25 June 2007

Life in a Red Cheeked Starling colony

Had a bit of free time this afternoon so I checked the local river and Red Cheeked Starlings were everywhere. The male is a beautiful bird but I haven't really been able to get a decent shot with my DSLR. Today's were an improvement on previous efforts at least. They do spend a lot of time hidden in bushes though. Better than the ones I snapped up on the wires which were all predictably poor.

The females are pretty drab.

But like females everywhere they do all the real hard work when it comes to their offspring.

And here is a young one stepping out on the sidewalk. ISO was a bit too high on this pic alas.

Not much else about. Oriental Great Reed Warblers were still singing (at least 6 territories on the 1 km or so i walked down this afternoon) and this Bull Headed Shrike was watching the Starlings. Another crappy pic of a bird on a wire.

24 June 2007

A few crappy pics of roadside birds

Some Asian House Martins nestbuilding around the lights at one of the local filling stations (or gas stands as they're known here). Lots of young birds around recently. Red Cheeked and Grey Starlings, Black Backed Wagtails, Spot Billed Ducks, Carrion Crows, Bull Headed Shrike and Oriental Great Reed Warbler have all seen with youngsters on the river near my flat.

Not much in the way of birding the last couple of weeks. I had an attack of gout. My father (and his father before him too) have it and it looks like I'll have to get used to it as I get older. Too much oily fish (which is supposed to be good for you FFS) and beer in 2007. Fish is a big thing here and I've been eating a lot of Sanma recently. Dunno the name in English but it's similar to sardines. My mother-in-law cooks it wonderfully in a sauce made from soy sauce and sweetened sake. Guess I'll have to cut down. The fish that is. Beer is a different story.

A lot of my recent pics have been snapped from the passenger seat of the car. Common roadside birds are Siberian Stonechat, Black Faced and Chestnut Eared Bunting, Bull Headed Shrike, Red Cheeked and Grey Starling and (in the right habitat) Oriental Great and Black Browed Reed Warblers. The problem is that they're usually perched on wires up above meaning it's very hard to get a good shot if they're silhouetted against a pale sky. I could get out of course but then of course they'll fly away. So here's a selection of crappy roadside birds. The first 2 are pretty poor and no amount of editing can rescue them. The Shrike isn't so bad maybe.

Summer is the slowest birding time around here. It's so overgrown everywhere, the weather is starting to get muggier and in a week or two the birds will stop even perching on overhead wires and get down to the serious business of raising families. And no football on TV. And I'm temporarily off the beer too because of the aforementioned gout. Thank god for torrents then. I watched 28 Weeks Later last night on my PC. A bit crap I have to say. The first movie, 28 Days Later was much better. The follow up was obviously aimed at the US market. American characters and lots of chase and action scenes. One absurd scene with a helicopter pilot mowing down the infected 'zombies' with his helicopter blades was one of the most unintentionally funny things I've ever seen in a movie. And tonight? Scarface extended edition? Greek myth type nonsense in 300? Blake's 7 season 2 episode 8?

Here's a nice summery scene from near Onuma this afternoon that kind of reminds me of Europe.

And here's a 'castle' at Matsumae. Whilst it looks moderately interesting it is, in fact, a fake. The real castle burned down sometime last century. It is however the only vaguely historical Japanese architecture in the whole of Hokkaido (except for a few wooden houses from late Victorian times dotted about). Locals flock there in May to 'view' the cherry blossoms in the castle grounds.

Around June 24 down the years:

1985 (from June 25th). A post O level trip to NW Scotland with my dad and old birding pal Alban. Loch Garten, Insh Marshes, Rhun, Mallaig etc. Birds included Crested Tit, Osprey, Hen Harrier, lots of seabirds including Storm Petrel and Red Throated diver and several White Tailed Eagle too.

1987 (June 27). A 'big day' in Lancashire. Only 86 species. I think we were a bit hungover when we did this and gave up in the afternoon sometime.

1989 (June 22). Very hot summer and I went down to London to work in the long summer vacation between my second and third year at University. I stayed in Ilford/Leytonstone and didn't see many birds except for Great Crested Grebes dodging the rats in Valentines Park.

1990 (June 19-23). Ullswater. Camping with a friend after we'd finished our finals. We stayed near Glenridding, took various intoxicants sitting in front of the tent and did basically nothing. We managed to watch the England v Egypt World Cup game in the nearest pub and another night laughed as we listened to the radio as Scotland went out in the first round yet again. Sobering to think Italia '90 is probably the closest England will get to winning the World Cup in my lifetime. Birds? A male Pied Flycatcher was the only thing worth mentioning. A few days later I graduated and the rest of my life started.

