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

Japan - February 2020 (1 Viewer)

K-Pop? Seriously?

I spent a lot of time in Korea in the past few years and never developed anything close to an interest. It all sounds the same to me.

Now "Get off my lawn!"
Arghh, you edited your last post after I replied Chris! I'm back to embarrassment now!

Anyway, back to birds ... (pauses for anticipated comments) ...

Sunday 23rd March:

Another prompt start today mainly to try to get out of the city before too much traffic was around but also to give me time to extricate the car! In spite of the help from Google Translate I'm damned if I could make any combination of the buttons on the ticket machine come up with a cost so I resorted to stopping the poor first local I saw and dragooning him into helping me out - which he did with a smile and good grace. The rest of the process was then painless as once the money was inserted the barrier dropped and I was free. I had already entered my destination into the sat nav and was quickly heading up the freeway on ramp and paying my toll. Then for some reason I still can't fathom, at the next junction I completely ignored the on screen and spoken instructions and took the wrong lane ending up going back into the city. Once the sat nav had the chance to recalculate I was back on the freeway at another entry and having to pay another toll! Frustrating start to the day. On the road birds included the usual Feral Pigeon, both Crow species, White-cheeked Starling and an Oriental Magpie flying parallel to the car just as I passed a sign naming the prefecture I was about to enter with a magpie as the logo - a bit of a specialty of the area apparently although probably introduced.

After breakfasting from vending machines again at a rest stop / service area I left the freeway after Kumamoto and after a couple of false starts began driving the small roads along the flood barriers of Yatsushiro. The frustration continued as at the first opportunity to look through one of the gaps in the wall I discovered that due to a mixture of incompetence and lack of attention I had misjudged the tides and it was full in leaving no mud at all for waders. So, rather than spend my time on the roads that run along the top of the levees I drove the lower tracks to get a better view over the fields (presumably reclaimed land) in the hope the waders may relocate here at high tide and for other farmland species. I have no idea where the waders go but in doing the shorelines of the three main areas / peninsulas I had just one Northern Lapwing. Also in the field ditches were Grey Heron, Great Egret and Little Egret plus Black-eared Kites overhead. I occasionally drove sections of the upper tracks and stopped at the gaps to see what was about and managed to see Black-headed and Slaty-backed Gulls and a flyover Western Osprey. Back down on the field level roads there were a few Dusky Thrush on the embankments, House Swift & Oriental Turtle Dove near the buildings,Tree Sparrows in the scrubby trees on the ditch edges, Japanese Reed Bunting in the, well, reeds and Wigeon, Skylark & Olive-backed Pipit in the stubble fields.

Deciding to come back at a better state of the tide I headed inland towards Kogawa Dam noting the potential of the river crossed just after turning off the main road but first heading up to the small parking area just beyond the dam. Needing to stretch my legs I set off along the road that skirts the edge of the lake. There did not at first seem to be too much on the water but the numerous bays and inlets held Coot, Mallard, Eastern Spot-billed Duck, Shoveler, Teal, and Little & Great Crested Grebes. The forested surrounds, whilst also apparently a bit quiet, by the time I returned to the car had in fact provided a good variety: Pygmy Woodpecker, leaf-tossing Pale Thrushes, Bull-headed Shrike, Japanese & Long-tailed Tits, Bulbul, White-eye, Daurian Redstart, a very nice male Masked Bunting in the scrub on the water's edge and deep in a patch of dense woodland understorey best of all, and one I thought I had missed, a group of secretive but impressive Japanese Grosbeak.

Before leaving I parked up by the crossing over the Sakamoto river, first to have a scan from the bridge which resulted in a Common Kingfisher darting in a blur of blue upstream before perching briefly on a dead twig over the water. A walk along a path a short way downstream round the bend in the river resulted in both Grey Wagtail & Japanese Wagtail on the rocks in the shallows.

As the afternoon had by now worn on I headed to Izumi towards my hotel for the night but with plenty of light still left I was impatient and diverted to the Izumi Crane Observation Centre as I couldn't wait until tomorrow. On the approach there were hundreds of Hooded Cranes in the fields. Once at the car park I paid the extremely value for money entrance fee and climbed the observation tower. Hundreds more Hooded Cranes everywhere plus crows, Grey Herons & Great Egrets in among them. Eventually I picked out three stately White-naped Cranes in the throng. As dusk fell I drove back across the fields and found another small group of White-naped. Impressive place.

1. Kogawa dam view;
2 & 3. Bamboo forest at Kogawa - a bit of a Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon vibe;
4. Hooded & White-naped Cranes.


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Japanese domestic technology is an endless source of wonder - and frustration. Sounds like your robot car park fits right into that category. I remember visiting as a kid in the 1970s and being amazed by cars parked in vertical conveyor belts.

Curious that Oriental Magpie is considered to be introduced. A quick look at Brazil suggests that they are native to that part of Kyushu - and only there in Japan. This would be a good reason for it to be a town's symbolic bird - especially when its such a distinctive species. I'm also amazed that such a successful bird elsewhere is confined to such a small part of Japan.

Looking forward to hearing more on the cranes, hoping you get better luck with the waders, and noting you continue to quietly pick up quality endemics.

Mike, my version of Brazil states on Oriental Magpie "Local and restricted range in S Japan (essentially N Kyushu), where presumed introduced in 17th/18th centuries from Korea, also recorded C Honshu and Shikoku; has recently colonised SW Hokkaido".

Thanks for the youtube link - my predilection only extends as far as the one particular girl-group and none of the boy-bands. I have to keep the crazy in check!

Thanks again Chris for the comments.
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Monday 24th February:

Another early start on another fine day - I'd been incredibly lucky with the weather so far.

Last evening I'd used the hotel's free wifi to locate today's first location and Google maps had come up with a route and expected journey duration but when I put the location in the car's sat nav the journey time had doubled! So I used maps off-line on my phone for navigation and arrived at Lake Miike with no problem - I suspect a road had been built and the car's sat nav had not been updated. From the public road just before getting to the site and along the approach track it soon became apparent that a lot of tree felling had recently taken place. So I suspected bird numbers may be down due to disturbance. I first drove through forest to the campsite but the last bit of the track was closed for construction.

So I returned to the main lakeside car park and wandered over to the small jetty - loads of Coot and a few Little Grebe were joined by a couple of Black-necked Grebe. I set off clockwise around the lake and just after a small footbridge into the forest had a female-type Red-flanked Bluetail promising a good start but a short distance further on the path was blocked by fallen trees, dense undergrowth and flooding. So I turned round, went back through the car park area and began the circuit in the other direction where there were plenty of Dusky Thrush on the grass and both Black-backed & Japanese Wagtail on the shoreline. An old building had a flock of Tree Sparrows and just beyond some movement in scrub developing on what looked to be a restored landslip proved to be a flock of six Elegant Bunting with three very smart males. As the path went into a more wooded part of the shoreline Japanese & Varied Tit began to appear along with Bulbul, White-eye, Daurian Redstart & Pale Thrush.

I assume all birders would admit that there is a lot of luck involved in finding / seeing birds. Even with research and being in the right place (both geographically & habitat) at the right time (time of year / day, state of tide, etc.) and whatever level of field-craft & patience (or otherwise) there is still an element of luck in seeing anything. I felt I had been both lucky - Ural & Blackiston's Fish Owls - and a bit unlucky - pheasants & Red-faced Cormorant - so far on the trip but I was to use up more than my fair share today. The first stroke of luck was to pass the only other Brit birder I saw on the whole trip on the next section of the path. He told me the path was closed further along and after a bit of a moan about not being able to complete the circuit we briefly exchanged sightings and he gave me locations where he had seen two of my targets. We then headed on our respective ways and I went as far as I could before returning to the car park, re-finding the flock of Elegant Buntings on the way back.

Back on the road and after a brief stop for vending machine hot drinks and convenience store breakfast I arrived at the site of the first tip - the bridge over the Uranomyo River at Takaokacho. Not easy to park here but I found a spot just down the road and walked back to the bridge. My tipster had shown me a photograph of the target bird in a scrubby tree and once on the bridge I could see the precise spot wondering what the chances were that it would return here at just the time I was on site. After a wait, during which I did see a Kingfisher flash below, it hadn't so I set off downstream firstly along the large levee and then the roadside pavement adding just the common species to the list plus a flyover Pacific Swallow. As the Oyodo River bent away from the road I turned round and retraced my steps. On reaching the levee again I scanned along the river and just happened upon a Crested Kingfisher flying upstream, hovering, plunging and perching briefly on a dead branch before flying on - not close views but nice behaviour of a cracking species and my second majour slice of luck for the day.

