26 December 2008

Another Christmas in Hokkaido

This is my 8th christmas in Japan. It wasn't white, in fact it was raining on the 25th although there was heavy snow last night. On Christmas Eve morning we had a couple of hours of sunshine allowing some nice shots of the usual suspects at Onuma. Nuthatches were stars of the show today.

The Varied and Marsh Tits were also present.

In case you're wondering how easy it is to get close to these species, here's the answer.

The Whooper Swan flock was bunching together as the amount of open water at Onuma shrinks and the ice grows.

Lots of Siskin in the forest but no Owl. We drove east to Shikabe and saw some interesting stuff like White Tailed Eagle plus Red Necked and Slavonian Grebes offshore. A few days earlier at Onuma saw dreadful weather and no bird shots of note so here are a couple of the local mammals.

Not much to report in Hakodate. Flocks of Hawfinch and Dusky Thrush in the park, Brown Dipper and Kingfisher on the river, the usual wildfowl and Gull species over at Kamiso. Here's a chilly looking male Daurian Redstart in the local park a few days ago.

I have a few more classes to teach today and tomorrow before an 8 day break over the New Year. Lots of footie on tonight, can Liverpool stay top going into 2009?

A very low key Xmas. I won't bother ranting about the plastic Japanese Christmas (I did so the previous 2 years if you're desperate for something to read and want to look back in the archives). It's sunny outside now but I have to work. I hope next week has a sunny day or two so we can go up to Yakumo to photograph the eagles.

Season's Greetings to my regular 40 or 50 readers, hope you're well wherever you are.

18 December 2008

Geese on a grey day

2 out of a group of 21 Brent Goose in Hakodate yesterday. The weather has been lousy this week, it's mild but wet. Raining instead of snowing. The usual common winter birds have been around, to name some of the more interesting: Hawfinch, Brown Dipper, Kingfisher, Pelagic Cormorant, Wigeon, Harlequin Duck, Blue Rock Thrush etc.

In the middle picture you'll notice one of them is shorter legged and necked. Is that a female? I don't really know.

From only 4 a couple of weeks ago the flock has now risen to 21. Many harbours and inlets have their own little groups. They are a little wary but you can get pretty close. Most of these shots were only slightly cropped.

Metering is a bit of a problem especially on a grey day when they're on the water.

Metering was a big issue with 2 Great Egrets that have been on the local river this last month or so. Damn white. And these things are very wary indeed.

The local crows were given them a hard time. Awful picture I know.

The Thayers Gull is still getting more ragged every week. One of 5 Gull species on the river, at least it was a in a different pose from usual. You can see it has very short legs.

It's raining again. I wish I could say I've been spending the time stuck indoors productively. Is watching old Water Margin episodes on youtube productive?

What a great TV show this was. Made in Japan although I've yet to meet a single Japanese person who ever saw it. It used to be on BBC2 on Friday evenings at 6pm.

Just to get you in the mood here are the opening and closing credits.....

14 December 2008

Merlin, Owl and a Fox.

A female Merlin by the side of the road in Ono this morning. Lots of birds in Ono, Goldcrest and Hawfinch everywhere, flocks of Rook joining the resident crow species, lots of common ducks in nearby Kamiso and also a pale buteo species that was probably just a Common Buzzard but which disappeared before i could check for Roughlegged.

The main bird of the day was this Ural Owl at Onuma.

The top one is only cropped sideways.It was off a side road in a huge tree. Someone was already there with and absurdly expensive lens and I wasn't sure how close one could go without a) scaring the Owl and b) incurring the wrath of the taciturn Japanese photographer. It was hard to choose which ones as all the pics basically looked the same.

Here's what it looked like at 400mm totally uncropped.

I also tried digiscoping. I didn't have any adapters or my decent fixed eyepiece so I just handheld the camera against the zoom eyepiece using only the automatic settings. This was my best effort, cropped to remove vignetting. I'll take the better eyepiece and adapter/cable release etc next time.

Lots of common stuff around today. White Tailed Eagle, Treecreeper, Siskin, Goosander and 3 species of Woodpecker. Here's a Greyheaded Woodpecker in an unusual pose.

The lake was starting to freeze in places.

There was however still lots of open water so the Whooper Swans were spread all around the lake.

The tame Tits and Nuthatches were around as per usual.

They were being eyed hungrily by this Fox.

And here's the obligatory shot of Mt Komagadake to finish up with.

