30 July 2007

Hirundines and Chats

We went back to the road station at Kuramatsunai to take pictures of the (Barn) Swallows on their nests but instead got some Asian House Martin chicks only a few feet away from their hirundine cousins. At least 4 in the tiny nest and they appeared almost full-grown. The parents wouldn't feed them if I stood near the nest so I fired off a few shots and let them be.

They seem to breed earlier than the Swallows who didn't appear to be feeding any young yet.

It was a bit chilly down at Yakumo. Not much around here. A female Eastern Marsh Harrier seen from the car window was the bird of the day and there were the inevitable Ospreys fishing on the river and the Heronry was as busy as ever (no decent place to take photos though). These Stonechats posed fairly nicely for the camera.

We finished the day at Onuma. The Ruddy Kingfishers appear to have moved away from the nest (less photographers around and those that remained were a few hundred yards down the road). I could hear an unfamiliar bird song in the forest. A repeated two phrase song. I checked it when I got back and I think it may have been a Siberian Thrush. I've never seen one before (and the forest is so overgrown I don't think I could have located it even if I'd tried). Actually it's the only relatively 'common' passerine likely to occur in south Hokkaido I've yet to see.

After my problems the other day I ordered a new compact digicam. The Fuji Finepix F31fd. It seems to be rated very highly both as a point and shoot and also for digiscoping. Only 100 quid for camera/spare battery/1GB memory card.

Only 2 weeks until the footie season starts. Skyperfect TV (the satellite station here) haven't confirmed they're showing the Premier League yet! Of course all Celtic games are on (they have a Japanese player)............imagine if they have Scottish football but nothing from England. My god.

27 July 2007

Ruddy Kingfishers leave the nest

One of 3 Ruddy Kingfishers to leave the nesthole for the first time this afternoon at Onuma. And they had an audience.

I don't know what all that gear is worth. A lot I guess. My own set-up looked feeble compared to it anyway. We arrived about 11am and I couldn't get a decent spot to stand........there must have been 25 or more photographers there. I had to stand on the other side of the road. Not a vintage day for pictures despite firing off several hundred. Alas my ancient compact digicam doesn't focus quickly enough or shoot enough frames per second for decent pics. These were at the nest.

My wife had slightly better luck using the DSLR with these 2 pics.

Oh for one of those expensive SLR lenses. Or a better more modern faster digicam. The best pics of the day where of one of the youngsters just before they left the nest. A frustrating day.

This bird hung around near the nest whereas its sibling hung around on a branch in the distance.

They were both fed several times by adults but things happened too quickly for my antique gear. Red blurs were all I could get. This was the best I could muster.

If anyone reading this is very rich and wants to make someone really really happy I want one of these.

Well at least a new compact digicam from Santa won't break the bank. I'll put it on the list.

Hot hot hot and the Moon

I was a bit bored tonight so I took some photos of the moon through my scope. 46 pics and they all look the same. Not great but not awful either. Of course I'm in the middle of town too. Hey the moon moves during the 10 seconds timer.

Rather hot the last few days. Birding in town is very predictable. The Bullheaded Shrikes have fledged and here's a youngster.

There seem to be more of these this year. At least 2 separate families in the mile or so stretch on the local river. The Asian House Martins have also fledged. Familiar problems of birds silhouetted against the sky plus the darn things fly so fast.

One thing I've noticed about standing around in summer on the grass is the extraordinary number of ants everywhere. If you stand still for 30 seconds they swarm all over your feet (not nice when you're wearing shorts and sandals). I don't think they actually bite but they must secrete something or other as my feet are still itchy. Here's a Carrion Crow taking advantage of the ants.

My camera lens has a supposed 'macro' function. I've been trying to snap a few photos of bugs and the suchlike. Here's some kind of butterfly. And a bee in a flower.

On the subject of bugs I'll be visting the mossie infested jungle at Onuma trying to get some Ruddy Kingfisher pics over the next few days. The young have hatched. I got some great pictures last year. I got bitten to death getting those shots though.

Not up to too much recently. Watched a bit of Blake's 7 burned onto a CD, followed England v India on the radio, read Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, got drunk last night on beer and cheap sake, cooked some fried noodles with garlic sprouts, green peppers and pork, dreamed about purchasing expensive lenses and got depressed about approaching my 39th birthday.

22 July 2007

Mothra outside my front door

A very tame Swallow sat atop a drinks vending machine last week. They were nesting in a service station type area about 2 hours north of Hakodate. A couple of great photo opps of Swallows atop nests were wasted as I messed around trying to get decent settings in macro mode.

Another poor attempt at macro photography was this thing.

Dunno what kind of Moth this is but it's been sitting motionless on the walkway in front of my apartment door for the last 24 hours. If I had a decent macro lens and could be bothered setting up the tripod I could have taken a much better picture. But it's only a moth.

Big ba*#ard though.

It was warm and humid today after 2 weeks of grotty weather . Not much bird activity recently. The Shrike families have fledged. The Oriental Great Reed Warblers have stopped singing. We drove to Niseko last week and this was (until today) the only blue sky I'd seen in ages.

Not much of interest at Onuma last week except mosquitoes. And more lotus.

I watched Japan beat Australia in the Asia Cup last night. Eerily reminiscent of England. Out on penalties in the QFs. I also started and finished the new Harry Potter book. Not that I normally read kiddies books of course. It's my wife's anyway. Last week I had a few days off but had a cold plus the weather was lousy so I caught up with some downloaded stuff on my hard drive. League of Gentlemen seasons 2 and 3.

Around July 22 down the years:

1984 (July 21/25) Penwortham. Corn Bunting, Bullfinch, Spotted Flycatcher were among the (then) common stuff around. 1984! Liverpool League and European Champions. England losing 5-0 to the Windies. A lifetime ago.

1987 (July 25) Seaforth. 8 Gull species including my first ever Med and also Little Gull and Kittiwake. Plus Curlew Sandpiper, Black Tailed Godwit and Ruff.

2001 (July 19-) Rishiri Island in north Hokkaido. We climbed the big mountain on the island (it was brutal). Japanese Accentor and Black Woodpecker were the highlights. Lots of strange stuff singing in the forests near our campsite that I now know to be Siberian Blue and/or Japanese Robin. From the ferry there were Short Tailed Shearwater, Fulmar, Rhinoceros Auklet and lots of Red Necked Pharalope.

2002 (July 26) Leighton Moss. First visit to this well known Lancashire spot for many many years. LOADS more birds than I remember. We only went to that small hide near the saltmarsh and there were 10 Avocet as well as Dunlin and Black Tailed Godwit. I can remember going to that hide in my youger days and there being literally nothing to see. A quick look at the huge Gull colony on Walney later on freaked my wife out.

2006 (July 26) Yakumo. Early wader passage included Red Necked stint, Dunlin, Greenshank and Eastern Curlew. Also around were Osprey, a few summering Scaup, White Throated Needletail and the usual summer passerines

13 July 2007

Shrikes and other stuff

There are 2 or 3 pairs of Bullheaded Shrike breeding nearby. These are pictures of a female only 2 or 3 minutes walk away. Very skittish and nervous and actually quite difficult to approach. Earlier in the week the weather was fine and sunny with lots of blue sky-ideal for snapping pictures of birds atop bushes.

The more boldly patterned males were much less accomodating and didn't pose for any nice pics.

The last few days have been cool and rainy. Not much of interest around my flat. A few Grey Wagtails are on the river, presumably this summer's immatures from further upstream. Oriental Great Reed Warblers are still singing and Red Cheeked Starlings are flying everywhere in small noisy groups. Last weekend I went to Yunokawa. The usual stuff was around including a family of Stonechats. Here's one of this year's fledglings.

And that's about it. I see Liverpool are buying loads more foreigners. No footie on TV now so I've been watching a few movies. On TV 'Planet of the Apes' (the recent remake) was a waste of 2 hours of my life (plus I found the fact one of the apes clearly fancied one of the humans just a little disturbing). 'Dog Soldiers' was better but got deleted off my hard drive immediately after watching. I don't need to see it again. I now have 'League of Gentlemen' seasons 2 and 3 to watch (I've never seen them).

Here's a picture to show how silly Japan can be. Bet you didn't know trashcans have an intelligent sense of humour.

Expats in Japan see this kind of random mangled English all the time. Nobody who makes or uses these products can actually understand English so any gibberish is ok. My personal fave is a savoury snack reveling in the name of 'homo sausage' which I found in a convenience store when I was living in Iwaki. Last week I saw a typical sour faced Japanese retiree walking down the street with a T-shirt boldly declaring 'I scored last night'. Dunno if he meant with a chick or he got a bag of weed. On the links to the right there's a site called 'engrish' which is full of this kind of stuff.

6 July 2007

Quiet summer days

So I've been reduced to snapping pics of flowers now. It'll be bugs next probably. I have no idea what kind of flower this is or even if it's 'wild'. It was growing next to the local river anyway. Not much new in the way of birds about recently. It's been raining the last couple of days and my big toe on my right foot has been feeling a bit gouty again. We went back to Onuma again a couple of days ago as my wife wanted to see the baby Moorhens again.

