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Japan - February 2020 (1 Viewer)

foresttwitcher

Virtually unknown member
United Kingdom
Tuesday 18th February:

Another early start this morning, this time to make use of the hotel's free airport shuttle bus to Haneda. On checking out, the receptionist asked which Terminal I wanted and when I replied Domestic she passed this on to the driver who then asked, through her, where I was going. When I replied Hokkaido he nodded and we set off. At the second stop he indicated that is was mine and on entering the Terminal I did the usual glance at the Departures screen and my flight was not there! At the Information Desk the helpful young lady said I needed to be in a different Terminal so I got on an inter-terminal shuttle bus and tried again. This time all was OK and the check-in with AirDo went smoothly. On time we took off from an already warm Tokyo as the sun rose and and hour and a half later landed at an overcast, snowy and crisp Kushiro. The nice girl at the Nippon car hire desk escorted me to a minibus that drove just across the small airport compound and some equally efficient girls sorted the paperwork and sat nav language in no time and I was off in my Honda Fit, armed with a warning about the possibly suicidal deer that inhabit the island.

I set off straight away to the Akan International Crane Centre, seeing Kites and a fly-over White-tailed Eagle en route, and had an impromptu breakfast and hot chocolate from the brilliant vending machines in the car park's rest area building. I then walked to the centre, paid the entrance fee and walked to the viewing area; the bugling was evocative as soon as I opened the exit door. I was pleasingly surprised by how close the Red-crowned Cranes were to the small group of photographers by the barriers and they looked great in the snow with a backdrop of a ridge covered in bare deciduous trees - a somewhat overused word but iconic. Whilst the Cranes were obviously the main event, and their calling and dancing were entertaining, there were also both species of Crow, Feral Pigeon and a Sika Deer presumably feeding on the grain put out or the Cranes, Tree Sparrow, Japanese Tit & Dusky Thrush in the trees, a small flock of Whooper Swan in the background and a circling Rough-legged Buzzard. After returning to the building to warm up a bit and have a look at the exhibition, I returned to the viewing area and within minutes the highlight of the day, given that it was the prime target for this whole trip, was an adult Steller's Eagle flying low and slow over the fields, upsetting the Cranes a bit but making my day - a great Birthday present to myself!

I left a bit reluctantly for Akkeshi to have a look around the harbour and accessible areas of shoreline. Full disclosure - I am not a larophile and am not capable of dealing with the variety of juvenile plumage details so I only 'do' adults. But in the port I did manage to ID Slaty-backed Gull and Kamchatka Gull - or kamtschatschensis sub-species of Common Gull, depending upon your taxonomy choice. On the other side of town Lake Akkeshi held large numbers of Mallard, Common Goldeneye, Goosander & Red-breasted Merganser along with more Swans in the distance and a number of Steller's perched on the far shore. Just as I was leaving along the small road between the lake shore and the industrial units I saw a small movement on a snow bank and there was a female Asian Rosy Finch pecking about on the road edge. I stopped briefly at the Akkeshi Marshes but apart from another Rough-legged Buzzard it was almost birdless.

Next stop was Cape Kiritappu where a walk out to the point added an unidentified seal below the cliffs, more of the duck species seen at the last site and a nice flock of Black Scoter in the bay. Driving back along the peninsular a quartering Short-eared Owl came very close to the car.

It was now time to complete the journey and just after dark I arrived at Lodge Furen, near Nemuro, to a warm welcome from Take-san and Masako-san, a fantastic authentic meal (including his home made bilberry infused saki) and an introduction to my four fellow guests - 2 Catalan's and a Spaniard travelling together and a German, all photographer birders.

What a great way to spend a Birthday!

1-5. Red-crowned Cranes.
 

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Andrew Whitehouse

Professor of Listening
Staff member
Supporter
Scotland
Sounds good Pete. I was in pretty much the same areas in Hokkaido a couple of months back, so it brings back some nice memories.
 

John Cantelo

Well-known member
Blimey, that sounds more than good to me John - a lot more than I got!

It was a new record - by about 4-5 birds - for our guide who's been to Japan in winter about 20 times. Ironically, we picked up a number of birds that I've seen in Europe but were as tricky to see as some of the lifers we missed. It compares very well with the totals attained by trips organised by a well-known bird-tour company (125-130). In passing, we met up with several other tours and all agreed that buntings were very tough to see this year. How our total might compare with a dedicated team of well-informed birders I'm not quite sure.
 

foresttwitcher

Virtually unknown member
United Kingdom
Glad I could prompt the good memories, Andrew - even though it is less than a month ago I'm appreciating the memories doing this report is bringing back for me. A good reason for doing one!

That makes me feel a bit better, John :t: - as a solo birder 129 seems OK now.

Thanks again Chris.
 
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John Cantelo

Well-known member
Glad I could prompt the good memories, Andrew - even though it is less than a month ago I'm appreciating the memories doing this report is bringing back for me. A good reason for doing one!

That makes me feel a bit better, John :t: - as a solo birder 128 seems OK now.

Thanks again Chris.

A total of 129, given the constraints of being a solo birder, seems a lot more than just respectable to me! I'm pretty sure there'll be more birds coming up that we missed. It's a fantastic country whatever the total of birds seen (or missed).
 
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MKinHK

Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
Its maybe not in the same class as Ural Owl , but Asian Rosy Finch is another bird I serially dip on - in four visits to Hokkaido, and counting . . .

Numbers of birds would very much depend on the range of locations, especially given the length of Japan and the huge diversity of habitats from the subtropical Ryukyu islands to sea ice-bound Hokkaido, and how much effort you put into the pelagics. Add the issue of seasonality and no-one can possibly get everything in a single trip.

But ultimately Japan is all about quality over quantity - especially if you don't pay much attention to the gulls ;);)

Cheers
Mike
 

John Cantelo

Well-known member
Its maybe not in the same class as Ural Owl , but Asian Rosy Finch is another bird I serially dip on - in four visits to Hokkaido, and counting . . .

But ultimately Japan is all about quality over quantity - especially if you don't pay much attention to the gulls ;);)

Cheers
Mike

That's very unlucky, Mike. We had two decent flocks. The first of c150 were on wires just short of Cape Karritappu on the 19th. They're attracted by feeders put out by a guest house just off the main road. However, trying to watch them from the side road itself (i.e. where the guest house is located) isn’t to be recommended as the owners have put up signs saying things like ‘No Peeking’ & ‘Peeking is a Crime’ and, I'm told, can get very aggressive indeed if you view from the minor road. Fortunately, we were able to see them easily from the main road and out of sight from the house (but I don't know how the owners might react if they came along as you were doing so) We then had a flock of c60 the following day along Notsukehondo spit.

If we hadn't seen Saunder's Gull, I'd be inclined to agree with your last point regarding gulls.
 

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foresttwitcher

Virtually unknown member
United Kingdom
Yes, John, in truth I was well pleased with the total and, although the dips are disappointing when you leave a particular area, I went in the full knowledge that there was no way I could see everything. And as Mike said I got plenty of quality as well in what I saw.

Mike, regarding the Rosy Finch, prepare yourself for a couple of posts time!
 

wolfbirder

Well-known member
Great read Pete, you are a man after my own heart............I too like to take it easy (at my own pace) and as a lone birder I achieve relatively low totals and miss quite a lot. But don't be too harsh, one set of eyes inevitably misses a hell of a lot more than the eyes of a group of birders. I have the same thoughts about gulls, or most of them!

Love the photos, congrats on the Cranes and the Stella's Eagle (well it deserves a pint to celebrate!) :)-.

One thing that strikes me is just how clean and pristine Japan is. Not surprising I suppose but it is really striking.
 

foresttwitcher

Virtually unknown member
United Kingdom
Thanks Nick. Yes, I was being harsh on myself but not entirely seriously. I was very happy with what I saw and frustrations are inevitable in birding.

Thanks or the comment on the photos. My first time for decades taking pictures on a birding trip. The wonders of a smartphone camera!

