So 2007 has come to an end. Not a terribly eventful year in my life. I.........errrrr.......let me think........didn't really do much at all.
We bought a tent and had a couple of camping trips (and next summer we'll do a lot more hopefully). And oh yeah I bought a new camera. We also bought a pet Clownfish and a small saltwater tank which now seems to have lots of creepy things living under the rocks and coral.
Here are my 10 favourite photos from the year.
I started off the year digiscoping. A Nikon 4200 Coolpix attached to a 65mm Pentax Scope with a 12mm eyepiece. Too slow for most stuff but not so bad for birds that stay in the same place for a while. Like this Stellers Sea Eagle at Yakumo. I'm quite proud of this picture, hopefully next week I can get some more. This is undoubtedly the best bird of the region. I saw my first one last century. New Years Eve 1999 to be exact, from the bus on the way to Sapporo before a marathon drinking session (for those that know and are impressed by such things I had THREE nomihodais that night).
This Peregrine Falcon was at Cape Kiritappu in east Hokkaido in late May. The nicest new place I visted in 2007. This was with my new camera, the Canon EOS 400D with a crappy Sigma 70-300 DG lens. I'd had the camera a couple of monmths and had taken a few ok shots and by May I realised I couldn't really use it above 250mm or with an aperture bigger than F8. Good light helps too. This trip to East Hokkaido was cut short when my wife tripped up over the tent and broke her ankle..........she can laugh about it now at least.
My digiscoping gear staged a comeback in June with the Ruddy Kingfishers at Onuma. They were very co-operative and sat still for 5 or so minutes within 20 metres, ideal for my set-up. In August we went back to photograph the young leaving the nest but the murky light in the overgrown forest was too much for my ancient compact digicam. I upgraded to a Finepix F31FD, which I haven't really used for digiscoping yet. Hopefully they'll be back next summmer.
There was an influx of Red Necked Stint at the end of August, they were everywhere with a flock of 30 or so at Kamiso. This was my fave shot. My wife took a better one I'm sorry to say which I'm too proud to post. This was with the Sigma cheapie but luckily the Stints were fairly tame and I could get within 5 or 6 metres.
Black Crowned Night Herons and Nuthatches were the most photographed species of the year. Lots of Night Herons on the local river in autumn. Annoyingly there was always a branch or reed in the way when they were just sitting meekly minding their own business but I was pleased with this flight shot. Even with the slow AF of the Sigma.............though the high shutter speed helped of course. This (late October) was the time I stared shooting exclusively in RAW.
It took me ages to get a decent Harlequin Duck picture. This male near Menagawa in early November was my first 'keeper' of this species. I had to clamber over slippery rocks but the one winged moulting bird just stayed on its' tetrapod ignoring me.
In late November the first snow came (and it was much much colder than now for some reason). I also ditched my Sigma and got a Canon 70-300 IS lens. Much better than the Sigma, the IS is a godsend and the optics are much sharper right up to 300mm. This Hawfinch was also very photogenic.
Life is either feast or famine. A few days after getting the new lens I met Franck, a French expat living 3 hours drive from Hakodate. Astonishingly he lent me the Canon 100-400 IS lens until next March (he uses the serious stuff, a 500mm F4 monster of a lens). This Varied Tit and Nuthatch were at the usual place in Onuma in late November. Perfect light helped with these shots................it's a great lens.
This Kingfisher was on the river near my flat in early December. Very co-operative, this was probably the best shot. I usually use the 70-300 lens as my walkabout lens but on this day I had the 100-400. The Kingfisher stayed for about 10 days and then bu**ered off somewhere else.
So what else happened in 2007? A shi**y year for sport. England flopped badly again in the footie and cricket. I'm not really a Rugby fan and can't take solace in that (and anyway they lost the final). Liverpool? Still a great cup side but after watching Arsenal demolish Everton the other night (and the Man City draw last night) we aren't going to catch them or Man U this season in the league that's for sure. Regular readers to this blog (all 10 or 11 of you) may recall my deep depression after the England v Croatia game. The pain decreases but the pessimism about the immediate future of English football remains (both club and international). It has sold its' soul. Still, only a game eh?
