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:
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!
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…
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!
Yesterday morning I tried again at the pond at Azamidani on Mount Unzen. The day before yesterday was quite hot and sunny, so I was hoping that all the excess moisture had dried up and there would be more activity at the pond. I was at the gate to the toll road that leads up to Nita-toge at 07:50, but as usual they had opened the road a little earlier than the advertised 08:00. I threw my 100 yen into the box and proceeded onwards and upwards.
I spotted a few Meadow Bunting and a flock of Oriental Greenfinch along the road, and then parked the car at Nita-toge and started hiking. A few more Meadow Bunting were in the, uh, meadow between the carpark and the cable car station, and then I was onto the trail. No Eastern Crowned Warbler this morning, but lots of tits and a few Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker along the trail to the pond. I arrived and was set up before 08:20 and immediately I could hear lots of Narcissus Flycatchers calling. Usually there is only one pair and their fledglings at the pond in the summer, but now there were at least four females and one male. The females (adults and immatures) were very vocal and also very confiding, approaching the pond and bathing on several occasions. The male was still fairly cautious, but at least this time he bathed a few times. Red-billed Leiothrix were their usual selves and a Japanese Bush Warbler came a few times. The male Japanese Thrush approached the pond but soon I could see the reason why the birds were a little skittish recently – a Eurasian Sparrowhawk swooped into the pond area from the back! It didn’t seem to catch anything, but was hidden behind heavy foliage. It then flew across the pond and landed just a few meters away, but as soon as I moved it saw me and flew to another perch off to my right. I could see enough of the bird to identify it as a male, but soon it flew off down the valley.
After the hawk had left, the passerines returned again but there wasn’t as much action as there had been beforehand. The thrush never showed again, although I started hearing its call again shortly before I left at 12:30. Also at around midday an Asian Stubtail made a brief appearance….I managed some video footage of it but it bathed in one spot that was concealed from my position.
I returned to my car, spotting a Winter Wren and a few Grey-streaked Warbler on the way back. Then, as I drove down the toll road I almost ran over an immature male Copper Pheasant! I stopped and observed him for a while and then continued back home. All in all, an interesting morning’s birding even if I wasn’t able to capture that much on film/video.
Oriental Turtle Dove
Eastern Great Tit
Japanese Bush Warbler
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker