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ZEISS DTI thermal imaging cameras. For more discoveries at night, and during the day.

Japan - February 2020 (1 Viewer)

Thursday 20th March:

Another relaxed start to the morning to take advantage of the breakfast and the bird feeder entertainment, with Coal Tit added to the species seen yesterday morning. Then it was time to reluctantly say thank you and goodbye to Take-san & Masako-san and leave this great little place.

First I drove past the eagle feeding site again and then continued along the road that leads down the spit between the lake and the sea - plenty of Corvids, Black-eared Kite and White-tailed & Steller's Eagles around but not too much else. So I continued further north and then drove slowly along the Notuske Peninsula. More raptors along here with some on the roadside overhead services poles giving close views but not from the best angle. About half way along I saw a large flock of small birds right by the roadside and approaching slowly managed to spend some time watching about 40+ Asian Rosy Finch (sorry, Mike!) foraging in the gutter and on the road verge. There were also plenty of Sika Deer around. On reaching the end, or at least as far as you can drive, I walked the short distance to the hide but it was very quiet bird-wise. Heading back along the peninsula I saw a flock of finches fly into some roadside trees so stopped to have a look - most were Oriental Greenfinch but I also picked out a single Common / Mealy Redpoll and a small group of Northern (caudatus) Long-tailed Tit.

Continuing north again I headed to Rausu. From Notsuke it had been possible to see what I thought was the edge of the pack-ice but, despite my hopes, I did not seem to be any closer even this far further north. But I checked out the harbour while I was there plus also the same at Shibetsu on the way back. In both places all the duck seen yesterday at Habomai were present in good numbers as well as Pelagic Cormorant. I also gave the (adult) gulls a good go - for me anyway - and as well as the previously seen Kamchatka, Glaucous, Glaucous-winged & Slaty-backed I also managed to ID Black-tailed Gull & Vega Gull.

It was now time to head inland for my long anticipated visit to Yoroushi Onsen where I arrived around dusk. It was a little unclear which building was Yuyado Daiichi but luckily a 'greeter girl' had spotted me parking the car and came out to welcome me. The book-in procedure was a little stilted due to soon reaching the limit of my Japanese and her English but she went off and returned with a young lad who spoke more English and as he approached I heard him greet another guest in a language I thought I recognised and so the process was completed in a strange mix of English, Japanese & Nepali! You are asked which dining slot you want and after having a quick look at the log where the owl sightings are kept I went for the latest one (7pm) intending to then sit out the rest of the evening on watch.

In the meantime I had had a wander along the snowy roads of the resort, spent some time to find my way around this warren of a place and briefly took advantage of the very nice room. On the way to the dining area at the allotted time I glanced at the log again and 'it' had been sighted whilst I was faffing about! So I settled down to a fantastic meal expecting for a very long, and hopefully not fruitless, wait afterward. Once done eating I headed straight to the stake-out spot and joined 8 Japanese photographers already in place. As the evening progressed there was a lot of waiting and staring at the wintry stream; there were brief flurries of excitement and camera shutter clicking with a couple of appearances by a (or possibly 2) Sable - the first very brief but the latter one more prolonged and very satisfying - and later a Mink. Help yourself coffee & tea helped keep alert but the lighting of a small fire in the fire pit had the opposite effect! As time progressed the staff filtered away, the lights went out and the group lessened gradually. Eventually it was just me and another die-hard left and I was beginning to doze so tried to select the most uncomfortable seat I could. I hadn't even realised I had drifted off but I was brought too by a movement and softly utter exclamation (or possible swearword) from my patient companion and looked up to see a monster of a bird had seemingly materialised out of nowhere and was sitting just beyond the glass! As the photographer filled his boots I just watched in awe as this massive beast slowly looked around, grabbed a fish from the small pool and calmly ate it's early hours of the morning meal. After a brief shake it plucked out another fish and demolished that as well. Eventually it flew off - I guess my Blackiston's Fish Owl experience was probably over in no time at all but it was one of those 'time stands still' moments and seemed to last for ages. What a bird!

So off I went to bed a very happy chap.

1. Black-eared Kite;
2. Sika Stags;
3. Rather worrying sign;
4 & 5. Icy mountain scenery.


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They're fantastic birds, aren't they? Blakiston's Fish Owl was a ‘grail bird’ for me and one that, after Steller’s Eagle, was the bird that I’d have most hated to have missed. We didn't go to Yoroushi Onsen or any of the well-known sites for ours as our tour guide knows a local expert who has them on his property. We visited on the site 19th arriving at 16.45 as our host had heard them calling from about 17.00 the previous night. Even when they're not calling he knows when they're around as when they perch on his TV aerial it ruins his reception! It's a surprise he's still got an aerial at all as he's had three owls perching on it (adult & two young) So we sat in the van for over an hour-and-a-half watching his TV aerial and the telegraph poles (all with suitable perches) around his house but apart from a brief call had nothing. I wanted to hang on but as it was very cold by then the majority were for returning to the hotel. I contemplated staying and walking back through the snow in sub-zero temperatures to the hotel until I remembered it was a 20-minute drive. Fortunately, we already knew we could return the following evening so that's what we did only this time everyone agreed to stay as long as it might take. Our host, who had been out visiting a different site the first night, had returned after we'd gone but heard them from about 19.40 onwards. The next evening we followed the same routine but this time we were determined to stay for as long as it took. We were encouraged when birds started calling just before 18.00 but when our host returned from his other site again at about 18.30 (by which time it was dark) we still hadn’t seen one so he started to walk around the back of his house to check some other favoured perches using a filtered flashlight (he believes bright lights, especially camera flashes, can harm the birds). He suggested that if we were quiet we could get out of the van and stand in the lee of his shed. Moments later I saw this huge ghostly apparition alight on a telegraph pole about 30m away. I didn’t need to raise my bins to know what it was! I urgently whispered to the rest of the group so we all got a clear silhouette view against the stars. Our host hastened back to us and spotlighted it in the gentle glow of his torch giving us great views with our binoculars. We were reluctant to move but very quietly and carefully we got a tripod & scope out of the van and then enjoyed stunning scope filling views for the next 15 minutes. The bird just sat there looking around and pretty much ignoring us. Absolutely brilliant!
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Thanks again, Chris. Even just recounting it on here allowed me to re-live it all again.

Well done with the perseverance John! 'Grail bird' is a great description. After Steller's the owl was my main target of the trip and, given that I had expected the eagle to be about as guaranteed in Hokkaido in February as anything gets in birding and the pure luck in seeing the Fish Owl even in the known spots, I think it must also have been the one I was also most concerned about missing.

Friday 21st February:

Despite the very late (or is that early) finish last night I was up and about and packed early this morning. When I took my key to reception I noted the photographer's from last night all already back in place and noted a visit had been logged about 30 minutes previously so I hope they all got their sightings and photographs. It was mainly to be a travel day for me today but before leaving Nemuro I had asked Take-san about a good site for Grey-headed Woodpecker and, knowing where I was heading, he suggested the Lake Kussharo area. My site guide suggested walking through the forests just south of Kawayu. When I woke it was snowing but by the time I had put my stuff in the car and brushed / scraped the windows it had stopped. So I set off on already snow-ploughed roads. At some point on the journey I saw a sign for a waterfall so decided to have a look. Turning off the larger road the minor one had un-compacted snow; having a 4-WD I carried on but within 100m the snow was half a metre deep so I turned round where the snow plough had and backtracked. A bit further on at a four way stop junction I had a small Accipiter fly over but could not see enough to nail an ID - I forgot to mention in the relevant post that I also had a fly-over hawk in Tokyo from the Imperial Palace that remained unidentified for the same reasons.

I eventually arrived at my destination to find the forest I was to be walking through had gone! As a forester I am familiar with the reasons for clear felling and the area was regenerating but as yet no good for woodpeckers. So I called in just down the road at Iwo-san, attracted by the fumaroles, but the paths were too deep in snow to be passable. My last option in the area was Wakoto Hanto a small hillock peninsular sticking out into the Kussharo-ko caldera lake. The path here had been used so was slightly easier walking. There were Tree Sparrows around the buildings, Crows overhead and not far into the forest I had Nuthatch, Hawfinch and 'Brandt's' Jay - certainly looking like a potential split. Time did not allow me to complete the circular trail so I returned the same way adding Marsh Tit and White-backed Woodpecker - not the one I was hoping for but a lifer and a species that had eluded me in the Pyrenees and Finland, so well worth the detour.

Unfortunately it was time for me to move on from Hokkaido so I headed to Kushiro and after filling up the car dropped it off painlessly and with more bowing was on the minibus to the terminal and checked-in for my late morning 2.5 hour flight with Peach to Osaka. Trying to get the cheapest domestic flights meant I had a longish stopover in Kansai so I had plenty of time to pick up my bag and then drop it off again and find something to eat before a mid-evening 1 hour 20 minute hop to Fukuoka with All Nippon. A long walk through the airport and across the street saw me at the Nisasan Rent-a-Car office late evening and just as pleasantly and efficiently as the other two times I was soon in my Nissan March with English speaking sat nav set up for a brief tangle with the urban traffic. I found my hotel, despite the roadworks, and parked in the street level car park and checked in. I thought I had done as I usually would when I booked the hotel on-line and used the filters to find one with a car park and therefore assumed there would be one for my use. I don't remember clearly any mention of having to reserve it but when I mentioned it to the receptionist I was told that it would be OK for tonight but that it was fully reserved for the next night so I would have to move it the morning. I went out briefly to get a late night snack from the nearest convenience store and found the tiny four-car parking lot I had been told about so took some photographs of the fully automated machine so I could get Google Translate on the case. I would also not have booked a smoking room but was put in one - I should have complained but was too knackered after the day's travelling so just put up with it and a combination of leaving the windows open and using the provided air freshener worked to some extent.

No interesting photos today:

1. Lake Kussharo;
2. Sunset over Kansai - sorry, I had time to waste in the airport.


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Congratulations on the woodpecker Pete, in my neck of the woods at least, a far harder bird to find than Grey-headed!
Osaka and Fukuoka take me back, I visited both many years ago, long before Kansai was built!

Wow!!...........well jealous of the owl.

White-backed Woody is the one most WP birders find hard to see, though i agree Grey-headed can be tricky too.

Anyway, sounds a great trip.
Fantastic account. We have been thinking about Japan, and especially Hokkaido, for a while, but the problem is we would like to go twice, once in winter and once in early summer! It looks as if for a while nobody will go anywhere anyway, so this is really welcome! Keep it coming!
Cheers Chris, perhaps I'll have to visit Bulgaria someday so you can find me a Grey-headed.

Thanks Nick. It was a great trip - one of my best, I think.

Fantastic account. We have been thinking about Japan, and especially Hokkaido, for a while, but the problem is we would like to go twice, once in winter and once in early summer! It looks as if for a while nobody will go anywhere anyway, so this is really welcome! Keep it coming!

Thanks. I can definitely recommend Japan. Yes, if it wasn't for the current situation I'm sure I would be trying to justify starting to plan a return in Spring / Summer.
Saturday 22nd February:

In the planning phase of this trip today was not really a birding day so no need for an early start but I was in the swing of waking early so I was up and about anyway. This gave me the opportunity to move the car from the hotel car park to the lot round the corner - on reversing over a sensor in the marked bay a metal plate rose up after a short time between the front and rear wheels so it was effectively trapped. As Google Translate had mangled the instructions a bit I just hoped it would become more obvious what to do when I tried to leave tomorrow morning! It was a warmish, sunny day and as any birder knows if you have some spare time in a new place then there is no such thing as a non-birding day. So I grabbed some 'breakfast' from a convenience store and set off for some city park birding that would take me on a route to arrive where I needed to be by mid-afternoon.

Heading south from the hotel I arrived at Ohorikoen where a canal / moat like feature is sandwiched between tall trees and a city street so it didn't look too promising but I was soon proved wrong. There were Little Grebes in the open water, a Grey Heron under the overhanging trees behind and, in a caged off area of aquatic vegetation, a couple of Black-crowned Night Heron. In the mature trees Crows and Brown-eared Bulbuls competed to make the most noise. The path ran between the water and a line of tended shrubs and small planted trees which held Japanese Tits, Tree Sparrows, Long-tailed Tits, a number of Japanese White-eye and a surprise Japanese Bush Warbler. A better start than I had anticipated. I then crossed into the park and wandered around the grounds surrounding the Heiwadai sports area. There were plenty of Dusky Thrush & White-cheeked Starlings on the lawns, a Daurian Redstart on top of a shrub and a Bull-headed Shrike perched up on the edge of the canopy of the surrounding mature trees.

Further south and I was into Maizuru Park and wandered around and on the ruins of Fukuoka Castle. In the more open areas some Feral Pigeons were joined by an Oriental Turtle Dove, a Goldcrest sang and showed well in a conifer with a group of White-eye and on the ground in the dense shade of the mature trees the birds turning over the leaf litter were now Pale Thrush. From the top of the ruins Black-eared Kites could be seen circling overhead and Black-backed Wagtails picked at crevices in the massive stones. I spent quite some time slowly walking around this unexpectedly interesting place.

I then went to the much busier adjacent Ohori Park - basically an oval lake with a thin strip of parkland / woodland all round the edge and a chain of interconnected wooded islands across the middle with surfaced paths for walkers / joggers / cyclists. The lake hosted huge numbers of Coot & Great Cormorant, loads of ducks with large numbers of Mallard & Gadwall, and smaller but still significant groups of Pochard, Eurasian Wigeon & Eastern Spot-billed Duck plus a few each of Falcated Duck & Northern Pintail. At the northern end Black-headed & Vega Gulls waited and swooped for scraps from the strolling families.

Being a Saturday, as the morning progressed the park became busier so I headed back north towards Nishikoen, a much quieter and more forested area on a hill just inland from the coast. More Pale Thrushes on the forest floor, Daurian Redstart & Bull-headed Shrikes on the edges of clearings, Brambling & more White-eye in the canopy with the ever present and noisy Bulbuls and an elusive bird in the dense understorey, which I eventually tracked down, turned out to be a 1st winter male Grey Bunting.

As the afternoon wore on I rather reluctantly headed out of the park back into the city and walked through the suburbs to an inlet which I followed to the coast to sit and eat a convenience store bought late lunch on the beach. It was then time to head for the PayPay Dome for the reason I was in Fukuoka so it was the end of a much better part-day's birding than I had anticipated. After the event an evening walk through the streets back to the hotel, making use of the ever useful vending machines on the way.

1. Fukuoka city skyline from Castle ruins;
2. Fukuoka Castle - art installation or No. 6's worst nightmare;
3. PayPay Dome concert kick-off.


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This all brings back great memories. Congratulations on nailing your top two targets Pete.

Japan is definitely worth multiple visits. I've been half a dozen times and still have top birds to see, including the Amami and Ogasawara endemics, Short-tailed Albatross and all the petrels,Japanese Murrelet and a couple of other auks, a certain unmentionable rosefinch, Ural Owl, Solitary Snipe - and its the closest place to HK to see Ptarmigan.

Saturday 22nd February:
... and an elusive bird in the dense understorey, which I eventually tracked down, turned out to be a 1st winter male Grey Bunting.

Another species we missed! My understanding, talking to others visiting Japan this winter, is that buntings, in general, have been in relatively short supply. I know of at least two other trips that missed Grey Bunting so I think you did very well to get one.
Cheers Chris, perhaps I'll have to visit Bulgaria someday so you can find me a Grey-headed.

Thanks Nick. It was a great trip - one of my best, I think.

Thanks. I can definitely recommend Japan. Yes, if it wasn't for the current situation I'm sure I would be trying to justify starting to plan a return in Spring / Summer.

Sounds like a plan Pete! Plenty of other good birds here too!

Some great birds there Pete, not least the Grey Bunting!

Have I missed something or are you deliberately keeping the name of the performer under wraps?

Thanks Mike, I definitely hope to return to Japan someday. Warning, you're not going to like another upcoming post towards the end of the trip!

John, I had to check with some local experts on Kantori that Grey Bunting was likely where I saw it as it was quite a surprise but it seems it is a known past location and ideal habitat. I didn't really know what to expect in the way of bunting numbers or species but those I did see were generally only singles or small groups &/or in one location only.

Thanks Chris, I may have to take you up on it. As for the concert, I knew someone would eventually be curious enough to ask; it is more than a bit embarrassing, as my other passion in life should really be a guilty secret - a K-Pop act called Blackpink - not my usual musical taste and I'm certainly not anywhere near their normal demographic. But this was my third time seeing them live so I guess I have to come clean and admit an obsession!
Don't worry Pete, your secret is safe with me - oh, sorry, wait a minute....! Where were the other two concerts?

she pointed out the difference between K-pop and J-pop. Also that they have very good dance routines, but it's not her favourite kind of music and showed me a few videos.
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