Archive for the ‘Birdwatching’ Category

April Resort Birding – Karuizawa

May 1st, 2012 Comments off

In Karuizawa, however, there are birds galore (you ever want to go birding in Japan, Karuizawa is not a bad choice), and I took the time for birding there. The first interesting one I spotted was just outside the hotel, a Chestnut-cheeked Starling. Far more interesting than the white-cheeked version so common in Tokyo.





In the same location, I saw some Great Tits, Oriental Greenfinches, Meadow Buntings, Wagtails, and one I could not identify–as one birder I showed it to said, “a female something.”





Here’s the “something”–probably a Flycatcher of some variety (less probable but still possibly, a warbler), but I can’t tell myself. This was the only angle I got it at.


In Karuizawa, there is a special birding area–“yacho no mori,” or the “bird forest.” I caught great images of a misosazai, a Winter Wren, when Sachi and I went there five years ago. I immediately spotted some Long-tailed Tits:




Coming out of the park, I spotted something I had never seen before: Coal Tits.



Here’s a beautiful shot of two of them, click for a larger version:


And another nice shot with a larger version:


The catch of the day, however, was a Blue-and-white Flycatcher wooing a potential mate. The Blue-and-white is kind of iconic to Japanese birdwatching; the deep blue colors and contrast with the whites get it put on the covers of most birdwatching books.




It wasn’t too hard to spot; in its display, it was hanging around the female, which had perched along the walking path; the male was hopping from branch to branch, trying to be in easy view (unlike most birds in the park), and singing like, well, a songbird.


A lot of its display was wagging its tail up and down.



The female is less spectacularly colored, but still nice:



Categories: Birdwatching Tags:

April Resort Birding – Fuji

May 1st, 2012 Comments off

Sachi and I took Ponta to a few dog-friendly hotels in April, first to a resort in Fuji, and then on the way back from ohaka-mairi (visiting the family gravesite), in Karuizawa. Along the way, I got a chance to do some birding–and surprisingly, saw four new species of bird I had never seen before, which is quite a few for me, in such a short time.

The first was at Fuji: a Brambling. Spotted this one in the forest just south of the resort. The colors are not as rich as an adult male in season, but the dark head, red shoulders and breast, and striped wings tag it fairly distinctively.




There was a Grey Wagtail, common in more inland, wooded areas:


There was some larger mystery bird lurking back where I could not catch it, but got this image–it’s probably a kakesu, a Eurasian Jay, but it’s hard to tell.


And there were the Black Kites, fairly ubiquitous for the countryside:





I did not spend much time birding at Fuji, however–frustrating a few times, because I am pretty sure I spotted some really nice birds but did not have my long lens.

Categories: Birdwatching Tags:

Black-Crowned Night Heron

December 12th, 2008 Comments off

This particular bird is often seen in or above narrow watery areas, and tends not to be very skittish; I have seen them be comfortable at a distance of no more than six feet from a good number of observers or passers-by. This particular bird was at Rikugi-en, though I have spotted the species fairly often at Inogashira Park in Kichijoji and at Kasai Rinkai Park on the bay. The third and the final images can be enlarged.







If I haven’t been doing much detailed or political blogging, there’s a reason: I am working like a dog around this time. Starting a few weeks back, and maybe going a bit into next week, my whole time is consumed by one aspect of work or another. Once in a while I get some free time, but then I prefer to spend it doing other stuff, like going to the parks with Sachiko. Hopefully, this weekend I’ll have some free time.

Categories: Birdwatching, Nature Tags:

Birds at the Park

November 27th, 2008 1 comment

When Sachi and I were at Shinjuku Gyouen, I spotted a few birds that made it worth the ¥400 for us both to enter. One was a bird I’d seen quickly in passing before, another was an entirely new species–rare enough for me nowadays. The one I’d seen in passing was the Rose-ringed Parakeet, a largish parrot-like bird, and an invasive species (escaped pet) to Tokyo. Though they can be spotted all over Tokyo, hundreds flock near a biological institute in Setagaya. It seems, however, that they like the east side of Shinjuku Gyouen–where I spotted them both times.







Pretty birds. Lovely plumage.

I could not identify this next bird on spotting, but it turns out that it’s a Brambling, or アトリ (Atori) in Japanese. The distinctive white markings on the wings and back made it pretty clear what it was.




Actually, it was the red breast that first gave it away–not too many birds have that.




To show how hard birding can be at times, here’s the same bird from two other angles. Compare with the previous photos–they don’t look very much alike.



This last bird remains a mystery–I have to get this one ID’ed at the bird forum or something.



Categories: Birdwatching, Nature Tags:

Light Birding

October 5th, 2008 Comments off

It’s probably the other things going on in my life, but I have not been strongly into birding recently. Still, from time to time, I drop by a birding spot and give things a whirl… but to be honest, now that I’ve gotten most of the species you’re bound to see without a big surprise, it’s a bit less exciting. All the same, the birds are nice to see, even when they’re nothing new. Here are some from today:

A Grebe (kaitsuburi):



A Cormorant (kawau) preening while drying its wings:


A pretty stilt (seitaka-shigi):


Various sandpipers (I’ve given up trying to differentiate them, to be honest):



This one is of a large Piper chasing a smaller one that caught a morsel it fancies:


Wagtails are always pretty, however common:


The return of the Tufted Ducks signals the beginning of the massive flocks soon to come:


And there were a few Kingfishers (kawasemi) also in attendance:








Flying off, the Kingfisher is such a pretty flash of red and blue-green:


A bull-headed Shrike made an elegant farewell from the park:




Spiders were everywhere, mostly of this variety–this one snacking an a slightly less-colorful bug:


And what bird park would be complete without a wishful cat?


