifteen minutes! It was here my new scope absolutely came into its own allowing me to zoom all the way in and capture the beautiful intricacies of its plumage, down to the red upper eyering and the pale lower eyering, and the broad yellow fringes to the breast feathers that created a wonderful scalloping. I fired off a few shots and greatly lamented the fact that there is no phonescoping attachment for my iPhoneX as I could have had frame-fillers on full zoom! Eventually it started foraging along the left side of the path and showed a somewhat shortened but nonetheless handsomely-banded tail, which had mostly been hidden until then. It eventually returned to the path, where it turned, raised its head and flapped it wings a few times, showing me its rich red rump and the full extent of its tail. A couple of minutes thereafter it returned to types – apparently being flustered into running away by a noisy Willow Tit!

The forest here was full of birds – the most visible amongst them a loose foraging flock of 12 or 15 Eurasian Jays of the distinctive local race brandtii, half a dozen three or four each of Great Spotted and Japanese Green Woodpeckers plus five or six Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers, most of which were amongst flocks of Japanese, Willow, Varied, Coal and Long-tailed Tits. A cleared area near the viewpoint for the snow-dusted Mount Asama held a Meadow Bunting and a female Red-flanked Bluetail that was re-growing its tail and a Wren was rooting on the edges of a stream as I headed back down the hill.

More to follow . . .

Cheers
Mike
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Hong Kong: Red-backed Shrike, Chinese Grey Shrike, Japanese Night Heron (477)
Greater China: European Golden Plover, Glossy Ibis, Japanese Night Heron (974)
Lifer: Tennessee Warbler, Copper Pheasant, Japanese Night Heron

Last edited by MKinHK : Monday 2nd December 2019 at 15:00.
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Old Monday 2nd December 2019, 15:07   #2
dwatsonbirder
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A new scope and birding in Japan on your birthday - you lucky devil Mike! Looking forward to hearing about how you got on.
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Old Monday 2nd December 2019, 16:54   #3
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What a wonderful birthday treat you had Mike! And some great birds to boot.

Better look after this scope a bit better eh?
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Old Monday 2nd December 2019, 18:51   #4
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Yet more drooling thanks to MK in HK :)
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Old Monday 2nd December 2019, 19:01   #5
Andrew Whitehouse
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Well done on the Copper Pheasant, Mike! I managed to see it there myself earlier this year but not nearly as well as you did - crippling views!
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Old Monday 2nd December 2019, 22:46   #6
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Mike, really looking forward to this as I plan to be in the same area around a birthday later in the winter (no brand new scope though, unfortunately) and, as if I wasn't excited enough about the prospect, this has whetted my appetite even more already.
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Old Tuesday 3rd December 2019, 14:20   #7
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Many thanks everyone - This is a very short and sweet report with just one more posting, but there are pix of some of the other goodies from my January trip here:

https://www.birdforum.net/showpost.p...1&postcount=31

And here's the wrap-up:

My next two mornings were progressively quieter. There was no sign of the pheasant and while I again saw all the same species they were never as close as on that first brilliant morning. I did add Japanese and Black-backed Wagtails, plus a dozen Chinese Spotbills and three drake Mallards and a duck around the hotel’s water garden. I was delighted on the last morning when a harsher call turned out to be a pair of Brown Dippers, which had presumably arrived to take advantage of the warm outflow from the onsen. My only addition in the forest was a good one – a male Northern Goshawk that drifted through and perched briefly – showing a big white super, very clean underparts, a yellow iris and stout yellow legs. Other bits and pieces included a Grey Wagtail on the stream as I failed to conjure a Solitary Snipe, a couple of Oriental Turtle Doves in the grounds of the hotel, and a couple of pairs of Eurasian Wigeons on a roadside pond on the way back to the station.

In addition to my nemesis, the absent Solitary Snipe, Karuizawa also host Green Pheasant and Japanese Accentors, Japanese Waxwings and sometimes Pallas's Rosefinches. I have seen all these species previously (although not all of them at Karuizawa), and so made no serious effort to look for them this time.

Cheers
Mike
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Hong Kong: Red-backed Shrike, Chinese Grey Shrike, Japanese Night Heron (477)
Greater China: European Golden Plover, Glossy Ibis, Japanese Night Heron (974)
Lifer: Tennessee Warbler, Copper Pheasant, Japanese Night Heron

Last edited by MKinHK : Wednesday 4th December 2019 at 03:14.
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Old Tuesday 3rd December 2019, 15:53   #8
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A lovely report on what sounds like a great weekend Mike! A pity about the Solitary Snipe but a good excuse to go back again!

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Old Tuesday 3rd December 2019, 20:59   #9
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Mike, sorry to be a pain but would you be able to give directions to, or a map showing the start of, the path you took from Hoshinoya?
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Old Wednesday 4th December 2019, 01:51   #10
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Hi Pete

If you send me your email address by PM I can send you a report from a friend that includes a map and more details on the site.

I should also add that I saw both Japanese Squirrel and Japanese Flying Squirrel. The flying squirrel required us to join a guided mini-tour organised by Picchio, an interesting organisation with a focus on bear conservation, which they support through nature tours. The flying squirrel "roost" (for want of a better word) in purpose-built nest boxes in which Picchio have placed cameras so they know which box to bring visitors to. The squirrels emerge after dark, run up the tree and launch themselves into the air, showing the classic flying squirrel silhouette. Saturday was the last day they ran the tour this year, bu the the squirrels do not hibernate and in theory can be seen all year round.

There is one excellent postscript. The day I was shopping in Tokyo news came through from Hong Kong that both Japanese Night Heron and Japanese Waxwing had been found in different locations. Both are mega with five or six records ever, so it felt a little ironic to be visiting Japan while some of its best birds were visiting Hong Kong, especially as I've dipped on both in the past. The Waxwing was a one-day wonder, but the Night Heron has stayed and performed at incredibly close range to appreciative crowds, and yesterday lunchtime I connected with one of my most wanted Hong Kong birds. Not only were the views excellent, but the bird was so tame the big lens brigade had to keep backing off as the bird walked towards them!

So far it's fun being fifty!

Cheers
Mike
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Hong Kong: Red-backed Shrike, Chinese Grey Shrike, Japanese Night Heron (477)
Greater China: European Golden Plover, Glossy Ibis, Japanese Night Heron (974)
Lifer: Tennessee Warbler, Copper Pheasant, Japanese Night Heron

Last edited by MKinHK : Wednesday 4th December 2019 at 06:20.
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Old Wednesday 4th December 2019, 05:59   #11
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Congratulations on the Night Heron Mike - cracking photos!

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Old Wednesday 4th December 2019, 13:47   #12
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The Kowa TSN-883 really is a superb scope - the visitor centre at the crane feeding station in Tsurui had one set up for public use when we visited last year, in order to read the ring numbers, as well as an older Kowa model. Sounds like a good excuse to go back to Japan!

I've got an Opticron myself, but have had a look through other birder's scopes from time to time, mostly Swarovskis and the odd Leica; IMHO the Kowa has the edge. Never tried a Swaro BTX though...
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Old Wednesday 4th December 2019, 18:29   #13
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Nice Birthday Mike

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Old Wednesday 4th December 2019, 18:50   #14
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Happy birthday young pup! Sounds like a perfect short break. Waxwing next year perhaps?
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Old Wednesday 4th December 2019, 20:47   #15
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Mike, thank you very much - PM sent.
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