Had an amazing birding-onsen-sightseeing-foodie-shopping trip to Japan (Hokkaido, Tokyo and Kyoto from 14-30 Oct 06) - toted up 76 lifers even though it was off-season for birders. Birds seen included the Blakiston's Fish Owl, Red Crowned Crane, Whooper Swan (love these - their calls is a symphony in its own right!), White-tailed Eagle, Japanese Robin, all the Tits (long-tailed, varied, great, marsh, willow & coal), Siberian Rubythroat, Northern Wren, Pine Grosbeak, Nutcracker, Rough legged Buzzard etc. Was wowed by 8 encounters with wild Sika Deers, including majestic stags with full antlers and gentle does with suckling calves, as well as by brazen and cute Ezo Squirrels. Didn't see no Japanese macques, Asiatic Chipmunks, Pikas, Brown Bears or Red Foxes though, any of these mammals would have been a bonus.
Breakfast at the famous Tsukiji Fish Market in Tokyo, Oishiikata!
Stayed at Furen-ko (Lake Furen), an important RAMSAR site in Nemuro, Eastern Hokkaido with the Matsuo family for 3 days. Matsuo-san, was the kindest host, lending me equipment including his scope, wellington boots, bell (to warn off brown bears) and Hazel Grouse whistle; bringing me to see the Blakiston's Fish Owl; picking me up from the Nemuro station; showing me all his books and his work on bird ringing in Furen-ko; plus his wife prepares the best seafood meals. He speaks good English and is very knowledgable about bird life not only in Japan but around the world. His library of English nature books, mostly on birds, wildlife & plants is enough to impress any birder. Would like to recommend his minshuku (Japanese equivalent of a bed & breakfast (plus dinner)) to birders heading to Furen-ko. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Birding with Richard Carden & Kaori-san at the Meiji Jinggu in Tokyo, my maiden introduction to Japanese birds.
Plenty of ups and and some downs. Was thoroughly charmed by Mt Hakodate (where I saw my Japanese Robin!) & Motomatchi, loved the autumn colours evident in Wakoto Hanto at Kussharo-ko, Mashu and Karuizawa, Noboribetsu's indoor and outdoor spa (onsen & rotenburo) at Daiichi Takimotokan was next to heaven, Kyoto/Nara had the most astounding shrines, climbing / birding Mt Daimonji gave stunning views of Kyoto, Shunkunitai's zen peace and calm duirng early morning bird walks was unforgettable, and Utonai-ko was fantastic, giving me close encounters with all the wild swans (Whopper, Tundra & Mute) and plenty of Northern Pintails. Downs include missing the Hakodate-Aomori ferry, not being able to climb Mt Kurodake because of frost on the path, getting lost in the mountains behind Kyomizudera (Kyoto) just before nightfall, waiting 2 hours in a cold, deserted train station in the middle of nowhere (Oiwake at Hokkaido) in the middle of the night, and my camera malfunctioning in the extreme cold of Hokkaido.
Fall foilage in full force at Karuizawa, where the endemic Copper Pheasant is a possibility, yet proved impossible to tick even after hours of searching. Good birds seen here include the Oriental Greenfinch, Japanese Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Northern Goshawk.
It is generally agreed that birding in Japan is not easy. Unlike places like Doi Inthanon and Taman Negara where birds pop out from all sides and come in waves, in Japan, one has to hunt constantly for our avian friends as they are shy and reclusive. Tendency is to see the same gregarious species (Tits like Marsh, Willow, Great) over and over again, but to be able to find other birds, one needs to ignore the commoners and focus on potential newbies. Besides, I’m not a water birds person (‘em ducks all look the same to me!) and at Furen-ko, I had to conjure up the patience to plough through dozens of rafting waterfowl, but still, I think I missed many species because of my untrained eyes (Eared Grebe!).
Strong volcanic activity at Jigokudani (Hell's Valley) in the laid-back spa resort of Noboribetsu, Hokkaido. Birds seen here include the White Wagtail, Eurasian Nuthatch and Japanese Bush Warbler.
I didn't have a scope except for those times when I borrowed one from Matsuo-san at Furen-ko and used those provided by the Nature Centers throughout Hokkaido. To digress a little, the Nature Centers found in all major birding areas in Japan are fabulous – very well equipped with on average 10 FOC scopes (usually Nikon) pointing out to the lakes; accompanied by exhibits, informative staff, photos, books etc. I was impressed. I find greater joy in woodlands birding, perhaps because birds are more colourful, easier to ID, and to me, cuter.
Moving into the interior of Hokkaido gave me true Japanese wilderness at Wakoto Hanto, Lake Kussharo, part of the Akan National Park. Here, woodland beauties seen include the Siberian Rubythroat, Brown Thrush, and mammals like the Ezo Squirrel.
This was a tour cum birding trip as I wanted to experience Japan (its culture, food, people, onsen and other offerings) and still have a sampling of its birdlife, so my tour itinerary was planned to incorporate as much as possible of both. I birded whenever possible, certainly on all mornings, getting up before 5am. Even in the cities, I chose hotels that were near major train stations and close to birding hotspots.
Momiji, Japanese Maple trees flank the blue waters of Kussharo-ko, Hokkaido.
Trip preparation was somewhat of a chore. Extensive research on the internet produced pages of trip reports which I dutifully digested, getting a feel of bird species that I was likely to encounter. Help came from kind birders like Ingo Waschkies who gave me tips on what to see or skip, Yong Ding Li who lent me his precious books, Richard Carden from Tokyo who took me on my maiden trip at Meiji Shrine and loaned me the out-of-print Mark Brazil guide and of course Matsuo-san (Takeyoshi Matsuo) himself, owner of Lodge Furen, who filled me in on birdlife in and around his lake home, and was the epitome of Japanese hospitality.
My first meal at Matsuo-san's homestay in Lodge Furen, Nemuro, East Hokkaido. Spectacular seafood sashimi, including black caviar and my favourite kabocha (pumpkin) washed down with warm sake. One of the most delicious meals in Japan. Lodge Furen is an excellent base to explore Lake Furen, where waterbirds like gulls, ducks and grebes abound.
Books read prior to departure:
1. Frommer’s Guide to Japan
2. A Birder's Guide to Japan by Jane Washburn Robinson.
3. A Field Guide to the Birds of Japan by Wild Bird Society of Japan (WBSJ) 1982. .
4. Photo guide to Japanese Birds (Nihon no Yacho).
5. A Birdwatcher's Guide to Japan by Mark Brazil.
I tried to familiarize myself with species that I would possibly encounter. Birding sites were chosen based on trip reports and the Robinson book.
Donning wellies borrowed from Matsuo-san, I joined birders from the WBSJ to explore the marshy grasslands and mixed forest of Shunkunitai (the sand spit of an island at Lake Furen). A fierce storm earlier that month had stripped the fall foliage in one night, leaving bare skeletal trees in its wake. The ferocity of the lashing winds and rains saw sea levels rising so high that the waters encroached into the forest, uprooting shallow pine trees. We even found fisherman glass buoys deposited at least 100m into the forest. There were precious little birds to be found, but we did see the Rough-legged Buzzard performing its hovering hunting act, and the Hokkaido subspecies of the Eurasian Jay.