And the crabs, of course:


I’m just throwing this last one in–you get to see Tokyo Tower down the street on the way back, on Route 1:


Categories: Birdwatching, Nature Tags:

More Saiko Birding

August 27th, 2008 Comments off

Who ever knew it would be such a good birding spot, that hotel? They just happened to give us a window out on a meadow full of birds I usually don’t see, including a few I couldn’t even identify without the help of the good folks at the Bird Forum, always on hand to ID a photographic avian catch for you. Here I thought I had a Daurian Redstart, and it turned out, after magnifying the image, I had a few birds I had never caught on camera before. The first was a Narcissus Flycatcher, a disappointment only in that I didn’t catch it in it’s brilliant yellow, orange, white, and black colors–instead, I got the tamer variety. Still, a new bird!



And then there was the plucky little featherball that turned out to be an Asian Brown Flycatcher.




Those, plus the Long-tailed Tits and even the Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker made for an interesting show without even leaving the comfort of my room. Quite a view, as it turned out.

The nearby Wild Bird Park turned out to have quite a few interesting birds as well. Even the Tree Sparrows had interesting variety, like this white-dominated fellow:


The Varied Tits flitted quickly in and out of the feeders, while the sparrows stayed put, as did the kijibato, or Eurasian Turtledoves, whose larger frames would dominate some of the feeders.



As I reported yesterday, the kawarahira, or Oriental Greenfinches were all about in the park.


I spotted a nice Meadow Bunting in a clearing. I love it when birds fluff up in cleaning, they look like a mess of exploded furry feathers.




There was even a Gray Wagtail down near a pond that Sachi spied and pointed out to me, in this frame doing the weird stretch-my-wing-out-over-my-extended-leg move they sometimes do.


For a rainy couple of days, it was a nice draw.

Categories: Birdwatching, Nature, Travel Tags:

Saiko Birding

August 26th, 2008 Comments off

Since I was unable to blog from my laptop while on vacation, and I couldn’t get photos from my birding camera to the iPhone blog, I’ll have to catch up after the fact.

One of the biggest disappointments of our trip to Kawaguchi-ko was the weather–we just happened to pick a weeklong stretch of constant drizzle and rain, and so we were very limited in terms of what we could do. Fortunately, the view out our hotel room was the best I’ve seen for hotel-based birding. There was a nice little grove with some visible branches, and there was a good bit of activity there at times. I’d love it if I lived in a place like that, especially if I could set up a few nice bird feeders.

One of the biggest shows was an Enaga, or Long-tailed Tit. I was happy at this catch because I had never caught this bird with its brown coloring before.








All of Sunday and Monday were wet, but we lucked out a bit as Tuesday–the day we had to head back by noon–cleared up and even had some sunshine. So we ate breakfast and went to the local wild bird forest. Among other birds, we got a ton of Yamagara (Varied Tit) and Kawarahira (Eurasian Goldfinch).








There’s more, but I’ll get to that later–too much to do tonight to fit it all in.

One last note: the lake where we stayed was not really Lake Kawaguchi, but Lake Sai (“Lake West,” translated). Since the Japanese form is to use the name followed by -ko (“lake”), we stayed at “Saiko,” pronounced the same as “Psycho” in English.

I should have gotten a better look at that innkeeper….

Categories: Birdwatching, Nature Tags:

Now THAT Was a Bicycle Ride

August 21st, 2008 4 comments

Sachi and I both now suffer from sore butts, but we had a very nice day. We got to have our bike ride from Ikebukuro to Shakuji Park, planned for last weekend but canceled due to bad weather. And today turned out to be a perfect day for it; sunny, but not too much; hot at first, but with good breezes, and halfway to the park, the temperature dropped to a much more comfortable level. And we needed that: the ride, one way, was 8.4 miles (13.5 km), or over sixteen and a half miles (27 km), equivalent of riding a bicycle from Shinjuku to Tachikawa, or (in San Francisco terms) from Stanford University to SFO.

It was also a perfect example of the iPhone to the rescue. Without it, I would have had to lug around a giant map book, or at least make copies of the relevant pages, fishing them out of my pockets and unfolding and refolding them, trying to figure out what sheet was which. The iPhone and its GPS worked great to guide us there and back, allowing us to take the optimal route but change our path if we wanted to. I could easily just pull it out of my shirt pocket and turn it on with one hand, checking our route to make sure we stayed on the right roads.

But the iPhone really came to the rescue when we realized that Sachi’s tire was deflating again and again. She had not used her bike in almost a year, and the tires were flat, naturally we thought. So we pumped up at a gas station–but 10 minutes into our trip, they were deflated again. So we pumped up again at another gas station–but again, they started deflating. This would have been a big thing normally–we probably would have had to cancel the trip and head back. But the iPhone’s Map app showed us the nearest bicycle shop just a few hundred meters away–which we never would have found otherwise–and a few minutes and 700 yen later, Sachi’s bike was fixed, and we were on our way again. The little gadget is very much earning its keep.