2008...........Capello will be interesting and should drag England back to their rightful place as mediocre underacheivers who can't take penalties under pressure in knockout games (as opposed to outright failures who don't even reach knock-outs at the moment). Rafa should get rid of Kewell and Kuyt and buy another striker and central defender and hope Man U/Arsenal both somehow implode in the New Year. Flintoff will hopefully be back next summer and have a couple of series to rebuild his form before heroically reclaiming the Ashes in 2009.
Birding? I didn't keep a year list this year. I did see a few new birds though. Daurian Jackdaw, Little Cuckoo, Broad Billed Sandpiper, Mugamaki Flycatcher, Crested (or is it Pied?) Kingfisher were my only lifers but I did add quite a few to my Japanese/Hokkaido/Hakodate lists., for example Long Tailed Duck and several common waders made it to my Japanese list, Japanese Accentor and Russet Sparrow to my local list.
I actually found that I'm as interested in taking pictures of common birds as I am in seeing new ones these days. I don't have the concebntration and fanatical attention to detail to make me a really decent birder (female or immature Buntings, phylloscopus warblers when they're not singing and just flitting around in the bushes, briefly glimpsed raptors, distant offshore Shearwaters.....all beyond me ID-wise). I'd never have made a twitcher either. Plus I don't drive and am completely out of the loop on rarity news anyway. I missed a nearby Siberian Crane, I heard about it a week later in the local paper.
Targets for next year? A few common birds are still missing from the list of birds I'd expect to see around here. Siberian Thrush is one. Several Species of Owl. Jungle Nightjar. Various seabirds and still a few common waders have eluded me in Japan. Photo-wise I'd like to get the local Waxwings. 4 out of the last 5 winters there have been loads of them in Hakodate, arriving in the 3rd week of January. Some decent Eagle shots would be nice too before I have to give Franck his lens back......that'll be a bit of a wrench!
I'm visiting England in late March and am really looking forward to it. I haven't been back since Xmas 2004. It's been too long. I hope to show my wife the city where I went to uni, Newcastle. I haven't been back since the year after I graduated (1991). We're also planning a big round Hokkaido trip in mid June (when England won't be playing in Euro 2008). If you're reading this and thinking about burgling the house, don't bother. i have nothing worth nicking. The only valuable things (my camera gear and my wife's laptop) won't even be there. And we've trained our Clownfish ('Hank') to viciously attack intruders and to show absolutely no mercy. You've been warned. I'll also have accumulated enough airmiles for me and the wife to actually fly somewhere decent.................Delta you'd better not go bust next year.
I'll be 40 next autumn. 40, with no savings to speak of, no real career, no investments, no house. Mid-life crisis here we come! Or maybe I'll reinvent myself next year. I'll, er, think about that next week.
I actually met 3 people through this blog. The aforementioned Franck, a group of British and American birders on a north Pacific cruise in May and a former resident of Hakodate with her English partner in September. All nice people, the internet isn't so bad after all. Mind you I did get some abusive weirdo spitting bile after I made some tongue in cheek comments about people on remote Scottish islands...........oddball.
If you look on some of the blog links on the right you can see several Japanese blogs (Brabirds, Kochan, Totori Ring, Greenfinch) that generally have outstanding professional level photos. Carmo Police, an entertaining read, written by an Irish expat in Osaka (who regularly leaves comments here-thanks!) has similarly excellent photos. I have something to aim for next year. Mo San and Sato San are 2 Hakodate based birders who I often see out and about and their blogs are also well worth checking. Sato San's has excellent photos from around Hokkaido (I think he's some kind of professional naturalist type) and Mo San's is apparently very funny, if you read Japanese that is. The Hiroshima blog is written by a very knowledgable expat English birder though it hasn't been updated for ages. Other blogs in Sri Lanka, Iceland and Thailand are all very interesting to read too...........
I have software to check which country vistors to this blog come from. Over 80% of hits are in Japan, most of the rest are in the UK/US and lots of random visits from around the world and I appear to have one loyal reader in Belgium. So whoever you are in Belgium thanks for visiting..............
So Happy New Year to you all. I'll be getting drunk at the in-laws tonight, it's snowing outside...........I can't be arsed going out today.