My by now favorite fellow birder's other location had been back at a site I was at yesterday but at the wrong state of the tide. I needed to pass that area on the way to tonight's hotel so before returning back there again I had some time to kill and settled on returning to Izumi (sort of on the route) for more cranes. There were still hundreds of Hooded Cranes scattered over the fields around the whole area and having got my eye in a bit yesterday I managed to pick out a few smaller groups of White-naped Cranes mixed in plus some Great & Little Egret, Grey Heron & Feral Pigeon feeding on the grain and both Black-eared Kite & Eastern Buzzard overhead. From the car park and along the tracks through the surrounding fields I looked through the Tree Sparrows for Russet and the White-cheeked Starling for Daurian but without success however I did manage to pick out a couple of Eastern Rook among the other Corvids. A river channel held a variety of familiar ducks.

After more junk food it was time to head north in the hope that the tide had receded sufficiently at Yatsushiro. Once there the fields, scrub & ditches held the same species as previously, the highlights being Bull-neaded Shrike & Japanese Reed Bunting. A stop at a river crossing near an estuary added a mixed flock of duck species seen already & Great Crested Grebe. My informant had directed me to the most north westerly point of the area and suggested scanning the distant far shore with the scope to pick out a small group of my target species that would hopefully be present. On reaching the place I drove up on to the tsunami bank top road and parked up by one of the gates in the upper wall to allow access to the shore for fishermen. I got out of the car, walked alongside the wall to the gap and turned through expecting to see an expanse of hazy mudflats and anticipating a long scope search but there on the steps of the concrete walkway about 10m away was a Black-faced Spoonbill - I don't know which of us was more surprised, I certainly was and it managed to look much the same also! After a moment it took off and flew a short distance away. I slowly walked down the steps and could watch it for some time as it slowly walked away along the edge of the breakwater that protects the base of the wall feeding as it went. Third large dose of luck of the day. The only other birds around were a few Great Cormorant. When it went out of sight round a curve in the shore I returned to the car well pleased and to happily finish of my selection of snacks in the early evening sunshine. During this relaxed time I also had very nice flyovers from an Osprey and a Peregrine.

I guess I've had other fortuitous birding moments but off the top of my head I cant remember another that had the same level of being at the right place at the right time. Thanks to my unknown benefactor.

Back on the road to Fukuoka, encountering my first traffic jams (a bit reminiscent of the M25), to a cabin / pod type hotel near-ish the airport.

No photos from today I'm afraid. I'm still not entirely used to having the ability to take pictures right there in my pocket and I think I was focusing so much on getting my targets before leaving the island that I forgot to take any. For those interested in some non-birding Japanese culture type stuff here are photos of the authentic meals at 1 Take-san's & 2 - 4 Yuyado Daiichi & 5 cabin type hotel room - from across corridor!


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Wgen your luck is in it really is in! I hope you bought a lottery ticket that night Pete! Congratulations on three excellent birds!

Mike, my version of Brazil states on Oriental Magpie "Local and restricted range in S Japan (essentially N Kyushu), where presumed introduced in 17th/18th centuries from Korea, also recorded C Honshu and Shikoku; has recently colonised SW Hokkaido".

Thanks for the youtube link - my predilection only extends as far as the one particular girl-group and none of the boy-bands. I have to keep the crazy in check!

Thanks again Chris for the comments.

Thanks Pete

Lots of grounds for speculation/debate there! It would be interesting to know if there were records on any of the islands in the strain between Korea and Japan.

I've edited post #93 to show the correct date in the title but am no longer able to do so for post #88 which should obviously read February instead of March.

Tuesday 25th February:

The next few days had not been arranged, apart from flights, so last evening was spent coming up with a plan and booking accommodation.

Prompt departure from the hotel this morning to drop off the car. It was a bit tight time-wise between when the office opened and my flight, due to the length of the walk through the terminal, so I arrived a bit early. All was quiet with 10 minutes to go until opening time but with true efficiency the car park was suddenly open, the office fully staffed and the necessities were completed in no time. After checking in with Peach I even had time for a fast food breakfast before my 2 hour flight to Narita. As I was also leaving from this airport I had booked my last couple of nights in a nearby airport hotel, so I took the chance of getting the free shuttle bus to the hotel in the hope that I could leave a bag there to make travel around the city a bit more practical and comfortable. This was no problem for the staff so after a quick re-pack I was back on the shuttle to the airport to gain access to the railways.