The ride one-way took an hour on the way back, though a bit longer on the way in due to the bike issues. But we got to the park just fine, and I got treated to some very nice birdwatching. No new species or anything, but some nice birding nonetheless. The first event was the best, a family of Common Moorhens. At first, it was just the one bird, or so I thought at the time, and with such a lovely bird, that would have been good enough. (Some of the following images enlarge to 1200 x 800 versions on click.)



But then the Moorhen pushed out into the water and started doing something strange: it circled around and started making repeated calls. We didn’t understand why until a minute later, when we noticed a little fuzzball emerge from the reeds:



Still not completely covered with feathers (though its beak showed the distinctive red-and-yellow Moorhen trademark) and eyes looking like they were only recently opened, a tiny Moorhen chick tentatively waded out, but only so far.


Mama had to come in and encourage the little fellow. And then another chick came ambling out:




The hen then led the chicks out into the water for a little swim, followed by sunbathing (or whatever) on stumps a little farther out. But that wasn’t all of the Moorhen family; apparently, last season’s chicks had grown up, and were still milling around. What’s interesting is that these birds lose their red-and-yellow bill colors, but only in their “teenager” phase–then they get those colors back when they mature.



Soon after that, we were chasing some Little Grebes…



…when Sachi just happened to spot a Kingfisher nearby.



For a public park, there were a good many interesting birds to be found. We also spotted the usual crows, sparrows, and Spot-billed ducks, in addition to a Little Egret and a Grey Heron. So, not bad birdwatching for a non-birdwatching venue.

But birds were not all that were there; some domestic animals also came into view.


But the real pleasure of the day came when we spotted a couple with a little Shiba Inu puppy. Now, Sachi just loves Shiba Inus, can’t get enough of ’em (she’s always tuning into YouTube on her iPhone to check out the latest Shiba puppy videos), and puppies are the best of all. Whenever we see a Shiba when we are out and about, we consider it a good result for the day. So when we passed the seated couple with the puppy, I just had to ask if Sachi could pet it–she was too shy to ask herself.


(The string is intended to train the pup not to bark too much, so we were told.)

Well, Sachi got a bonus–not only did they let us pet the puppy, but she got to hold it, too. Her idea of heaven.


So, it was a good day.

Categories: Birdwatching, iPhone, Main, Nature Tags:

Climbing Takao, Part II

May 6th, 2008 2 comments

So, Sachi and I climbed Takao-san a few days ago, like I said. We are still recovering; Sachi mentioned that we look like penguins, waddling around because our calves ache so much. We really don’t do this quite so much, and weren’t physically prepared. I mean, I exercise regularly nowadays, but that wasn’t quite enough.

Coming down the mountain that day, it was painful exactly as I expected: my knees hurt like hell, though fortunately they really went out only at the very end, and only when stepping downwards. Sachi’s knees hurt also, but not as much as mine–mine have been bad that way since I was in high school. It was excruciating every time we encountered another set of steps at the end. But we heard a lot of people complaining of similar joint pain. But we didn’t expect the next-day calf pain (maybe next-week calf pain–it’s been two days and it’s not getting better) to be quite as harsh as it is.

And that’s despite Sachi praying at a temple along the ascent which, appropriately enough, is a special one for foot and leg pain sufferers. But maybe that’s because Sachi just prayed for our mothers, who have leg ailments all the time, and certainly need more help with that than we do….


In any case, we continued up the mountain, posing for pictures every now and then.


The main trail was crowded right up to the top, and most of the way was fully artificial–cement stairways, paved roads, etc. This segment here was lined with wooden planks commemorating people who made donations to the local shrine. The second shows a nearby path lined with lanterns, each wired up for electricity (electric power lines traced the entire route).



Not that the shrines and temples weren’t pretty to look at:

0508-Takao-Temple Detail

0508-Takao-Tengu Statue

And, of course, more views of the cities below. This was a nice shot of the city below, the kind of shot that has nothing but buildings in view. To get a bigger version with a lot more detail, click on the image.


And then, finally, we got to the peak–which looked like a crowded city square.


We decided to take an alternate trail down, but soon encountered a problem: the shorter, more nature-oriented path had a long segment which was essentially stepping stones along a small stream. And probably because of the less physically-able climbers, the path was a single-file traffic jam, moving painfully slowly.


We kept hearing these sharp yelps from somewhere down the trail, and after a bit, found out what they were: someone had brought their Dachshund up the trail, and the poor thing just wasn’t built for this kind of path. As they passed us, they were carrying the poor thing, but it was half-wet and still occasionally yelping.

The people coming up were less numerous, and so were forced to take the non-stepping-stone side of the path left by the crowd waiting to progress down; the people going up had wet and muddy shoes and socks.


After a while of this, with no end to the traffic jam in sight, we decided to take a branch course at a junction, despite the other course being longer; it was supposed to take 20 minutes more than the original path, but we figured that without the traffic jam, we’d save a lot more time in the end.

I had hoped to do quite a bit of birdwatching, and indeed, there were tons of birds. The problem: almost none were visible. We must have heard birdsong from maybe twenty different species, but we only saw four or five, including the Asian House Martin, Gray Wagtail, and Varied Tit, as pictured below.

0508-Takao-Asian House Martin01

0508-Takao-Asian House Martin02



All pretty birds, but not all that unusual. The rest were adept at hiding out of view, likely in or atop the greenery of the forest canopy. Maybe a professional birder could have helped us spot some, but I’m just an amateur. Ah well.

I will close with a few more images of Sachi and myself on the trail. For all the resultant muscle and joint pain, it was still a very nice hike.



See the Cherry Blossoms

March 29th, 2008 5 comments

Though we caught a glimpse of the cherry blossoms last week as they were just starting to bloom, Sachi and I figured that we’d see them in their prime this week. We decided to go to two different places. Sachi dislikes Shinjuku, so we didn’t go back to Shinjuku Gyoen (though I think that’s really the best place for cherry blossom viewing, as it’s big, well-kept, has lots of trees and varieties, and has elbow room to spread out in–a big thing when you see the other places), and we decided that Ueno would be too crowded.

For some reason, we thought Inogashira Park in Kichijoji would not be. Big mistake.


You really can’t understand the press shown in this photo, it isn’t done justice here. There’s a quaint, narrow shopping street going from near Kichijoji Station to Inogashira Park, and it was packed enough most of the way–but the last 50 meters or so was intolerably jammed. We virtually inched along, with some jerk at my back apparently thinking he’d move faster if he pressed up against me and pushed. The jam was caused more by the large number of people on the street lining up for yakitori at a place called Iseya, near the entrance to the park.

Once inside, the park was little better–it was sardine time, worse than I’ve ever seen it. To top things off, the park has adopted a new don’t-feed-the-birds policy, which meant the loaf of bread we’d brought would go to waste, and there was little else left to do. Forget going out on the lake in a boat, the line was tremendous. Even just walking along was bad enough. Still, a few shots did result from the visit:



In addition to the blossoms, some Oshidori (Mandarin Ducks) were in attendance, though they were just about the only birds there; since the no-feeding policy, the number of birds in the park has plummeted. Clever idea they had there.



So after walking through the park for about fifteen minutes, we’d had enough, and went back to the station, and on to Meguro. Sachi knows the location well because she lived nearby for a while. There’s a river lined for a good distance with cherry blossom trees, and so we enjoyed ourselves there, somewhat better because it was far less crowded.





One thing we did notice was that it was Crazy Day. First, there were accidents on both train lines we wanted to use–the Yamanote and the Inogashira. In fact, as we took the Inogashira Line, we passed a station where, at the end of the platform, there appeared to be two human bodies completely covered over by tarps, apparently explaining the accident delay. A bit of a shock there.

Then, a little later on the same train, some guy came racing through the car; we thought he needed to get from one end of the train to the other fast, but he stopped at the end of our car… and started touching advertisements. Only the ones on either side of the doors–first the ads on one side, then the other, then to the next set of doors, all down the length of the car. Obsessive-compulsive or something, I suppose.

Then, in Meguro, there was quite a bit of craziness brought on by simple drinking, including these guys pictured below (apparently just back from a wedding), who had one member pretend to climb over the railing while the rest, for some reason, sang the Hanshin Tigers baseball team song.


Nevertheless, Sachi and I enjoyed ourselves with a pleasant few hours’ walk, and then dinner at a nice restaurant before heading back.



One last image. Just before we finished up in Meguro, we passed a taxi parking lot, and spotted several cats who had learned about warm car hoods. Two were on one taxi, and another underneath; I caught the couple on the hood.


Categories: Birdwatching, Focus on Japan 2008 Tags:

Shinjuku Gyouen, Part II

March 25th, 2008 Comments off

As promised, here is the birdwatching conclusion to the Shinjuku Gyouen Park post. Actually, at the park, I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to get any bird photos–after taking about a hundred photos of blossoms and other things, my camera stopped working. When I looked, it was flashing, “CF Card Full.” What the? I had cleared the card before leaving home, and the thing holds close to five hundred photos, even Large, SuperFine 10-megapixel images. But then I remembered–I had last set the thing to take JPEG plus RAW images… and the RAW images are huge. Worse, I couldn’t find a way to delete just the RAW images without deleting the JPEGs as well. Fortunately, I had taken quite a few excess images, and was able to erase enough unwanted ones to clear up enough space for a few hundred more high-quality JPEGs.

Good thing, too, because there were quite a few birds there–twenty-one species (though I may be forgetting a few) in all:

Brown-eared Bulbul
White-cheeked Starling
Great Tit
Varied Tit
Bull-headed Shrike
Great Cormorant
Large-billed Crow
Mandarin Duck
Spot-billed Duck
Little Grebe
Black-faced Bunting
Rose-ringed Parakeet
Dusky Thrush
Oriental Turtle Dove
Common Kingfisher
White Wagtail
Grey Wagtail
Japanese White-eye
Tree Sparrow
Great Egret

Always beautiful is the Common Kingfisher:




The Black-faced Buntings are not too rare, but you don’t often see them out in the open like this:



The Varied Tits were all crowded in one large bush, coming out to sit on a cable and dip into a plastic sleeve… for some reason. (The first two images have larger versions on click.)





