29 March 2007

New camera, old birds

I finally got my telephoto lens on Tuesday evening. On Wednesday me and the wife headed up to Lake Toya (a hot spring resort about 2 or 3 hours north of Hakodate). We first visted here back in 2000 a couple of months after the local volcano (Uzu) blew and the town had had to be evacuated (those moronic guys with red batons had a field day).

These are some of the pics I took of the tame Nuthatch/Tits at Onuma. Not drastically different results from digicoping but so much easier to set up. I just take my camera out and start snapping away. Of course I'll still digiscope for long range subjects. I have to work out what all the settings and controls on my (D) SLR actually mean. I just set it in continous shooting in the apperture control and fired off several bursts and hoped for the best. Less post shot editing than digiscoping though.

Signs of spring were around yesterday and today. Woodpeckers drumming and Swans honking. These swans at Yakumo give me a hint of what my new camera may be capable of. Heavily cropped and very heavily edited but quite effective.

A Barn Swallow was around at Yakumo. Very early indeed. Japanese Skylark were singing, Spotted Redshank and Ruff were passing through, Oriental Turtle Dove had returned from the south of Japan and there were huge numbers of Duck on the river and offshore (15 species in all). Best of all was a male Long Tailed Duck mixed in with the Black Scoter. A Japanese first for me. I was checking the Scoter flocks for White-Winged (I couldn't find any) and was delighted to find the Long Tailed..........a common bird in northern Japan but one that had eluded me up to now. Lots of Glaucous Gull looking brilliant white in the spring sunshine plus various Grebes and Divers too far out to ID. 1 adult White Tailed and 1 immature Stellers Sea Eagle were at Onuma, a Great White Egret was at Yakumo, Mandarin Ducks had returned to Onuma and a lone Mute Swan was on Toya.

This is a view from my hotel window. I'd stayed at this hotel in 2004 with my parents. In high season the buffet was great. In low season it isn't.

And this is the same mountain up a bit closer. Mt Yotei. I've actually climbed it twice. Japanese Accentor at the top both times plus my first ever Red Flanked Bluetail.

Thank god I missed the England debacle in Andorra. I think this will be the first time in ages they'll miss out in qualifying for a major tournament. Like USA '94, Euro '84 and Argentia '78. I can remember all of them. It's painful being an England fan. Since beating Poland in 2004 I can't recall a single decent England performance.

Around March 29th down the years:

1984 (March 29th) Penwortham. 2 Long Eared Owls (found by a reader of this blog in fact). Still the only ones I've ever seen (they stuck around a while). 2 days later they were still there along with Whooper and Bewicks Swan, 50+ Black Tailed Godwit and 20+ Golden Pover.

1988 (March 29th) Seaforth. 1 adult Med Gull.

2004 (March 29th) Hakodate. My first ever Ural Owl. Dramatically pursued through temple grounds by 50 hysterical Crows.

2005 (March 30th). Hakodate. A HOOPOE flapping around in the sleet on the rugby field at Yunokawa. Very strong westerlies had presumably blown it over from the Asian mainland. A Rhinoceros Auklet was at the Cape on the 31st.

25 March 2007

So I got a new camera but..............

I bought my DSLR last Monday. A Canon EOS 400D to give it its' European name (it's called the "EOS Kiss Digital X" in Japan). I got the standard 18-55mm Kit lens and ordered a cheap and cheerful 70-300mm Sigma telephoto lens to start taking bird pics. Annoyingly the big lens hasn't arrived yet so I haven't been able to take any decent bird pics yet. I've been chomping at the bit. The Night Heron stayed until Monday and this pic (with the standard lens) popped the camera's cherry. If you look very closely you can just about make out the Night Heron.

And heavily cropped on my PC here's the same pic. Definitely a Night Heron.

And extremely heavily cropped.

Of course the pics of the same bird with the cheap compact and tiny Scope from last week were much better. But that's not the point. Anyway the bast#*ds had better deliver my big lens before I start my 5 day break on Wednesday.

Birds this week in Hakodate included the first returning birds from southern Japan this spring. Grey Wagtail on the river near my house. Also 3 Night Herons flying over my flat. The Red Necked Grebe passage is in full swing offshore. A flock of 12 Japanese Waxwing were pressent today (and close enough to have managed a nice pic with my undelivered lens). Here's a couple of crappy pics from the week (handheld compact against tiny scope). Dusky Thrush and Blue Rock Thrush.

I stayed up until 5.30am (!) watching England's turgid display in Israel. It wasn't on live in Japan so I watched it via an internet feed from China (with Chinese commentary and a tiny picture). At least Kenya didn't knock us out of the cricket.

Here's a pic of me looking pensive at karaoke. I hate karaoke. I only went because it was my wife's birthday. She refuses to let me post pics of her online so you can't see her with mic in hand belting out classic J-pop anthems.

Around March 25th down the years:

1983 (March 25th). Hodder Valley. Goosander, Grey Wagtail, Willow Tit, Kingfisher and Dipper. Very similar (almost identical in fact) birds to what I've seen here in Japan this week.

1999 (March 27th). The grand total of 31 Oystercatcher in Penwortham.

2004 (March 24th) Hakodate. Whooper Swans flying north over town. Grey Headed Woodpecker, Treecreeper, Siskin and Brambling.

2005 (March 27th). Glaucous and Glaucous Winged Gulls on the river near my flat. Also Red Throated Diver offshore and Common Guilemot at the local cape.

18 March 2007

Black Crowned Night Heron

I took a walk down the river near my flat and the same Night Heron was still there. I decided to go back and get my small 50mm Kowa Prominar 504 Scope and get some pics. Not bad for handheld shots (no adapter) on a crappy lightweight tripod. It helpled of course that the bird was completely motionless most of the time. There was another one downstream too. I'm not 100% sure of the status of this species in Hakodate. I'd assumed they were summer vistors (I often see immature birds from July to October) but I've seen several this winter. Perhaps the mild weather has resulted in them overwintering. I remember the first one of these I ever saw. Redscar, on the Ribble upstream from Preston on a balmy May evening in 1987 just before my A-levels.

Not much else about. The Thayers Gull seems to have gone. The usual common winter birds were about. I reached the beach and had a quick look out to sea. A few Red Necked Grebes, Black Scoters and red Breasted Mergansers were bobbing around on a slightly rough ocean.

I'm debating whether to buy A DSLR. You know I think I just might. Maybe.

Boring games last night. Why do Man U and Chelsea always win? I forgot the England v Wales Rugby game was on (turns out I was lucky there). I listened to the England/NZ cricket right up until Flintoff was out for a duck. Still at least I'm not a Pakistan fan. Ireland! Bangladesh! Who said the minnows shouldn't be there?

Around 18th March down the years:

1983 (March 19) A female Black Redstart on the river at Penwortham. Still the only Black Redstart I've seen in the UK (though I've seen lots in Europe). Also a very early Wheatear.

1986 (March 19th-) Blairgowrie Scotland, A Geography A level field trip. God it was cold. Memorable for 2 shameful reasons. The first of only 2 times in my life when I didn't make it to the bathroom in time (and the second time at least involved food posoining and heavy drinking). The second was the only time I've ever worn women's clothes and make-up (it was a kind of joke for someone's birthday party. No really it was). No particularly interesting birds though I did see a white Arctic Hare. I'm on the right with the gloves and when this photo was taken my bowels were ok I think. God knows what the other people in the photo are doing now. It's a bit wonky. I know.

1987 (March 22nd) A Woodcock flew over my parents' house in Penwortham.

1989 (March 21st) Fleetwood and Lytham. Purple Sandpiper, Commmon Eider and lots of commmon waders.

2003 (March 19) "Unidentified immature Eagle" flying over Hakodate. I think this may have been a Stellers which still isn't on my local patch list yet.

2004 (March 17-20). Hakodate. Kittiwake, Brambling, Long Tailed Tit, Goldcrest, Yellow Throated Bunting, Siskin, Peregrine, Kingfisher, Black Scoter and Red Necked Grebe.

16 March 2007

I wish I had an expensive camera

Not a lot of birding the last couple of weeks and this photo from last week shows why. After almost no snow in Hakodate since early January winter finally decided to kick in during the second week of March. The snow was pretty heavy and made driving a bit too tricky to venture out into the sticks. Because there was no compacted ice on the pavements as per usual in winters here the snow quickly became slush. Actually I haven't had use of the car much this month anyway so all my birding has been on foot or by City Tram.

Last Wednesday (the 14th) I went to Yunokawa and had a surprisingly good day's birding. Bird of the day was a Northern Lapwing. The same species that we have back in Europe but it's rather scarce in this part of the world (it was new to my Japanese list). I remember the first one I ever saw on a family holiday to my grandparent's caravan in the Lake District sometime in the late 1970's. It seemed kind of exotic at the time until I saw tens of thousands of them all over the place. Here the lone individual looked exotic again.

Also around of interest were Buff Bellied Pipit, Japanese Wagtail, Brown Dipper, Pintail, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Rustic Bunting, Bohemian Waxwing and Long Tailed Rosefinch, Marsh and Varied Tits plus the usual Ducks and Grebes on the sea. No photos I'm afraid. I took my small Kowa Scope and lightweight Slik tripod and my digiscoping gear (plus adapters this time) but couldn't get onto any of these birds on time (it wasn't the kind of place where I could just carry my Scope around at the ready. As a dirty foreigner I get enough stares from the locals anyway). If I'd had a decent DSLR around my neck though................just look at some of the pics on Sato-san's blog linked to the right. Mo-San and Carmo's blogs also have some great pics. All from DSLRs.

Digiscoping is fine as far as it goes. I can set up my larger Scope and tripod near the car in places like Kamiso, Onuma and Yakumo and fire off some acceptable shots. But on the hoof it's impossible or impractical to carry around that gear. Will my next big purchaase be a new MacBook or a DSLR plus lens?

Here's the best I can manage with my small crappy Nikon compact digicam in situations where a decent pic may be possible if the right gear were to hand. An adult Black Crowned Night Heron on the river near my flat this lunchtime. Heavily cropped and zoomed. Now if I'd had a DSLR............

The Thayers Gull was still around last week. Kingfisher and Hawfinch too. Common winter birds like Dusky Thrush and Daurian Redstart would make great photo subjects if I had........

Liverpool for the Champions League? Hope so. Will England make a balls up in Israel? Hope not. England not to get humiliated in the Cricket World Cup? I'm quietly confident they won't.

4 March 2007

Blue Rock Thrush

A male Blue Rock Thrush at Yunokawa a couple of days ago. The pic was taken handheld against my small Kowa 50mm Scope perched atop a very lightweight rickety Slik tripod. Quite a few nice birds at Yunokawa-a couple of Buff Bellied Pipit, a pair of Ring Necked Pheasant, Varied and Marsh Tit, Sparrowhawk, a couple of singing Japanese Wagtail, Brown Dipper, Black Scoter and lots of Red Necked Grebe on the sea.

I walked in the forest on Hakodateyama last week but there wasn't much to see. Lots of Tits, Nuthatches and the commoner Woodpeckers but no photo opps except for this woodland shrine type thing. Pretty quiet in town recently too. Siskin was the most interesting species.

I made the post below when I was tired and emotional after the Liverpool/ Man U game.

Around March 4th down the years

1983 (March 5) Penwortham. A Chilean Flamingo escapee on the Ribble.

1984 (March 3). Marshside. lots of waders and wildfowl including Bewicks Swan and Black Tailed Godwit. Also Brambling, Twite and a female Merlin.

2003 (March 5). Hakodate. A Rosy Finch (still the only one I've ever seen) in the exact same place I went today. Also around were Crossbill and Brambling.

2006 (March 4). Hakodate. Female Merlin flew over my flat.

3 March 2007

Jesus F#cki*ng Christ

Liverpool lose in the last minute (completely against the run of play too I might add) to Manchester Utd. God I feel so dirty and angry. AAAAAAAAAAAARRRRRRRRGGGHHHHHHHH.

This pic is from a church somewhere in Bamberg Bavaria I took in 1997. It reminds me of Paul Scholes. Only slightly less goblin-like than the ginge Manc himself.

I hope the pain goes away tommorrow.
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