1 Meiji Jingu (Meiji Shrine)
Forested paths around shrine and inner garden, good introduction to common woodland species.
2 Nijubashi Bridge
Famous bridge at Tokyo Imperial Palace. Birds can be found in moat and park. Bins around one’s neck in such a touristy location is bound to attract stares, but one has to be thick-skinned to see as much as possible.
3 Shinobazu Pond, Ueno Park
Very confiding water fowl that are used to being fed by humans. Good for photo taking with compacts.
4 Karuizawa (Nakakaruizawa)
Walk from Hoshino to Kose Onsen, along Kose-rindo. Also exploring Yacho-no-Mori. One of the best woodland birding in Japan, good chance of seeing the endemic Copper Pheasant. This bird is highly elusive, heard that a Japanese birder has never seen it even after 8 years of trying. This comforted me somewhat for dipping.
Famous onsen town where I found 2 of my life birds around Jigokudani (Hell’s Valley): Japanese Bush Warbler and Carrion Crow (roosting in flocks of up to 50 birds). Part of the Shikotsu-Toya National Park.
6 Utonai-ko (Lake Utonai)
Loved this place for close-up encounters with wild Swans and Pintails.
7 Wakoto Hanto (Wakoto Peninsular)
Situated on Kussharo-ko, a volcanic caldera in Akan National Park. Recommended by Mark Brazil for woodland species. Found my summer overstayer Siberian Rubythroat here. Nice forested paths with spectacular lake views and smoking volcanic vents.
8 Furenko (Lake Furen)
World-famous site, number 1 on most birder’s list. Shore birds / waders galore.
9 Shunkunitai Island
Little sand spit of an island by Lake Furen. Also world-famous. Stone’s throw from Matsuo-san’s house.
10 Onneto-Rindo (Onneto Path)
Forested paths joining Onneto-ko to Ochiishi Misaki – Woodlands birding with possible run-ins with brown bear, red fox and Sika deer. Had to wear a bear bell the whole time. Scary. Highlights: Northern Wren & Treecreeper.
At the Furen-ko bridge with Matsuo-san's scope trying to make out a Green-winged Teal from a female Northern Pintail.
11 Hattaushi Bridge (8 cows bridge)
Near Furen-ko, a.k.a. the Blakiston’s Fish Owl bridge. Close to the nest box of a known pair, best chance of seeing the Owl is at dawn or dusk when it flies in or out of its roost.
12 Nossapu Misaki (Cape Nossapu)
Easternmost point of Hokkaido and Japan, where the four Kurile islands (Russia) can be seen across the sea. Until today, the ownership of these islands are still disputed over by the Japanese and Russians. Scopes (for viewing the islands) are provided, which can double up for sea birding. Lovely restaurants for Hokkaido crab dishes. Highlights: Harlequin Duck (many!), Red-faced Cormorant, Black Scoter.
13 Ochiishi Misaki (Cape Ochiishi)
Best of Hokkaido sea birding can be had here. Approach is via an elevated boardwalk that passes through a silent coniferous forest where I encountered families of Sika deer. Before that are grasslands that held a Rustic Bunting. The windswept cape itself boasts a lighthouse and a drop-off onto the pounding waves below. Amazing place with a desolate and wild feel, replete with Harlequin Ducks, Cormorants and Gulls. Stayed only 5 min at the Cape itself due to approaching nightfall. 8km walk to/from Ochiishi Station took up all my time.
14 Sounkyo Gorge
Mixed Deciduous/Coniferous Forest and the Ishikari River. Highlights: Brown Dipper & Bullfinch. Sounkyo is the onsen town of the Daisetsuzan National Park. 0°C temperatures with frost on ground and streams that were starting to freeze up.
15 Mt Kurodake
Altitude birding at Daisetsuzan National Park. Couldn’t do the summit (1984 meters) due to frost / snow covered pathways. Was stuck at the 5th station (1300 meters) as the chairlift to the 7th station was closed for maintenance, but still saw, miraculously, desired birds like the Nutcracker and Pine Grosbeak that had moved down for the winter.
16 Mt Hakodate
Hakodate port, Motomatchi is a charming town with multi-cultural architecture (Greek, Russian churches), Mt Hakodate. My favourite bird - Japanese Robin
17 Kyoto Botanical Garden
Huge botanical gardens that held 2 lifers – Japanese Grosbeak and Japanese Wagtail.
18 Kamogawa (Kamo River)
Outside the Kyoto Botanical Gardens, flows through the spine of Kyoto with water fowl like Mallards, Shovelers, Egrets etc.
19 Nara Park
Super crowded with tourists rushing to see several World Heritage temples in this sprawling park. Plenty of tame Sika Deers with shorn antlers, a very sad sight compared to the wild stately stags with full antlers in Hokkaido. Lots of Varied Tits.
20 Mt Daimonji
A 30min climb to the top, just behind the Ginkakuji (Silver Pavilion). Spectacular views of Kyoto at the summit. Lifers: Eye-browed Thrush and Bamboo Patridge.
Dipped: Copper Pheasant, Black Woodpecker, Hazel Grouse, Japanese Accentor. Was hoping to catch early arrivals of Guillemots, Murrelets, Puffins and Stellar’s Sea Eagle (earliest arrival at Furen-ko was 15 Oct according to Matsuo-san), but no such luck.
My annotated bird list is below. Enjoy!
Onneto-rindo, forested path 15 mintues walk from Matsuo-san's house. Here, one treads the ground with caution as there may be bears lurking in the depths. Was hoping to see the Hazel Grouse, but got the Northern Wren and Eurasian Treecreeper instead, two very cute birds.
Gloria's Japan Bird List
Lifers - 76 birds Total - 88 birds
Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata Abi
Saw 3 birds floating fairly near the shore close to a group of Harlequin Ducks. Winter Plumage of gray mantle with huge white area on face and neck. Got this bird only after checking out the coast beyond the lighthouse. Rewarded myself with an oishikatta Hokkaido crab lunch after that.
Chinese Bamboo- Partridge Bambusicola thoracica Kojukei
Mt Daimonji (Kyoto)
Heard it calling loudly as it flew across the forest, from ground level to land up a tree. There, it fed at the canopy level, saw only its brownish belly with black crescent markings plus short tail. From its horizontal posture, call and habitat, it had to be the Bamboo Patridge.
Mute SwanCygnus olor Kobu-hakuchou
Nijubashi, Utonai-ko, Nijo Castle's moat
Always in small numbers, swimming placidly in ponds. Observed it sleeping upclose at Utonai-ko, even filmed its vertical nictitating membrane which closed before its eyelids did. The feeling was awesome, to be able to squat just next to a dozing swan to observe its every detail as the constant winds ruffled its feathers and chilled me to ice-cube cold. I loved the fact that this particular individual was not nervous around humans, nor were any of the swans and pintails at Utonai-ko, perhaps giving me a glimpse of a kinder world that could be had, where man could live alongside wild birds without feeling the need to shoot or club them. Unfortunately, only the water birds around Utonai-ko and Shinobazu Pond were tame, in other parts of Japan, they fly at first sight of a human, keeping a distance of at least 10m. The reason I learnt later while walking along Onneto-rindo - I met a ranger in his fanciful 4WD who stopped to warn me not to bird in the forest in 2 days time as the area would be closed for hunting. Ouch, there is still a hunting season for the Japanese. Because of this, populations of Hazel Grouse (my desired bird which I never saw) and other non-protected species have fallen dramatically. Sad.