A surprising catch was a Rose-ringed Parakeet, which I have heard about but never spotted before–I did not expect to catch a new species in Shinjuku! The Rose-ringed Parakeet is an escaped species, originally in Japan as a pet, but they have been doing quite well in Tokyo for some time–even roosting 600-700 strong near this biological research lab in Meguro. You can also see a map showing sightings of the birds throughout Tokyo. I only caught this one in flight–and this attests well to my new camera’s worth. I only saw the bird after I heard a strange screeching in the sky, and I spotted and photographed the bird only as it flew overhead in a matter of a few seconds. Nevertheless, these pictures resulted:

0308-Rose-Ringed Parakeet-450

0308-Rose-Ringed Parakeet2-450

Just one more image for today–a flock of Mandarin Ducks were at the park–but only under dark shade and at extreme range in the park’s westernmost lake. Could barely see them, but you could see that they were there in number.


There were lots more, but those were the more interesting of the day.

Birds, or What There Are of Them

February 19th, 2008 Comments off

I though February was still supposed to be a good birding time. Not so much, it seems. I went to the Tokyo Port Wild Bird Park on Sunday, and the main areas were pretty much empty. Not that I couldn’t spot any birds, but for a bird park, it was pretty light going.

0208-Grey Heron 02-450

0208-Grey Heron 03-450

Grey Herons are really beautiful birds, but they are also pretty common; you can see them around pretty much all the time. But, like I said, lovely birds. Beautiful plumage.

I also got a few unusually nice shots of a Great Tit. Again, very common birds, but they flit around so quickly, it’s often hard to get shots as good as this.

0208-Shijuugara 01-450

0208-Shijuugara 02-450

Another common bird is the Great Cormorant; these guys are all around. Ugly birds, too. But it is cool to see them standing out there with their wings out, getting them dry (they don’t have the same waterproofing as other birds do).

0208-Great Cormorant 01-450

And sometimes you can catch them in rather epic struggles.

The more interesting birds: in the distance (as birds of prey usually are), there was a Common Buzzard (Nosuri) hanging about:

0208-Common Buzzard 01--450

One of the first things I saw was this young but colorful Bull-headed Shrike (Mozu):

0208-Bull-Headed Shrike 01-450

And fully unexpected was a Daurian Redstart (Joubitaki). Not that Redstarts aren’t seen in the park, but this one was hopping around on the ground in the mud flats; previously, I’d only seen Redstarts in the trees and shrubs, and aside from the occasional Wagtail or Thrush, just Sandpipers and other shorebirds in the flats. But this one was happily foraging around in the mud, not far from the only Common Sandpiper (Isoshigi) I could spot in the entire park.

0208-Daurian Redstart 01-450

0208-Daurian Redstart 02-450

0208-Daurian Redstart 03-450

0208-Daurian Redstart 04-450

And, just to close things up, a few extra pictures. Enjoy.

0208-Heron And Cormorant-450

0208-White Wagtail 01-450

Not Many February Birds

February 10th, 2008 Comments off

After yesterday’s heavy snowstorm, I took the opportunity on this clement day to visit Kasai Rinkai Park on Tokyo Bay to see what the birds were doing. The results: there must have been some popular bird event elsewhere, because Kasai Rinkai was virtually void of any avian presence. Yes, there were the inevitable Winter ducks, but just the usual collection. I did get a few shots, the best of which I’ll share first: a Mozu, or Bull-headed Shrike, happened to land on a close perch as I arrived at the park.


The same shot, full-sized:


And I even caught a nice shot of it flying away (larger image on click):


Other birds included a fair number of Mejiro (Japanese White-eyes) flitting around the park, scavenging among the reeds:


Again, a nice close-up shot, with larger image on click:


Early on, I saw several Black-faced Buntings in the trees, but they danced and flew far too fast to catch a good shot; however, I did get a view from a distance to confirm they were indeed the right Buntings:

0208-Bf Bunting1B-450

There were also the ubiquitous Brown-eared Bulbuls–noisy, unafraid, and disappointing as always… but I did get a fairly close shot, so what the heck, here it is:


Along with all the ducks were the always-attractive Green-winged Teals. There were also some Coots and even a Moorhen among the ducks.


And what bird park is complete without a hungry feline?


As I left the park on my scooter along Wangan Boulevard, I was witness to a near-accident: a car passed at more than 100 kph–and then, when trying to merge left, the driver lost control and spun out in a rather spectacular fashion. He first served right and spun about ninety degrees, then the same in the other direction, and eventually almost did a 360. I kept expecting the car to lose its footing and start tumbling end-over-end, but it would seem the car’s engineers were far more in control than the driver of the car; eventually he straightened out, and then immediately slowed to under the speed limit. Still, the smell of burning rubber was thick in the air behind him.

After a minute or so, as he was now driving especially cautiously, I passed him… and saw that the driver was a man, and the woman and child in the back were presumably his family. What the hell he was thinking by driving that way with his family in the car in the first place is beyond me.

Pre-MacWorld Birding Catchup

January 15th, 2008 Comments off

As I wait for the MacWorld Expo to start, I figured that now would be a good time to catch up on posting the birding shots I collected in the U.S. around Christmastime. There were some good shots from a trip I took to the water treatment plant on Radio Road out in Foster City. One of the best was a Common Yellowthroat I stumbled upon while taking a road out to the less-peopled bayfront side of the plant. I was walking along this path bordered with medium brush, and there he was:

1207-Common Yellowthroat 01-450

Beautiful little thing, isn’t it? I don’t care if it’s a “Common” anything, that is one vibrant, startling bird. Click on it for a larger shot, or just see a closer view here:

1207-Common Yellowthroat 01A-450

Here’s where the new camera really pays off. Not only in the many shots I could snap off immediately, but in the quality of the close-up shot. Here’s another shot:

1207-Common Yellowthroat 02-450

Nearby, I saw a Yellow-rumped Warbler flitting around a fence:

1207-Y-Rumped Warbler 01-450

1207-Y-Rumped Warbler 02-450

These must be fairly common themselves–I saw a few at a winery Sachi and I visited in Los Gatos:

1207-Y-Rumped Warbler 04-450

There were tons of Cinnamon Teals there, not just the single one I spied last year.