You are right, Japan, just on the basis of my limited visit, could not be further from the UK in the complete absence of litter or mess.
 

foresttwitcher

Virtually unknown member
United Kingdom
Wednesday 19th February:

When I booked the accommodation at his Lodge I also asked Take-san to book me a place on the boat trip out of Habomai. On confirming the booking later last year he let me know that he would be on the same trip with some paying customers - it looked as though I may get some free guiding! Last evening Take-san briefly put the local weather forecast on over dinner and it looked as though it might be a bit too windy so the plan was breakfast at 07:00 for a potential 09:00 sailing. Whilst waiting to hear plenty of entertainment was provided by the feeders outside the window with a steady stream of Marsh & Japanese Tits, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Tree Sparrows and the frosty pale asiatica subspecies of Nuthatch plus Brown-eared Bulbul & Hawfinch in the small garden trees. The boat operator apparently thought the sea state was too high but conditions may improve later in the morning so an 11:00 sailing was agreed.

Take-san suggested I accompany him and his clients to the eagle feeding site. I took my own vehicle in case of any further change in plan and met them just up the road at Furen-ko. The small woodland across the road already had a number of Black-eared Kites waiting and when I joined the small group of photographers on the edge of the frozen lake and set up the scope I could seen many eagles in the distant trees either side of the feeding area. Shortly the guys dragged the fish 'bait' out onto the ice and within minutes the action began first with Japanese & Oriental Crows, then the Kites and not long after many White-tailed and Steller's Eagles in a huge swirling, squabbling, swooping mass. Many landed on the snow giving good comparative side by side views - the Steller's really are impressive birds. What a sight!

Eventually the activity began to die down a bit as the fish disappeared so we set off to Habomai, first to sign in and pay at the harbour office then to park at the boat quay. In the harbour basin were a few each of Common Pochard, the always attractive Harlequin Duck, Long-tailed Duck, Goldeneye & Red-breasted Merganser. I also managed to ID a Glaucous Gull. Once underway there were more of the same ducks plus Pelagic Cormorant beyond the breakwater. As we got further out we saw Common Guillemot, Pigeon Guillemot and Spectacled Guillemot - I was glad Take-san was long to help with the identification and he was particularly pleased to find a Snow's Guillemot. Most of the views were good but the swell made it a little tricky. On nearing Russian waters the boat turned round and on the way back we had a group of three Ancient Murrelet both on the water and flying alongside the boat plus a Glaucous-winged Gull very close. Back at the harbour the species were the same but with the addition of a couple of Greater Scaup.

We called in at a convenience store for some lunch and Take-san suggested I follow him to the other sites he had planned for his group. At a lighthouse whose name I did not note we managed to scope another Snow's Guillemot alongside more of the common species. Then we set off for Cape Nosappu seeing a perched roadside Rough-legged Buzzard on the way. Unfortunately the target cormorants were not present so we made a brief detour to another potential site and also one for Rock Sandpiper but drew a blank at both - although did have a Merlin fly up a small valley at the last site. Whilst the others went to a potential Ural Owl site I returned to Cape Nosappu to wait for dusk but the Red-faced Cormorants failed to show however this was almost made up for when, whilst scanning through the sea ice forming just offshore, I picked up a distant lone Sea Otter slowly floating along on it's back. On leaving I saw another hunting Short-eared Owl and a Red Fox.

1. Furen-ko feeding frenzy;
2. Habomai Nature Cruise boat;
3. Steller's eagles - impressive birds!
4. Sea ice forming in the foreground & Russia (an apparently disputed island) in the distance.
 

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kb57

Well-known member
Europe
Wednesday 19th February:

The small woodland across the road already had a number of Black-eared Kites waiting and when I joined the small group of photographers on the edge of the frozen lake

I guess going when the tourist industry was just starting to take a hit from Covid-19 had some advantages...this was the scene two years ago, same number or more to my right...great you managed to get out on the pelagic, something we missed out on completely due to the weather
 

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foresttwitcher

Virtually unknown member
United Kingdom
By 'small' I guess I was comparing to what I had expected - I suppose the number there in total amounted to that seen in your photo. I thought there may be many more.

Shame you missed out on the pelagic it was well worth it.
 

Scridifer

Used Registrar
Supporter
Bulgaria
Sounds like an amazing day Pete! Those Steller's are mighty impressive - are they noticeably bigger than the White-tailed?

