25 May 2007

Getting ready for a trip

A Jungle Crow mobbing a Black Kite. A rather low key birding week with nothing particularly exciting about. Here's a Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker also at Onuma.

A male Mandarin at Onuma the other day.

I'm off on a 6 day trip on Sunday to east Hokkaido. Should get some nice species. I went twice last year and it's a pretty interesting place with lots of different habitats. Lakes, marshland, sea cliffs, mountains, forest and grassland.

Shame about the football the other night. I just knew Liverpool weren't going to score especially after Gerard fluffed those chances. Milan weren't even that good anyway.

Around May 25th down the years:

1984 (May 26th onwards) NE Scotland. A family holiday to Laggan Bridge. We often went there when I was a kid and stayed in the same cottage. Near the cottage were Twite, Siskin, various common waders breeding, Dipper, Ring Ouzel, Sedge warbler and Tree Pipit. Elsewhere I got Crested Tit and Wood warbler at Glenfinnan, Osprey at Loch Garten, my first ever Black Guilemot at Fort William plus Eider and Merlin at Arisaig.

1986 (May 26th) A big day in Lancashire. We were actually driven around by my friend's dad. We got a perfectly respectable 90 species (no Scope, no internet to get bird locations etc). No terribly exciting species. Bittern at Leighton Moss plus Little Gull and Little Tern at Seaforth being the most notable.

1989 (May 28th) Fairburn Ings. One of my rare forays into twitching to successfully get a Glossy Ibis.

1996 (May 26th) Ribble at Penwortham. Lots of migrants. Yellow Wagtail, Wheatear, Sedge warbler, Cuckoo and Common Tern.

1999 (May 29th) My first local patch Little Egret at Penwortham. Also around were Reed and Corn Bunting, Peregrine and (I think) a calling Quail. The latter is one of my 2 dodgiest local ticks. The other one being a Roseate Tern in May 1983. Hope the plans to develop the Ribble don't come into fruition.

2004 (May 26th) Mt Hakodate. All summer stuff present and accounted for including a singing Arctic Warbler.

2005 (May 25th) Yakumo. Good day for waders. Black Winged Stilt, Spotted Redshank (in summer plumage) and a lone Red Necked Pharalope (at close quarters instead of half a mile offshore).

20 May 2007

Looking for waders

A Grey Tailed Tattler at Kamiso this morning. There were also around 20-30 Common Sandpiper, a male Scaup (see below), 2 male Shoveler and a few Teal.

We then headed up to Yakumo to check for waders. A flock of 20 or so Turnstone were the highlight, as well as more Common Sandpiper, Tattlers and a pair of Little Ringed Plover. Not much else though and certainly no interesting waders whatsoever. A few Ducks were still around. Wigeon, Shoveler and Scaup mainly. 2 Great White Egret were amongst the 30 or so Grey Heron. No smaller birds of note except for a male Reed Bunting and lots of singing Oriental Great Reed Warbler. Passerines tend to get more interesting towards the end of May. Several fishing Osprey were fun to watch. Here's distant one getting mugged by Black Tailed Gulls. It later lost its fish to a Black Kite......

We finished the day at Onuma. The usual commoner species were around but no real photo opps. Most interesting birds here were a group of Pacific White-rumped Swift and a (heard only again) Black Woodpecker.

The previous 72 hours saw almost non stop rain. On Friday we got out to Yunokawa and saw some small groups of Red Necked Pharalope about 500 metres offshore. Not the great spectacle of other recent years when calm clear weather allowed us to see tens or even hundreds of thousands close inshore. There were also some dark shearwaters too far out to ID. Sort Tailed Shearwaters probably.

Got drunk last night watching the dire FA cup final at the new Wembley. I was actually hoping for penalties when Drogba scored as it would have more exciting than anything in the turgid 120 minutes beforehand.

One word of advice for those traveling in Japan. If you ever stop at Hokka Hokka Bento and are tempted by the tasty looking picture on the menu showing the sirlon steak donburi don't be fooled. It's absolutely disgusting.

Around May 20th down the years:

Not much happening around this date..........what was I doing? Revising for exams I suppose (up to 1990 at least). Otherwise pretty quiet.

2005 (May 20th) 3 Little Egret and 2 Intermediate Egret flying over my neighbourhood. Also around were several Asian Brown Flycatcher. A couple of days later several Pacific White Rumped Swift flew over too.

2006 (May 21st) Set off on my first trip to East Hokkaido, visiting Furen-ko, Notsuke and Nemuro amongst other places. Japanese Crane, Blakiston's Fish Owl, Spectacled Guilemot, White tailed Eagle and lots of other goodies. You can read my report here

16 May 2007

Spring continues

A Grey Tailed Tattler at Kamiso this morning.

Spring gathers pace in Hokkaido. A warm hazy spring day saw us get up very early and go up Mt Hakodate. Lots of common stuff around but no big falls of migrants alas. Most noticeable since last visit were the numbers of Narcissus Flycatcher. They were everywhere. Singing species included Siberian Blue and Japanese Robins, Oriental Cuckoo, Brown and Japanese Thrush, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Narcissus and Blue and White Flycatchers plus loads and loads of Black Faced Bunting and Japanese Bush Warblers. Non singing stuff included Red Flanked Bluetail and Pale Thrush. There were some unidentified things of course. A Pipit flew over without calling (or it could even have been a Yellow Wagtail as it was a very brief view and still quite dark) and god knows what the groups of finches were.

All the common resident species were around including this Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker.

We headed east to check for the Red Necked Pharalopes but they still hadn't arrived. Pelagic Cormorant, Brent Goose and Red Breasted Merganser were offshore but not much else. At Kamiso lingering winter species included Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Goosander. Grey Tailed Tattler were everywhere.

We headed out to Onuma in the afternoon. Many of the same singing species as Mt Hakodate were here. Some new birds for my 2007 list were Asian Brown Flycatcher and Japanese Green Pigeon (which has the weirdest call I've heard in Japan. It sounds like the Clangers from the 70's. Kind of.) The forest is becoming more overgrown and we heard lots of stuff but couldn't find it (like Black Woodpecker). Narcissus Flycatcher was abundant here too.

This is proving to be a bit of a bogey species as far as getting a dcent pic is concerned as is Mandarin Duck.

The Marsh Tits and Nuthatches are still ultra tame and easy to photograph.

Some depth of field issues with the Nuthatch pic (some parts are in focus and some aren't).

I'm already thinking about which lens I should buy next. 400 or 500mm? Do I need/can I even afford image stabilization? Canon? Sigma? Tamron? Tokina? New or second-hand?

So 2 more big games in the footy season (or 3 if you count England's must-win game in Estonia). 2006/7 was not really a vintage season although it will be a great one if Liverpool can beat Milan again. After that game we're going on a 5 night trip to east Hokkaido (we bought a tent and some camping gear today). We went last year in spring and autumn. Cranes, Eagles, Fish Owls, Bears and lots of other goodies.

14 May 2007

Some more spring migrants

An Eye Browed Thrush in the local park this morning. There were 2 or 3 of them as well as a few Dusky Thrush all on their way north. Quite a few nice birds in the park. A female Narcissus Flycatcher, a female Red Flanked Bluetail, lots of Japanese White-eye and this singing Eastern Crowned Warbler.

Not great pictures. I've hit a ceiling with the lens I currently have. It's ok for record shots or blog photos like these (that hardly anyone ever sees) but it's simply too soft. Well I suppose it was the cheapest 300mm lens I could find. I'll have to wait a few months for the cash to splash on a better one. Aaargh-before that I have to pay car tax/local tax/ticket back to England/new tent......here's a non too sharp male Red Cheeked Starling.

And here's a Turtle in the moat of the aforementioned local park. I don't know if it's wild or introduced (although I see turtles at Onuma and on the local river sometimes too). And god only knows where they go in winter when the moat is frozen.

The park was full of retirement age men cutting the grass. I'm not joking there must have been over 50 of them. What a racket. And why do they need so many? Oh yeah. Full employment.