So Liverpool seem determined not to break clear at the top of the Premier League and the England cricket team seem determined to allow India to win with a record last innings total. Here's hoping West Ham can do Chelsea later tonight and Flintoff can rip through the Indian top order tomorrow.

Song of the week: 'Mean Heart' by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, I just can't get it out of my head.

This week has been really hard. I just couldn't stop thinking about my friend Michael's death but last night at least I could talk to another old (mutual) friend from England and it was good to get some things off my chest as well as share some memories of the good times we'd had with Michael over the years up and down England.

Life goes on even if it is tinged with sadness. One thing me and Michale had in common was music, we both liked indie stuff in the 80's and early 90's. Last night I listened to some of the songs we used to play on the stereo and make compilation tapes of in his parent's living room all those years ago. Joy Division was a big fave of both of ours, not exactly the most cheerful music in the current circumstances I know but I listened to some of their songs last night and it brought back some nice memories.

I hope there's a decent stereo system wherever Michael is now. Hopefully he's already telling the angels to stop warbling all that religious droney crap and put on some good tunes instead.

10 December 2008

A walk down the river

A very mild winters day saw me walking down the river to the beach today. I needed to clear my head (see below).

The usual common winter birds were about. The above Wren is the first time I've been able to photograph this species in Japan. Lots of Hawfinch around today, also Brown Dipper, Kingfisher, Daurian Redstart and Great, Coal and Varied Tits. A momentarily glimpsed raptor from my window was probably a Goshawk.

5 species of duck included this male Pochard, another personal photographic first for Japan.

5 species of Gull on the river included the long staying Thayers Gull which is now entering the raggedy winter plumage phase.

I had some very bad news the day before yesterday. One of my best friends from school passed away. He leaves a widow and 5 young kids and a 6th on the way and due around christmas. I've had a numb empty feeling since I heard the news and am having difficulty dealing with it. Being so far away makes the whole situation worse, I can't go the funeral either.

I met Michael in primary school in 1977 and we stayed good friends over the years. His parents live in the same village as mine and attend the same church. Here's a picture of him and me back in 1995.

Michael ended up living in Worcester. The weekend me and another friend visited him saw the hottest weather I can ever remember in England. We did a small hike, somewhere on the outskirts of the Cotswolds where the above picture was taken. It was a perfect weekend. Going out for beers in Worcester on a Saturday night, drinking in country pubs, watching Dominic Cork take a hat-trick against the (then) mighty Windies. I visited him and his wife several times in the heart of England including one time just before I came to Japan. They also visited me in Germany. We hung out in many places, when I was working in Stratford in 1998 he was just up the road. He came to see me in London and Newcastle. We kind of drifted out of touch over the last 3 or 4 years and I didn't get in contact with him last time I was back home. I only had 2 weeks and hey I thought he's probably too busy and anyway I had lost his e-mail/telephone and was too lazy to get them off his parents. I'd do it next time I go home, I thought at the time. We had plenty of time to catch up, I mean the rest of our lives lay ahead.

My thoughts go to his wife, kids and his parents. He was a very kind considerate person and a great friend who put up with my selfish behaviour and numerous bad points over the years. I still can't believe I'll never see him again. His funeral is on Friday in Worcester.

7 December 2008

Some unvaried pictures

We went over to Onuma this afternoon and it was pretty wintry, the lake was showing the first signs of freezing over and there were several inches of snow in the forest. Whooper Swans, White Tailed Eagles, Yellow Throated Bunting and Siskin were the most noteworthy species but it was the tame Varied tits that provided 90% of the photos on my memory card.

Not much birding in Hakodate the last few days, sleet and rain kept me indoors most of the time.

The other resident species were around too of course.

In attempt to avoid being too repetitive here are some of the other birds around today, wish they were as tame as Varied Tits. Not great shots these I have to admit. A Grey Heron, Common Buzzard and Long Tailed Tit.

I'm looking forward to the wife finishing her job later in the month as we can hopefully get up to Yakumo and get some eagle shots. Only 2 weeks to go. Next Sunday no doubt we'll be in Onuma again by which time I'll expect the lake to be looking a lot more icy than this.

Shall I watch Everton v Villa tonight? Dunno, there were a lot of 0-0 games last weekend. Mind you I have nothing else to do.

Maybe some exciting incidents like these might happen and make it worth staying up for.

Or back in the 1970s when men were real men.

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