Whooper Swan Cygnus cygnus Ou-hakuchou
Utonai-ko, Kussharo-ko & Furen-ko area
Absolutely smitten by this bird. Especially when great numbers start whooping their synchronus sonorous song, necks going up and down in gusto, akin to an avian symphony orchestra! It seemed like an anthem of unity, done to chase away other (lesser) birds so that as a team they got to eat the bulk of food handed out by revolving groups of Japanese, including toddlers and businessmen. Loud whooping also occured in flight, where small flocks of 5-8 birds would wing across the skies, especially around Furen-ko. These great white beauties exuded a very joyous feel around them. Quite a few immatures amongst them, with grey plummages - reminded me of the Ugly Duckling story, although they were not in the least bit ugly. The Whopper also marked my 300th life bird!!!
Bewick's SwanCygnus columbianusKo-hakuchou
Much smaller than the Whooper (120 vs 140cm), less elegant and stouter appearance. With the two species of swans side by side at Utonai-ko, I could easily see the difference in beak markings (the shape and extent of the yellow portion) between the two birds. Plus the yellow ring around eyes of the Whooper was a lot more pronounced.
Eurasian WigeonAnas penelope Hidori-gamo
Shinobazu-ike, Utonai-ko, Furen-ko, Onneto-ko, Kamo-gawa
Pretty bird with distinct yellow band across top of an otherwise brown head.
Green-winged TealAnas carolinensis
Matsuo-san pointed out this bird to me. I asked to see a male, but he said that all males are now in eclipse plummage, so they looked like females. Only differentiating factor from the Mallard and Pintail is the green patch at the primaries. Ducks are sure confusing.
MallardAnas platyrhynchos Ma-gamo
Shinobazu-ike, Utonai-ko, Furen-ko, Onneto-ko, Kamo-gawa
Distinct green head, yellow bill and thin white band across neck. If males are not present, have difficulty telling all female ducks (Mallard, Shoveler, Pintails etc) apart with their similar cryptic plumage. Or more like I'm not that keen on water birds.
Spot-billed Duck Anas poecilorhyncha Karu-gamo
Nijubashi Moat, Shinobazu-ike, Utonai-ko, Furen-ko, Onneto-ko, Kamo-gawa
This one is easy to spot with the prominent yellow spot on bill and facial stripes. Almost as abundant as Northern Pintails. Resident.
Northern ShovelerAnas clypeata Hashibiro-gamo
Moat of Tokyo Imperial Palace (Nijubashi), Shinobazu-ike, Furen-ko, Onneto-ko
Diagnostic broad dark spatulate bill that is longer than head. Feeding method seems to be swimming about purposefully, skimping / dabbling the surface of water with their broad bills (at Nijubashi), possibly filter feeding?
Northern Pintail Anas acuta Onaga-gamo
Shinobazu-ike, Utonai-ko, Furen-ko, Onneto-ko,
Most abundant of the marsh ducks. At this time of the year, males are without the long pins on their tails, females seem to greatly outnumber males. Or perhaps all duck females look the same to me!
Tufted Duck Aythya fuligulaKinkuro-hajiro
Shinobazu-ike & Furen-ko (Hakuchodai)
This one is a cute fella with a punk tuft on head and beady yellow eyes. Delighted to see 2 males with a couple of female escorts.
Greater Scaup Aythya marila Suzu-gamo
This bird species seems to prefer quiet inland waters, keeping to themselves instead of intermingling with the rest of the massive duck population out on the open lake. Found a group up a stream, but later on, also saw it with the rest.
Harlequin DuckHistrionicus histrionicus Shinori-gamo
Nosappu Misaki & Ochiishi Misaki
Scoped the bird using the free scopes at the nature center. I felt my breath catch in my throat as I gazed at this multi-coloured beauty. Star bird of the day for me! Later, I discovered small groups of these sea ducks in scattered rafts fairly close to the coastline. If I remember right, they dive for their food too, riding on the waves and suddenly plunging headlong into the sea, disappearing for a full minute or so. They swam alongside Cormorants and the Red-throated Loon. But too bad my camera malfunctioned in the constant gales, so no picture for the album.
Black Scoter Melanitta nigra Kuro-gamo
After an hour or more of scanning the open seas with the free scope, where I felt most sleepy and almost bored in the stuffy confines of the nature center, I finally found just one bird floating out there in the high waves of the open sea. It stood out easily with its all-black plumage and yellow-orange bill. What a relief, at least there were other birds out there aside from endless gulls and comorants that dominated the seascape.
Red-breasted MerganserMergus serrator Umi-aisa
Mistook this bird for the Goosander, till Matsuo-san said that he sees the RBM from his room windows everyday, and not the Goosander. Oh well, another lifer for me then, although from afar, even through the scope, they look similar to me, also because all males were in eclipse plumage. Summer colours are a lot easier to ID compared to the dull tones of winter...
Common Merganser (Goosander) Mergus merganser Kawa aisa
Kussharo-ko & Furen-ko
First saw 3 of these birds at Kussharo-ko. Distinct red-white demarcation between head and throat. Saw it again at Furen-ko, at the Hakuchodai, when Matsuo-san scoped it for me on the way to the owl bridge. He looked a little disappointed to learn that I had seen it before, cause he outrightly stated that he was helping me find more new birds. Really sweet guy. Well, the reward was the Owl, I'll trade a water fowl anyday for an owl.
Japanese Pygmy WoodpeckerDendrocopos kizuki Ko-gera
Ueno Park, Karuizawa, Wakoto Hanto, Sounkyo
This was one of the most common woodland birds around. Delightful little woodpecker that runs effortlessly up and down tree trunks, hopping merrily and flying in short spurts. It pecks furiously at loose bark, sending splinters flying in every direction. Cute! Grayish-brown crown and nape distinguishes it fr our Sunda Pygmy.
Great Spotted WoodpeckerDendrocopos major Aka-gera
Karuizawa, Wakoto Hanto, Onneto-rindo
Very easy to differentiate this from the White-backed with the huge white V on its black mantle. Drums loudly. Was hoping to see a Black, but each time, it turned out to be a Great Spotted. Didn't even see the White-backed, sigh, or the very coveted and rare Lesser Spotted. But the Great Spotted was a pretty sight to behold too.
Japanese Green WoodpeckerPicus awokeraAo-gera
Admired this bird for only a few short seconds at Karuizawa. Female, as it had a predominantly gray crown, saw the black bars on belly and greenish mantle. It landed near the canopy level, pecked a little and was off before I could really appreciate its form.
Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis Kawasemi
Meiji Shrine (inner garden's pond), Kamogawa
Flushed this bird, which flew across the length of the Inner Garden pond at Meiji-Jingu, its penetrating azure mantle glinting gloriously in the morning sun. Landed on an open branch. Just right too, as Richard and Kaori-san were hoping to see a Kingfisher.
Blakiston's Fish-Owl Ketupa blakistoni Shima-fukurou
Hattaushi Bridge near Furen-ko
I was v fortunate. There is only a 1 in 10 chance of seeing the fabled Owl at the Hattaushi (8 cows) Bridge near Lake Furen, and it appeared for me after only 15 minutes of waiting out in the cold! Matsuo-san was sharp enough to spot the bird flying in the forest, parallel to the road. The owl warden was there too, he said that normally people only get to hear the deep hoots of the bird (1 in 3 chance), and he did not even hear it the day before. Anyhow, my Owl landed less than 8m away, on an unblocked perch for at least 2-3 minutes. But the failing light made it difficult to enjoy it properly, even though it filled the whole scope. I was really tempted to beam my huge torch at it, but because the owl warden was there, I refrained. The bird then flew across our paths, just meters from us, to the other side of the forest. Could see clearly its great round head and broad wings with the naked eye. We were elated! Sugoi! Apparently, artificial nest boxes planted by owl wardens have yielded results, and the population has grown somewhat. Still it is one of the rarest and biggest owls (72cm) in the world, with only about 100 individuals in Hokkaido (20 breeding pairs only), concentrated mostly in Rausu and Nemuro. There are about 2,000 birds on the mainland (China, Russia and possibly N Korea). Total - 4 subspecies. FIsh owls are specialised Horned owls (Bubo). Its habitat is riparian forest, with large, old trees for nest-sites near waterbodies.
Rock PigeonColumba livia Dobato
Everywhere (Tokyo, Hakodate, Kyoto)
Aarrgh. Pest bird that poops on our cars, found abundantly in Japan. Recently, a pelican was filmed to have eaten one of these, instead of taking a fish! Nice evolutionary change! Read in disbelief that there are people who watch pigeons, and appreciate its multi-variate forms.
Oriental Turtle-Dove Streptopelia orientalis Kiji-bato
Meiji Shrine & Kyoto Botanical Gardens
Much better views in Kyoto, where it landed boldy on the ground, walking around like the Rock Pigeons. Heard one fella cooing in an awful loud and low voice from a tree. Hardly soothing. Took several photos of this bird. Only back in Singapore did I realise that it was actually standing by its nest. Read that it’s a descendent of the Rock Pigeon! But its much better looking.
Red-crowned Crane Grus japonensis Tanchou
Furen-ko (Nemuro Bay, outside Matsuo-san's house, Hakuchodai)
Ah, the exalted Japanese Crane. Was v happy to flush my first crane from Nemuro Bay, (I was having my lunch on the cliff overlooking the bay), when this bird flew regally across the waters to land near Matsuo-san's house. Saw it at least 5 to 6 times in my 3 days at Nemuro, a total of 9 individuals. Twice - a family of 3 cranes, witnessed mummy or daddy feeding a fish to baby who ran forward to eagerly receive it. Baby had the typical white body and black tail feathers but still had a bare head. Found a 2nd family of 3 cranes - this baby looked bigger. Very close-up view of crane #P39. Quite a few established breeding areas for these cranes around Furen-ko. Happy to hear that populations have crossed 1,000 birds. Back in the 1920s, this crane was thought to be extinct in Japan until 10 birds were found deep inside the Kushiro Marshes. Extensive feeding during the harsh winters and local support helped bring back its numbers. One third of the world's population today resides in Eastern Hokkaido. Colourful and symbolic origami cranes adorn many of Japan's modern-day temples.
Grey-tailed TattlerTringa brevipesKiashi-shigi
Furen-ko (Nemuro Bay)
Saw 2 birds at dusk. Walked out to rocky Nemuro Bay by accident, mistook it for Shunkunitai. No wonder the way was so difficult, strewn with uprooted reeds brought in by the tide and general rubbish. Luckily, I had wellies on. Bird had a clear gray, unmottled mantle, gentle looking fellas that were very wary of me. Good views in fading light.
Dunlin Calidris alpina Hama-shigi
The Dunlins were very shy, taking flight enmasse the moment they spied a human. They provided good aerial displays, banking this way and that, with no outward purpose of flying whatsover, traversing the island and skimping over the shoreline. They seemed to be taking to the skies for the sheer joy of it! Observed it alternatering its flight height by a quick manoeuvre - dipping its wing in one direction and quickly righting it. Impressive.
Eurasian Oystercatcher Haematopus ostralegus Miyakodori
Arrived too late for this bird the first day - all the Jap birders were wowing over it. Even the Castle-chaser guy was impressed, telling me it was a Miyakodori. Saw it on the 2nd morning - 3 birds with bright red bills and b/w plummage flying right by me, apparentely chased by a Peregrine Falcon. They landed far out towards the seaward side of Shunkunitai. Matsuo-san said that there were 8 of them, and they had been around for some time, he sees them from his bedroom window every morning. How envious! He is indeed living right by his birds, in paradise. Apparently, Matsuo-san came up to Furen-ko from warm Kyushu 30 odd years ago to set up his minshuku so as to be close to his birds all year. What passion! Temperatures in Furen-ko can plunge to a bone chilling -25 degrees celcius in the deep of winter. But, on the upside, the iced up lake becomes gathering grounds for flocks of stupendous Stellar's Sea Eagles that number between 70 to several thousands.
Black-tailed GullLarus crassirostris Umineko
Shinobazu-ike, Furen-ko, Hakodate
Saw one bird at Shinobazu. And plenty at Furen, perched with the much larger Glaucous, Glaucous-winged, Slaty-backed, Herring, and same-size Common (Mew), on the Shunkunitai Bridge and on any open landing area. Yellow feet, small size and black/red tipped bill easily distinguishes it from the bigger gull's pink legs. Saw gulls all over Hokkaido, at least near the sea, from Furen-ko to Nossapu Misaki, Ochiishi Misaki and Hakodate. Er, didn't bother to note which species appeared where, but generally, Slaty-backed were most common. Took them for granted so much so that I forgot to look out for Red-legged Kittiwakes and the other less common gulls.
Common Gull Larus canus Kamome
Unmarked yellow bill. Its easy to tell gulls apart from each other, unlike ducks.
Glaucous-winged GullLarus glaucescens Washi-kamome
Furen-ko, Nosappu Misaki,
Pale Gray back and Gray striped tail.
Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus Shiro-kamome
Furen-ko, Nosappu Misaki,
Biggest of the gulls at 71cm, vs 61cm of the Slaty-backed. Saw this gull mobbing a smaller bird for its food. Plus it eats starfishes. So does the Slaty-backed.
Herring (Vega) Gull Larus argentatus Seguro-kamome
Furen-ko, Nosappu Misaki,
60cm, pale gray mantle and blacked striped tail.
Slaty-backed Gull Larus schistisagus Ou-seguro-kamome
Utonai-ko, Furen-ko, Nossapu Misaki, Ochiishi Misaki, Hakodate
Most common. First saw it in Utonai-ko, a lone bird. At Furen-ko, they flocked and perched together with the other gulls in harmonious unity. Also saw plenty at the ports near Ochiishi, soaring with the swirling winds, in a rather jaw-dropping display flight of sudden drops and twists.
Black KiteMilvus migrans Tobi
Utonai-ko, Kussharo-ko, Furen-ko
Exceedingly common around water bodies all over Hokkaido, because it feeds mainly on carrion and dead fish. 58.5cm (male), 68.5cm (female). W: 150cm. Because of its ubiquity most people tend to assume that whatever raptors soaring up in the skies is a Black Kite. Almost missed the Rough-legged Buzzard that way. Saw it perch on wires like crows, where long forked tail becomes prominent, but it's more shy, taking flight whenever a human approaches. However, one individual posed for me for a long time at the Shunkunitai Bridge, digiscoped it with my camera phone (cos camera was malfunctioning). Even Japanese non-birders (like Daiichi-san) knows that its called Tobi.
White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla Ojiro-washi
Lifer at Utonai-ko, on the shore opposite the boardwalk where its white tail was prominent in flight. Saw it again, thrice at Furen-ko, even a juvenile. Perched on the seashore at Shunkunitai, soaring etc. Much bigger than the Tobi at 80cm (male), 95cm (female). Lovely and majestic.
Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis Ou-taka
Forest raptor that suddenly flew from its hidden perch (tree up a slope), across my path 8m away, to the other side of the forest at Karuizawa, Kose Rindo. Even on such a short flight, it glided somewhat. Could only see its Gray mantle when it landed, with head hidden in the leaves. Based on Mark Brazil's bird list at Karuizawa, only forest raptor is this bird, so it must have been what I saw.
Rough-legged Buzzard Buteo lagopus Keashi-nosuri
Miscommunication saw me taking part in a tree survey instead of what I thought was a bird survey by 7 WBSJ (Wild Bird Society of Japan) members. Trekked through miserable marshes, muddy with tall reeds, crossing small streams, afraid of falling the entire time and ruining my equipment and jacket. Luckily, Matsuo-san lent me wellies. Anyhow, on the way back, decided to take a closer look at a group of soaring raptors to see if there was anything else aside from Black Kites. Asked Yuko-san to help identify this white, hovering raptor (V-shaped wings) that I spotted. It plunged down for the kill at least twice but got nothing. The rest became excited when they realised it was somewhat of a rarity, and someone finally IDed the bird. Cool, a lifer for most. 55cm, uncommon winter visitor to N Japan. Yuko-san thought I was looking at some gull, like I couldn't tell a raptor apart from a white gull!
Peregrine Falcon Falco peregrinus Hayabusa
This bird was chasing a group of gulls and oystercatchers, thats how I finally saw 3 oystercatchers (miyakodori). Got to thank it for flushing the oystercatchers across my path. Matsuo-san saw the entire sequence. The Peregrine (wandering) Falcon is the fastest creature on the planet in its hunting dive, the stoop, in which it soars to a great height, then dives steeply at speeds in excess of 300 km/h (185mph) into either wing of its prey, so as not to harm itself on impact. Although not self-propelled speeds, due to the fact that the falcon gathers the momentum and controls its dive, technically there is no faster animal. The fastest speed recorded is 390 km/h (242.3mph). For this reason, its the favourite bird of falconers.
Little Grebe Tachybaptus ruficollisKaitsuburi
Meiji Shrine, Tokyo Imperial Palace (Nijubashi)
There are only 3-5 Little Grebes in Singapore (breeding), but quite a few in the Tokyo area. Can hold its breath for around 1 min. Forever diving and disappearing, later resurfacing some distance away.
Great CormorantPhalacrocorax carbo Kawa-u
Meiji Shrine, Nijubashi moat, Shinobazu Pond, Nara Park
Looks so much like Temmnick's, its difficult to tell them apart, if not for the different environment in which they are found.
Japanese Cormorant (Temminck's Cormorant)Phalacrocorax capillatus Umi-u
Furen-ko, Nosappu & Ochiishi
Seen flying around, floating/diving for fish (most interesting, riding the waves) and perching on rocks in big groups, drying its wings, mixed with Pelagic and Red-faced. Much bigger than Pelagic 84cm vs 73cm. Quite a lot of juveniles around.
Red-faced Cormorant Phalacrocorax urile Chishima-ugarasu
2 birds with bluish-white bill, c/w Pelagic's black bill. Lucky find. Its resident but a lot rarer.
Pelagic Cormorant Phalacrocorax pelagicus Hime-u
Furen-ko, Nosappu & Ochiishi
As common as the Temminck's. All black cormorant.
Little Egret Egretta garzettaKo-sagi
Honshu (Shinobazu, Kamo-gawa, in paddies, seen from the train)
Common bird in inland waters, seen very often (Tokyo, Kyoto). Read David Attenborough's The Life of Birds where the LE has been observed to use its yellow feet in fishing, waving one foot tantalisingly to attract inquisitive fish and then stabbing and making a meal out of the unlucky few.
Grey Heron Ardea cinerea Ao-sagi
Nijubashi Moat, Furen-ko, Kyoto (Kamogawa, Nijo Castle, Kyomizudera, Nara Park)
Most common of the shore birds. Easily 20-40 of them at Furen-ko, and plenty of individuals found at every pond around the country. Interestingly, the birds encountered were not afraid of humans at all. Saw 3 birds in 3 separate ponds at unlikely locales as crowded as Kyomizudera, Nara Park & Nijo Castle. The one at Kyomizudera stood so still that people around (including me!) thought they were looking at a statue until the bird moved and shocked everybody, who then started snapping pictures of it. This particular bird was within grabbing distance. Cool. New respect for it.
Great EgretArdea alba Dai-sagi
A few individuals out there with the Grey Herons
Eurasian JayGarrulus glandariusKakesu
Meiji Shrine, Karuizawa,Wakoto Hanto, Shunkunitai, Furen-ko forest (subspecies brandtii), Onneto-rindo
Unique, big and beautiful. Prefer the Honshu version with its dintinct black streaked white crown c/w Hokkaido subspecies with brown head. Saw both varieties multiple times. Blue wing coverts were pretty. 33cm.
Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyana Onaga
Surprisingly elusive. Expected to find it, as its quite common in Beijing. Only saw it fly-by, a huge bird 37cm at Karuizawa. Even then, had very poor views of it.
Thank God for this bird. Frost on ground meant that I could not climb the mountain in search of this highly desired species, nor did the Visitor Center have crampons. Plus only the cable car was in operation and not the chair lift which would have taken me up to the 7th station. So I was left stranded on the 5th station. Prayed to God that instead of me going to the birds, they would come to me. Guess I exhibited FAITH. Saw 3 lifers in 3 hours waiting out in the cold, incl the Pine Grosbeak and Siberian Bluechat (female). Managed to find enough frost-free earth to make my way up to the 5th station's viewing deck where my Nutcracker appeared. There was a great and constant wind that swirled up huge volumes of clouds. The winds finally blew away the mist that obscured the 2 peaks next to Kurodake, giving me lovely photos of the Daisetsuzan mountain range. One of the peaks was really beautiful, its symmeterical rounded top covered in blinding snow. I was looking up the ID of the Siberian Bluechat when I caught a movement to my right and suddenly the Nutcracker materialised, pecking hard at something found in between rocks (perhaps it was cracking a wedged object), just 5 m from me! Breath caught in my throat as I admired it for about 2-3 minutes. Fantastic views which left me exultant and in very high spirits. Brazil mentioned that highland species would have moved down for the winter, which was the case here. Totemo Ureshikatta!!!