It was by then mid-dayish so I decided to find somewhere to do a bit more city park birding for the afternoon. I took the Keisei line to Nippori and then the Yamanote line to Harajuku and walked the short distance to Yoyogi Park. Passing through the impressive entrance it seemed surprisingly busy for a week-day afternoon so I wasn't expecting too much but the network of paths are extensive so it was not hard to find areas with fewer people. There are a lot of very impressive trees in the park, considering it was basically started from scratch about 100 years ago, so I was a bit distracted. The upper canopies were busy with noisy crows and bulbuls, pygmy woodpecker lower down, Long-tailed, Japanese & Varied Tit in the understorey - some of the latter of which were very tame to the point of nearly aggressively being almost literally in your face. In the deep shaded area of the forest some of the thrushes were eventually pinned down as Brown-headed Thrush - unexpectedly keeping up my record of at least one lifer per day on the trip. In the more open areas Tree Sparrows were numerous in the parkland type trees and Black-backed & Grey Wagtails on the grass lawns, the latter near a small pool that held a couple of Little Grebe and a Little Egret (but not the Mandarins I had hoped for).

I had a look at the impressive Meiji Jingu shrine and the other information boards / displays around the area before exploring the paths further but adding no new species. The announcement that the park was closing came when I was at the diagonally opposite end to where I needed to exit so I set off down the main path as dusk fell. Back at the station I took the by now slightly familiar Yamanote line to Hamamatsucho and walked to Takeshibasanbashi to check out the ferry. On the trains earlier I had seen on the information screens that services on one of the shinkansen lines was at risk of being disrupted due to a typhoon but did not pick up any more details and I had wondered if there was any doubt about the ferry sailing. So it proved when I arrived at the ferry terminal where I was told that the ferry was on it's way back to Tokyo and should depart late evening as scheduled. But it may have to turn back if the conditions dictated. If it did make it to the island I was aiming for it may not be able to land, if it did it may return straight back to Tokyo or continue on to the other islands. Most worringly it was not possible to say for sure if the ship would be able to call in to get returning passengers. In the event of any of these outcomes there would be a full refund. Based on this I decided to buy return tickets. I found somewhere to eat and used the wifi to discover that a typhoon off Guam was the culprit.

The ferry turned up a bit after schedule and I spent some time I had to waste watching the cargo being unloaded, wandering around the area and wondering if I had made a wise decision. Eventually it was time to board the Tachibanna Maru and it departed on time. I checked out my little bit of second class floor space and then went up on deck to watch the city lights recede behind us. As we got further out into Tokyo bay there was less to see so after a bit of exploration I returned to my sleeping area which I had all to myself - there were few passengers and they very sensibly allocate passengers to each of the communal areas that hold ten people each rather that crowding you all together. So I was able to charge my phone and get more sleep than I had anticipated.

1. Yoyogi Park entrance;
2 & 3. Meiji Jingu shrine - a bit of a The Last Emperor vibe this time;
4. Saki barrels - as I undertand it Emperor Meiji & Empress Shoken are so revered that the nation's saki-masters donate their straw wrapped and decorated saki barrels to this display annually.


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Very evocative photos Pete - I love those saki barrels (and don't mind their contents)! Nice work on yet another Lifer!

Wednesday 26th February:

I was woken gently in the early hours by the lights coming on and then a speaker announcement. By the time I had my stuff in my bag other passengers had gathered on the disembarkation level. With the help of Google Translate I gathered from the chap behind the Purser's desk that the ship was landing at Igaya on Miyakejima rather than the usual port and was continuing on to the other islands as planned but it was still not certain whether it would be able to call back on the return leg and if so at what port. The decision was to be made about 11:00. I decided that as I had made the effort to get here I might as well get off. Once onshore my fellow passengers made for the two buses waiting and once I'd found out which one was bound for Tairo-ike we were off into the darkness.

The driver dropped myself and three others off at the relevant stop and as it was still very dark I sat in the roadside shelter for a while starting on the trash food I had with me whilst the others set off towards the lake and I heard them taping for Scops Owl. As vague signs of first light began to show I heard a Robin like song from up the steep slope close to the road but despite a search could not even see the silhouette of anything. But it made me think it was time to start a slow walk down the access road. I soon also heard the pigeon but could not locate it. Just ahead on the road three dark thrush like shapes were poking around on the road and in the leaf-litter on the verge and generally acting in a very thrush-like manner - obviously Izu Thrush but I could get no plumage details at all and hoped for better views.

