Last Friday afternoon I revisited the highlands near Mt Aso, Kumamoto prefecture, Japan. Usually I visit this location in the early morning, but I wanted to see what was happening in the late afternoon. Also, the light direction is better in the afternoon, so more options to photograph species active in the area. The scenery was quite different from my last visit. At that time, the predominant flower was the purple milk thistle, but this time it was the bright lemon yellow of Thunberg’s Daylily. Also changed was the long grass covering many of the meadows; some of this had been cut by tractors and indeed a few tractors were still busy cutting grass when I visited. This created a great photographic opportunity, as many predators were taking advantage of the removal of cover for prey species such as moles, voles, mice, snakes, lizards and grubs. Therefore after I had photographed and taken video footage of some male Japanese Reed Buntings, I positioned myself with a view across to a freshly mown hillside (although for my 300mm + 1.4x TC, it was a bit distant – a 600 or 800 would have been great!). The first mammal I noticed was a Japanese Badger, and soon after I spotted a Japanese Green Pheasant on another section of the hillside. But then I saw an adult Japanese Fox (a subspecies of Red Fox) prowling in the meadow. It soon caught the scent of a mole, then crouched and waited patiently for it to signal its whereabouts. The fox then took two bounds down the hillside and pounced! It successfully killed and extracted a large Japanese Mole and proceeded to eat it, but then noticed a Japanese Raccoon Dog higher up the hill. So the fox quickly hid the mole carcass and had a stand off with the raccoon dog, which was quite uneventful – the raccoon dog just continued on its way and the fox went back and finished its snack. The fox then went up and over the other side of the hill, where I caught glimpses of it jumping around chasing small birds that were also feeding among the cut grass. The Japanese Raccoon Dog found some food of its own and skulked away, and the pheasant and badger had long since disappeared. So I decided to walk up the hill and see if I could locate the fox again. I silently crested the hill and immediately saw the fox in front of me! Instead of running away it just stood and stared, so I took a few photos as it let out a few threatening growls. But soon it turned and ran down the other side of the hill and was joined by its mate and hid in some remaining tall grass in a small, steep valley. Apart from Japanese Reed Bunting and Japanese Green Pheasant there were quite a few other birds such as Black-eared Kite, Eastern Buzzard, Black-browed Reed Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Eurasian Skylark, Chestnut-eared Bunting, Meadow Bunting, Large-billed Crow, Japanese Bush Warbler, Barn Swallow, Eurasian Cuckoo and Little Cuckoo.
During our time in Eastern Hokkaido we saw quite a few terrestrial and marine mammals, and managed to get some photos of a couple.
While at Isahaya I spotted this Japanese Weasel (Mustela itatsi) hunting in the drainage ditches that run between the fields. The fast frame rate of the 1D-X allowed for this series of images…
Not many other animals were showing closely and/or in good light this morning, although there was plenty happening.
This morning I spent a bit of time at Oe before stopping in at Chuo and Moriyama reclaimed land areas. Highlights included Japanese Weasel, Whiskered Tern, Northern Goshawk, White-naped Crane, and Hooded Crane.
This morning I was quite fortunate to encounter a Japanese Raccoon Dog (Nyctereutes procyonoides viverrinus) at the pond at Oe reclaimed land area. These creatures are normally nocturnal (or at least, crepuscular), so to see one foraging in mid-morning is very rare. It was in the right place, however, as there is a wide range of potential prey at Oe in winter, and no doubt this raccoon dog was hunting birds such as bunting, moorhen, coot, crake, rail, duck and possibly even pheasant. It seems to be in excellent health and will no doubt be spending plenty of time in the reeds around Oe along with checking out garbage left outside homes and restaurants in the area. I was doubly lucky in that this raccoon dog was suspicious about my vehicle – as it emerged from the reeds just several meters in front of me, it was facing toward the Delica and oblivious to my stationary presence. I felt for sure that it would hear me as I moved slightly to bring the camera up for some photos, but I was able to start focusing without it realising I was just behind it. It did hear the AF, however, and turned toward me but didn’t panic. It just froze and stared at me and didn’t really do anything much except turn its head back and forth slowly as if trying to work out exactly where the low sound was coming from. But when I moved slightly again, it quickly turned and hurried back into the reeds and disappeared so I wonder if it even knew a person was there up until that point. One thing I need to keep in mind about using the 1D X instead of the 7D – the DOF is much thinner! This shot with the 300/2.8 and 2x TC was at f/5.6 (ISO 6400, 1/1600 sec – I was set up for photographing birds in flight!) and basically just the eyes and bridge of the nose are in sharp focus.
One of the lesser-known reclaimed land areas around Isahaya Bay is Oe. This site is actually one of my favourites for photography, as there are usually no other people around and the backgrounds can be very nice if the angle is right. It is also good both at early morning and late afternoon, as you can position yourself to take advantage of different light directionality. Oe has a number of small canals that have natural banks lined with reeds. In the middle there is also a medium-sized lake, while along one edge flows the Honmyo River. This wetland area therefore plays host to many waterfowl and passerine species in winter, and they in turn attract different kinds of raptors such as Eurasian Kestrel, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Merlin, Northern Goshawk, Peregrine Falcon, Black-eared Kite, Osprey and Eastern Marsh Harrier. But Oe is most famous for its Hen Harriers, which can be viewed and photographed up close and personal here and seem to frequent this location more than others in the area. Passerines have to watch out from below as well as above, as the reeds are also home to Japanese Weasel. This afternoon the light was soft as a thin wall of cloud masked the sun most of the time – challenging conditions for my 7D (and more suited to the 1DX I hope to have in the next month or so!). Despite the dreary conditions, there was plenty of action on hand and I did my best to document it.
This afternoon I visited Azamidani again to see if any interesting migrants were passing through. No special birds there, but the usual summer breeders and residents were very active. Also in the pond was a pair of Western Japanese Common Toad which were busy mating and generally making a nuisance of themselves, causing the birds to be more wary than usual. Today was also the first time I have observed a Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker actually drink at the pond, although they are always feeding around it. Another interesting observation was a Japanese Shrew-mole carcass on the trail…not sure what killed it but unusual that it was exposed on the path like that…. Japanese hikers often take their dogs with them even in national parks, so maybe a small dog was the culprit.
Recently I discovered bat droppings outside the front door of my apartment, which was surprising because, although there are bats hunting the street lights near my place, I hadn’t seen any signs of either a daytime or nighttime roost. So last night I waited until after the first few twilight hours for the culprit to rest after feeding, and here it is! A nice little Japanese Pipistrelle (Pipistrellus abramus)! One of the commonest bats in Japan, this insectivore is known as the “House Bat” in Japanese – and for good reason as I have just found out.