And see them we did as well as young Coots, Narcissus Flycatcher with young, Osprey, some unidentified Cormorants roosting out in the middle of the lake (Great? Temincks?), Oriental Cuckoo and some of the commoner woodland resident species. Woodpeckers, Tits etc. I took my first Nuthatch pics for a while. Not the tame sunflower seed-eaters from winter but rather this one beating the f#*k out of some poor catapillar.

A bit hazy and over cast. Spring or autumn is better for pics of Komagadake.

Although all the decaying waterlilies (or is it lotus?) tend to turn half the lake into green slime in late autumn. Still at least they're still nice to look at now.

The Red Cheeked Starlings and Bullheaded Shrikes are as busy as ever on the river near my flat. I wish I'd worked out how to take a dcent shot of a bird outlined against a the sky. Even photoshop can't solve everything.

Around July 6 down the years:

1987 (July 4) A Little Egret at Freckleton. This was still a pretty scarce bird 20(!) years ago. Now apparently there's loads of them on the Ribble. I saw my first one in Penwortham in 1999 just before I came to Japan. in 2002 I visted a friend down in Devon and they were everywhere.

1987 (July 7-) A post A level 'lads' 2 week holiday to Mallorca. Great fun at the time but of course I cringe at the thought of visiting those kinds of resorts now. Lots of drinking and visting crappy Euro nightclubs, an embarrassing misunderstanding with a predatory elderly German homosexual (luckily I could still run quite fast in those days and used this ability once it finally dawned on me why he was buying me drinks) and a handful of new birds too. Audouins Gull was the best one (seen flying over our hotel), also Woodchat Shrike, Thekla Lark, Short toeed Lark and Sardinian Warbler. Here's a pic of me 20 years (and 20Kg) ago in Mallorca.

1996 (July 6-) Orkney. A 1 week camping trip to the Orkneys. The most northerly place I've ever been. I loved it. Even though it was barren and windy. No real darkness at night time in summer of course. Perfect for getting stoned outside the tent after returning from the pub in Stromness. One memorable day we walked miles and miles around all the neolithic sites and the most spectacular sea cliffs I've ever seen. Of course I moaned I was tired but I handled the Great Skua bombings better than my friend Jon. Finished up at Skarra Brae, the oldest 'village' in Europe. Some nice birds. The crossing was great (after a night's boozing in Thurso) with more seabirds than I've ever seen. I seem to be using the word 'ever' a lot today. Close views of Puffins and other alcids, Great and Arctic Skuas, colonies of Arctic Terns, Dolphins, Seals............and a night on the town in Edinburgh on our return to civilization.

2002 (July 10-) Yet another camping trip to Scotland, this time to Skye with my wife as part of our honeymoon (we did make it to Greece and Malaysia too). Very wet on the island and the midges were really bad too. We went to the same places as I had visited several years earlier. Birding highlights were the usual seabirds (lots and lots of Manx Shearwaters I remember), Grasshopper Warbler and Twite. The weather improved when we returned to the mainland at least.

2006 (July 5). Onuma. My first glimpse of Ruddy Kingfisher at Onuma.

Not too sure about the signing of Torres. Still he's got to be better than Bellamy for dressing room morale.

Food of the week has been fried tofu stuffed with shitake mushrooms, Japanese basil and cheese. And tinned pineapples and/or fresh strawberries for dessert.

Song of the week has been on my i-pod has been 'place to be' by Nick Drake.

TV shows of the week have been Shameless (season 3) and Blakes's 7 (season 3 sans Blake of course). Who's cooler? Kerr Avon or Frank Gallagher?

1 July 2007

Pictures of Lily. And an Osprey.

We nosed around a corner of Onuma this afternoon. Waterlilies have taken over large portions of the lake and Moorhens poke around with their chicks.

Moorhens are a little scarce in Hokkaido, much more so than in the UK. Lots of small bird activity in the undergrowth at Onuma but no real photo ops. The usual cluster of birders with absurdly expensive wide aperture lenses were waiting for the Ruddy Kingfishers to return to their nesthole. I however couldn't be bothered braving the mosquitoes.

I could have done with an absurdly expensive lens earlier at Yakumo. Bright bright midday sunshine washed out my digiscoped Black Browed Reed Warblers and Stonechats leaving me with a camera full of crap pics. The DSLR shots were better but 300mm is not enough reach for skittish songbirds. The Grays Grasshopper Warblers were as skulking as ever.

An Osprey was fishing in the river. More incompetent camera work here. Not adjusting the settings after the Warblers I didn't have it set at a high enough shutter speed for action shots. Anyway here is a sequence of shots of a distant Osprey diving in the river and catching a fish.

Not much around Hakodate this week, Pacific Swift and Peregrine being the most interesting...........
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