It was by now getting light but disappointingly the bird song began to die away as I continued along the road down to and around the lake. The forests held Pygmy Woodpecker, Japanese Crow & Bulbul and down on the water Little Grebe and Cormorant. As I got further round the circuit the path dropped down to the lake level and went through a wet scrubby area and while watching a Japanese Bush Warbler I briefly saw a leaf-warbler and assumed it was an early Ijima's as I had read other trip reports from a similar time of year where they had been seen despite not supposedly having arrived yet. But the views were frustratingly poor and I lost it. Near the lake-shore shelter I met the other three birders there - BF member Gunnar from Sweden / Peru and his friends from Denmark and the USA - and we exchanged sightings. They also were having trouble finding the endemics / target birds but gave me some tips and we discussed the warbler. I went to one place they suggested and nearby found a small flock of Japanese Tits with a couple of very smart Owston's Tit mixed in. Further on up a dead end path off the main track I heard another pigeon and spent some time trying to track it down - how can something that size be so difficult to see!? Eventually the best I had was a somewhat unsatisfactory view of a Japanese Wood Pigeon in flight. Doubts having been raised in my mind about the warbler I checked Brazil and concluded that it had been too heavily marked for an Ijima's so I returned to the place and after some time found a small, active mixed flock of a few each of White-eye, Japanese & Owston's Tit and Grey-bellied Bullfinch (sorry again Adam) plus the mystery Phylloscopus. It would not keep still for a moment and was often obscured behind foliage and so my views were very limited but the impression was of something that was too bright for a Yellow-browed and seemed to have a central crown stripe yet not bright enough for a Pallas's and I think I would have noted the yellow rump. It will have to remain unidentified but the closest I could get was an Eastern Crowned. More frustration.

I wandered around the various tracks more, the only sighting of note being a moment when I turned randomly to see a large bird coming fast, low and very close through the trees, spotting me and doing a steep turn (almost crashing into the shrubs) and flapping rapidly away to disappear almost immediately. Given its size, shape, colour and behaviour (apparently hunting prey that I did not see) I guess it can only have been an immature Northern Goshawk. It was by then time to make my way slowly back to Akakokko-kan information centre, via a diversion along the access road and back, to try and get an update on the ferry situation. I had a look round the interesting displays while waiting looking at some great pictures of the targets I had missed! The helpful ranger came and found me once he had the information; the ferry was returning back to the same port at the scheduled time. This gave me time for a quick walk back to look over the lake, where a small unidentifiable (by me) Accipiter went high over, and once more along the entrance road before having to return to catch the bus that already contained my three fellow birders.

At the port I checked my return ticket was OK and wandered around the beach and road picking out Black-tailed, Vega & Slaty-backed Gulls in a large roost on the breakwater which also over the period of the wait hosted a Common Sandpiper, Black-backed Wagtail and a fine male Eastern Blue Rock Thrush. Two of the other birders were seeing very distant Albatrosses and seemed experienced in pelagic seabirds which gave me hope for the return trip. I have to say I was relieved when the Tachibanna-Maru appeared round the headland and headed toward the harbour. Once back on-board I probably should have watched the rocky shore-line as the we set sail but I hadn't eaten for a while so had something very nice from the galley that was ordered and paid for at a machine but cooked and delivered by a human. After eating I went up onto the best outdoor deck for viewing and met up with the other three plus a very helpful Brit living in Japan who turned out to be 'the' Chris Cook (for those on Kantori) so there were more eyes and I had yet more free guiding and identification help. There were birds everywhere, mainly Laysan Albatross but also plenty of Black-legged Kittiwake & 'Blue' Fulmar and my colleagues had soon picked out and got me onto a couple of Pomarine Skua, Black-footed Albatross and Streaked Shearwater and best of all at least two (sorry Mike) Short-toed Albatross. This continued until we passed Oshima when the activity died away so I ventured inside to warm up as we passed into Tokyo bay but returned up on deck as we approached port. What a great end to the birding day - my first ever Albatross species - despite the earlier frustrations.

Back onshore I walked to Daimon station and took the Asakusa line to Oshiage, the Narita Sky Access line to the airport, snacking on kiosk bought stuff on the way, and the shuttle bus to my hotel to be reunited with the rest of my stuff and check-in.

1. Tokyo night sky-line from harbour;
2. Tachibana-Maru;
3. Rainbow Bridge & Tokyo receding behind us;
4. Welcome return of the Tachibana-Maru.


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A nice account of the trip to Miyakejima, Pete. I did the same trip around the same time last year and saw a similar selection of birds.

One comment on your phyllosc is that the Japanese Bush Warblers on Miyakejima are much more arboreal than on the mainland and can seem very Phyllosc-like at times. I was certainly fooled by them for a bit.
Great stuff Pete, I love that first pic of the Tokyo skyline! Some great birds added too! If it's not rubbing salt in the wounds can I ask what you were hoping to see but missed?

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