Carrion Crow Corvus corone Hashiboso-garasu
Noboribetsu, Furen-ko,Kyomizudera, Kyoto Botanical Gardens
Saw large flocks of this bird roosting by the hills. It actually looked pretty cute upclose with slender bill and ruffled feathers. Photographed them walking on the ground, plus even spotted one with a nest. Never seen such huge, black flocks before swarming and roosting on hill nooks. But they spoilt the onsen experience somewhat with their annoying and omnipresent caws. If only they were cute and pretty Japanese Robins.
Large-billed CrowCorvus macrorhynchos Hashibuto-garasu
Everywhere (Tokyo, Hokkaido, Kyoto) even up Mt Kurodake
From city to country side, this humongous bird is a menace, often destroying the peace and tranqulity with their loud caws. Flocks too which is unusual. In Singapore, these are mostly solitary. Truth is, I had difficulty telling the Carrion apart from the Large-billed. Both look Large-billed to me.
Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii Kawagarasu
Ishikari river at Sounkyo, to and from Ryusei and Ginga Taki (waterfalls)
Up and down the river, this bird could be seen doing its thing - swimming, bathing (despite it being in the water all day, it still bathes, which is astounding), pecking at worms, flying etc. I'm amazed that it can tolerate the freezing waters. Read that oiled feathers trap air that keeps it warm but buoyant. So it has to cling with its claws to the bottom of the river for up to 10 seconds each dip when it searches for worms, nymphs etc. Usually hunts alone, but joins up with its partner once in a while. My favourite bird of Sounkyo. Especially liked its constantly cocked tail, same as that of a Wren's. Might have seen it briefly in Karuizawa. This was the bird that appeared to my left, the moment I thought about it - a very strange and miraculous experience.
Eyebrowed Thrush (Grey-headed)Turdus obscurus Mamichajinai
Mt Daimonji (Kyoto)
There were at least 2 of these around, relatively high up in the trees. Thought it was another Brown Thrush, but saw that the rufous orange did not cover its full belly but only the upper portions and flanks. Managed to spot its white eyebrows a la Dusky Thrush and its gray head/brown mantle combination. It perched for a while before short flights between branches. 21.5cm.
Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus Shirohara
Kyoto Botanical Gdns
A Brown Thrush-like bird without the rufous belly, replaced by a pale brown instead. 24cm.
Brown ThrushTurdus chrysolaus Akahara
Wakoto Hanto, Furen-ko forest, Onneto-rindo, Sounkyo
This was not an easy bird to spot initially, as it preferred to stay in the higher branches, keeping still with sudden short flights. Searched for it for almost 1/2 hour about 10-15m inside the Wakoto Hanto forest (starting from the path), thankfully, undergrowth was not thick. I had earlier detected movements, but could not find the perpetuators. Rewarded with not only two Brown Thrushes but a lovely male Siberian Rubythroat who posed on an open rock inside the woods. I really love colourful woodland birds! They sure made my day, especially after heavy doses of tit after tit. After that, saw it quite a few more times.
Dusky Thrush Turdus naumanni Tsugumi
Karuizawa, Kyoto Botanical Gardens
First glimpsed it at K, but bad views, down a slope that saw the bird playing hide and seek with me. Later at Kyoto BG, had much better views of one bird with prominent white eye brows and black splotched white underparts.
Narcissus Flycatcher Ficedula narcissina Ki-bitaki
Meiji Shrine, Ueno Park
Unfortunately, this was a dull brown female, so no real excitement there. Displayed the usual flycatcher stunts of returning to the same perch after a hunt. Looked around for males but to no avail. Richard Carden said that females tend to stick around town longer. Saw an undientified FC at Ueno Park, could be this lady again.
Blue-and-white FlycatcherCyanoptila cyanomelana Ou-ruri
Meiji Shrine, Karuizawa
Unfortunately, another dull coloured female, dang. IDed by Richard. Looked quite the same as the Narcissus.
Japanese Robin Erithacus akahige Komadori
Haha, my favourite bird of the trip. Two beautiful specimens just 3-5 m from me in the bushes. They stayed around for a long time (c.15min), enough for me to snap pictures, and watch them to death. First saw a blurry orange mirage appearing before me at eye-level, then the birds kept hopping nearer and nearer. Had been busy craning my neck studying a group of Siberian Bluechats (all freakin' females) and Japanese White-eyes when this beauty appeared. So the chance of admiring it without having to strain my poor neck was grabbed with alacrity. Heard that its not that easy to see, which made the sighting much sweeter. Also, Hakodate happened to be my favourite destination (most pretty) in all of Japan. The city and sea views from cobble-stoned paved atmospheric Motomatchi was priceless. The 'trek' was through Hakodate Morning Market (fresh seafood), Hakodate Port, attractive red-brick warehouses covered in autumn foliage, a Greek Orthodox Church, a Russian Orthodox Church, Chinese Temple, Japanese neighbourhood and finally the attractive footpaths of Mt Hakodate. And the residents were the friendliest, greeting me 'Ohayo Gozaimasu' all along my short 5hr stay. Was sad that had to leave early to catch the Pelagic Hakodate-Aomori ferry that was not to be.
Siberian RubythroatLuscinia calliope Nogoma
Another lifer that was super lucky. As mentioned in my Brown Thrush story, my patience waiting in the cold paid off with this avian jewel modelling itself (swivelling/hopping from left to right) on an open rock just 10-15m or so from me, in the gloom of the forest. But its ruby throat and superb beauty sure drove away cold and gloom and left me smiling from ear to ear. Was told by the Jap birders that its unusual to see this summer visitor so late in season. There were possibly 3 birds around, as earlier on, they flew by in a flash. Could only confirm clear sighting of one glorious male.
Siberian Bluechat (Red-flanked Bluetail)Tarsiger cyanurus Ruri-bitaki
Mt Kurodake, Mt Hakodate
This is one of the 3 miracle birds that Iesu Kirisuto delivered to me on the frost-covered paths of Mt Kurodake, where I could not go to the birds for fear of slippery slopes, but instead they came to me. This bird's loud chirp drove me up the slopes despite the frost, in desperation I found enough frost free earth to trod on. Prominent eye ring, brown mantle and orange flanks, plus overall look clinched the ID. It flew down to a rock before flying up again into the bare branches. Saw a group of it again at Mt Hakodate, high up in the trees, only thought I saw flashes of its blue tail, but hard to tell.
Grey Starling Sturnus cineraceusMukudori
Ueno Park, Kyoto, Nara Park
Caught sight of just one bird in Ueno Park, prominent white cheeks streaked with black stood out against brownish plummage. Didn't see any in Hokkaido. But in Kyoto, they were street birds, perching together with pigeons on wires. Shaped the same as our local myna, which thankfully was absent.
Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea Gojuu-kara
Karuizawa, Noboribetsu, Utonai-ko, Wakoto Hanto, Furen-ko forest, Onneto-rindo, Sounkyo, Hakodate
One of the most encountered woodland birds, the Nuthatch is a lovable blue and white tree crawler, running up and down vertical tree trunks with nary a problem. It is also rather fearless, coming onto the ground to pick up seeds (Noboribetsu), even attempting to steal a nut that an Ezo Squirrel was eating (Wakoto Hanto, near the yumeina Dango Sankyodai store). Its supposed brownish flanks is usually very light and almost invisible. Often seen in pairs, or in mixed bird flocks.
Eurasian Tree-CreeperCerthia familiaris Kibashiri
Almost dismissed this cutie as another nuthatch. Although it has sparrow colouration (mottled brownish white mantle, with white eyebrows and belly), it is a relief from seeing one-too-many nuthatches. Also, it has a much longer decurved beak. Supposedly occurs only in deeper coniferous forest (Onneto-rindo). Matsuo-san expressed surprise when I told him I saw it, which means its not so easy to spot!! Found it inside the forest, flying from tree to tree. Was in a feeding flock of tits.
Northern Wren Troglodytes troglodytes Misosazai
Heard a loud chirp coming from some low shrubs on the open grassland just before the coniferous woods began. Was very pleased to find the cocked tail and generally cocky appearance of the kawaii and tiny wren hopping from left to right, displaying while calling from a rock. Flew a short distance before repeating its behaviour. Have always wanted to see this bird since I heard that the mommy in Baby Blues named her 3rd kid 'Wren' because a Wren attempted to fly into her hospital room after she gave birth, and smashed itself right against the glass windows, God bless its little soul. Didn't even read this comic strip myself, Glenda told me. Haha. It sure was cute!
Marsh Tit Parus palustris Hashibuto-gara
Wakoto Hanto, Furen-ko forest, Sounkyo
The bird was numerous in the forests of Hokkaido, especially Wakoto Hanto - practically every small bird was a Marsh Tit, with prominent black throat, white cheeks, grey mantle, black crown and fairly long tail. Quite irritating, when I was hoping to see something new. Usually moves in small groups of between 2 to 6 birds
Willow Tit Parus montanus Ko-gara
Karuizawa, Wakoto Hanto, Hakodate
Like the Marsh Tit which it resembles save for a sooty black vs glossy black crown, this bird was numerous in Karuizawa. Again, practically every small bird bounding from shrub to shrub along the trail was a Willow. Its cute though, with a high pitch call, a trifle annoying given the frequency of encounters, but anyday nicer than the ET sparrows.
Coal Tit Parus ater Hi-gara
Karuizawa, Wakoto Hanto, Sounkyo, Mt Kurodake, Kyoto Botanical Gdns
This was one of the rarer tits. Didn't see too many (thrice at most). Recognizable by the little tuft extending from its crown. More attractive than the Marsh and Willow with its darker colouration and shorter tail. Usually solitary.
Great TitParus major Shijuu-kara
Meiji Shrine, Ueno, Karuizawa, Utonai-ko, Hakodate, Kyoto Botanical Gdns
Ah, loved this tit. Very gregarious and loud, bold too, with a pair within 2 meters of me. Almost caught a picture of this bird along the roadside by Ueno Park when a man walked in between me and the birds, scaring the pair off. Darn. Kaori-san first described this bird very accurately, saying it wears a 'necktie' (the black strip extending from its throat to vent sure looked it, contrasting nicely with its white belly). Its relatively colourful too, with a little yellow on the nape, bluish gray with olive mantle, and a typical tit's white cheeks and black crown. Richard said that the Japanese Great Tit's appearance differed somewhat fr elsewhere, having more blue and green and should be classified separately, he's quite obviously a splitter!
Varied Tit Parus varius Yama-gara
Meiji Shrine, Hokkaido (Wakoto Hanto & Hakodate - in the streets), Kyoto (Nijojo), Nara Park (abundant), Kyoto Botanical Gdns, Mt Daimonji
Kaori-san's favorite bird, mine too! Most colourful with russet/orangey plumage contrasting with bluish gray wings/tail, unique broad cream stripe on the front of face and black only from eyes to top of head to neck, leaving a U-shaped creamy patch rimmed with black when viewed from behind. Basically its pattern of colours is unique. What I love about this bird is its proximity to man. I had a few birds fly across my path at eye-level within 2 meters several times, especially all over Hakodate, Kyoto and Nara. Can even be found in the streets, visiting private gardens. It also comes to the ground very often, making it very easy to see, without having to arch one's over-arched neck. Because of its unique colouration, its highly visible even without bins. Its behaviour is flighty and fidgety like all small birds. Utterly adorable.
Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus Enaga
Karuizawa, Wakoto Hanto, Furen-ko forest behind nature center (subspecies japonicus), Philosopher's Canal, Kyoto
First saw a small flock of 20 birds high-up in some trees at Karuizawa, where its constant thin calls and prominent long tails struck me as unique. Its a very small bird, even with the long tail thrown in, only 13.5cm. From underneath they simply looked black and white. Next, saw the japonicus subspecies with an all-white head in Hokkaido, good views. Finally, had very closeup views of a flock of the black-eyestriped mainland Honshu species on a low roadside tree in Kyoto, on the way to Mt Daimonji. Nice bird with pinkish chestnut back and vent.
Brown-eared Bulbul Ixos amaurotis Hiyodori
Meiji Shrine, Ueno Park, Karuizawa, Hakodate, Kyoto Botanical Gdns, Nara Park, Mt Daimonji
This was the noisiest of the Japanese birds aside from the awful cawing of the crows. At least the ubiquitous Brown-eared Bulbul sounds more bird-like c/w the crow. Cheery and loud calls. Very common everywhere, from forests to streets, except in Eastern and Central Hokkaido (not present in Furen-ko / Sounkyo area). At 27.5cm, it is a big Bulbul compared to Singapore's common Yellow-vented Bulbul (20cm). Same undulating flight, often in pairs. Probable absence of birds in the colder parts of Hokkaido (temperatures without wind chill factor was 0 to 5 degree celsius) was because they had moved south for the winter. Hakodate was a lot less cold, which explained their abundance, esp up Mt Hakodate. Promient brown-ear patch on a silvery head. Overall body is a brownish grey. Long tail. Managed to photograph one bird that was preening itself in a tree right by Ueno Park.
Japanese White-eyeZosterops japonicus Mejiro
Meiji Shrine, Sounkyo, Kyoto Botanical Gdns, Nara Park, Mt Daimonji
Common in parks etc, all over Japan. Cute small bird with sufficient colours to set it apart from the pesky sparrows. 11.5cm. White-eye promient against green mantle. Saw a good close-up at Meiji, could even see the brown washed flanks. Brown flanks were more diffused and widespread than concentrated brown of the Chestnut-flanked WE.
Japanese Bush-WarblerCettia diphone Uguisu
Saw a mother and child pair at close range in the low bamboo-like undergrowth typical of the highland woods. They emitted harsh repeated chick-chuck calls. Mummy fed her baby, and stuck around for a long time, perhaps because her nest was nearby. Saw a few birds at the foot of Mt Hakodate. 15.5cm. Olive brown above, dusky below, off-white brows with long tail.
Gray's Grasshopper-Warbler Locustella fasciolata Ezo-sennyu
One lone bird. Grayish brown above, brownish gray below and paler on belly. Pale whitish eyebrow was prominent. Repeated loud voice too. 18cm. Saw it together near some Jap Bush-Warblers at the small garden, foot of Mt Hakodate.
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus Suzume
Er, who pays attention to this bird?
White Wagtail Motacilla alba Haku-sekirei
Meiji Shrine, Nijubashi, Karuizawa, Furen-ko, Kyoto Botanical Gdns, Nara Park
Fairly common ground bird, constantly bobbing tail. 21cm. First saw it on the wide grassy verge in Meiji, then by the water edge in Nijubashi, eating rubbish at a busstop outside Karuizawa station, poking its beak into fisherman's nets at Furen-ko etc. Black, grey and white plummage, white face with black eyestripe. Found from parks to drains to the cold winds of Furen-ko.
Japanese Wagtail Motacilla grandis Seguro-sekirei
Kyoto Botanical Gdns, Nara Park, Philosopher's Canal
Was looking up and down the Ishikari river at Sounkyo hoping to see the Japanese Wagtail but to no avail. 21cm. So was really pleased to finally sight a pair at close range in the field before the Kyoto Botanical Gardens. Dinstinct black upperparts with white brows. Saw it again inside the Philospher's Canal. Better yet, this bird is an endemic. Only upon reading the WBSJ fieldguide did I know I was searching in the wrong places, as its uncommon in N Hokkaido but common elsewhere.
Grey WagtailMotacilla cinereaKi-sekirei
Found a lone bird towards the end of the hiking path at Wakoto Hanto (if you enter the trail from the free rotenburo), at the edge of the lake. Coincidentally, this was my last lifer in Singapore, at Bukit Batok West canal, so it was quite nice to see it again in Japan.
Water Pipit Anthus spinolettaTahibari
Furen-ko (Shunkunitai), Nosappu Misaki,
On the first day at Furen-ko with the Japanese birders, somebody said 'Water Pipit', but I couldn't see the bird properly, just a flash-by. So on my own, I was quite pleased to finally locate 2-3 birds for better views. Very shy, forever taking flight before I had a real good look at it. The trick is to follow the random skyward flight of the bird and hopefully one lands in an open area. Mostly, they land back in the tall grasses, rendering all vision impossible.
Oriental GreenfinchCarduelis sinicaKawara-hiwa
This was sitting silently at ground level along Kose Rindo behind some low vegetation. Before I could really take a satisfactory look at it, it took off. Heavy and large pinkish finch beak, greenish brown appearance.
Pine Grosbeak Pinicola enucleator Ginzan-mashiko
This was a miracle bird together with my Nutcracker and Siberian Bluechat. Saw it twice even. First time was just 2 birds. Then a flock of about 20 Pine Grosbeaks flew into this tall pine tree about 25m away. They were feeding on the pines, giving me time to search amongst them for the distinctive red of the male. There were mostly yellow female in the flock. But views were a little too far away to really enjoy the bird. Still its a miracle lifer, considering I was only at the 5th station of Kurodake, maybe a 3 hour trek from the summit. One reason why the birds have moved down to the lower elevations was probably the early frost that covered the paths. This early frost was even reported in the news on TV, which I saw in Furen-ko. 20cm. Typically, its found near the summit, feeding amongst the low pines.
Eurasian Bullfinch Pyrrhula pyrrhulaUso
Sounkyo, halfway towards the viewing deck of Ryusei and Ginga Taki (waterfalls) at 430m
The 2 birds I saw were not as solidly coloured as in the fieldguide, so at first I thought I was looking at a Long-tailed Rosefinch. The thing that bugged me was that my bird had a black cap and red throat, plus it was largely gray throughout. Thankfully, I took a picture of the male, even though it turned out badly. These cute fellas were feeding on seeds hidden within fluffy white-cottony lallang like grass, fluff ball was round like our mimosa. So they both had white fluff all over their beaks, akin to the white rim of a milk moustache! Very adorable. Perched for a long time in a low bush. Richard Carden helped me seal the ID, the bird in the picture was a juvenile male, no wonder it looked neither here nor there. The other bird didn't have any red on it.
Hawfinch Coccothraustes coccothraustes Shime
Hakodate Private Garden (Motomatchi)
This was a super lucky streetbird for me, thankfully I still hung the bins around my neck even while strolling the streets. Found my Hawfinch when I investigated a movement coming from a garden bush. Luckily I didn't dismiss it as another sparrow. Had a very sharp intake of breath when I saw the Hawfinch, which I immediately recognised. 18cm. Ureshikatta!!! Very positive ID, with brown head and grey nape, pale yellow-brown bill. It was acutally 'chewing' on something. Very odd for a bird, which usually swallows food whole. Body was partially obscured, but good and near (3m) views as it hopped around a little. Mostly it just sat still. Was pleased that I could ID most birds encountered on sight, as I did make a good attempt to 'memorize' the birds that I was likely to see, esp from Dingli's photo-based fieldguide. Read that it has one of the most powerful beaks for a finch, with mucles that go round its head, enabling it to crack the hardest seed armours.
Japanese Grosbeak Eophona personata Ikaru
Kyoto Botanical Gdn
Many birds feeding high up in the trees. Behaved like parrots, hopping deliberately and slowly along and between branches. Thought at first it was the Hawfinch, but noted the yellow beak and distinct black crown with gray plummage. Happy that it was another lifer. Even more glad that I forked out S$130 for overnight (13 hrs) sleeper train tickets that got me into Kyoto at 630am, instead of arriving at 930am from Tokyo. The extra 3 hours gave me another 2 lifers at the KBG!!! But could have saved this money (S$55) as with my missed Hakodate-Aomori ferry, I could have caught the earlier train that would have got me to Kyoto the night before. Dang. Still I'm thankful that I could meet my Aomori-Kyoto train. Plus, got to see Hakodate which I would have skipped if not for the ferry.
Rustic BuntingEmberiza rustica Kashiradaka
Ochiishi Misaki (grassland before forest boardwalk)
Was v pleased to see this bird. Distinct white stripes around eyes, with short crest. It was calling from some grasses. Then it hopped onto the path about 10m ahead of me, giving me unobstructed good but brief views of it. 15cm. Somehow, small birds (esp lifers) always please me immensely as they are far more difficult to see. Immediately recognised this one as a Rustic!
Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala Aoji
Furen-ko (gardens near Matsuo-san's house) & Onneto Rindo
Again supremely happy to see a small-bird lifer other than boring waterbirds at Furen-ko. Thought at first it was the Yellow-breasted. Both sightings were females. Almost dismissed my first bird as a sparrow, but thought I had better take a closer look anyway. Matsuo-san said that the Yellow-breasted is not seen much anymore, so Black-faced is more like it. I had already confirmed the ID from the book.