Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Our Grand Japan Trip: Introduction

Kawau over Lake Chuzenji, Oku-Nikko, Japan.
My son Ben and I just returned from Japan. We were there for about a week. We spent most of our time exploring Tokyo but took short trips to Nikko and the Kamakura/Enoshima area. It was not a bird-oriented trip (though my son might disagree) rather a celebration of his graduation from college. But I did take advantage of my jet lag and the ridiculously early June sunrise (around 4:30 a.m) to get out and see a little something.

Mid-June is rainy season in Tokyo. But Japan embraces the rain and it is a chance to see some deeply beautiful scenes (even if it's not so good for songbird photos). And the weather was clear for our Nikko and Kamakura trips so overall I can't complain.

My birding goal was to encounter the common summer birds of Japan. I wasn't going to spend time searching for the rare and exotic. It was enough to get to know the friendly local folk. And by that standard I was even more successful than I expected to be.

I was pretty prepared. I started in English, using Tadao Shimba's comprehensive Photographic Guide to the Birds of Japan.

Shimba's guide is great if you are a hardcore birder and you want to know everything you could possibly see.  But I was feeling the need for something a little more edited and more from a Japanese perspective. I was able to find Osamu Kubota's pocket guide at the New York Kinokuniya

and that, along with a working knowledge of the birds from Toripan (also favoring the typical rather than the uncommon), was ultimately what made my birding goal possible. Plus a set of Japanese birdsong recordings that helped identify some of the birds that went unseen in the thick dark rainy season foliage.

By the end I had forgotten all the English names from Shimba's book ("Japanese Bush Warbler"? Oh you mean "Uguisu!") and was cheerfully calling out "yamagara!" (varied tit) or "kibitaki" (narcissus flycatcher) when seeing or hearing individuals from the appropriate species. The total count? Somewhere around 40. The real satisfaction? Finally getting to know these beings I had only read about, or more accurately, had missed getting to know when I lived in Japan twenty two years ago.

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