John A Wright

Nov 092013
 

Yesterday morning I was lucky to be able to join a team from Nagasaki University’s Dept of Ornithology who were banding birds at Isahaya. The conditions were perfect – no wind and a thick fog covering the wetlands. The team set up two sets of nets at different locations, which were then checked every 40 minutes. As you would expect, most birds were caught in the mist nets within the first few hours after sunrise, however the team continued working until midday. We were very lucky with our first check of the morning – one of the first birds we found tangled in the net was a first winter female Bluethroat! Quite a rare bird for Japan and the first time one has been banded at Isahaya, although they have been recorded here in the past. Other species banded included Daurian Redstart, Brambling, Zitting Cisticola, Japanese Bush Warbler, Chestnut-eared Bunting, Oriental Greenfinch (C. s. minor & C. s. kawarahiba), Siberian Rubythroat, and Siskin. However most birds were Common Reed Bunting. Below are some photos from the morning:

Perfect conditions for mist netting - no wind and lots of fog!

Perfect conditions for mist netting – no wind and lots of fog!

A Common Reed Bunting waits to be untangled from the nets.

A Common Reed Bunting waits to be untangled from the nets.

Banding a Chestnut-eared Bunting

Banding a Chestnut-eared Bunting

Examining the eye of a Common Reed Bunting to determine maturity.

Examining the eye of a Common Reed Bunting to determine maturity.

Examining the tail feathers of a Common Reed Bunting.

Examining the tail feathers of a Common Reed Bunting.

Many Common Reed Buntings have problems with their tail and wing feathers - scientists are investigating and some even propose that there might be some link with the Fukushima nuclear reactor situation....

Many Common Reed Buntings have problems with their tail and wing feathers – scientists are investigating and some even propose that there might be some link with the Fukushima nuclear reactor situation….

Measuring the primary projection of a Common Reed Bunting.

Measuring the primary projection of a Common Reed Bunting.

Measuring the tarsus of a Common Reed Bunting.

Measuring the tarsus of a Common Reed Bunting.

Measuring the total length of a Common Reed Bunting.

Measuring the total length of a Common Reed Bunting.

Measuring the length of the wing of a Common Reed Bunting.

Measuring the length of the wing of a Common Reed Bunting.

Weighing a Common Reed Bunting.

Weighing a Common Reed Bunting.

Examining the wing of a female Daurian Restart.

Examining the wing of a female Daurian Restart.

Examining the wing of a male Siberian Rubythroat.

Examining the wing of a male Siberian Rubythroat.

A view of the wing of a first winter female Bluethroat.

A view of the wing of a first winter female Bluethroat.

A view of the tail feathers of a first winter female Bluethroat.

A view of the tail feathers of a first winter female Bluethroat.

A first winter female Bluethroat.

A first winter female Bluethroat.

A female Brambling.

A female Brambling.

A male Brambling.

A male Brambling.

A male Siberian Rubythroat.

A male Siberian Rubythroat.

A Zitting Cisticola.

A Zitting Cisticola.

Two Oriental Greenfinch - the larger bird is C. s. kawarahiba, while the smaller one is C. s. minor.

Two Oriental Greenfinch – the larger bird is C. s. kawarahiba, while the smaller one is C. s. minor.

Nov 032013
 

Recently I received an email from friend and author, Dr. Mark Brazil regarding a new book he has written. Many of my readers will recognize that Dr. Brazil is the author of ‘A Field Guide to the Birds of East Asia’, the premier English guide to the birds of this region.

Over the last few years Mark has been preparing a collection of essays about the natural history of Japan, writing, editing and shaping them to weave a seasonal and cultural tapestry. The work, The Nature of Japan: From Dancing Cranes to Flying Fish, is now complete.

Mark has commissioned Hisashi Masuda, a budding Hokkaido-based artist-naturalist, to produce the illustrations and earlier this year he delivered a very fine set of extremely attractive line drawings to complement the text. Conservation biologist Ian Redmond OBE kindly wrote the foreword for the book. The laborious preparatory process, including scanning of the artwork, is now complete. The book’s layout has been designed, the cover has been completed (a draft of the cover and several sample pages are below). The book runs to over 300 pages and contains 75 illustrations; it will have a cover price of ¥2,800 plus tax in Japan. All that remains now is to print it and distribute it, but that of course is expensive.

In the time-honoured fashion of 18th and 19th century artists, musicians, playwrights, and authors, Dr. Brazil is inviting subscriptions to help this new work on its way.

By pooling one off subscriptions he hopes to be able to finance the production, printing and artwork for this work. The Nature of Japan is the first ever volume about the natural history of this amazing archipelago in English and the first book to be illustrated by Hisashi Masuda.

Anyone interested in natural history, in Japan, and in natural history literature, would be interested in this project and might consider supporting it by subscribing.

Subscribers who contribute from ¥6,000-12,000 will each receive a first edition of The Nature of Japan signed by both author and artist, numbered, and with a personalized dedication.

Supporters who contribute ¥25,000 or more will each receive a first edition of The Nature of Japan signed by both author and artist, numbered, and with a personalized dedication, along with a second signed and numbered copy suitable as a gift for a friend, and a 2014 calendar produced by Hisashi Masuda.

The goal is to raise at least half of the production costs by individual subscription to cover the costs of production within 2013. He is looking for corporate sponsorship for the remainder.

If you are interested and willing to subscribe, please email Dr. Brazil via Japan Nature Guides: enquiries@japannatureguides.com

Nature of Japan 3rd draft cover Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 15.45.11 Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 15.45.26 Screen Shot 2013-10-15 at 15.46.59

Oct 262013
 

This endangered species had eluded me so far in Japan, so I jumped at the chance when I heard that there was a “friendly” bird in Kyushu. I observed it for about an hour and a half after sunrise while it hunted in the grasses bordering thick woods for prey such as earthworms, frogs and snails. A big “thank you” to the Japanese birder that told me about this bird!

japanese-night-heron-7845 japanese-night-heron-8033 japanese-night-heron-8115 japanese-night-heron-8391

Oct 222013
 

I was free most of today so I decided to spend more time at Isahaya. Some more winter birds had arrived (Daurian Redstart; Falcated Duck), but still no sign of more Amur Falcon. Next chance will be Friday, but with another powerful typhoon approaching, it might be better to wait until next week sometime…

common-kingfisher-6789 daurian-redstart-6874 eastern-marsh-harrier-7419 eurasian-kestrel-female-7151 peregrine-7344

Oct 212013
 

Over the past few weeks I’ve visited the reclaimed land areas at Isahaya to keep my finger on the migration pulse and, especially, to wait for the Amur Falcon to show up. Whilst I saw one juvenile female Amur Falcon last week while driving, it seems the main group of migrants is yet to arrive. Siberian Stonechat have been in the fields for a few weeks, while Brown-eared Bulbul are migrating south and west. The wintering ducks have started arriving, with plenty of Northern Shoveler, Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Northern Pintail, Mallard, Gadwall and Eastern Spot-billed Duck in the rivers and lakes. Most of the ducks are still in eclipse, however, so most are looking a dirty shade of brown! The ports around the Ariake Sea have lots of wintering gulls, the highlight of which was a Mongolian Gull at Futsu. Apart from the juvenile Pied Harrier that dropped in, there are quite a few Eastern Marsh Harrier and a lesser number of Hen Harrier haunting the reeds – birds that will stay here all winter. Other than that, just the usual raptors – Peregrine, Eurasian Kestrel, Black-eared Kite, Osprey and Northern Goshawk. This morning the raptors were having a hard time, being mobbed by all kinds of birds – from wagtails to crows!

black-eared-kite-6250 mongolian-gull-6020 northern-goshawk-6564 osprey-6175 peregrine-6143 siberian-stonechat-5838 vega-gull-first-winter-6110

Oct 092013
 

On October 7 & 8 I had the pleasure of acting as a birding guide for my friend Jamie’s parents, who are keen birders visiting from England.

CONDITIONS:

Typhoon Danas was heading up from the Nansei Shoto so we only had really good weather on the first morning. The first afternoon was very cloudy and got progressively very dark, although there was little rain. The forecast for the second day was quite bad, with Danas expected in the vicinity in the late afternoon. However the typhoon stayed offshore and although it was windy and rainy, the conditions were not too bad although birding was slow. Due to the forecast we decided to end the birding early on the second afternoon, around 2 o’clock.

DAY ONE

We met up at Saga at 06:00 and proceeded to Daijyugarami. While driving we saw Common Magpie, Carrion Crow, White-cheeked Starling, White Wagtail, Grey Heron and Eurasian Tree Sparrow. In the fields around Daijyugarami were plenty of Eurasian Skylark, while overhead flew Asian House Martin and Sand Martin. On the mudflat there was a selection of the more common wader species, but also Broad-billed Sandpiper, Ruff, Ruddy Turnstone and Sharp-tailed Sandpiper. Unfortunately there were no dowitchers, nor did any Black-faced Spoonbill put in an appearance.

Leaving Daijyugarami around 10:30, we stopped briefly at a small lake in Kashima on the way to Isahaya reclaimed land area. There are four main reclaimed land areas at Isahaya – Oe, Chuo, Moriyama and Azuma. Our original plan was to tour these areas quickly and then spend some time on Mount Unzen, however the weather on the mountain was looking a bit stormy so we stayed on the coast.

At Oe we saw several species of waterbird and flushed a Eurasian Bittern. We also had glimpses of Zitting Cisticola.

At Chuo there was a nice surprise waiting – a juvenile Pied Harrier. We also observed Eastern Marsh and Hen Harrier, along with some waterbirds and passerines.

At Moriyama we toured the flooded rice fields with good results. One field had all four species of egret along with Grey Heron, while later we were able to find all three species of snipe that pass through these “wetlands” – Pin-tailed, Swinhoe’s and Common.

We visited Azuma briefly and saw a few duck species but a nice male Common Kingfisher was the highlight. With conditions becoming darker and darker, we called it a day at around 17:30.

DAY TWO

Again, weather dictated a change in plans and we decided to skip a morning at Mount Hiyamizu and head directly to Kabashima. We arrived at around 08:00 and parked at the lighthouse. Things were pretty quiet apart from great view of a pair of Peregrine Falcon hunting the headland, but we heard from a Japanese bird photographer that a Pleske’s Grasshopper Warbler had been seen the morning before at the small pond here, so we set up on that and waited. After about an hour nothing had visited the pond so we went back to the lighthouse and then proceeded out to the observatory at the tip of the island. Here we were visited by a mixed flock of passerines, mainly Japanese White-eye and Long-tailed Tit, but also a female Japanese Paradise Flycatcher and Kamchatka Leaf Warbler. We also enjoyed watching several seabirds fly by, including a Short-tailed Shearwater (or perhaps a Sooty Shearwater), some Brown Booby, a few Black-tailed Gull and two Japanese Cormorant.

With the weather deteriorating we left Kabashima and stopped in at Kawahara Lake, where we could observe a flock of Mandarin Duck on the far shore under some low trees, along with more Black-tailed Gull which were sheltering in the lake instead of being out on the breakwater as usual.

It was getting winder and rainier, so after reading that the forecast said things would get worse we decided to end the tour a few hours early.

RESULT:

75 species sighted; 2 species heard:

COMMON MAPGIE
WHITE-CHEEKED STARLING
CARRION CROW
WHITE WAGTAIL
EURASIAN SKYLARK
GREY HERON
ORIENTAL GREENFINCH
ASIAN HOUSE MARTIN
SAND MARTIN
OSPREY
DUNLIN
RED-NECKED STINT
EURASIAN CURLEW
FAR EASTERN CURLEW
LESSER SAND PLOVER
GREATER SAND PLOVER
GREY PLOVER
KENTISH PLOVER
COMMON GREENSHANK
GREAT KNOT
RED KNOT
RUFF
GREAT EGRET
SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER
CURLEW SANDPIPER
MARSH SANDPIPER
RUDDY TURNSTONE
BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER
EASTERN BLACK-TAILED GODWIT
BAR-TAILED GODWIT
ORIENTAL TURTLE DOVE
GADWALL
LARGE-BILLED CROW
BULL-HEADED SHRIKE
EURASIAN KESTREL
GREAT CORMORANT
EASTERN SPOT-BILLED DUCK
BLACK-EARED KITE
EURASIAN TREE SPARROW
ZITTING CISTICOLA
MEADOW BUNTING
EURASIAN COOT
COMMON MOORHEN
EURASIAN BITTERN
INTERMEDIATE EGRET
LITTLE EGRET
CATTLE EGRET
HEN HARRIER
PIED HARRIER
EASTERN MARSH HARRIER
EURASIAN TEAL
COMMON KINGFISHER
BARN SWALLOW
EASTERN BUZZARD
SWINHOE’S SNIPE
PIN-TAILED SNIPE
COMMON SNIPE
MALLARD
EURASIAN WIGEON
BLACK-TAILED GULL
PEREGRINE FALCON
BROWN BOOBY
SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER
JAPANESE WHITE-EYE
JAPANESE PARADISE FLYCATCHER
EASTERN GREAT TIT
JAPANESE PYGMY WOODPECKER
KAMCHATKA LEAF WARBLER
JAPANESE CORMORANT
GREY WAGTAIL
DARK-SIDED FLYCATCHER
LONG-TAILED TIT
BLUE ROCK THRUSH
MANDARIN DUCK
COMMON ROSEFINCH

HEARD ONLY:

JAPANESE BUSH WARBLER
BROWN-EARED BULBUL