28 February 2009

27 February 2009


A Hawfinch taking a drink in Goryokaku Park.

Every February Hakodate becomes inundated with finches of various kinds, usually 7 -8 species. Last year it was Redpoll, Asian Rosy Finch and Crossbills as well as the commoner visitors such as Hawfinch and Brambling. This year most of the same species are present plus lots and lots of Bullfinches, they are everywhere munching away on the cherry blossom buds. I hope they leave some for the locals to 'view' in early spring..........

The Crossbills are still around, I spent a brief time with them on Monday lunchtime in very good weather. These photos are from the tiny park near my flat. It's behind the public toilet as a matter of fact but luckily the toilets are closed in the winter. Obviously the local cottagers are not a hardy bunch.

I looked for them in the same place for several days afterwards but couldn't relocate them, there are however some in Goryokaku Park which may or may not be the same group. More Crossbill shots from behind the toilet are here.

Speaking of Goryokaku Park I met not one but four foreign birders there on Wednesday. They were in town for a Pacific Seabird meeting (I'm not quite sure what that entails, I guess they were marine biologists or something). This tame Hawfinch kept us entertained for a few minutes.....

And there were also Redpoll, Long tailed Rosefinch, the aforementioned Bullfinch and Crossbill as well as several Brambling....

More shots from the park are here.

The fact that the park used to be a military fort means some of the ramparts are good for getting almost eye level shots of birds that make it look like I've been lying down in the snow, mud and slush........

Monday was the only really clear weather of the whole week and we managed a couple of hours out at Onuma with the Varied Tits and Nuthatches looking great in the bright winter sunshine.....

This a view from a section of the forest where the 'Onuma International Seminar House' is located.

This is a site with several buildings tucked away in the forest. There is a sign in badly translated English prattling on about how the buildings 'empahsize the harmonious relationship between man and nature' or some such crap. You can also 'cleanse your mind and feel relaxation' there too if you want. However some moron has decided that it was a good idea to attach loudspeakers to the outside of one of the buildings and blast out awful 'jazz' style piano background muzak that completely destroys the peace and quiet. You know the type of music. Endless bland insipid noodlings and repeated refrains that make you want to kill someone if you have to listen to it for any length of time. Actually the type of music is irrelelevant. Whoever decided to blast out any form of music in the middle of a forest should be striped naked and have their private parts basted in honey and sunflower seeds and fed to the Nuthatches and Woodpeckers.

The sun showed briefly again on Thursday, here's a distant Kingfisher on the local river.

Today (Friday) I went to Goryokaku Park, more of the same including a bigger flock of Crossbills, about 40 or so birds. I got some OK shots but this blog entry doesn't need any more Crossbill shots I think.........more photos are here for perusal at your leisure.

So Liverpool did Real Madrid away from home and without Gerard too. I didn't expect that. I got up to watch the second half live and couldn't believe how poor Real Madrid were. Ironic that Liverpool appeared to have more Spaniards in their team than the establishment club of Spain but anyway. So we're not going to win the Premier League but are looking good in the Champions League. Again. So how exactly they can beat Real Madrid but not Stoke City is beyond me. I'll miss their next 2 domestic games. Will Sunderland or Boro be able to do what the mighty Madrid couldn't and hold or beat Liverpool? Yup, probably......

Instead of muttering and cursing at Liverpool on TV I'll be in east Hokkaido this weekend to see (hopefully) Eagles, Cranes and Fish Owls. This will be my 3rd visit to the area and my first in winter. The Kushiro/Nemuro/Shiretoko area is a staple for birding tour groups in winter and is pretty well known across the whole birding world. I often get hits on this blog for people doing searches such as 'birding hokkaido winter'. You'll see my site is at the top on yahoo and # 5 on google. Of course people quickly realise the places I talk about and they've never even heard of are miles away from the famous sites in east Hokkaido and move on thinking 'who's that loser down there in the middle of nowhere?' Anyway I'm off there myself on Saturday for 4 nights. On Monday we have a 5am boat trip out to the sea ice booked, my god it will be cold. Expect a deluge of photos next week both here and on my other blog.

We fly to Kushiro tomorrow afternoon and pick up a car at the airport and drive to Furen-ko (it'll be dark by the time we start driving unfortunately) where we'll stay at Matsuo's Minshuku (I've stayed there twice before, it's a great place for birds). Sunday will be spent around Nemuro/Notsuke and Sunday evening to Tuesday lunchtime will be in Rausu at Washi No Yado with the freezing boat trip on Monday morning and hopefully Blakistons Fish Owl both nights. Back to Kushiro Tuesday afternoon, hopefully to see the Cranes on Wednesday morning before we fly back to Hakodate. I'll be skint for the next few months as a result of this trip but I know it will be worth it.

I may try to update this blog from my cellphone. Perhaps. If the photos are the wrong size/orientation it's because I'm a f**kwit.

22 February 2009

Snow, Crossbills and an Owl up close....

One of a group of Common Crossbill in the small park near my apartment.

Winter arrived somewhat late this week, very cold and lots of snow. The snow was blowing off the trees and into my face as I was snapping the Crossbills. The first day I saw them (Tuesday) it was actually sunny but god it was cold and windy.

Most of the pictures were of females or immatures. On Friday the weather was godawful but the Crossbills were pretty close again, shame it was so dark compared to Tuesday. I had to use ISO 800 meaning some grainy images......

I have to say crossbills are possibly my favourite bird. I love the colouring and the way they clamber over the pinecones like little parrots chirping and warbling away and ignoring me craning my neck trying to get a decent angle for a shot. I missed a couple of males with pinecones raised aloft. Also a lot of shots were ruined due to crappy exposure settings as the lighting changed quickly depending on the background. Still, I forgive them. I got some great shots last winter and hopefully they'll stick around for a few more weeks yet.

On Sunday they were still present and the males were less camera shy. The weather was really nasty on Sunday morning (even the city trams were disrupted. This may be par for the course in the UK but not here in hyper efficient Japan I assure you). The slushy wet snow was being blown off the trees in the afternoon right into my face as I was taking these shots. It was tricky as half the time I couldn't even see anything as the viewfinder was covered in icy water. I was standing in the melting snow with freezing feet too. A lot of blurry out of focus shots or massively under or over exposed again but I still got quite a few keepers this last week.

More (lots more) Crossbill shots here and here and here.

It was a great week for finches. Also in the park were Brambling, Hawfinch, Bullfinch and Long Tailed Rosefinch and elsewhere there have been both Redpoll and Siskin. Here's a male Bullfinch out at Shikabe last Wednesday.

We were at Onuma on Wednesday and there was a different Owl in a different hole again.

More Owl shots here.

The tame Tits and Nuthatches were very active.....

And I even took a couple of crappy videos of them with my3X zoom on my crappy old compact digicam.

And here's the cameraman. Some fat grumpy 40 year old guy adrift in the snowy wilds of Hokkaido.

I wasn't over dressed, honestly, it was freezing cold.

Most of the usual commoner species were around at Onuma and Shikabe, including White Tailed Eagle, Black Necked Grebe, Goldeneye and various ducks, Great Egret, various finches and Yellow Throated Bunting.......

I don't know what this Red Fox was eating but it had fur. A squirrel maybe?

More shots from Onuma are here and here.

I saw in a local paper that there was a Bittern at Onuma last week, I never get to hear about this kind of stuff until it's too late. Story of my life. Siberian white Crane and White Winged Crossbill have passed me by as I found out about them a week or so later......

So winter hit Hakodate this week. Maybe global warming is taking a short break from destroying the planet, bodes well for our trip up north next weekend. The sea ice has apparently arrived at Shiretoko and now all we have to do is get up there and see it.

Not much of note in my small world this last 7 days. My wife got some of those Kenko extension tubes for her macro shots. I tried them on my 100-400 and may even use them for ultra close-ups of the Nuthatches some time. Maybe. Perhaps.

My parents are in Vietnam at the moment and off to Cambodia next week. I haven't done any real travelling for years, Malaysia in 2002 was the last exotic place I visited (and that was only a week stopover on the way back to Japan from a visit to England). I went to Venezuela in 2001 and India/Thailand/ Nepal in 1998. All those trips seem like a lifetime ago, I wonder when or even if I'll ever go to those kinds of places again.

The footy season is entering the most crucial stages now. Can Liverpool's team of mediocre overacheiving joureneymen foreigners knock out Real Madrid, keep abreast of Man U and then go on to beat them at Old Trafford? It would be nice of they could. Still 2nd place in the league would be an improvement of sorts. I just wish that had some local players coming up through the ranks, of course I appreciate the likes of Torres, Alonso, Hyppia and Mascherano but it's becoming very very difficult to really muster any enthusiasm for the likes of Kuyt, Babel, Aurelio, Arbeloa and Leiva. Man U won again last night (I didn't watch it though I watched the Chelsea and Arsenal games), 8 points clear...........*edited to add* oh dear a draw against Man City, 7 points to make up with 12 games to go. Nah, no chance.

Can't believe England may lose a series against the Windies (and 15 years ago I could never imagine even thinking about writing that sentence).

Food of the week: Salmon flakes on rice with soy sauce and furikake. Cheap and healthy (as long as I don't squirt too much mayo on top).

Song of the week: 'Sway' by the Rolling Stones. An overlooked golden blast from the past.

Annoyance of the week: Japanese right wing groups in their propaganda vans. Morons. Also the Mac OSX application 'iweb'. I use this to write my other blog. I like Macs a lot but iweb 09 is crap, lots of bugs. The photos are often out of sync (ie the wrong pics on the wrong posts) and if you upload an entry with more than say 10 photos it seems to cause all sorts of problems. Plus the pages it creates take ages to load. I get a lot less hits on that blog than this one, sometimes it doesn't show up in the search engines. Apple:sort it out!

Good point of the week: I don't live in the UK and can avoid reading about and/or discussing Jade Goody and 13 year old fathers. Oh and I may be absolutely skint but at least I'm skint in a currency that is holding its' value.

Birds of the week: Crossbills. You've just got to love them.

Photoshop timesaving find of the week: the red and yellow boost in the saturation menu, very nice for male and female Crossbills.

15 February 2009

A pretty quiet week

A young White Tailed Eagle at Yakumo last Wednesday. I and a friend (thanks for the driving Dan) went up to Oshamanbe and Yakumo, possibly my last time up there this winter. We looked in vain again for the Snow Buntings but failed. We did howver get a very brief glimpse of a much rarer bird, a Siberian Accentor. It was skulking in some bushes and disappeared before we could relocate it. From endless hours looking through fieldguides I thought it looked like the Accentor but wasn't 100% sure. My companion for the day (not familiar with the species at all but he had gotten a better view) pointed at it in the fieldguide totally unprompted.

No Snow Buntings but a few Redpoll and Asian Rosy Finch. And the Eagles of course. Less than last week, only 4 adult Stellers this time. I videoscoped this one for a while but couldn't catch it doing anything interesting until it flew off.

The sound of the shutters clicking was me taking a series of flight shots of the same bird including this picture.

The usual stuff was around at Yakumo including Lapwing, Long Billed Plover, Smew and the Bean Geese.

Up at Oshamanbe the Long Tailed Ducks were still present.

And they were joined by this Black Throated Diver.

The weather has again been very mild this week but the harbour at Oshamanbe was bitterly cold. On the way back to Hakodate we stopped in Mori to take some shots of some Bohemian Waxwing in the fading light.

We finished off in Onuma. The Ural Owl was in its' usual hole but it was too dark for any photos. We were provided with a great comedy moment though. There were 3 or 4 photographers there. One had a huge 5 or 600mm F4 lens trained on the Owl. He looked over at us as if to say "shhhhhhh.........be careful not to scare it away". Unfortunately he didn't notice his camera case behind him as he stepped back and fell with a yelp and a clatter. The Owl flew off of course.

Not much in Hakodate this past 7 days. A White Tailed Eagle was at Ono on Monday as well as Red Necked and Great Crested Grebes offshore at Kamiso, Yellow Throated Bunting were in the bushes near the river on Friday, groups of Brambling have been popping up all over town and there have been a few Bullfinch about including this female taking a bath.

Today (Sunday) I walked along the beach to Yunokawa. Long Tailed Rosefinch, Long Billed Plover and this Asian Rosy Finch were the main birds of interest.

And this Temincks Cormorant posed nicely.

More photos from today here.

And a special thanks to Mariko for cooking this tasty treat for me and my wife, a type of food I rarely get to eat in Japan. My wife is in the background....

So a bit of a quiet week (although the Siberian Accentor was a pretty good find). I didn't see the England v Spain game. Can't understand why the media are so critical of England. I mean they were playing the #1 ranked team in the world away from home, several very key players were absent and it was only a friendly. They lost. So what?

I got drunk on whisky and coke last night and felt like s*it all day today. Not much sport on TV, I'm not so interested in the rugby and the FA cup games on TV weren't so interesting either (West Ham v Middlesborough?). As I've said before business has been very slack this winter but Saturdays are still very busy so it's a good excuse to get drunk.

I've had to do a couple of things on Microsoft Office this last week. I'm not familiar with this kind of software and even doing simple stuff proved a time consuming and frustrating endeavour. I haven't worked in an office environment for over 10 years and have hardly ever used Word or Excel. I now feel old and stupid anyway.......

Another quiet week in prospect. The weather isn't looking too good so I'll get back to my war of wills with Microsoft Office then. Does swearing loudly at the computer screen facilitate learning I wonder?

In 13 days we'll be heading off to east Hokkaido, I can't wait. I've been to the area 3 times before in Spring and Autumn 2006 and Spring 2007. It was pretty cold even in May and October so the end of February will be absolutely freezing. Which is good of course. It need to be cold for all those hundreds of eagles on ice photos I'm going to take.....

8 February 2009

A week of Waxwings

Bohemian Waxwings were present in several small flocks in Hakodate this last week. The flock I spent most time with were located in front of Hakodate Police HQ on a very very busy main street. Much to-ing and fro-ing across the street from both me and the waxwings ensued.

I could get pretty close at least........

A lot of the shots were ruined because of my inability to remember to change camera settings when the birds swooped down. Lots of blurred shots due to slow shutter speeds.

It was a bit hairy dodging the traffic (one of the waxwings actually got hit by a car) and lots of the locals were staring at both me and the birds (especially as it was a busy intersection of the road). Still, just about worth it.

A couple of days later the same flock (presumably) had relocated just around the corner to a mercifully quiet side street.

I had a bit more luck with pics of them on the ground.....

These were much easier to photograph than Wednesday's bunch but they only hung around for a few minutes before they flew off trilling merrily away.

For lots more Waxwing stuff please click here and here.

It's been quite a good week in Hakodate bird-wise. Common Crossbills have arrived (2 small flocks) but they stayed in the treetops and I couldn't get any decent shots. Other stuff round and about included Rustic and Yellow Throated Bunting, Common Kingfisher, Coal and Varied Tits, Brambling, Brown Dipper, Long Tailed Rosefinch, Smew and Red Throated Diver. A group of 5 Bullfinch was in the park near my flat, they stayed up high mostly, these are the best shots I could manage. As you can see this subspecies is slightly different to the one in the UK.

We popped over to Onuma on Monday, the Ural Owl was still present, as were the tame Tits and Nuthatches.

Goshawk and White Tailed Eagle were the other noteworthy species. For more Onuma shots on Monday please go here.

To finish off the week were were in Onuma again. My wife has located another Owl in a different hole. I got some pretty poor shots. Pretty poor for 2 reasons. Firstly my settings were all wrong when the Owl left the hole and perched obligingly in good light. And secondly for some reason the Image Stabilization on my big heavy lens was switched off. Why? When? I think it was the above Owl shot (which was on a tripod hence the IS was off).

So all week the IS must have been off. All those Waxwing shots were without IS. With IS on the 100-400L I find I can get sharp shots at 1/250 sec, so if a bird isn't moving much this is the minimum I aim for. Without IS it's useless, or so I thought. Anyway what a f**k up. For more Owl images from today please go here.

The Black Necked Grebes were still in the harbour at Shikabe but not as close as last time plus it was a bit rough and windy. Plus some moron was using a big heavy lens with the IS switched off.

And to finish off a couple of winter scenes snapped with my compact,I was too lazy to change lens today. This waterfall in Shikabe is normally completely frozen in winter, not so this year.....

And the campsite at Onuma, the mountain was covered in cloud.....so here's the lake.

I see on another blog the Snow Buntings are still at Yakumo. I may only get one final chance to see them this winter, so after 2 failures I'm hoping it'll be third time lucky. More tramping around freezing cold windy exposed beaches then.......

So Robbie Keane has gone and Gerard is injured and out for 3 or more weeks. Liverpool's title challenge now relies on the fragile Torres staying fit and some of the mediocre foreign mercenary journeymen chipping in with a few goals, er like they did against Portsmouth last night (I didn't stay up to watch but it sounded pretty dramatic).

I went to bed just as England started their second innings last night, just 70 or so runs behind. I thought they'd probably win what with the Windies batting last. When I woke up this morning to discover they'd lost by an innings I actually laughed.

Still pretty mild in south Hokkaido. Cold of course but much less than in most winters and not much snow on the ground in Hakodate at least though I realise England has been copping a lot of snow the last week. In Hokkaido the snow generally starts in late November/early December and basically remains until late March, the snow becoming more hard and compacted as the weeks go by but this year is different. Actually the winters seem to be growing milder even in the 10 or so years I've been here. The last really harsh winter was in 2005/6. I hope the cold eventually comes as we're off to east Hokkaido at the start of March to hopefully see eagles atop the drifting sea ice. if the mild weather continues there may be no sea ice at all..........

This weeks episode of 'Shameless' was pretty funny. Whilst I realise 95% of TV in the UK is awful I do miss the other 5%. Thank the lord for torrent sites then........

Another crap month businesswise, what sins did I commit in a past life I wonder? If my wife didn't work in temporary jobs we'd be destitute. Maybe some good luck will come this month..........fingers crossed. I have a couple of plans to perhaps drum up a little business and maybe with all this free time I should do productive things like study Japanese instead of taking poor shots of Owls and harassing Waxwings.

At least Liverpool are top as I type this. And next time I go out with the camera the IS will be switched ON.

Dinnertime now. Kimchi Nabe. And then a bath and a couple of beers before football on TV and then bed. Same as every other Sunday but I'm set in my ways like that.
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