28 February 2007

End of Winter. Sort of.

A Varied Tit at Onuma this afternoon. Could have been a great pic if the head had been in focus rather than its back but you can't have everything. The usual stuff at Kamiso, Yakumo and Onuma today. All the common Ducks (12 species including large rafts of Scaup on the coast and the first decent size flocks of Black Scoter this winter) and Gulls (7 species with lots of Glaucous and Glaucous Winged) were present at the usual locations, a few Grebes (mostly Black Necked), an unidentified Diver way out at Kamiso plus the usual woodland stuff at Onuma and river stuff at Yakumo.

There was a Peregrine (at Kamiso) but only a few Eagles around. Maybe the mild winter has meant they've headed north a little earlier than normal. 1 adult Stellers and half a dozen White Tailed were all we could find at Yakumo and at Onuma there were 2 White Tailed and an immature Stellers which was sitting all by itself in the middle of the still frozen lake. Here's the best of some lousy Eagle shots. A rather small and weedy looking White Tailed at Yakumo.

This is a Black Kite. The commonest raptor by far in Japan. An abundant resident. Some folks are trying to make this into a separate species (is it the Black Eared Kite? Something eared anyway).

I remember the first time I saw one of these. Somewhere in central France from a TGV window in April 1983. I've seen many since. Lots in Queensland and Kathmandu (where they seemed the commonest bird) and now here in Japan. It's easy to get blase about them. A pair were doing a courtship display flight above my flat last week..........and I was more interested in a distant Hawfinch.

A pic of me hunched over the Scope at Kamiso this morning. There is some minor construction work going on here as there is at Goryokaku Park. This park, near my flat, is (or rather was) a nice little place that is usually good for birds at this time of year but is now basically a construction site (they're building a replica fort for literally millions of $). And there is nobody doing any actual work. Nobody. Just guys napping in trucks or sitting around all day in heated prefabs eating instant noodles and chainsmoking.

It wouldn't be a day out without a Nuthatch pic so here we are.

Around February 28th down the years:
1984 (Feb 25-27). My first trip to East Anglia. Not the tickfest I'd been expecting at the time. 4 lifers. White Fronted Goose at Minsmere and Brent Goose at Felixstowe Ferry (where my friend lost his boot in the mud). Redpoll and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker at Strumpshaw Fen.

1995. (Last week Feb). I was trekking in the Langtang region of Nepal. Quite an experience. From jungle to Snow, Yaks, exhaustion, stunningly beautiful views and about 10kg lost in weight. I didn't have a decent fieldguide and was too kanckered most of the time to even think about getting my bins out. I did see some nice birds however. Best of all was Lammergeier but others I remember were Black Faced Laughing Thrush Spotted Forktail, Brown Dipper, White Capped River Chat, Plumbeous Redstart, Hill and Snow Pigeons, a very colourful gamebird that may have been an Impeyan Pheasant, lots of Tits including Green Backed and Red Headed, Chestnut Bellied Rock Thrush, Whistling Thrush, Red Billed Blue Magpie, Red Billed and Alpine Choughs, Pied Bushchat and lots of Finches/Babblers/Warblers that I never did ID. This is me at the end of the 8 day trek smoking some local produce.

I need to go trekking in Nepal again. Both times I went I lost loads of weight and had a great time. I don't even smoke tobbaco anymore though.

1999 (Feb 27). Brighton. A Yellow Legged Gull out of my friend's window. I think. Bit of a heavy weekend I recall.

2003 (Feb 28) Hakodate. Male Crossbill singing in the aforementioned Goryokaku park.

2005 (Feb 27th) Hakodate. Good day in Yunokawa. Long Billed Plover, Brown Dipper, Yellow Throated Bunting and Buff Bellied Pipit.

21 February 2007

Eagles on the ice

Not as good as the Eagle pics a couple of weeks ago but a bit more atmospheric perhaps. An adult Stellers Sea Eagle standing on the ice at Onuma Lake. Although still wintry at Onuma there are some ice-free patches showing on the lake and in amongst all the Corvids were 1 or 2 Stellers and 3 or 4 White Tailed Eagles. The usual common woodland species. Nuthatch, Great, Varied and Marsh Tit, Dusky Thrush, Great Spotted anmd Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker. Yet more pics from the regular group of tame individuals.