1995 (from June 29). The Isle of Skye. Camping with an old friend named Jon. Surprisingly hot and hardly any midges. A memorable drunk and stoned night in the bar at the Sligachan was one of many highlights. Clifftop camping at Elgol was also very mellow. Why don't I do this kind of stuff anymore? The travelling not substance abuse I mean. Summer plumage Golden Plovers were the birding highlight. This was one of the best holidays in my life I have to say. Here's a pic of me with the Cuillins in the background.

I got that white T shirt at a Bongwater concert sometime in 1991(?) when I was completely wasted and decided that a tenner was a reasonable price to pay for a Bongwater t shirt (that was a lot of money for a T shirt in 1991). It was however my favourite T shirt but like so many things from that time it's now gone forever.

1999 (June 23). I arrived in Japan. I stayed in the crappiest city in Japan. Iwaki. I hated it. I mean really hated it. The city, the job, most of my co-workers, my flat, the weather. There was a river that I birded halfheartedly but it wasn't the best season. Osprey, Fan Tailed Warbler and Little Egret were the only things of interest. I'm sure it would have got much better from autumn to spring but I never got to find out as I transferred to Hokkkaido ASAP and life got better very quickly.

13 June 2007

Summer stuff

A Little Ringed Plover Plover near Yakumo this afternoon. 2 adults with 2 youngsters in tow. It was rather warm today and the migration season has come to an end. Birding becomes fairly predictable from mid June in these parts. I did however discover adult Little Ringed Plovers can run faster than a car doing about 10 km/h.

We did a grand tour of Oshima today. First up was Asabu where there were lots of singing Oriental and Black Browed Reed Warbler, Chestnut Eared Bunting, Common and Oriental Cuckoos plus Siberian Stonechat. These birds are common pretty much everywhere across the region in summer. I got a Caspian Tern here last June but nothing quite so good today. An Oriental Honey Buzzard was the bird of the day en route to Yakumo. Yakumo had similar stuff to Asabu including several singing Grays Grasshopper Warbler and a few lingering winter ducks (including Scaup and Pochard). Ospreys were fishing in the river but too far away for a pic. Here's an Oriental Great Reed Warbler instead.

We finished at Onuma where the forest gets more amazonian every passing day. Several biders were waiting for the Ruddy Kingfishers to come back to their nesthole for the evening but there were too many bugs about for my taste. Dunno what this butterfly is (Swallowtail?) but it is something to photograph when there are no birds about.

Or I could try reptilia.

Lots of dead snakes on the mountain roads in summer.

I got a new bird last week. Little Cuckoo. I'd familiarised myself with their call and one was calling in the trees outside a friend's place where we were having a barbecue. It eventually flew off and allowed a brief view after my seventh beer. Oriental and Common Cuckoo were also singing. The next day at Menagawa there were TWO Little Cuckoos. A Hawfinch at my friend's feeder would have made a great pic if it hadn't been so late (ie it was getting dark and I'd already gotten drunk).

Some common roadside birds.A Chestnut Eared Bunting and some Stonechats.

So the footy season is over. Wonder if England will make it to Euro 2008? They'll have to win their 3 home games before they head to Moscow...............

I've been catching up with some of the torrents I've downloaded this spring. Blakes 7/Shameless/Dead Man's Shoes and Hot Fuzz have been the entertainment chez nous this week. I'd forgotten what a sarcastic bastard Avon was. And Hot Fuzz and Dead Man's Shoes offer somewhat differing vies of smalltown England.I missed Shameless (well I do live in Japan) the first time round.

Around June 13th down the years:

1987 (June 17th). Just after my A levels. Oh life was so easy then. St Bees Head and Leighton Moss. Shag, Fullmar, Gannet, Rock Pipit, Guilemot, Razorbill, Black Guilemot, Marsh Harrier and Reed Warbler.

1992 (June 16th). A 'big day' in Norfolk. Not very well planned and we failed to get 100 but still managed 3 lifers at the time. Barn Owl, Stone Curlew and Avocet. Also around were Bittern, Bearded Tit, Garganey, Little and Sandwich Tern, Egyptian Goose and Turtle Dove. One of only 2 visits to East Anglia in my life and my only visits to Cley and Titchwell.

1997 (June ?). A massive 5 day drinking binge in Prague. I was living in Munich at the time. Prague seemed a bit rundown after Bavaria or maybe I was just hungover the whole time. I lost the photos of this trip when I left Germany. Birds? On the bus back to Germany I saw a pair of White Storks atop a church in a quaint village somewhere in the Czech Republic.

