29 March 2009

Geese and a TV debacle

A group of soon to depart Brent Geese in Hakodate this afternoon. It was a nice mild spring day, I'd walked down the coast with the intention of finding some summer plumage Black Necked Grebes. I did see one but it quickly dived and disappeared out to sea. At least the Geese were posing nicely.

More geese shots are here.

Last week a reader of this blog from London sent a photo of a Spectacled Guilemot we had seen together in Hakodate in January to the national broadcaster NHK to be shown on a local news show . Her picture was taken with a small compact and she asked if NHK could use my pictures from this blog. She had given my e-mail to NHK and they would contact me and also acknowledge me (or so I stupidly thought). I said OK. They didn't contact me but I thought never mind my name would be broadcast, I can forgive them. I told several friends and all my in-laws and they arranged to watch it too.

So anyway it was on Friday night. I taped it. I rewound the tape through all the interminable navel gazing crap about the non-threat from a North Korean test missile (yawn) and there my photos were. On NHK! But wait a minute.............under the muzak soundtrack they discussed the photos for about a minute and........absolutely no mention of yours truly. Nothing. Just 'a Japanese lady from London, Miss X sent these.....blah blah'. My brief moment of fame (albeit on a minor local news show but I digress) snatched away from me. Sorry but that isn't what I'd signed up for. I'd expected something along the lines of 'yeah these photos were taken by an English guy living in Hakodate, you can see more on this website address' etc etc. But nothing. Absolutely nothing.

In the great scheme of things this is unimportant. I know that. My photos aren't that great. I know that. I didn't lose any money or anything. I know that. But.....still. F**king hell. And as for the editor, Chisato Tachibana, who used my pictures without showing me the basic common courtesy of contacting me first or acknowledging me (oh and ignored an e-mail I sent her), I hope NHK leaves her name off the credits of every TV show she ever works on. The daft cow. Now I'm thinking all these dark thoughts. Like 'yeah, if I were Japanese they would have asked me for sure and credited me' and projecting racism on them. I need to stop doing that.

I know anyone can right click on these photos and save them to their own PC. But showing them on TV without asking for permission? Now I'm thinking how much I can sue the bastards for........

Despite all that thanks to Megumi for suggesting they use my photos, I was flattered. It isn't your fault NHK are a bunch of morons and didn't mention me.

Right. Enough of that and it's off my chest and finished. Just bear in mind if you steal my photos I will hunt you down and destroy you. Oh yes.

The Crossbills were still around last week but in smaller numbers......

It's 2 years since I bought my camera and I've taken over 50,000 shots. Crossbills would have to just about my favourite subject..........more Crossbill shots are here.

Not much else around to be honest. No car so I've been stuck in town for the last fortnight (and because of my wife's new job and my new schedule which kicks in next month out of town forays will be restricted to Sundays or public holidays only).

Here's a pic of a Dusky Thrush, a very common bird at this time of year.

A few migrants appearing. Some Whooper Swans flying north over town, the first Bullheaded shrikes and Skylarks arriving too.....

And here a couple of examples of bizarre English that make expat life in Japan just that little bit funnier.

I watched England beat Slovakia last night. Only a meaningless friendly I know but they're looking good for Wednesday night against Ukraine, if they win that they can start checking out flights and hotels for South Africa I think. Of course they'll no doubt flop when they get there but at least they'll be there (which was looking very unlikely when they were being held at halftime by Andorra back in September). And next weekend if Liverpool beat Fulham and Villa can take a point off Man U the Pemiership will look very interesting indeed.

Some bad news on Friday. My uncle, Tom, died in Queensland and will be sadly missed by all. The first person to buy me a beer in a pub, the first person in my family I got stoned with. Oh and he sailed across the Atlantic and went diamond prospecting in Guyana and lots of other crazy stuff too. He had a great life that's for sure and will live on in all our memories.

Spring is here in Hakodate. It's getting milder and my business is picking up. When I look outside life isn't so bad.

Just don't think about NHK I tell myself.

23 March 2009

Hangovers, browser issues and Crossbills

A short post today, not much to update and plus I feel like sh*t after a heavy one last night.

The Crossbills continued to be the main birds of interest in Hakodate this last week. there are 2 or 3 different groups and in amongst the biggest group was this individual.

Is it a White Winged Crossbill? I'm not really sure. I posted some pics on the ID section over at birdforum. Some disagreements as to whether it's just a Common Crossbill or the (much scarcer) White Winged Crossbill. No less of an authority than Mark Brazil suggested it was the latter. I still haven't decided if I can put it on the list or not.

The Crossbills were as entertaining as ever. These shots were spread over several days......

Not much else around. A male Gadwall was probably the most interesting.......

I had a really nasty hangover today. Last night I had a nomihodai. This was actually the first word I learned in Japanese. It basically means a set price for all you can drink within a specified time limit.I drank way too much of course (and continued drinking afterward in another place) and the resulting hangover was not pretty I can tell you.

I also deleted my homepage/second blog. I copied all the files before I did the deed but now they won't upload to the internet so they're gone forever. All the links in previous posts won't work anymore. I thought my new blog was looking OK but apparently it doesn't show properly in Internet Explorer. It works fine in firefox/safari but not IE7. Why are things always so complicated?

So Man U lost last night. If Liverpool can beat Villa tonight the end of the season may be exciting after all.........

*edited to add* OMG 5-0, if they win their next game they'll go top briefly. In fact their next 3 league games are before the Man U games, if they continue winning the pressure will be on Man U for sure. IF they keep winning that is.

15 March 2009

Spring is in the air

Some Brent Geese and Harlequin Duck near Hakodate dock last week. Spring is in the air in south Hokkaido. Despite this I slipped on a rogue bit of ice under a light feathering of snow the other day, my first slip of the winter. I got a nasty bang on my elbow and pulled some muscle in my abdomen. This was before I went drinking, rather embarrassingly.

Anyway, the buds are appearing on the trees and last week's neo-arctic weather in northeast Hokkaido is but a distant memory.

The Crossbills are still around.

I like the way they tip their heads towards me. Sometimes I don't even notice them close to me, then they look down and wink at me and fly off before I get my camera on them.

A lot of Crows have taken up residence in the park where I watch the crossbills and at least 1 pair of the ultra aggressive Large Billed Crows will probably nest there. I swear those things had a vendetta against me last summer. Last spring the local council destroyed a Carrion Crow's nest in the same park (an absurd piece of comedy actually, it took SIX men to do it, typical Japanese government waste and inefficiency). They'll have to send in a SWAT team for the more aggressive Large Billed Crows. Soon I'll be too sacred to risk any crossbill shots.........

Other stuff in Hakodate this week has included Hawfinch, Brambling, Redpoll, Long Tailed Rosefinch, Bullfinch, Great, Coal and Varied Tits, Goldcrest, Common Kingfisher, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Daurian Redstart, Grey Heron, Common Buzzard and Sparrowhawk.

Over at Onuma the Whooper Swans seemed to have upped and left. The lake was still mainly frozen though.

And the usual tame species were as tame as ever....

If you have time to kill you can check my other blog for more pics. You may need a lot of time actually. My homepage has been extremely slow to load recently, so much that I'm thinking of changing it completely. Ditch iweb and use Rapidweaver? I think I just might. The blog part anyway.......iweb is a bit of a dog of an application and much as I like most Mac stuff they made a mess of this one. Apart from the slow loading pages there are lots of bugs in it too.

This afternoon (Sunday) the Crossbills had moved on downstream to near the beach. I took lots and lots of shots which I'll put on my new blog rather than here. The new blog is here and the crossbills shots are here.

The crossbills where so close that I got crossbill crap on my camera. Honestly, I did. Here's a picture.

It was very windy but I got some OK shots but there are a lot of them to sort out so here's a male Bullfinch from near my apartment also this afternoon.

I checked some of the other Hokkaido blogs linked on the right and whilst we were in east Hokkaido we missed Canvasback, Rough Legged Buzzard and Surf Scoter. To be honest we didn't do too much actual birdwatching per se. And I'm not really into listing (except my local list maybe) but..........sh*t we should have paid attention a bit more perhaps.

So Liverpool trounced Real Madrid. I only watched the last 30 minutes but 4-0 is a pretty impressive result and unbelievably they continued in the same vein against Man U last night. If only we'd won those games against Stoke, Hull etc.........

The imminent arrival of milder springlike weather coupled with the end of the financial year has seen the usual legions of otherwise unemployable men doing pointless construction jobs across town. Actually only a few of them seem to be doing anything, the rest stand around smoking, waving red sticks, blowing whistles or talking into cellphones. And it's all very noisy as well as pointless. I've just done my annual tax returns and have just seen where all my tax from last year has been spent on.

I was woken up this morning by an idiot with a loudspeaker. A member of the Japanese Communist Party (as minor here as it is everywhere else these days) was stood outside my apartment building bellowing out some crap about something or other. 10 minutes he went on for and then he and his cronies moved on to another street corner to annoy some other poor folk on Sunday morning. I'm all in favour of free speech but this moron should have just shut the f**k up. Japan is a de facto one party state run by corrupt bufoonish men of retirement age. Shouting outside my window on a Sunday morning(when I had a hangover too I might add) isn't going to change that.

My wife got a new job, full-time for 3 years. Whilst this is great news financially (my god we may even be able to save some money at last) it will curtail any midweek birding trips to Onuma, Yakumo etc. I'm a useless loser who never took a driving test you see (I intend to get one, no really, just a little later when I, errr have the, errr time like you know).

8 March 2009

East Hokkaido Trip 2009 #2

A Stellers Sea Eagle sitting on the drift ice a few kilometres offshore from Rausu. We took a boat out to the ice and god it was so cold. It was the only nasty weather of the whole trip, snowing and windy. The ice was still spectacular though.

It was however something of an anticlimax. I'd really been looking forward to taking pics of the eagles on the ice. Close up against a blue sky. Look on the internet:there are loads of wonderful national geographic standard photos taken by bumbling amateurs like me. The days before and after were apparently brilliant with lots of eagles present and calm sunny weather. But we were unlucky.

Thank god there were a few eagles still around.

It seems like the earlier sunrise boat trip would have been better. Anyway it was too dangerous to go too near the ice and throwing fish onto the ice to attract the eagles was not possible. I suppose in the great scheme of things me missing some eagle shots is not so important. I mean this last week we've had terroist attacks on cricket teams and the global economy continues on its' downwards spiral. But still. F**king hell.

We saw the nice couple from the UK who went the day after and they said it was amazing. I felt like vomiting there and then.

It was probably the coldest I've ever been in my life. At one stage an icy wave soaked me and Dan and the sea suddenly got very rough and I was clinging onto the deck with assorted camera gear dangling from my neck and nearly throttling me.

Birds? A few Cormorants, Auks and Gulls. Lots and lots of Glaucous Gulls.

And a few marine mammals too........

My advice if you take this boat trip is to wrap up as warm and weather proof as possible and to go twice. I have to go next winter.

I met some American birders on the boat (they were hoping for Long Billed Murrelet but didn't seen any I think). One of them even professed to be a fan of this blog. Another birder was a neurosurgeon from South Dakota........

When we got back to Rausu the ice had drifted all the way ashore..........

There were several corpses on the ice, mostly Seals but I think one was a Sea Otter. This Red Necked Grebe was still alive but it didn't look 100%.

More photos from the ice trip are here.

We left Rausu and headed back down to Kushiro to see the Cranes. We stopped off at Lake Masshu which looked very nice and blue but I was still fuming about the eagles......

The Cranes at Kushiro are very easy to photograph. Basically they are fed by local farmers and are very tame in winter before they disperse around the local wetlands in the breeding season. Actually it was like taking photos in a zoo but still it was fun. And they are very photogenic, if sometimes difficult to fit in the frame..........

The Owls at Rausu are attracted by fish put out each night, the Cranes are fed by farmers and had we seen them, the eagles would have been attracted by fish tossed out for them..........but hey I'm not complaining.

One last eagle disappointment awaited. There were a few eagles perched in the trees near the cranes. The warden puts out fish for them at 2pm every day and down they come. But our flight was at 1.10pm. We asked him if it was possible to throw out a few fish earlier. The warden looked aghast, as if we'd asked to borrow his wife for a porn shoot. No it wasn't possible he said. We jokingly said we'd bring our own fish and he looked extremely uncomfortable so we left it at that.

We only stayed one night but I have to say Kushiro is possibly the most depressing and butt-ugly city I've seen in Japan (and that is saying a lot trust me) but once you get outside the city limits it's much nicer and it does of course have lots and lots of cranes....

For more Cranes shots please go here.

So it was a great trip despite my whining about a lack of eagle on the ice photos. The winter is much more intense than down here in Hakodate and the drift ice is a pretty impressive sight. The Owls and Cranes were great and I still managed some nice eagle shots. I can't believe they are such a common urban bird up there. They perch on top of lamp posts for gods sake!

Thanks a lot to Dan for doing the bulk of the driving and also for being great company. Thanks for my wife for putting up with me (she's not actually that interested in birds and I think the boat trip was probably torture for her, she liked the Sea Otter though).

I see Liverpool's title bid finally evaporated whilst I was away. I missed the Boro defeat but I had already predicted Boro would do what Real Madrid had failed to only a few days earlier.

So back to reality and daytime temperatures above freezing..........the Crossbills are still around at least and I'll bore you with those next weekend I'm sure........

7 March 2009

East Hokkaido Trip 2009 #1

A Stellers Sea Eagle up close in Rausu Harbour.

I had a big trip up to northeast Hokkaido last week. I saw lots and lots of eagles but ended up slightly disappointed as you will find out in Part 2.

Our trip started in Kushiro. We (me, my wife and Dan) flew there from Hakodate and landed around 4pm and picked up the rental car and just had enough time before sunset to see this creature in the river in the middle of Kushiro.

It's a wild Sea Otter, kind of like a cross between a giant slimy rat and a seal. It has been named 'Ku-chan' by the local media and is something of a celebrity. There were lots of people watching it (some had fallen in the river in days previously, it was very very icy) but it was too dark for any decent pics so we headed east to Furen-ko and Matsuo's well-known lodge on the lakeside. The GPS was a godsend and we didn't need to consult a map for the whole trip, just tap in the phone number of where you want to go and you're sorted. A nice female voice informs you when a turn is coming up too.

The lodge was full with several guests from the UK and we spent some time the next day with a nice couple who had just been to the Pacific Seabird meeting in Hakodate and there was another man with a loud voice who sounded just like Michael Caine..

We got up the next morning and had a cold bleak walk around the lake and beach. Not much around in the forest, a White Backed Woodpecker and some Tits and Goldcrests and of course the Eagles which were everywhere. A few Gulls and ducks were on the sea too and a group of Asian Rosy Finch were also present.

I'd been here twice before in May and know the area a little bit so we headed out to the easternmost point in Japan the other side of Nemuro. There were some more great views of eagles, some even sitting on the top of lamp posts. They were usually immature birds and not so shy or wary.

Noasspu Cape was cold and windy but there were lots of birds on the sea. Long Tailed Ducks were one of several duck species and there were also Red Necked and Slavonian Grebes and various species of alcid. These included Spectacled and Pigeon Guilemots and Ancient Murrelets. Several seals were bobbing around too. More shots from Nemuro are here.

Heading north up to Rausu we took a brief look at Notsuke, lots of White Winged and Black Scoters and more Long Tailed Ducks here but we wanted to hit Rausu in time to see the eagles returning to roost just like it said in Mark Brazil's well known book. We passed several eagles roadside but pressed on to the aforementioned location which turned out to be a tiny river with, erm, no eagles whatsoever. We asked a passing local if this river was the right one and he said the eagles didn't come there anymore and it was old information. Serves us right for using a 25 year old book. We headed back to the harbour and to be greeted with this sight. A Stellers and White Tailed Sea Eagle sharing a perch on top of a streetlight.

There were several eagles of both species affording extremely good views and all of them were adults.

Great views and they compensated for some later eagle disappointments. Like I say the eagles were all over the show, even pretty much perching in people's gardens.

The harbour itself was also great for birds, all the usual winter gulls and ducks were around as well as Common Guilemot and some Harbour Seals too..

We visited the harbour several times. Here are a couple of views, one looking inland towards Shiretoko and one looking outwards towards the Russian island of Kunashiri at sunrise.

More shots from Rausu are here.

We were staying at Washi-no Yado, a wel known guesthouse that specialises in this rather rare species.

Blakistons Fish Owl, the world's largest and also one of the rarest Owl species. The guesthouse owner has constructed a small pond next to the stream running in front and stocks it every night with fish (after dinner of course). There is even a light that shines on the pond. You either sit at your window in the guesthouse with your camera pointed and ready or sit in the car with the tripod set up next to the window and shutter release ready. Me and Dan sat in the car getting drunk on beer and hot sake with the heater on both nights. The Owl came 4 times and despite the slow shutter speeds and high ISO settings I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of these photos. I know this is contrived but these are wild birds. Honestly.

More Owl shots are here

It was very very cold in Rausu, way colder than Hakodate. When we were in the car drinking beer waiting for the Owl to appear (and the heating off) our bladders shrank to the size of walnuts. We manfully waited for the Owls to appear and leave before we relented though.

It was much colder when we went out on the boat to check out the drift ice abut I'll save that for Part 2.
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