My wife snapped this whilst wandering off in the forest. Heavily cropped and zoomed but not so bad for a 100 quid digicam.

We started the day off in lousy weather at Kamiso. The local council are doing some construction work next to the river (why? they have to spend their budgets and provide enployment for unemployable types who need sake/cigs/pachinko money by doing useless projects that wreck the environment even more). Crappy weather meant we didn't hang around for long anyway. 4 Great Egret, a few Grey Heron, Glaucous and Glaucous Winged Gull, Black Necked Grebe plus a few common Ducks were present.

Here are a couple of shots from the end of the day at Onuma.

I'm just debating whether or not to get up early to watch the Liverpool game vs Barcelona. I flicked between the Man U and Arsenal games early this morning (with French and Dutch commentary). Hardly worth getting up at 4.45am for..........will Liverpool be any different?

Around Feb 21st down the years
1986 (Feb 21) Penwortham. A male Siskin in the garden.

1987 (Feb 21) Pilling/Leighton Moss. The first 7 or 8 months of 1987 saw the only twitching I've ever done (this is because I can't drive more than anything). A SNOW GOOSE at Pilling was the bird me and friend (he drove a Mini at the time) twitched. Oh and nice view of a Bittern at Leighton Moss later too.

2006 (Feb 22) Hakodate. Smew plus all 5 species Grebe at Kamiso.

18 February 2007

Another quiet week

No digiscoping at all for a while. Just a cheap camera in the pocket. This is not a good photo by any means but at least it shows (just about) the wing pattern of the Thayers Gull on the river near my flat this afternoon. The other odd looking Gull (the taimyrensis) has upped and left it seems. Another very mild day and I walked down the river to the Pacific Ocean (the words sound much more exotic than the reality). Brambling, Siskin, a male Blue Rock Thrush, 5 species of Duck including a male Pochard, a Daurian Redstart, plus some Scaup and Merganser on the sea were the noteworthy species.

I didn't do much birding last week. Although this winter has been extremely mild last Wednesday certainly wasn't. Horizontal snow/sleet/rain and high winds made birding impossible. A good friend of mine drove us to Yakumo as he wanted to see the Eagles. We saw some but as even getting out of the car was an ordeal photos were out of the question.

I just ordered a new lightweight tripod for my lighweight second Scope so on these frequent carless days I may get out and do some digiscoping on the hoof(the bigger scope/tripod combination is a bit of a pain to carry around all day).

I'd like to introduce 2 other good friends of mine. Mr Sapporo and Mr Nikka.

In my late 30's my drinking has stabilized and has become very predictable. These are my 2 current drinks of choice. Lager style beer (which I got a taste for in Munich. How I miss thee Augustiner Edelstoff), in this case Sapporo Black Label and 12 year old (blended) Malt Whisky. Back in the early 90's when I was living in Finsbury Park I remember my Friday night ritual. 4 big bottles of Pilsener Urquelle, 1 cheap bottle of white wine (usually Frascati-yuk) and several fat joints in front of Friday night comedy like Fantasy Football, Frazier and Father Ted. Saturday nights were down the pub of course (we used to favour the Mitre Tavern on Upper Street which had lock-ins). Oh happy days.

Around Feb 18th down the years.

1984 (Feb 18) Penwortham/Longton Marsh. Mixed flock of 77 Whooper/Bewicks Swan, both species of Partridge, 80 Dunlin, 6 Snipe, "000's" of Wigeon and Teal, 1 dead (!) Kittiwake.

1995 (Feb 17). Arrived in Nepal for a month long stay. A bit hazy on the exact details here but my first new bird was a Magpie Robin on the 18th. Here's a photo from that exact same day in Kathmandu.

I fell in with 2 Californians and a German hippy and we got wasted the first night.

2004 (Feb 19) Hakodate. Yellow Throated Bunting, flock of Brambling, Goshawk and Varied Tit all near my flat.

2005 (Feb 18) Hakodate. Male Merlin seen out of my window.

2006 (Feb 18) Hakodate. Peregrine also seen from my window.