Chris
 

John Cantelo

Well-known member
Wednesday 19th February:
1. Furen-ko feeding frenzy;
2. Habomai Nature Cruise boat;
3. Steller's eagles - impressive birds!
4. Sea ice forming in the foreground & Russia (an apparently disputed island) in the distance.

That's a beautifully composed photo of Stellers - magnificent aren't they? Here's one of my better shots. We saw (distantly) what I suspect was the same group of eagles from the land on 20th. On the 19th we lucked in on a great seawatch from Cape Nosappu. It was quiet at first but when the tide started to rise got a lot better and we were fortunate that there was so little brash ice so the birds were relatively close - Harlequins, Long-tailed Ducks, 2 Red-necked Grebe, 4 Slavonian Grebe, 3+ Least Auklet, 6 Ancient Murrelet, 2 Long-billed Auklet, 3+ Brunnich's Guillemot, 1 Common Guillemot, 2 Pigeon Guillemot & 1 Snow's Guillemot (although, unfortunately, I was the only one to see the latter two species as the others were busy looking for the elusive Long-billed Auklets which I had managed to see fairly easily - pure luck). It was fantastic but, if I'm honest, not quite the best seawatch we enjoyed on the trip but I don't want to hijack your thread.
 

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foresttwitcher

Virtually unknown member
United Kingdom
Chris, yes Steller's are noticeably bigger and much more bulky than White-tailed - I've added a bad hand-held digiscoped photo, before I sorted out the correct angle to hold the phone at, that shows both species together. Comparative sizes from Brazil:

White-tailed: Length: 74-94cm; Wing Span: 193-244cm; Weight: Male: 3075-5430g, Female: 4080-6900g
Steller's: Length: 85-105cm; Wing Span: 195-230cm; Weight: Male: 4900-6000g, Female: 6800-9000g

Thanks, John. Yes, the Steller's certainly lived up to my very high expectations as the big draw behind taking the opportunity to do this trip. Please do feel free to add anything Japan & bird related to this thread - it will surely interest all who are likely to be looking in. Love the imperious eagle photo by the way.
 

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Scridifer

Used Registrar
Supporter
Bulgaria
Chris, yes Steller's are noticeably bigger and much more bulky than White-tailed - I've added a bad hand-held digiscoped photo, before I sorted out the correct angle to hold the phone at, that shows both species together. Comparative sizes from Brazil:

White-tailed: Length: 74-94cm; Wing Span: 193-244cm; Weight: Male: 3075-5430g, Female: 4080-6900g
Steller's: Length: 85-105cm; Wing Span: 195-230cm; Weight: Male: 4900-6000g, Female: 6800-9000g

Thanks, John. Yes, the Steller's certainly lived up to my very high expectations as the big draw behind taking the opportunity to do this trip. Please do feel free to add anything Japan & bird related to this thread - it will surely interest all who are likely to be looking in. Love the imperious eagle photo by the way.

That will do nicely Pete - many thanks!

Chris
 

John Cantelo

Well-known member
Comparative sizes from Brazil:

White-tailed: Length: 74-94cm; Wing Span: 193-244cm; Weight: Male: 3075-5430g, Female: 4080-6900g
Steller's: Length: 85-105cm; Wing Span: 195-230cm; Weight: Male: 4900-6000g, Female: 6800-9000g

Although Steller's are generally bigger than White-tailed Eagle and usually look so in the field, I'm afraid that the pedant in me means that I have to point out that a large female White-tailed Eagle can be bigger than a small male Steller's (as the figures above show). They never seemed quite so imperious though! What I found most unreal was that away from areas where Black-eared Kites congregated these two fantastic large BoPs were the commonest raptors.
 

etudiant

Registered User
Supporter
Although Steller's are generally bigger than White-tailed Eagle and usually look so in the field, I'm afraid that the pedant in me means that I have to point out that a large female White-tailed Eagle can be bigger than a small male Steller's (as the figures above show). They never seemed quite so imperious though! What I found most unreal was that away from areas where Black-eared Kites congregated these two fantastic large BoPs were the commonest raptors.

The Steller's seem to be more relaxed about life than the WTEs.
Certainly they don't seem to throw their weight around even at the feeding sites.
Just spectacular birds!
 
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