We went to Menagawa in the afternoon looking for Red Necked Pharalopes. Every year arriving around May 15-17 tens or maybe hundreds of thousands congregate offshore from Hakodate eastwards to Esan. Today was May 14 and there weren't any. A few Harlequin Ducks were the only things of interest on the sea. Yesterday we went to Yakumo and Onuma but the rain was so heavy I couldn't do much birding. A few Osprey. some passage ducks, no waders at all...........

11 May 2007


A Wryneck at Yunokawa this afternoon. A very pleasant spring day and my first visit to the easternmost part of my patch for a while. The Wryneck was the most interesting species and Oriental Great Reed Warbler were the noisiest.

An abundant summer vistor to southern Hokkaido they seemingly sing from any bush near any water. They get bolder as spring develops and sing at the top of bushes so I should be able to get much better photos than this one.

Little Ringed Plovers has also arrived. Other species at Yunokawa included Stonechat, Chestnut Eared, Reed and Black Faced Buntings, Japanese Thrush, Blue & White Flycatcher, Grey Wagtail and the usual common stuff. Here are some photos from the last few days in Hakodate. A Stonechat today, a male Wigeon near my flat earlier in the week and a male Red Cheeked Starling in amongst the cherry blossoms a couple of days ago.

Yesterday in the local park there were lots of Japanese White-eye and a lone male Siskin. Not so many migrants though. Here's a couple of Slaty Backed Gulls relaxing in the park.

9 May 2007

Squirrels and other stuff

A Red Squirrel (?) at Onuma this morning. It sort of looks the same as the ones in the UK except not as red (the ones I saw in Bavaria were black). Lots of birds singing in the forest around the lake. Summer migrants included Brown and Japanese Thrush, Eastern Crowned and Sakhalin Leaf Warbler plus Blue & White and Narcissus Flycatchers. Russet Sparrow was abundant, there were 5 species of Tit, 4 species of Woodpecker including a female Black and several Grey Headed, Nuthatch, Treecreeper as well as several displaying male Mandarin Ducks on the lake.

The above Marsh and Varied Tits were easy to photograph but other birds weren't as confiding.

The male Narcissus Flycatcher is one of the most beautiful birds in Japan but all the ones I saw today weren't striking many photogenic poses. And why is a bird as colourful as a male Mandarin Duck so difficult to approach?

After Onuma we went to the western side of the peninsula to Asabu. Not too much here. A couple of Great White Egret, some Chestnut Eared Bunting and several Stonechat. We then headed south to Kikonai. There was another Egret here as well as a lone Whooper Swan and a hunting Osprey. 4 species of wader included Grey Tailed Tattler, Little Ringed Plover, Ruddy Turnstone and Common Sandpiper. My wife took the best Tattler picture and I'm too proud to use it so here's my best effort plus a losusy pic of the Osprey carrying a fish through downtown Kikonai.

Not fast enough for the Osprey. I tried digiscoping the Egret but it was just too dark for a decent pic. We headed back to Hakodate and got Brent Goose, Harlequin Duck, Red Breasted Merganser and Glaucous Gull on the coast. Back at Kamiso there was a female Smew, some more Tattlers and rafts of Scaup offshore.

I've been downloading lots of TV shows/movies again recently. Season 6 of The Shield is awesome and I just finished the first 2 seasons of Deadwood, Saxondale and season 2 of Life on Mars. On my computer I have This is England/Shameless seasons 1-3/Dead Man's Shoes/Dog Soldiers all to watch once the footy season is over.

Yes I do have a life as well.

7 May 2007

Chipmunks and migrants

A tame and very cute Ground Squirrel on Mt Hakodate today. I was showing 4 visiting birders my 'patch'. They had arrived on a huge cruise ship and just had a few hours ashore. Mt Hakodate didn't quite live up to my hype and although there were quite a few birds around it was a bit quieter than I'd expected. Bird of the day was this female ROSY FINCH.

Only a record shot and heavily photoshopped. Quite a surprise so late in the season and only the second one I've ever seen in Hokkaido.