2003 (June 15). Hakodate. An Intermediate Egret on the river near my flat.

2006 (June 18). Asabu. A Caspian Tern. Apparently a first for Hokkaido but I have no photo as proof. But it was. Oh yes.

6 June 2007

Ruddy Kingfishers

I watched and photographed a pair of Ruddy Kingfishers at the nesthole today. Just off the road that skirts around the lake at Onuma. Quite a gathering. About a dozen or so photographers with an astonishingly large and expensive set of lenses. I actually digiscoped these images and my set-up looked pathetically small compared to some of the monsters perched on the various tripods assembled. The birds were very co-operative although any nesthole action was too quick for my digiscoping set-up (the birds were too far away for my cheap 300mm lens to get any decent shots). It was difficult to get a shot of them together. This was the best I managed.

It's been raining and thundering all day but I could get the Kingfisher shots in a small 2 hour rainless window. The forest around Onuma now is a mosquito infested riot of jungle-like green. Less than 2 months ago it was devoid of any leaves at all and had snow on the ground!

It was strange to do digiscoping again. Compact cameras have improved since I bought my set-up. More megapixels, faster shutter speeds etc. My humble 4mp one has fallen a bit of a way behind but there's no way I can update it after splashing out on the DSLR. Still, I'm reasonably pleased with today's photos even if the mosquitoes were pretty aggressive.

I was concentrating on the Kingfishers at Onuma but there were also Japanese Grosbeak, Treecreeper, Narcissus Flycatcher, Sand Martin, Brown Thrush and the usual common stuff around. The weather was great up until yesterday but I was a little birded out after the east Hokkaido trip. Only common stuff around my apartment including Oriental Great Reed Warbler.

These are very common summer visitors and can be heard noisily singing from pretty much any scrubby area near water. On the crappy river that flows through town near my flat there are 6 or 7 territories and they are abundant over at Yunokawa.

A Black Kite at Kamiso last Sunday. Not much else here........except more Oriental Great Reed Warbler of course.

So it's Estonia v England tonight. I'll probably watch it live on my PC (delayed transmission only on satellite TV here). It's morbidly fascinating watching just how bad England have been the last couple of years. Such a collection of highly paid superstars playing like a team of hungover Sunday morning park footballers who have only just been introduced to each other.

Around June 6th down the years:

1983 (June 5th) Ribble at Penwortham. 3 immature Little Gull flying upstream.

1989 (June 10th). Ribble at Penwortham again. Start of a really hot spell. Typical summer stuff included Cuckoo, Sand Martin, Common Tern, 3 singing Corn Bunting, Yellow Wagtail, Partridge.

2003 (June 4th) Japanese Green Pigeon and Arctic Warbler at Mt Hakodate were 2 species that brought up my 100 on my first yearlist in Hakodate. The next day at Yunokawa there was singing Black Browed Reed Warbler amongst other stuff.

2004 (June 9th) A barely glimpsed lifer at Yunokawa. Grays Grasshopper Warbler. Surely one of the most difficult birds to see in Japan.

2006 (June 5th) A very late second summer Glaucous Gull at Kamiso.

2 June 2007

East Hokkaido Trip 2007 #2

We got up early on the 3rd day to check out the woods near Furen-ko. The woods at Shinkunitai (sp?) are currently inaccessible (a storm last year blew trees onto the boardwalk) so we went to a different location just a couple of miles away. It was a great location. If you could imagine a perfect forest this would be it. Tolkienesque and full of birds. Japanese Robin were abundant s were Eastern Crowned and Sakhalin Leaf Warblers, Bullfinch, Red Flanked Bluetail, 5 species of Woodpecker including White Backed and this male Black Woodpecker.

As difficult for a novice like me to get a decent pic of as the ones at Onuma. Why can't they be as easy as this Coal Tit?

We then headed north up to Shiretoko via Notsuke-hanto, a well known coastal spit. Very handy for pics of Japanese Crane and White Tailed Eagle.

There were also quite a lot of waders around. Eastern Curlew and Mongolian Plover (in summer plumage) were new for the trip but surprisingly I didn't see any Redshanks (this being one of the few places where they breed in Japan). I saw lots last year here . Actually there were far fewer birds than last year (it was a week earlier though plus wthe previous winter had been much colder than this time round). In 2006 there were huge rafts of seaduck offshore of 6 species. This time there were only a few small groups of Scaup and Black Scoter. Much nicer weather in 2007. We walked down to a popular tourist attraction. Some dead trees. And they looked just like dead trees. That was 40 minutes of my life I'll never get back.

We the headed up to Shiretoko for 2 nights camping. It was here things began to go awry. It was because of these animals.

The campsite was ok. It was actually only a few hundred yards away from where we'd seen several Brown Bear last autumn. The campsite was protected by a rather flimsy looking electrified fence (a smart bear however could just amble up through the main entrance). It didn't stop the deer though. And here lieth the problem. After quite a lot to drink my wife saw some deer at night and came running over to tell me. Unfortunately she tripped over the guy rope and broke a small bone in her ankle (we only found the latter fact out today). That severely curtailed any activity for the rest of the holiday. I have to say it's getting funnier now I look back on it. Blame it on those deer.

This deer looks like a kangaroo.

Birds around the campsite included more Woodpeckers (Black being the best), Woodcock, lots of White Rumped Swift, the ultra cute Hokkaido race of of Long tailed Tit as well as the common Warblers and Flycatchers. Several White Tiled Eagle flew over and at night we could hear an Owl (Ural Owl I think).

Shiretoko is a beautiful place and is (almost) unspoilt. It's better in autumn scenery wise though.

Amazingly a river in Japan with no concrete in view.

Whilst in Shiretoko we went to Tofutsu-ko. This is a lagoon supposedly good for birds. Several White tailed Eagle were here, a few Long tailed rosefinch plus a smattering of the commoner Ducks and waders. We were too early for one specialty (Middendorf's Warbler), another specialty doesn't seem to occur anymore (Yellow Breasted Bunting) and I couldn't find the other 2 (Yellow Wagtail and Lesser Spotted Woodpecker). There were lots of Black Browed Reed Warblers everywhere.

And that was it for birding. The weather closed in and next day we headed south in rain and heavy fog to central Hokkaido. We stayed one night near Minami-Furano (in a log hotel with the best food I've eaten in Japan) and drove back home the next day. Just 150km from Hakodate this happened.

A puncture. Thank the lord we had joined JAF (Japanese Auto Federation) last week. A man came and fixed the wheel and we got back late last night.............

1 June 2007

East Hokkaido Trip 2007 #1

A reflection of me in a horse's eye in Hidaka.

We drove over to East Hokkaido on Sunday May 27th. The weather was lousy most of the day unfortunately. Not much to see early on except the numerous Ospreys fishing on every river. We stopped at Mukawa near Tomakomai. This is an estuary well known for waders. Rather typically for Japan the pools that the waders and wildfowl all congregate on have been drained. There were still waders around though including about a thousand Red Necked Stint, many coming into summer plumage. Other waders included Dunlin, Whimbrel, 7 Bar Tailed Godwit (a Japanese first for me), plus the inevitable Grey Tailed Tattler and Little Ringed Plover.

A Lathams Snipe. One of the commonest roadside birds of the trip (along with Stonechat and Bullheaded Shrike) with a display flight and song that has to be witnessed to be believed.

We headed east after Mukawa, saw our first Japanese Crane of the trip and camped at Urahoro. Actually we really didn't camp as such. We rented a tiny bungalow as it was pouring down. The weather cleared and it was absolutely freezing at night (it was 1.5 degrees celsius). The campsite itself was pretty good for birds. Specied we saw here included Siberian Blue Robin, Brown Thrush, Eastern Crowned and Sakhalin Leaf Warblers, the usual common Tits and Nuthatch, Narcissus, Brown and Blue & White Flycatcher, Hawfinch and Oriental Cuckoo.

In sunny weather we headed eastwards after bagging our first White tailed Eagle of the trip to Cape Kiritappu. This is one of several well known capes in east Hokkaido. There used to be Tufted Puffins nesting just offshore but I think these are long gone. A male Siberian Rubythroat was singing just behind some unused fast food stands in the carpark. Despite there hardly being any bushes it was still amazingly difficult to get a decent shot.

A Peregine came and caught a small bird. Stonechat, Black Backed Wagtail, Japanese Skylark and Reed Bunting were all common and one of these probably perished.

The Cape was a pleasant place to visit and the scenery was dramatic.

But also a bit reminiscent of a Hitchcock movie.

Just next to the cape was a small lagoon that had several Falcated Duck. Here's a crappy pic.

We finished the day out at Furen-ko. This is a well known birding spot and we stayed at Takeyoshi Matsuo's lodge at the lakeside. Actually he wasn't present but his helpful and friendly wife was. We just had time to pop out and see the sunset after seeing some of the common local stuff.........such as Japanese Crane.

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