15 November 2007

Winter came. And a new lens too.

Winter 2007/8 came last night to SW Hokkaido. Snow flurries were in the air and the tops of the hills were white and frosty.

That was the only blue sky in the last week. Rain and sleet then snow. We spent last night at Lake Toya, a hot spring resort 2 or 3 hours drive from Hakodate. We stopped at Yakumo en route. Still only a few Eagles and none of them posing for photos. I did see 1 new bird though. Crested Kingfisher on the river. I only saw it for about 5 seconds. A big pale bird flashing in front of me. I got my binoculars on it, it dived into the river and flew off downstream. Other stuff on the way included Whooper Swan, Great White Egret, lots of Gulls of 7 species with the brilliant white second winter Glaucous Gull being the easiest to identify from a speeding car.

Lots of Black Necked Grebe on the lake were the main birds of interest at Toya. The hotel was the usual hot-spring type. OK room, edible food and a free spa. I have a new lens, the Canon 70-300 IS. I didn't really have much chance to try it out until I got back towards Hakodate. The Scaup at the top of this entry were in 1 of the fishing harbours that proliferate along the coastline here and back at Onuma the cold weather meant the Nuthatches and Marsh Tits were looking for food and very tame again.

The lens is sharper and the IS means I can use much slower shutter speeds (though of course this is no help if the birds are active) and get acceptable shots in gloomy light like this afternoon. This will be my last optical purchase for a while.................. well until next year's interest free installment plans anyway.

Also around at Onuma were lots and lots of Dusky Thrush and Oriental Turtle Dove feeding on all the berries, some Treecreepers and a Goldcrest that buzzed around my head and perched on my hat but didn't stay still enough for a photo.

The nasty weather meant absolutely no shots from Toya so here's a trusty one of Mt Komagadake at Onuma in a rare break in the clouds.

Nothing much in Hakodate since my last entry.......... the Night Herons were still around a few days ago when I last checked and a Brown Dipper has been making daily appearances on the river near my flat.

The weekend should see England put out of their misery by Russia in Israel. Of course I hope we squirm through but I'm assuming we won't. The last time we didn't make a final was the World Cup in 1994. I can remember watching that game against Holland in Rotterdam on my portable TV in my crappy flat in Finsbury Park. Dodgy home favouring ref that night the same as in Moscow (yes I know England have had dodgy decisions go in their favour too but this isn't the time for such level headedness). And then that game in San Marino while Holland were getting the win they needed in Poland. Awful night and now it's happening again. Sometimes I wish I was from a small country that never qualifies for anything. Something like the Faroes or Malta maybe. Then I could just relax, enjoy the games and not care who was playing and never agonising over my country not being there in the finals.

If Israel win I'll convert to Judaism. Perhaps.

After the rare Crane last week there were some more rare birds around Hakodate. If you check out Sato's blog linked on the right you can see pictures of Laysan Albatross with Mt Hakodate in the background. Taken from the short distance ferry from Hakodate to the top of Honshu. Apparently there were FIFTY of them. It's only a 1 hour ride........ and he also got South Polar Skua. Plus a Whiskered Tern alighted on the boat! If I was a twitcher I'd be gutted by the Crane/Albatrosses............. but I'm not a twitcher so it doesn't hurt. Well only a little bit.

I downloaded all the John Peel festive 50's from 1976-2004 last week and put some tracks on my ipod. I enjoyed the Black Keys, old New order and Joy Division stuff, the White Stripes and an old fave of mine, Loop. I'd forgotten what a turgid load of crap the Smiths were (none of their songs made it onto the ipod). And all that sensitive indie-rock like the Wedding Present sounds crappy now. 'Preposterous tales' by I, Ludicrous made me laugh though. That song had slipped out of my memory banks long ago.

Around November 15 down the years:

1985 (Nov 16). A Little Owl near my parent's house plus 16 Whooper Swans as a flyover.

1994 (all November) Cooktown Australia. I was working in north Queensland in the somewhat remote backwater located at the site where Cook first made landfall. What a weird 5 or 6 weeks I had there. I was painting the exterior of the Motor Inn. I had no experience of painting and decorating and was hired on a whim by the new owner of the Motel after we'd got drunk and stoned one night.