1207-Cinnamon Teal 01-450

1207-Cinnamon Teal 02-450

There were a number of other ducks present as well: Norther Shovelers, America Widgeons, Mallards, Green-winged Teals, Northern Pintails, and Ruddy Ducks.



1207-Gw Teal 01-450

1207-N Pintail 01-450

1207-Ruddy Duck 02-450

Tons of shorebirds, too–here you can see a Black-necked Stilt (also above), an American Avocet (both of those very common), some Marbled Godwits, and some Willets.

1207-Bn Stilt 02-450


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The Willets were particularly notable in flight, with those contrasting black-and-white wings. There were tons of shorebirds–not surprising along the shore….

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There were some other miscellaneous birds–a Rustic Bunting, for example:

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…And a female Common Yellowthroat, not as striking as her male counterpart, to be certain:

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Perhaps the most interesting, however, was a Red-tailed Hawk that I spied sitting on a fence post as I walked down that path:

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As I tried to sneak in closer (not that he didn’t see me clearly!), a couple walked by and scared him into a tree. Gorgeous!

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But the tree, apparently, was home to some crows, who definitely did not like the hawk being there!

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They tried to harry him for a while, but the hawk was not at all perturbed. Just sat there like the crows weren’t swooping at him at all.

A few more photos from the vacation later on, but that’s most of the birds right there.

Categories: Birdwatching, Nature Tags:

Wetland Birds

December 23rd, 2007 3 comments

I went to a few good birding spots along the S.F. Bay Area wetlands, specifically at the Marsh Road and Embarcadero Boulevard termini, where tons of birds are known to gather. And I wasn’t disappointed. One of the strangest-looking birds I caught was a Northern Harrier:

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In addition, I got this Red-Tailed Hawk as it flew away; apparently, it had been hiding in a bush not more than ten feet away from me. I knew it was a predator taking off mostly because all the other birds scattered when he took off.

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With both the above birds, I saw them in flight suddenly, and only had seconds to react. With my S1-IS, I would have completely missed both these birds unless my camera was on and ready to shoot, but only if (a) I could track and zoom on the bird successfully–hard enough just to do that–and (b) successfully focused on the bird, something almost impossible to do. With the XTi, I just raise the camera zoomed out to 70mm, center on the bird, and zoom in all in one swift motion, and then snap-snap-snap-snap-snap. The focus usually gets it right the first time, and one setting on the camera has constant tracking on the focus, great for birds flying toward and away from the camera. The max zoom on the XTi is a bit better than the S1-IS, but the megapixels catch the extra details that would have left the S1-IS image lacking.

In short, none of the above shots would have been more than a brown smudge with the S1-IS, if I was lucky enough to get anything at all.

Here is the American Avocet, a common but lovely bird, and a signature bird with some birding organizations. The first image has a larger version; the last two are tracking shots of an Avocet in flight and making a landing.

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There were also the closely-related Black-necked Stilts (very similar to Japanese Black-winged Stilts):

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There were also a number of different birds in the related sandpiper family–but frankly, I have such a hard time differentiating them (they are often even harder to tell apart than gulls), I didn’t want to take the time and trouble cataloging them.

There were also two Great Blue Herons (similar to the Japanese Grey Heron) in attendance:

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There was also a Great Egret, but I didn’t get a good photo of it (too distant, and over-exposed somehow).

To my surprise, there were four or more rather large Black-crowned Night Herons in attendance, including one rather scraggly, mangy-looking one (both have larger versions on click).

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There were also, of course, a good number of ducks. Northern Shovelers, Green-winged Teals, Northern Pintails, Canvasbacks, Mallards, and more. At the Duck Pond at the end of Embarcadero Boulevard, a lot of these birds were easy to approach, including Mallards:

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Canvasbacks at Marsh Road were somewhat more skittish:


Two slightly more unusual birds were the female Bufflehead (too distant for a decent shot), and two Common Goldeneyes, one male and the other female:

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Doesn’t that last shot make it look like the duck has glowing yellow eyes?

Now this duck in the center is tricky:

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I swear, it looks like a black duck with a gold-leaf streak on its front. In actuality, it’s a Green-winged Teal, a light-colored duck–but this one is in the shade. The gold-leaf coloring is where the sun comes through between the rock and the breast of the duck in front of it. But the contrast is misleading–from the surrounding shadow, it doesn’t look like the duck should get that dark. The giveaway for the bird’s ID is the vertical stripe on its side–unique to this particular Teal.

There were also a gaggle of geese nearby–a mixed group of Chinese Geese and Greylay Geese:

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And, of course, a lot of Canada Geese, these ones flying in flocks overhead:

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And speaking of getting close up…

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Those are non-reduced images, the full-pixel images, cropped. Here are reduced images that give a better view of the American Coot and the Ring-billed Gull:

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This is probably also a Ring-billed Gull, just younger–between 1st summer and 2nd winter:

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This is probably a Double-crested Cormorant–unfortunately, a rather uninteresting-looking juvenile, and not the more flamboyant adult with breeding plumes.

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There were other birds as well; White-crowned Sparrows as well as several other sparrows, but one that stood out a little was the Golden-crowned Sparrow:

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You can just make out the yellow on top of its head. There was also the usual Black Phoebe:

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And there were several other birds as well–but that’s certainly enough for tonight. I’ll finish with an interesting moon shot; as a bonus, there’s a much larger version that could be applied to your Desktop if you want:


Categories: Birdwatching, Nature Tags:

More Photos

December 22nd, 2007 2 comments

Second day using the camera, and everything is going well. The focusing issue seems to be a matter of self-training, recognizing where the camera is focusing on and compensating. For example, when I am shooting birds on the ground and there are prominent depth-of-field issues, I notice that the camera will not focus on the center of the frame, but rather just below center. So, if I want to focus on a bird on the ground, I have to position it just below the center of the screen.

I also have yet to produce RAW images. Are they sharper than the JPEGs? I’ll have to experiment and find out.

I have also noticed more a feature I mentioned last time: if you are focusing on an area with several objects at different distances, the camera may focus on the wrong one. If you release the shutter and hold it halfway again to re-focus, the AF will usually offer a different object to focus on, as if to say, “Oh, that’s not your subject? OK, then how about this? No? What about this?” It can all be done pretty quickly, too.

Anyway, a lot of the same birds were there, but I did spot this Northern Flicker unexpectedly (click for larger image):

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As usual, hummingbirds virtually swarmed around this giant tree near the bike bridge. Got one of them pretty well as it perched in a nearby tree. The first image can be clicked for a larger version:

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There were also the prerequisite White-crowned Sparrows:

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As well as the usual Stellar’s Jays and Acorn Woodpeckers, as well as a Black Phoebe that seems to have laid claim to the meadow:


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There was also a flock of Chestnut-backed Chickadees. One I got real close; here’s a cropped-but-not-reduced shot:

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Here’s a reduced shot, with a larger unreduced version after a click:

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This one’s kind of cute, like the bird is hiding behind the flower…

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And a squirrel; larger image on click:

1207-Squirrel 01-450

Categories: Birdwatching, Gadgets & Toys, Nature Tags:

Meiji Jingu, Part 1

November 24th, 2007 Comments off

Sachi and I went on another walk-about-town today. This time we chose Meiji Jingu and Harajuku; on the way back home, we stopped at Lion’s Beer Hall and had dinner out.

It was a pretty productive day in several ways. Meiji Jingu turned out to be very good for birdwatching today (especially the open fields at the north end; look for birds along the treeline and the lakeside). I ran into a small flock of colorful Varied Tits in a tree, which often pecked at the tree trunk like woodpeckers and jumped to the ground to forage. There was a Kingfisher in the south gardens, and I spotted a fully-colored male Daurian Redstart, a first for me. At the shrine proper, we saw several marriages in progress, and a lot of people dressed up.

In Harajuku, we looked around for winter stuff for me–gloves, a scarf, and a wool cap–but found too little that was satisfying, and all priced too high. Then we ran across a big Daiso, a shop which is usually 100-yen (like a 99-cent shop), but this one had stuff for more than that, including a wool cap and a pair of gloves for 200 yen each, and a scarf for 300 yen. So, mission accomplished.

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The north side of the park. It was nice to sit down and soak up the sun. The rest of the park is in such shade from the trees that it’s easy to think it’s almost evening. There was a police or security guy here whose job, apparently, was to walk up to couples who were snuggling too much and tell them to knock it off.

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There were at least half a dozen Varied Tits flitting around and under a tree along the field’s treeline. Usually skittish birds, they were unusually easy to photograph. Several seemed to be pecking away at the trunk and the larger branches.

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I was startled to see this Daurian Redstart. I was walking along the edge of the pond and bam, there he was, just sitting there. I’ve spotted females before, but never males in full plumage like this one. And he was very much agreeable to posing for quite some time.

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Kind of reminds you of Dennis Rodman, doesn’t he?

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These Mallards were okay, but I just like the whole photo, especially how the water turned out. Click this for a larger image.

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I caught this Kingfisher at extreme range. He had staked out the lake in the southern gardens (you have to pay ¥500 per person to get in).

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I’ll finish up here for today, and post tomorrow with photos of the shrine proper, and a few other things we spotted as well (including some Engrish).

Categories: Birdwatching, Focus on Japan 2007 Tags:

Kasai Rinkai

October 20th, 2007 Comments off

I went to another appointment with the eye specialist today (everything seems fine, they don’t think I need to go back again), and figured that since it was so close, I’d drop by Kasai Rinkai Park.

As it happened, there was not too much to see. It was high tide, so no shorebirds were at the choice viewing spot, and the second-best spot was filled with workers clearing brush. I spotted a few birds that looked interesting, but suffered the usual bird-stays-there-until-just-when-you-point-the-camera-at-it frustration.

Still, there were some good birds around. Right off the bat, I got a fair look at an Ootaka (Northern Goshawk); as it turned out, its head was partially hidden by the tree, but it was a pretty bird nonetheless.