11 February 2007

A quiet week

A pretty quiet (carless) week. The weather feels more like late March than early February. Most of my birding has been done on the river near my apartment.A female Merlin chasing a flock of Japanese and Bohemian Waxwing was the most dramatic sighting. The Waxwings have stuck around for a couple of weeks now (if it's the same flock). Other birds I got were Brown Dipper, Japanese Wagtail, Sparrowhawk, Varied Tit, Bullfinch, Hawfinch, Pochard and other common Ducks, lots of Dusky Thrush, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Nuthatch, Daurian Redstart plus the usual stuff present in winter. I was looking for Common Crossbill and Yellow Throated Bunting which are sometimes present at this time of year but I couldn't find any.

I walked down to Cape Tachi-Machi on Wednesday. This is a windswept Cape jutting out into the Tsugaru Straits and pretty much the southernmost point in Hokkaido (actually it isn't but anyway...). Here's a pic to give you an idea.

You can't really make it out on this pic but there are lots of Cormorants on those rocks (Temincks and Pelagic Cormorants) and many were coming into summer plumage. Not much else on the sea at all depite the fact it was calm and clear. Brent Goose, Red Breasted Merganser, Goldeneye and Glaucous Winged Gull were in the nearby harbour. The Cape is at the foot of Mt Hakodate. The forest that covers this modest hill is great for birds (especially in spring and autumn) but it's usually snow and ice-bound in winter. Not so this year. I walked around the foot of the mountain and although the forest was a little quiet I got Siskin, Nuthatch, Japanese Pygmy and Great Spotted Woodpecker, Goldcrest and Willow Tit.

Apologies if the following doesn't make much sense. The photos are crappy. No digiscoping-just taken with the point and shoot compact and heavily cropped and zoomed.

One confusing thing from the week was Gulls on the local river about 20 minutes walk from my apartment. This one is a Thayers Gull. Larger white-headed Gulls have been split into many many subspecies over the last dozen or so years and the whole situation is very confusing. Note the thin bill, blackish eye and "dainty" appearance. In flight its wingtips show very little black. It's basically a small "Herring" type Gull from the north Pacific that is rather scarce in Japan in winter. The actual normal "Herring" Gulls here are reckoned by some to be a separate species in their own right and go by the name of Vega Gull and are common winter visitors. There were several Vega Gulls around among the resident Slaty Backed Gulls and the thing that struck me when I was watching them is that they are so variable anyway. One had very similar size/shape to the Thayers Gull but had the "fierce" yellow eye and black wingtips in flight of the Vega (or Herring) Gull.

This one I'm not sure about. I put it on birdforum and kantori to get some expert opinion. I suggested it may be a Heuglins Gull (another Asian Gull that used to be considered a subspecies of something else-Herring again perhaps or was it Lesser Black Backed or Yellow Legged Gull? God knows). The consensus seemed to be it was a taimyrensis type. That means it may be a race of Heuglins Gull (which may or may not be a separate species) or it may be a hybrid of Vega/Heuglins or...........anyway it has yellow legs so it's probably not one of the regular Vega (Herring) Gulls.

I wrote the above partially to make sense of it to myself but I'm just as confused as ever.

I watched "Children of Men" and "V for Vendetta" last week. I like these depressing dystopian movies (and books). It makes the real world seem not so bad after all. Children of Men was the better movie. Those scenes in London of the shabby people, crappy cars, garbage strewn streets, non English speaking refugees, morons chucking bricks at public transport and the general feeling of hopelessness took me back to my early 20's. I was a Social Worker in Hackney in the early 90's and all the elements I just mentioned were present every time I beat the streets.

Around Feb 11th down the years:

1983 (Feb 13th). Marshside. Short Eared Owl, Merlin, Hen Harrier and "lots of Geese and Ducks".

1986 (Feb 12th) I walked down to Longton Marsh on the Ribble Estuary. The weather in my notebook was "bloody cold". Not much. 20 Whooper Swan, 114 Golden Plover.

1987 (Feb 12th). A LAUGHING GULL at Newcastle. I went to the University for an open day before my A-levels and picked this (at the time) great rarity up behind the Hospital. I recall thinking what a dump the area was (Fenham). I actually ended up living there 18 months later.

1995 (Feb ?) On Feb 11th I was on Ko Phan Ngan recovering from Dengue Fever. I'm, sure this was retribution for all the dope I'd been smoking. Can't remember any birds....a kind of Bee-eater perhaps. The 90's were a bit of a black hole in my life. I had been on a hike the previous week and I'm sure that's where the little bast#*d mosquito got me). This is a pic from that very same hike.

1999 (Feb 12th) A walk down the Ribble at Penwortham. Moorhen, Wigeon, Grey Partridge, Redshank, Curlew.

2004 (Feb 11th). Hakodate. Black Scoter, Peregrine, Buzzard, Brent Goose, Hawfinch and Long Tailed Rosefinch.

I didn't do much birding/take notes for various periods especially from my University/London years and my later travelling years. I could have got a huge list from all the exotic places I went to but most of the time I didn't even have binoculars let alone a field guide or I was stoned lying on the beach or in some fleapit "hotel".

5 February 2007

Brent Geese

This afternoon we drove east towards Menagawa. Mildish weather returned. Brent Geese were everywhere (the subspecies nigricans I believe). Common winter vistors to southwest Hokkaido it seems every small inlet/fishing harbour has its own small group of Brent Geese.

The above individuual was fairly easy to photograph but once they get onto the sea it becomes pretty hard.

I remember the first Brent Geese I ever saw. Felixstowe ferry in Feb 1984 (?). Me and a friend were actually looking for a Red Breasted Goose that was with the Brent Geese flock. I was 14 or 15 years old. We tried to get nearer the Geese but my friend somehow managed to get stuck in the mud and the suction when I tried to pull him out claimed one of his Wellington boots. We were both covered in oily foul smelling mud at this stage (although I at least had a full complement of footwear). We had to walk back into town to meet our lift covered in mud and with only 3 shoes between us. On a Saturday afternoon too. The Red Breasted Goose wasn't there of course.

Not much else of interest. The usual Cormorants, common seaducks including Harlequin Duck, Glaucous Winged Gull, Whooper Swan, Japanese Wagtail, Slavonian Grebe and a distant Diver (which I watched for about 5 seconds as we awere waiting at some roadworks) that was probably a Pacific Diver.

The roadworks allowed me to fume and rant about the absurd employment of useless retirement age men waving red batons to ask us politely to slow down/not to crash into the roadwork crews.

4 February 2007

Woodpecker, Waxwings and Harlequins.

Yet another Eagle pic from the other day. This was actually taken with my second camera-the Nikon Coolpix P4. It's not so good for digiscoping to be honest and I've gone back to my old Coolpix 4200 (which has half the megapixels, a much smaller LCD display yet is a better camera). Anyway the odd shot from the P4 is ok and at 8mp at least the pics can stand a bit of cropping.

Here are some pics from a very wintry Onuma this afternoon. Great Spotted Woodpecker, Marsh Tit and Nuthatch.

This is a pic of the frozen lake.

Normal winter weather finally hit today. Nothing terribly interesting about this afternoon. The usual woodland species and raptors and nothing much on the coast either. The 3 White Fronted Geese were still at Kamiso. Last week in Hakodate I managed to snap this shot of 2 Japanese Waxwings near my flat. Only a handheld shot (no scope of course) and heavily zoomed/cropped but here you are.

The yellow markings and red tail spot are diagnostic (Bohemian Waxwing lack the yellow on the breast and have yellow spots on the tail and different wing markings). The one on the left appears to be an immature. These were the only Waxwing around last week and most of them appear to have upped and left town. They were in a tiny park about 2 minutes walk from my flat. I've seen lots of good stuff in the park (which is hardly bigger than the average garden from upper middle class folks in the UK) and last week there was Varied Tit, Daurian Redstart, Coal Tit, Dusky Thrush, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Sparrowhawk and Kingfisher (on the adjacent river). Some winters there are also Crossbill and last winter I got Whites Thrush there too.

The fishing harbour near Mt Hakodate is often worth checking out and last Thursday I had a quick look. Black Necked and Red Necked Grebes, Red Breasted Merganser, Brent Goose, Glaucous Winged Gull, Pelagic Cormorant and Harlequin Duck were all present. The latter species seem almost impossible for me to photograph well. I don't know why but my camera seems to hate them. These 2 were the best of a bad bunch.

I just downloaded lots of Aphex Twin stuff. About 5% is fantastic, 15% so-so and 80% unlistenable. Current faves on my ipod include "California Bound" by Frank Black and "Smile" by the Beta Band. My fave Aphex Twin track appears to go by the name "4".

Bad result for Liverpool last night. Quite funny to see Lehman's histrionics in the Arsenal game though.
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