There was a reasonable cross section of the commoner migrants around. Eastern Crowned and Sakhalin Leaf Warblers, Blue and White Flycatchers, Red Flanked Bluetails, Pale, Brown and Japanese Thrushes, Blue Rock Thrush, Black Faced and Siberian Meadow Bunting, Red Cheeked Starling, Glaucous Winged Gull plus the usual resident Tits and Woodpeckers.

Here's a male Black Faced Bunting.

The visitors provided pleasant company and it was a beautiful day and my first exercise for a while too. And my wife was happy with the chipmunk family.

So Man U are champions. I'd rather them than Chelsea. This time.

6 May 2007

Cherry blossoms and back pains Part 2

The cherry blossoms continue to bloom and my back continues to ache a bit less every day. Bird of the week was a WRYNECK on the river near my flat. Very briefly seen and no photo I'm sorry to say. A few other bits and pieces in Hakodate included a female Brown Thrush, lots of Japanese White-eye, Black Faced Bunting and Japanese Bush Warbler and a male Wigeon on the river today. My wife saw a male Blue and White Flycatcher in the park yesterday whilst I was working. I saw my first ORIENTAL GREAT REED WARBLER of the year this afternoon too.

Here's a male Red Cheeked Starling.

And some Japanese White-eyes feeding on the cherry blossom.

Not a vintage week for birds or bird photos but I'll blame my back for that. But my I'm feeling somewhat better and tomorrow I'm going up Mt Hakodate. I'm showing some visiting birders around. I hope there are lots of migrants for them to see.

We went to Onuma briefly yesterday afternoon and got stuck in a traffic jam heading north out of Hakodate! This is almost unknown in south Hokkaido. Mind you it was the end of Golden Week. Lots in the forest at Onuma. Singing Eastern Crowned Warbler, Blue and White Flycatcher, Japanese Grey and Japanese Brown Thrush plus all the usual paridae and Woodpeckers. Here's an aggressively photoshopped female Black Woodpecker.

And some more cherry blossoms. They were starting to blow off the trees today.

Around May 6th down the years:

1984 (May 6) There were 'hundreds' of Common/Arctic Terns at Penwortham.

1985 (May 6) Another heavy Tern passage at Penwortham.

1986 (May 5) Black Tern, Ruddy Duck and Sedge Warbler at Martonmere.

1987 (May 5) My first ever Night Heron at Redscar near Preston.

1988 (May 7) Whitley Bay. Sandwich Tern, Shag and Purple Sandpiper.

1995 (May 5) Little Tern and Sedge Warbler at Penwortham.

1999 (May 7) Ringed Plover, Whimbrel and '7 possible Little Gull'. What was I smoking that day not to ID a group of seven gulls?

2000 (May 1). My first ever trip up Mt Hakodate. Varied Tit and Long Tailed Rosefinch were among the many common species that were lifers that day.

2003 (May 4 and 7) Hakodate. Siberian Blue Robin, Eye Browed Thrush, Rhinoceros Auklet, Narcissus Flycatcher, Grey Tailed Tattler and lots of other migrants.

2004 (May 1-4) Tobishima and Yamagata/Akita ken. My only 'real' heavy birding in Japan. Tobishima is a vagrant hotspot and we got some rarities. Best was Northern Wheatear (ok it's very rare in Japan), Red Throated Pipit, Hoopoe, my first ever Japanese Robin, Japanese Murrelet, Grey Headed Lapwing and lots and lots of the commoner migrants moving north.

2005 (May 2) Hakodate. Grey Bunting was the best amongst many species of migrant.

2006 (May 3). Yakumo. Wryneck, Mongolian Plover, Gadwall, White Winged Scoter, Slavonian Grebe, Red Throated Diver.

The first 2 weeks of May are usually my favourite birding time of the year. The Terns, waders and passerines at Penwortham, the deluge of migrants at Hakodate, the singing Chiffchaffs and Blackcaps in Munich.........it's a great time to be alive. It's also the end of the footy season of course. Mercifully I don't have to fret about a major tournament for England (and it's looking like I may not in 2008 either).

And what about Liverpool!?!? Whooo-hooo!!Stick that in your pipe and smoke it Jose you arrogant former lackey of General facistismo whatever his name was.
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