Here’s an animated GIF of the bird eventually taking off, if you can view animated GIFs. It’s a big file, so you might not be able to view it well if you have a slow connection.


There were the usual Great Egrets…


This one got fairly close:


And there were some Azure-winged Magpies to add a bit of color.



Of course, it’s not quite yet birdwatching season; things should get better towards December… if I can find the time these days!

Categories: Birdwatching, Main Tags:

Melodious Laughing Thrush

May 1st, 2007 Comments off

I have to admit, this one had me stumped. It’s the first time I have spotted a bird in Japan which is not in any of the Japanese bird guides I have. Actually, Sachi spotted it–we were taking a walk in the hills near my home station, via a local shrine. We heard a lot of Japanese Bush Warblers (aka Japanese Nightingales), Long-tailed Tits, and Meadow Buntings (but did not see any), and even did manage to spot a pair of Chinese Bamboo Partridges. But on the way down the many stairs leading to the shrine, Sachi saw a bird in the brush which then hopped along the stairs. I was able to follow it up the stairs and get a lot of photos–but because of the very low light, I was limited to mostly-blurry 1/15th-second exposures, and even then the exposures were dark. But even then, even with the tiny thumbnails on the camera’s display, I could see the markings around its eyes, and knew I had something unusual.

About two years ago, I was exploring a hilly path not too far from where we were today, and came across a birder who was excited about seeing some species that I had never heard about. Neither of us spotted the bird, but when I got back home, I looked it up, and noted the facial markings. That’s what I recognized today.

When I got home and got a better look at the photos, I looked through my field guides, and it wasn’t there. Not remembering the name I had been told a few years back, I did searches on the Internet for “bird white ring line eye China” (I recalled that it was a Chinese bird). Nothing came up. So I went to the Bird Forum, where there is a bird ID area; you don’t know about a bird you spotted, they’ll help you out. And in an hour or less, I had my answer.

The bird, as it turns out, is the Melodious Laughing Thrush, or “Gabi-chou” in Japanese. It’s a Chinese bird (Chinese name: Hwamei) which has been accidentally introduced into Japan and Hawaii, and is considered an invasive species which threatens other thrushes and even perhaps the Bush Warblers. Apparently, it is prized for its song (which it did not display for us today), and is one of many species banned for import by the Japanese government. There is a 2004 study of it here, with maps of its ranges and expansion.

As I mentioned, I did not get very good shots, but this is what I have. You can see what I mean by the facial markings. For clearer shots, look here.



Note the white swirl markings on its belly; I haven’t seen that elsewhere.

These last two images show the color better; it was definitely more reddish-brown than appears in the first two images. Better lighting brought that out.

Categories: Birdwatching, Uncategorized Tags:

Yacho no Mori, Karuizawa

April 21st, 2007 Comments off

“Yacho no Mori” is Japanese for “Birds’ Forest.” I’ve seen the name applied to various areas in the Japanese countryside where the birding is good in a wooded area. Today, Sachi and I are in Nagano, and as we had a few hours to kill and a rental car to get us around, we went to Karuizawa’s Bird Forest–something which pleased me, because we didn’t get the chance to stop there when we bicycled through the city last August.

The forest was nice, and we spotted some interesting birds, including one I’d never seen before. But we wound up hearing a lot more birds than we saw–normal for birdwatching, of course. At least three or four times today, I got foiled by what I call “psychic birds,” where the birds just sit there nicely until just before you snap the photo, which they seem to sense psychically as they choose that split second to fly away.

Nevertheless, here are some of the birds we got today:



The above is an Enaga, or Long-tailed Tit. These little guys are as cute as the dickens, but hard as hell to photograph as they flit around so much. There were at least half a dozen flying around in the trees and shooting down to puddles for a bath. These were the best shots I could get–though at one point, one flew within just four or five feet of Sachi and me, settling down for a 2-second bath in the stream right in front of us, before flying off again.

The next bird I’ll show is the last we caught for the day before heading back. It’s a Kakesu, or Eurasian Jay. I got one of these once before in Kasai Rinkai Park, but only then. It’s a pretty bird, with a striking head and pretty blue-barred wings. Sachi and I saw two of them rise up into the trees as we approached, and though one led us on a futile chase, the other happened to be preening just above us, and stayed for long enough to get some nice shots–even if they are from too low an angle. The first of these can be clicked for a larger image:

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Taking on a very lion-ish pose…

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…from an angle which was too much backlit, but this shows the wing detail very nicely.

The last I’ll introduce is the bird I have never seen before: The Misosazai, or Winter Wren. This was a bird that we heard before we saw. It has a beautiful song (listen to it here as a WAV file, or as an MP3), and did not seem skittish or shy at all: we followed the bird upstream for maybe 100 feet, and it did not seem the least bit disturbed by our presence. The little guy was charming, being a tiny bird with a short, wagging tail and a cheerful song every so often. Though other birder on the trail seemed politely surprised that we got a glimpse of this bird, I have the feeling that it is quite common–after all, we saw the same bird three times along the trail. The first and last of these images have enlargements when clicked on:




Want to listen to the song it’s singing in that last image? Here it is, in WAV or MP3. (In case the sound files don’t open in your browser, try either downloading the link target, or using another browser.)

Categories: Birdwatching, Uncategorized Tags: