Sunday, June 24, 2012

Japan Epilogue

Panel from Super Kabuki Yamato Takeru
Our very last adventure before leaving Japan the next day was to go to a performance of "Super Kabuki" at the Shimbashi Embujo. Was it just a coincidence that the play ended with the main character transforming into a bird and flying over the audience? Hmmm...

At any rate, I'm still learning about Japanese birds though I doubt I will be back anytime soon. I still have close to a gigabyte of recordings I still need to sort through, so I'll be adding songs to my posts at some point when I get around to it. [UPDATE: Done!]

Hope you enjoyed this brief encounter with Japanese birds.

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Japan Day Five: Birding the Tama River

Koajisashi over the Tamagawa
Northwest of the train station an endless vista of green opens up. You can walk virtually forever along the Tama River past an infinite number of ball fields, fishing areas, playgrounds, and nature preserves. You can also walk back under the tracks if the water levels are low and tread the rocky riverbed to the southeast.
I went to the southeast first because that's where I spotted my target bird, the bird I had seen from the train platform--the kosagi (little egret). There were a lot of them, actually. Here's one right under the platform.
Kosagi under the Futakotamagawa eki tracks.
It was having great success with little fish trapped a pool, until I came along to scare it off...  I walked further down the rocky riverbed

Also seen:

The ubiquitous karugamo (spot-billed duck).

And a bird that more easily heard than seen--its constant peeoh-peeoh-peeoh-peeohing like a electric alarm clock with no snooze alarm--the kochidori (little ringed plover).
Check out that awesome eye ring. I wish our plovers had them.

I headed back to the northwest. Here was well trod parkland with joggers and dog walkers and later, large lawn mowers. A grassland environment.
Filled with singing hibari (skylarks).
I only knew hibari from birdsong recordings. I had no idea, really no idea, what it felt like to encounter them in real life.
Here's a taste:
Utter relentless brilliance, particularly as they did the signature skylark move and sang while fluttering about high in the air.

And what's that in the clover?
A pretty little kawarahiwa (oriental greenfinch) given away by its signature yellow wing spot.

Then back along the riverside I came across something familiar yet different.
Definitely a wagtail, but too dull to be a hakusekirei or kisekirei. It flew to be near a brighter bird on the river bed.
Aha! I had hit the trifecta of common wagtails. That was a segurosekirei (Japanese wagtail) couple.

And then the battery on the camera died. So I missed shots of the ooyoshikiri (oriental reed warbler)
(though here is a little taste of ooyoshikiri vocalization--with kochidori peeping in the background)
and female mozu (bull-headed shrike) I encountered on the rest of the walk.
I watched a string of koajisashi (little terns) as they plunged for food then it was time to move on. Non-birding birding trip to Japan complete.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Japan Day Five: Futakotamagawa

Tama river from Futako-tamagawa train platform

 Monday was our last full day in Japan. Ben and I decided to go our own ways in the morning and meet up in the afternoon (he chose Akihabara). I had my eyes on a bit of green lushness along the Tamagawa visible from the Den-en-toshi line.

Arriving just after 6:00 a.m., I walked south towards what I was sure was access to a riverside walkway. And was met with this.
Embankment construction fence, facing north
I kept walking south, hoping to find a gap in the fence.
Embankment construction fence, facing north
Nope. There seemed to be a massive ongoing construction project involving the embankment along the river. The whole area was closed. Was this going to be one of those fruitless birding days, the morning wasted because of unexpected obstacles?
Was I going to go home with nothing but a low light photo of a mukudori (gray-cheeked starling) to show for it? (If you knew how abundant mukudori were you'd understand how sad this would be).

In fact, it seems I had stumbled onto a fascinating environmental controversy. This embankment project, it turns out, had been met with an energetic counter-movement, visible in the form of signs posted on trees and fences along the embankment.
"Don't cut down the cherry and pine trees. Stop any further destruction of nature!!"
Paralleling the Hachimangu "Daiichou," this cherry tree, its top already lopped off, was wrapped with a banner pleading for its preservation.

Other signs presented images of the area's natural beauty before the project had begun.

The signs had been posted by members of a group calling itself the Futakotamagawa no kankyo to anzen o kangaeru kai (The association to consider the environment and safety of Futakotamagawa).
On its website ("I love Tamagawa") it details the reasons why the current embankment project is unnecessary and a waste of taxpayers' money and tells the story of how workers systematically cut down a grove of hundred year old pine trees comprising a nature sanctuary and decimated a famous row of cherry trees. One particularly pathetic photo shows a scraggly tanuki, now without a home. It also complains (this will be familiar to anyone involved in such political actions) that government officials failed to listen to residents' concerns and simply provide pointless "cut and paste" responses "that astound even middle schoolers."

It should be noted that this area has been the subject of parallel (and perhaps even associated) protests in the recent past. There has been an ongoing movement against the construction of high rise apartment buildings near the train station. And according to an article by Duncan Ryuken Williams, a Buddhist temple got involved in the mid-90s to halt the destruction of a large stand of trees in the area. Massive signboards along the temple hillside read "To the Mitsui Real Estate Company: Plants and Trees Also Have the Buddha-Nature."

I walked north under the train tracks to see if there was another entrance. Indeed there was. I will talk about that tomorrow.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Japan Day Four: Kamakura

Lotus and Lily Pad Pond, Tsurugaoka Hachimangu Shrine, Kamakura
As was the case with Enoshima, our visit to Kamakura was more about site-seeing and souvenir-buying than bird watching but a few things caught my attention.

First, the awesome lotus pond near the Hachiman shrine above, the home of giant soft-shell turtles. Here's a glimpse of one swimming about.
Nihonsuppon, Kamakura, Japan
At the same shrine, a memorial to the giant sacred thousand-year old gingko tree that used to reign near the entrance. It fell a couple of years ago but shoots from the original tree are still living and are being nutured
and encouraged by the public. "Ganbare Daiichou!" [Hang in there, Great Gingko Tree!]

Kamakura is a city of tsubame (barn swallows--technically the same species that lives in Europe, the U.S., even Africa). They can be seen flying overhead, perching on wires
and building nests in unlikely places.
This nest is not on the eaves of a barn but in an alcove outside of a shop. The swallow parents seemed at ease flying in and out over the heads of souvenir hunters.

We might say "ganbare" to the tsubame as well. According to literature distributed by the Wild Bird Society of Japan the barn swallow population in Japan has steadily decreased in the last few years. Many areas that used to see flocks of swallows returning every spring, hardly see any anymore.
Kieyuku Tsubame
There are many possible causes, including habitat loss and human predation, but these are long-standing problems unlikely to have causes such a sudden crash. One plausible explanation is the increase in insecticide use in both Japan and the swallows' wintering grounds.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Japan Day Four: Enoshima

View from the observation tower on Enoshima
(Note: this was actually day five of our trip (day four was rainy and birdless) but I didn't want to confuse the chronology of the blog posts).

A clear bright Sunday morning. A perfect day for heading down to Enoshima and Kamakura to see the ocean.

One bird dominates Enoshima and that's the tobi (black kite).
They perch on the roofs of area buildings and swarm in the air.
Frequent signs warn tourists to beware the tobi, known to snatch sandwiches and ice cream cones right out of people's hands. Here's a clip (not mine) that illustrates the sheer density of the tobi population at the sea shore.

Of course, on the East Coast of the US, the swarming snack snatcher is the gull (I once had a whole platter of natchos snatched by an aggressive Ogunquit herring gull). At Enoshima in the summer gulls are actually surprisingly difficult to find. Here's a what I believe is an umineko (black-tailed gull) flying by.
In the distance, out of real identification range, gulls and a darker bird (either tobi or imature umineko) were swarming on a food source.
But gulls and kites are not the only birds to be found at Enoshima. Here's a sign that suggests others to look out for.
I saw the isohiyodori (blue rock thrush) and the mejiro in addition to the tobi and the umineko but that was about it. It wasn't really a birdwatching day.

I did stumble upon a couple of other bits of Enoshima nature, though. The first is this unidentified caterpillar.
The second is this little fish hiding in a tidal pool.

Looks from above like a kind of gobi.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Japan Day Three: Lake Chuzenji Birds (and Monkeys)

Lake Chuzenji at Dawn
Up at dawn (4:30 a.m.) I took a long walk along Lake Chuzenji. Bird life was abundant. As was monkey life. Here's a video of a band of macaques I stumbled upon near the edge of town. Note their exquisite synchronization.
The lake is simply magical this time of day

Especially with large flocks of kawau (great cormorants) flying here and there.
Kawau over Lake Chuzenji
And this crazy uguisu song.

I managed low light shots of several local birds, including kibitaki (narcissus flycatcher)
The kibitaki was actually among the most prominent birds vocally on my walk. You can hear a variety of vocalizations below.

mejiro (Japanese white-eye)
I just missed getting the classic shot of a mejiro couple preening each other. (What a charming bird the sweet-singing mejiro is).

But I did manage this low light photo of a kisekirei (gray wagtail) couple
(Here's a slightly better view of one on a utility wire)
The wagtail is a family of birds that we really don't have in the Eastern US so they were interesting to observe walking all about flipping their tails. Hakusekirei are also big fighters.

Wagtails are also birds with deep significance in Japanese culture, linked to the mythological origins of the Japan archipelago itself.
Even featured on a lamp in our hotel room!

Also abundant in the area are iwatsubame (Asian house martins). They frequently land on the lakeside mud and feed.

They make nests on the sides of local buildings but, consistent with their Japanese name (literally "rock swallow"), love to nest on cliff sides and are an integral part of the spectacle of nearby kegon no taki (Kegon Falls).

Flying above and around the falls

and nesting in holes drilled into the rock face.