Cooktown is an odd place. Only 3 pubs. My favourite was the West Coast. Friday nights were wild........ the aborignes from the nearby reservation poured into town to spend their dole money on booze. They arrived Thursday and were gone Saturday every week without fail. I remember line fishing off the pier watching tropical storms in the distance and hiring small boats to go off into the mangroves. One time we saw a huge saltwater Crocodile sunning itself on the bank. Every evening thousands of flying foxes flapped over the hotel going god only knows where. Mango trees were everywhere and the aggressive green ants that lived in them were the bane of my life. Swarming over my sandfly decimated legs whilst I was atop a rickety ladder in the tropical heat.

There were some seriously odd people in Cooktown, People on the run from the law, complete social misfits, alcoholics, druggies, hippies, rednecks. I liked it. The person I was painting the hotel with had run away from home (he was about 18) with a suitcase containing a change of clothes, a pump action shotgun and a rifle. He'd been refused entry into the Australian army for reasons he refused to elaborate on. There was also an ex sailor with a posh accent who was named Cook. Captain Cook. Honestly I'm not making this up. He was over 60 and mentally ill and had run off from his young Asian trophy wife, stopped taking his medication and was drinking very heavily and shacked up with a toothless old aborignal hag in the room directly below mine. His family eventually came and picked him up.

I drank a lot of VB and smoked a lot of dope whilst watching England get thrashed in that year's ashes series. Despite the cricket it was one of the happiest times of my life. Birds? Lots of them. Off the top of my head I can recall lots of waders in the mangroves (actually the same ones I see on passage in Hokkaido...............probably even the same birds or their descendants-Grey tailed Tattler, Eastern Curlew for example), the noisy Pheasant Coucal hiding near the pool, White Bellied Sea eagles and Brahiminy kites always overhead, Crested Tern, mangrove kingfisher, Torresian Imperial Dove, Mangrove Kingfisher, the Rufous owl swooping around the pier at night and lots and lots of other stuff.

1995 (Nov 11/12) Ribble at Penwortham. Lots of waders including 80 Dunlin and a single Golden Plover. And a Peregrine.

1998 (mid November) I was in Varanasi India. If i thought Cooktown was weird it had nothing on Varanasi. I travelled across the border from Nepal to India and all the worst cliches of travelling in India happened to me. I got ripped off by the bus driver's heavy mob, got sick and in fact lost my voice (a nasty case of laryngitis which had started whilst I was trekking in Nepal) and arrived in Varanasi at dawn and didn't get to the hotel i wanted to because of some bullshit from the taxi driver that I couldn't be arsed dealing with in my fragile sate. Varansi was a pretty interesting place if you could ignore the people trying to con money out of you and the stupid Euro-hippies that infested every cheap hotel like bedbugs. I hired a boat and went out on the Ganges at sunrise. Here's a crappy scanned photo from that morning 9 years ago. The beautiful early morning light, cremations, riverside temples, people bathing in the filth of the river. An extraordinary place.

I saw the biggest cockroach I've ever seen in my hotel room and the bastard could fly too. Ever seen David Kronenburg's "The Naked Lunch"? That's what this monster reminded me of. The hotel staff were some of the shadiest people I'd ever met. Still sold me some weed mind. Egyptian Vulture, Rose ringed Parakeet, Red Whiskered Bulbul and House Swift are the only bird entries from that time in my birding logbook.

2001 (Nov 17). Yakumo. Lots more Eagles than there were today.

2005 (Nov 16). Also at Yakumo with Eagle numbers similar to today (ie less than 10). Also 9 Great White Egret and the usual Gulls and Ducks.

2006 (Nov 12) Onuma. After a lots of looking I got my first (semi) local Black Woodpecker. Seen loads of them there since of course. 1 year ago today (the 15th) we were at Yakumo yet again with about 20 Eagles (with 8 Stellers) and 13 Egrets this time.


  1. have you changed your name to Joshua Goldstein then

  2. I'll wait until after Wednesday...............
    I did say 'perhaps'.


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