30 April 2007

Cherry blossoms and back pains

I can see Hakodateyama (Mt Hkodate) from my balcony. A wide forest clad mountain that is the first landfall for many of the summer migrants to Hokkaido. And this week is the start of the best 2 weeks birding every year. And I'm been almost immobile from backache and can't go to the mountain even though I have a few days off work at the moment. I was able to gingerly go out for a short time today. The cherry blossoms were starting to open. They look nice I admit but after 7 or 8 springs in Japan I place them in the 'another overrated thing about Japan' file.

So I'm missing all those birds passing through. The river near my apartment usually has a few migrants too (in fact I've seen some pretty good birds there over the last 3 or 4 years) and today there were 2 female Red Flanked Blutails. Not a great pic but better than I'd been expecting yesterday when I could hardly move.

Some little brown birds flitting around the bushes turned out to be the 2 commonest migrants, Black Faced Bunting and Japanese Bush Warbler. No more interesting Warblers or Flycatchers unfortunately. A singing Japnese White-eye was the most notable species of the afternoon (I don't see them in town much although they're abundant on the mountain).

Other stuff around included Dusky Thrush, Barn Swallow and more Red Cheeked Starling and Bull Headed Shrike. I at least got a shot of a male Starling. Shame it isn't a very good one though.

It looks like they have a solid relationship. The local pair of Bull Headed Shrike were also out taking the air. They like perching atop bushes in photogenic poses. They also like flying off just as I get within range.

Here are some shots of the commoner stuff.

A Common Teal, a Black Backed Wagtail and a Brown Eared Bulbul.

26 April 2007

More spring arrivals

Not a great pic but a Japanese Bush Warbler flitting around on the path at the foot of Hakodateyama this morning. Lots of them present this morning. An abundant summer visitor and their song is probably the most familiar sound of a Japanese summer (well apart from workmen banging away at some pointless construction project of course). The vegetation has grown a lot since I was last in the forest and soon I won't be able to see this skulking species.

The deluge of summmer migrants hasn't quite arrived. Lots of Black Faced Bunting and Japanese White-eye in the forest. 1 Whites Thrush and several Pale Thrush showed briefly and there was 1 Japanese Grey Thrush singing somewhere up on the moutainside. Other notable species included Rustic Bunting, Red Flanked Bluetail as well as the resident Woodpeckers, Tits, Nuthatches etc. This view of a female Great Spotted Woodpecker's behind was sadly the best pic of the day.

Not much in town the last few days. A Black Faced Bunting was singing this morning near my flat and the first Red Cheeked Starlings arrived a couple of days ago. The males are a beautiful bird. Here's a crappy pic of a female hiding behind a branch.

There should hopefully be plenty of oppurtunities to photograph this species as they're very common in town (they nest along the river). Ditto Bullheaded Shrike.

And to finish off a lousy record shot of a male Black Faced Bunting.

Next week is a big public holiday in Japan (Golden week). This usually co-incides with the cherry blossoms in Hakodate (the locals go nuts over these) and the peak migration fortnight begins at the same time. All this and an exciting end to the football season.

Around April 25th down the years:

Busiest birding time of the year begins.

1983 (last week of April) Penwortham. A male Redstart, Black tailed Godwits, Grey Plover, Ruff, Red Breasted Merganser and Greenshank.

1984 (last week of April) Penwortham. Long Eared and Little Owls and Whimbrel.

1986 (last week April) Penwortham. Stock Dove, Winchat, Whimbrel. All of these 3 years had lots of Corn Bunting, Willow Tit, Tree Sparrow and Grey Partridge.......

1987 (April 27) Mere Sands Wood. Ruddy Duck, Little Ringed Plover, Sedge Warbler and Redpoll.

1995 (April 28) Penwortham. Big flocks of Common and Arctic Terns, lots Wheatears and Yellow wagtail, Sand Martin.

1996 (April 24) Penwortham. Black Tailed Godwit and Whimbrel, Sedge Warbler.

1996 (April 28) Haweswater. Great views of the Golden Eagles. Me and an old friend hiked up the side of the valley and watched them soaring for about an hour. An idyllic spring day. Got stoned on that hillside and had a pint in the village pub afterwards. Seems like a lifetime ago. Both of us were in crappy temorary jobs and had arrived back in Lancashire to stay with our parents. A bit embarassing in our mid 20's. At least life was simple. I haven't seen any Golden Eagles since.

2003 (last week April) Hakodate. Redpoll, Crossbill, Pacific Swift, Harlequin Duck, Grey Headed Woodpecker.

2004 (last week April) Hakodate. Short Tailed Bush Warbler, Crossbill, Rhinoceros Auklet, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Blue and White and Narcissus Flycatchers.

2005 (last week April) Hakodate. More of the above plus Ashy Minivet, Wryneck,Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, Rustic Bunting.........

2006 (last week April) Hakodate. More migrants as per usual ..........Japanese Robin being the most interesting. Elsewhere Hazel Grouse at Onuma (23rd) Black Winged Stilt at Hakodate and Kentish Plover at Asabu (30th).

22 April 2007


A bit of luck today. We were checking out some land near Onuma (with a view to buying some maybe) and when we eventually found the plot of land there were not one but two Hoopoes on the grass. A pretty rare bird in Japan. I saw 1 in Hakodate a couple of years ago and 1 on the vagrant hotspot Tobishima in 2004. I think it may have been split from the Hoopoes found in the Med. Anyway what a great bird. A possible omen? Does this mean we should buy the land? Believe it or not I've actually had several dreams about taking pics of Hoopoes recently. Spooky.

The day started at Kamiso. Not so much here. A few Ducks, the first Common Sandpipers of the spring. A second year Glaucous Gull.

Up at Yakumo we checked out the Heronry (about 20 or so Grey Herons and 1 Night Heron). Also around were Osprey, lots of Reed Buntings, my first Black Faced Bunting of the spring (a singing male), my first singing Japanese Bush Warblers of the season, the usual common Ducks plus a female Smew, a northbound Eurasian Hobby and lots of Glaucous Gulls.

We stopped at Onuma on the way back but there were no Black Woodpeckers. The usual common stuff included a party of 10 or so Whooper Swan resting on their way north, another Osprey and the first singing Brown Thrush this year.

Here's a pic of a female Bullheaded Shrike checking out nest sites near my house last week.

And yet another Nuthatch.

These are 2 pretty crappy pics. 6 species of Gull at Kamiso this morning and a Common Kingfisher near my flat a couple of days ago.

Second year Glaucous Gulls are common at this time of the year and extremely conspicious.

It seems that when birders start taking photographs Kingfishers become their favourite subjects. I still have lots to learn quite clearly.

Exciting end to the footy season with some big games coming up. Are Man U going to end up with nothing? Injuries are exposing the fact their squad is a bit thin. Much as I dislike Man U though I'd rather they win the League than Chelsea (but it'd be nice if they sweat a bit). Liverpool will stop Chelsea winnning the quadruple at least.

The elections are over. Thank god.

18 April 2007

Uncooperative Woodpeckers

One of several Black Woodpeckers we saw (or heard) today at Onuma. This appeared to be checking out a nesthole (Great Tits and Nuthtaches were investigating the same hole too). A female. Too many branches and too far off for a good shot really. By the time I got the Scope set up for a long range shot it had left. The smudge on its wings is a twig in the foreground. I don't photoshop well enough to remove it.

LOTS of Woodpeckers around today. Great Spotted were the commonest floowed by Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker.

1 Grey Headed Woodpecker didn't stick around long enough for a pic.

If Nuthatches ever got romantic it would probably look something like this.

I haven't got tired of posting Nuthatch pics yet. Here's a slightly experimental one.

The Marsh and Varied Tits were as commmon and tame as ever.

Lots of Mandarin Ducks at Onuma this afternoon (they look pretty odd perched 30 feet up in a tree) as well as Wigeon, Pintail, Coot, Goosander, Teal, Russet Sparrow, Stonechat, Long Tailed Tit, Kingfisher, Oriental Turtle Dove, Little Grebe, Grey Heron, Stonechat and Treecreeper. Here's a view of Onuma at the end of the day.

Very predictable my posts these days. The same species finished up with a pic of Onuma.

Hakodate? Not much. I had a nasty cold and didn't go out on Monday/Tuesday. This morning Dusky Thrush, Stonechat and Bullheaded Shrike were near my apartment and the usual common Ducks/Gulls were at Kamiso.

There's another election going on right now. The last election was for all Hokkaido and this one is just Hakodate. It's even more annoying and noisy. They were electioneering in the Onuma area in their absurd little election cars with 4 morons hanging out of the windows waving in their bright yellow tops and white gloved hands and another even bigger moron bellowing inanities over and over again through a megaphone. Who did they think was going to vote for them? The Woodpeckers?

Memo to whichever corrupt middle aged man wins aforementioned election:

Please employ someone to pick up the litter that spoils Onuma. Go on. It's a national park after all. Not a dumping ground for hundreds of fridges/TVs and thousands of platic bottles.

In winter the garbage is hidden by the snow. In summer it's hidden by the greenery. In spring it's there for all to see.

Around April 18th down the years:

1985 (April 18) Penwortham. Singing Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Blackcap in the small woods near my parents. The woods are much smaller now due to a new housing estate (I shouldn't complain too hard as it's where my brother and old birding pal both live with their families now). I wonder if the birds are still there?

1987 (April 17) the Ribble at Penwortham. 3 Black Tern flying upstream on a beautiful spring day. I saw a colony of these birds at Stafflelsee in the Bavarian Alps sometime in the spring of 1998 during an idyllic rowing trip out to a small island in the centre of the lake. The terns were flying around our boat. Not too idyllic in the end though as a tick from the island later migrated to my groin area.

1989 (April 18) North Lancs/Lakes. An epic day's birding that saw me and the friend mentioned above miss out on Richard's Pipit (Inskip), American Wigeon (Duddon estuary) and Ringed Necked Duck (Coniston). We did however get the Ferruginous Duck (Brotherswater) and (for the first of only 2 times) the Golden Eagles at Haweswater. Also Long Tailed Duck and Sandwich Tern at Walney.

2002 (April 13th-I forgot the last time I did this) Tokyo Oi Yachi Koen. Azure Winged Magpie, Black Winged Stilt and lots of other Ducks/waders.

2004 (April 18th) Hakodate. Pale Thrush, Osprey, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Glaucous and Glaucous Winged Gull, Red Necked Grebe and Siskin.

2005 (April 20th) Hakodate. Whites Thrush, Rustic Bunting, Yellow Throated Bunting, Common Guilemot, Red Flanked Bluetail and Rhinoceros Auklet.

2006 (April 18th). Hakodate. 2 Black Winged Stilt at Kamiso.

15 April 2007

Black Woodpecker

A bit under the weather today. My first cold in over 2 years. And it was snowing too!

At Onuma this afternoon we pulled in to the lay-by where the Nuthatches and Tits feed. On the log where all the birds feed there was a male Black Woodpecker!

Of course it flew off straight away. It would have been an amazing photo if it had waited around a few more seconds. But it came back a few minutes later. Not in an obliging position though. I had to use manual focus (lots of branches in the way) and it was very dark and overcast so the ISO level was at its' maximum. And not exactly close either. But here it is.

With Stellers Sea Eagle this is one of the star birds of this region of Japan. The woods seemed more alive today despite the lousy weather. Varied Tits were eating out of my wife's hands again, lots of the commoner residents were around including Long Tailed Tit, Japanese Pygmy and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. A male Yellow Throated Bunting was the second most interesting bird.

Varied Tit and Nuthatch. Again.

I wish the Black Woodpecker had been as confiding.

And not so great but an ok 'record shot' of the Yellow Throated Bunting.

At Kamsiso this morning there were 3 Shoveler on the river and 1 Pacific Diver offshore. I find Divers difficult and this one was bobbing around in rough seas. I think it was a Pacific anyway. Lots of Wigeon, Scaup and Gulls (6 species) too. Not so much over at Shikabe. Lots of Glaucous Gulls but none close enough for a photo.

I'm going back for the Woodpeckers on Wednesday hopefully.

Damn this cold.

13 April 2007

Fox and Shrike

A Red Fox at Onuma this afternoon. Foxes aren't hunted here and are surprisingly bold compared to the UK. A few years ago one even came into our tent looking for scraps. They have a stomach parasite that is fatal to humans too. So if they crap in your water supply you have serious problems.

A Bull Headed Shrike in Hakodate this morning. A very common summer vistor to Hokkaido, they breed in the bushes alongside the river near my flat. My Dusky Thrush pics are slowly improving. They'll all be off in a week or 2.

The usual stuff at Onuma but no interesting Woodpeckers again today (but lots of the commoner ones). I'm tired of posting Nuthatches so here's another Marsh Tit instead.

I injured my back yesterday whilst I was vacuuming. Annoying and I have to wince every time I get out of my chair. I had a bizarre experience in my local supermarket the other day. They pipe out muzak all day long. Usually it's fairly standard stuff ("thriller" or "eye of the tiger" done in a muzak style) but this time it was "Anarchy in the UK"!!!!!! The Sex Pistols' great anthem of youthful anger/nihilism/despair is now elevator type music to accompany a visit to the frozen food section.

Here are some photos that didn't really make the grade. Sometimes even cropping and photoshopping isn't enough.

A Spotted Redshank and male Long Tailed Rosefinch at Onuma today and a male Siberian Stonechat near my flat yesterday.

Around April 13th down the years:

1984 (April 15) Ribble near Penwortham. 6 Wheatear, 1 Spotted Redshank, 50+ Black Tailed Godwit, 3 Corn Bunting, 10 Tree Sparrow and 1 dodgy looking Pipit we ID'ed as a Water Pipit.

2005 (April 13) Hakodate. Rhinoceros Auklet, Harlequin Duck plus White Backed Woodpecker.

11 April 2007

Osprey on a nest plus other stuff

After following both the Champions League quarter-finals live on TV and seeing what a wonderful morning it was (at 5.30am ish) I went out for a short walk and photographed this Varied Tit. And then I went back to bed before re-emerging a couple of hours later to be driven round Oshima by my good wife. First stop was the river at Kamiso. The usual commmon Ducks and Gulls. The main thing of interest was these 9 White Fronted Geese relaxing on the beach.

An odd looking bunch that got me thinking of possible Lesser Whitefronts at one stage before I woke up properly. Next stop was Moheji where this Osprey was being mobbed by a Crow.

A couple of Divers offshore (we couldn't stop to check) and some Whooper Swans were at Kikonai. Lots of Scaup, Red Breasted Merganser and Wigeon too.

Next up was Asabu. This is a pretty good place from May to September but can be a bit bleak the rest of the year. I got a first for Hokkaido at this very same spot last year. A Caspian Tern. I even wrote to the oficial recorder and have heard nothing since. Mind you I did write in English. Hmmmmm.......

From late May the area is alive with the songs of a dozen or so species but today there were only Japanese Skylark plus a few non-singing Reed Bunting. No ducks either except for a handful of Goosander and Tufted Duck. Just down the coast from the rivermouth at Asabu is this stack.

And if we zoom in a lot we can see what's on top.

We finished the day at Onuma. Still lots of Whooper Swans scattered around the lake. The woods were pretty quiet. No summmer vistors here yet. Singing Treecreeper was the best bird. I walked into the forest trying to find some of the rarer Woodpeckers (Black specifically but Grey Headed or White Backed would have been ok) but was unsuccessful. Oh well at least I can rely on the Nuthatches.

Here's a view across the lake just before sunset.

I think I'll tape the Liverpool game as I need an early night.

10 April 2007

Red Flanked Bluetail

Every second week in April there are Red Flanked Bluetails in the same bushes next to the river about 3 minutes walk from my flat. Sometimes females and sometimes (like yesterday) males. A bit difficult to get a good shot (and a bit grainy as the light wasn't so good) but there you are.

Pretty nasty weather the last couple of days so not much about............
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