31 January 2007

Lots and lots of Eagles

I took lots of shots of this Stellers Sea Eagle in Yakumo today. A nice unobstructed view and a not so shy adult to boot. Very mild weather today (with some rain mixed in with the snow-unusual in winter here). The place where we parked the car was thawing slush about 4 cm deep. I actually took over 200 shots. They were difficult to sort through as basically they were all fairly similar quality-wise. This was probably the best. Maybe.

The bird stayed on its perch over an hour before it flew down to the river to scavenge a dead Salmon. It chased away the local Crows but somewhat surprisingly was chased off by a White Tailed Eagle. Are White Taileds dominant?

Sorry if you're bored with alll the Eagle pics. Here's the last one. I have 200 on my computer.

I concentrated on the Eagles today. A quick look on the sea when we were driving up revealed the usual Ducks and stuff on the sea (the most interesting looking flocks being in places where we couldn't park). At the Eagle location I took this pic of a Brown Dipper. It seems a bit pathetic compared to the Eagles (the pic, not the bird).

I took a brief walk near my appartment yesterday and was rewarded with a flock of Bullfinch. 6 or 7 individuals. A handful of Waxwing were still about too. On Monday we drove east to Menagawa to check the Cormorants. 2 species here-Temincks and Pelagic. The Temincks is very similar to the bog-standard Great Cormorant (the same one as in the UK) but is supposed to have a greenish tinge instead of a bronze tinge (if you're close enough to see this of course). Doesn't really help with the bird in the middle the pic below does it?

Great Cormorants are supposed to favour rivers/lakes and Temincks the coast. I see Cormorants on lake Onuma sometimes. Which ones are those? Just to confuse matters Great is supposed to be absent from Hokkaido anyway. Pelagics are much easier to identify.

Other birds around near Menagawa included Japanese Wagtail, lots of Brent Goose, the usual Ducks and grebes and lots and lots of Gulls. Here's an adult Glaucous Winged Gull.

After the laughfest of Threads last weekend I now have Saw 3 and Children of Men on my hard drive to cheer me up. It's not as depressing as listening to the cricket though. Ouch.

28 January 2007

Grebes and Murrelet

A Black Necked Grebe at Shikabe this afternoon. Makes a bit of a change from Nuthatches. I saw all 5 species of Grebe in Japan today (the same 5 as in northern Europe in fact). They were all present at Kamiso this morning. Great Crested were even displaying. 4 Great White Egrets were standing shivering next to the river and lots of the usual Gulls and Ducks were around too. The above pic was taken in a fishing harbour in Shikabe. The harbour contained Goldeneye, Scaup, Red Breasted Merganser, Black Scoter and 5 Black Necked Grebe. It was extremely difficult to catch on camera and that was the best of a sorry collection. Digiscoping birds (in subzero weather) that dive every 3 or 4 seconds and can pop up anywhere is a test of chracter.

An Ancient Murrelet at a different fishing harbour a couple of days ago. This was at Moheji which is about 15 minutes west of Kamiso (which is itself the westernmost part of Hakodate). It was less active than the Grebes but still tricky to photograph. Only the 3rd Auk species I've seen around here. This particular harbour was pretty big and the Murrelet was right in the middle. Lots of Brent Goose and other common winter stuff were nearby but not in a place where we could stop.

Finished the day at Onuma where I took yet more pics of the Nuthatches. At least this one was striking a slightly different pose. There had been heavy snow at Onuma since our last visit and it's now impossible to go into the forest without snowshoes (which is normal most winters anyway). More of the usual here. Buzzard, White Tailed Eagle and a female White Backed Woodpecker were the most interesting.

The flock of Waxwing was a bit less restless on Friday. About 60-70 individuals. Mostly Japanese Waxwing with maybe 8-10 Bohemian Waxwing mixed in.

I've been downloading a few movies recently (why doesn't my ancient i-mac have a DVD writer though!?!) and watched "Threads" last night. This is a TV movie from 1984 dealing with the effects of a Nuclear War on the UK. At the time I remember it being completely and utterly shocking. Last night was the first time I'd watched it since I was in 4th year (?) at Secondary School. The special effects and dialogue early on were a bit cheesy but the second half was as harrowing the second time, even watching it on a small computer screen with a bottle of whisky handy.

24 January 2007

Stellers Sea Eagles

A Stellers Sea Eagle at Yakumo this morning. This species winters on the Yurrapu River, just over an hour north of Hakodate by car. There are usually 60-70 Stellers and White Tailed Eagles but this winter's mild weather seems to have resulted in slightly less Eagles than normal. They feed on the carcassees of the thousands and thousands of Salmon that spawn upstream in late Autumn. Last year they were not only more numerous but also much easier to photograph. The above pic was the best I could muster today. It was snowing most of the day in Yakumo and no matter where I was looking from there was always a branch or twig in the way.

Yakumo is a good place for birds all year. Upstream, in addition to the Eagles, were Japanese Wagtail and Brown Dipper. At the mouth of the river were Whooper Swan, lots of Glaucous and Glaucous Winged Gull, Slavonian Grebe and various commmon Ducks. We stopped at Onuma on the way back. Nothing terribly exciting here except more Eagles (White-tailed) and a few Smew. This is a not so good pic of a Marsh Tit.

Some interesting stuff in Hakodate last week. The snowy weather brought flocks of Dusky Thrush, Grey Starling and Waxwings. 2 species of Waxwing here-Japanese and Bohemian Waxwing. They are easy to tell part if you get a good view but very difficult if they are flying in the distance. I saw a flock on the 16th but couldn't see which kind. A better view of a flock on the 17th showed the majority to be Japanese Waxwing (yellowish belly, red spots on tail) and an even better view on the 18th showed a few Bohemian Waxwings mixed in with their congeners (plain belly, yellow spot on tail, more white on wing). I haven't seen them since. They arrive every year (or almost every year) in the 3rd week of January and hang around a few days and then disappear. Last year (which was very cold indeed) saw several influxes of both species throughout the winter. They are found exclusively in town, are very restless and perch on TV atennae on top of people's houses so obviously I didn't get any pics with my digiscoping set-up.

I also visted Yunokawa last week. This is an eastern suburb of Hakodate near the airport. It's a slightly rundown hotspring resort (there's a stinky hotspring full of captive monkeys there) but the river often has some good birds.I saw White Tailed Eagle, Goshawk, Brown Dipper, Jay, Marsh Tit, Black Necked Grebe, Brent Goose, Wigeon and Goldeneye.

I watched a torrent of that Borat movie yesterday and was trying to explain to some of the people I teach about the movie. They don't really get sarcasm here. As any foreigner who has lived here knows Japan is ripe for a Borat style movie. Large sections of Japnese society have such a low opinion of foreigners anyway and are so obsessed with their own uniqueness as a nation they'd never cotton on someone was taking the piss.

15 January 2007

Ural Owl and other stuff

A Ural Owl at Onuma this afternoon. This is presumably the same photogenic individual from last year although it seems to have moved hole at New Year. It was a bit tricky getting this pic as it was in the forest (not by the road as with the last hole) and there were lots of branches and twigs in the way. I fired off lots of shots and this was one of the clearest. It was cold and snowing which didn't help. Winter finally hit south Hokkaido this week with subzero temperatures and lots of snow. Omuma is almost completely frozen (some folks were ice-fishing).

The only ice-free part is next to the railway where the flock of 60 or so Whooper Swans gather each winter. Swans are usually elegant graceful creatures but not today. They are fed daily by an old lady and this is a photo of their feeding frenzy.

Like Vultures scrabbling round the bloody still twitching corpse of a Cape Buffalo. Lots of Mallard with them as well a few Tufted Duck, Coot and Little Grebe. Common Buzzard and White Tailed Eagle were also around. In the forest there were the usual small common woodland birds including this Nuthatch.

At Kamiso the river was pretty quiet. Most of the Ducks seem to have gone south (although there were still quite a few Goosander and Scaup/Goldeneye were common out at sea). 7 species of Gull were resting at the rivermouth and 4 species of Grebe were offshore.

Birding has been pretty quiet the last 10 or so days in Hakodate. The car was temporarily unavailable and the wintry weather didn't motivate me to go anywhere other than just walking up and down the small river near my flat. I manged to get some fairly good stuff with nothing more than my old cheap 'n' nasty 10x25s in my pocket. 2 Night Heron yesterday were the pick and in the last week or so I've also seen Thayers Gull, Brambling, Hawfinch,Daurian Redstart, Brown Dipper, Coal, Great and Varied Tits, Nuthatch, Pochard, Goldeneye, Goosander, Grey Heron, Dusky Thrush, Peregrine and Sparrowhawk plus all the commoner stuff.

Bad week for Liverpool and England's winter tour just gets worse and worse.

4 January 2007

Early winter birds in Hokkaido

A quietish start to 2007. I gave up listening to England's pathetic efforts in the cricket and went to Onuma for the second time in 2 days. Yesterday I had seen a few Smew but it was too dark for a decent pic we returned today to the same place to try again. The smew had gone but there were 2 Geese. 1 Whitefronted and 1 Bean Goose together. Grey Geese are pretty scarce down here in southern Hokkaido (they tend to bypass the region on their way south in autumn) so to see 2 different species together was pretty impressive.

Not much else of interest in Onuma today or yesterday. Pick of the rest was a lone White Tailed Eagle. Today was a bit chilly but yesterday was very mild and the lakeside was prettty busy which limited photo oppurtunities. This is a pic of Mt Komagadake. An semi-active volcano that dominates the lake.

Fancy a whaleburger?

"Kuzira" (sic) is Japanese for Whale. This restaurant is a well-known chain in Hakodate and is a pretty bizarre experience all round. A new out-of-town branch opened a couple of months ago and is handy when I go birding in Onuma or Yakumo.

It's a distictly Japanese take on the classic American burger bar. You can get normal(ish) burgers as well as whale, squid, shrimp and various other local favourites. 50's pop blares out. You can watch Japanese people eat squid pizza with chopsticks whilst listening to the Everly Brothers and contemplating your own burger dripping with nameless sauces that you wouldn't really expect to see on a burger. Still, it's cheap.

At Kamiso a couple of days ago most of the birds from Jan 1st were still present plus 2 Great White Egret, 2 Glaucous Gull and a 1st winter Glaucous Winged Gull.

Yesterday's Smew defied my attempts to get a nice pic but this photo at least has a bit of character. A yawning immature (or female?) Smew with a couple of Tufted Ducks for company.

1 January 2007

My new blog

This is my new blog from Hakodate in northern Japan.It's mainly about birds in case you hadn't guessed.

A very tame Varied tit on my wife's hand at Onuma this afternoon. Onuma is about 30 minutes north of Hakodate by car.This is one of a group of forest birds that feed in a clearing in the forest. 3 or 4 Marsh Tits and several Eurasian Nuthatches join the Varied Tit and readily hop into any hand holding sunflower seeds. They also buzz around my head and perch on my Scope. This is a digiscoped pic of the Nuthtach. Last month's Nuthatch pics were much better alas.

Also around in the forest were Treecreeper, Great Tit plus Great Spotted and Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker. The lake was mostly frozen. A few Goosander plus the regular flock of Whooper Swans were present.

The day started at Kamiso, a suburb in the west of Hakodate. The river mouth here is good for seawatching. Usually there are lots of Ducks on the ocean but today there were only a few Scaup, Goldeneye and a lone Red Breasted Merganser. Lots and lots of Grebes though. Great Crested (rare up in Hokkaido), Red Necked, Black Necked and Slavonian were all bobbing up and down on the waves. The river itself held a few more Ducks. About 30 Goosander plus all the common winter Ducks of this part of the world (basically the same as northwest Europe), 3 immature Whitefronted Geese, a lone Whooper Swan and several Grey Heron.

This winter has been extremely mild (no snow in Hakodate and only slush in the countryside) and evidence of the strange weather was on show in Ono, an arable farming area between Hakodate and Onuma. We noticed lots of Crows on the telephone wires. Hundreds of them. On further inspection most of them appeared to be Rooks (a very scarce bird in northern Japan). These are fairly common winter vistors in southern Japan but I've never seen any in Hokkaido. They were joined by 4 Daurian Jackdaws. I've never seen any of those anywhere.

Whilst I was taking some bird photos at Onuma my wife wandered off into the forest to a tree which is known to house a Flying Squirrel. She took this pic and then came dashing back for me and the Scope. By the time I got there it had gone. You have to say it's pretty cute.

This is a map of Hakodate. In the middle of the town you can make out a park with a river just to the west. I live near that park and the unassuming urban concreted river is the "core" of my local patch. The green peninsula to the south is Hakodateyama, a low forested mountain/cape that is excellent for birds but is currently snowbound. It's about an hours walk from my flat. To the east you can make out the airport in Yunokawa, a hotspring suburb of Hakodate and an ok place for birds (I once saw a Hoopoe there). On the far western side of the photo you can see a river in Kamiso (or Hokuto as it has now been renamed). The mouth of the river is consistently good for birds too (American Wigeon is the rarest I've seen here). Onuma and Yakumo, 2 other places I often visit are to the north of the city and not on the map.

My 2006 blog can be acessed via the link on the right.

I'll be watching live football tonight and drinking red wine before my diet starts in earnest tommorrow.
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