Archive for the ‘Nature’ Category

Hummingbird Hawk Moth

September 24th, 2011 3 comments

I’ve seen these over time, and thought I blogged on it years ago, but apparently not. There is an insect which appears all the way from Western Europe to Japan which is large (about an inch and a half long by maybe just less than half an inch wide), brightly colored, and might fool you at first into thinking it’s a hummingbird. The insect hovers over flowering plants, moving just like a hummingbird might–stopping and even backing up in mid-air, and even making a humming sound as it does so. There are no hummingbirds in Japan, though, so it is a simple step from there to identify it as an insect. That plus the antennae.

Meet the Hummingbird Hawk Moth:



This one has been visiting our garden for the past couple of days.

Categories: Focus on Japan 2011, Nature Tags:


January 8th, 2011 6 comments

OK, this is getting spooky. Maybe.

We first heard about it when hundreds of blackbirds were reported falling from the skies in Arkansas–and the number kept growing, now estimated at about 5,000. But that wasn’t the only incident; among the mass sea and air deaths:

  1. the 5000 blackbird falling dead with physical trauma from the sky in Arkansas;
  2. not far away, hundreds of thousands of drum fish–but no other species–showed up also dead;
  3. 100 tons of dead fish washed up on the Brazilian coastline;
  4. 2 million fish dead in Chesapeake Bay, Maryland;
  5. 500 more blackbirds in Louisiana;
  6. a large number of dead snapper fish in New Zealand;
  7. hundreds of grackles, starlings, and robins fell dead in Kentucky, these with no signs of trauma;
  8. 40,000 velvet swimming crabs washed up dead near Kent in England;
  9. 50 Jackdaws fell dead on a street in Sweden, with no visible signs of damage.

Add to that the most recent case in Italy, where 8000 turtle doves fell to their deaths in a town, with blue stains around their bills.

Google is now mapping the mass deaths, which seem to include up to 30 incidences worldwide over the past several weeks.

Now, not all of these incidences seem really strange; a few dozen birds dying a a strain of bird flu in eastern Japan doesn’t seem too unusual. Which leads one to ask, is this really so unusual, or are we just noticing this more than we have in the past? The USGS says this is actually normal, with mass die-offs reported almost every other day, or 163 each year on average. Perhaps all this is is one story with an unusual twist making headlines, and then all the rest of the stories standing out because of the first one.

Occam’s razor suggests this is probably the case–we’re just paying attention to something that was ignored previously. That does not, however, stop the stories from raising some hairs on your arm (especially if you’ve seen the movie The Happening), or feeding conspiracy theories in those who live in a much more interesting world than the rest of us.

Categories: Nature, Science Tags:

Holiday Birdwatching II: The Expected

December 30th, 2009 Comments off

Here are some birds that I completed expected to see–very standard issue for the Bay Area at this time of year:

White-Crowned Sparrow 01

That’s the White-crowned Sparrow above, common in these parts. Below is the American Coot, a relatively humdrum shorebird, more tame than many others.

American Coot 01

The Green-winged Teal is a beautiful, if fairly common bird.

Green-Winged Teal 01

You see egrets quite a bit as well.

Great Egret 01

Egret 01

The Ruddy Duck stands out mostly because it is smaller than other ducks, but also because of its bright white cheek and the fact that it keeps diving under the water, like a grebe.

Ruddy Duck 01

Black-necked stilts were easy to spot–nice birds.

Black-Necked Stilt 01

But the American Avocet is one of the nicest shorebirds high in population. Very pretty indeed.

American Avocet 01

Avocet 01-450

More birds soon…

Categories: Nature Tags:

Holiday Birdwatching I

December 27th, 2009 2 comments

This is the first in a series of posts on the birds I spotted in the last three or four days. Starting on the 24th, I went to various local birdwatching spots, including Radio Road in Redwood City (right next to the Foster City landfill areas), Bayfront Park at the end of Marsh Road in Menlo Park, and the Shoreline walk at Mountain View Park.

The first images, however, come from a local tree near my parents’ home–specifically, a persimmon tree with the fruit ripening, filled with birds eating the yummy treats. This kind of tree attracts one of my favorite birds: the Cedar Waxwing.

Cedar Waxwing 01

Cedar Waxwing 02

Cedar Waxwing 03

Cedar Waxwing 04

Cedar Waxwing 05

Cedar Waxwing 06

Cedar Waxwing 07

A few extra passerines to finish up this first post. There are tons of sparrow-like birds, and I have given up on trying to figure out which is which. They’re just far too similar for the trouble.

Sparrow Gen 04

These are House Finches, the male with the notable red coloring:

House Finch 01

House Finch 02

Here’s a Brown Towhee, a basic “brown bird” for the SF Bay Area:

Brown Towhee 01

Some interesting birds with yellow patches (you’d be surprised how many of those there are):

Unknown 01

Yellow-Rumped Warbler 01

Yellow-Rumped Warbler 03

There were several Black Phoebes around, often flying crazily about. This one perched between us and an American Coot.

Black Phoebe 01

More coming soon!

Categories: Nature Tags:

Not for the Faint of Heart

September 12th, 2009 1 comment

Someone found a fish off the British Jersey coast which sported a particularly nasty parasite. The parasite enters through the fish’s gills and latches on to the base of the tongue, living off the fish’s blood and mucus. The tongue eventually atrophies and falls off, and the parasite takes the place of the fish’s tongue. The parasite is like something out of an Alien movie, looking like a cross between the worst parts of an insect and a prawn, complete with more claw/legs than any creature should have.

For a completely disgusting gross-out picture of the parasite residing in a fish’s mouth, click through to this link. Via Pharyngula.

Categories: Nature 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:

Cool Neighbor

December 3rd, 2008 3 comments

A short time ago, Sachi and I decided to visit the local aquarium. For us, it’s right down the street–we can even see it clearly from our balcony. While there, we saw lots of cool stuff, but there was one resident that I really, really liked:





I’m not fooling around with Photoshop with these colors; that’s what makes the Cuttlefish so cool. It has an amazing mechanism in its skin which allows it to change colors, patterns, and even apparently textures radically within the wink of an eye. But it has to have a reason to do so, which is why the color variations are so mild here.

Want to see it really strut its stuff? Here’s a preview of a NOVA special on the creature that’s just staggering. The preview is good, but if you can ever see the whole show, do so.

Categories: 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.



Climbing Takao

May 5th, 2008 7 comments

You can always climb Mt. Fuji (I have three times, but probably won’t again), but in Tokyo, the most popular mountain to climb is Mt. Takao, on the western outskirts of Tokyo prefecture, just beyond Hachioji. Takao-san-guchi Station is the last stop on the Keio Line, and drops you off not far from the cable car and chair lifts which can take you half way up the mountain.

However, if you are expecting a nature hike, understand that the exposure to nature is a bit limited by the fact that you are crowded by the thousands of other climbers on the trails. Mt. Takao is almost more of a tourist exhibit than it is a mountain hike–at least on the main trail, which nearly everyone takes. Sachi and I didn’t know about the other trails when we arrived, otherwise we probably would have tried one. The main trail was jam packed, mostly because it’s Golden Week, I presume.



Fuji is the same way–the crowding slows the hike down to a crawl sometimes. For Takao, I’d suggest trying the other trails. They lack the tourist shops and the other attractions, but it’s a lot less crowded and a lot more like nature hiking.

On the main trail, we noticed quite a few people bringing their dogs. Sachi loves Shiba Inus, so whenever we see one it’s time to stop and make friends.




That last one has a larger version when clicked. They are beautiful dogs; we’re getting one as soon as we find a place where we can have one–our current place doesn’t allow pets.

The walk up the mountain does have some spectacular views, which these photos don’t do justice to.


If the weather is clear enough, you can see Shinjuku (below) or Yokohama on the horizon.


Here’s a stitched-together panorama, with a larger version (2200 pixels wide) when clicked:


Sachi and I walked up the whole way, as (1) taking the tram up is cheating, and (2) there was an hour-long wait. Just past the top of the tram lines is a nature garden, which, most importantly, features monkeys. There are signs all along the pathway suggesting that wild monkeys can be observed, but either it’s a fake-out to get you to look, or they must not like the crowds. But pay 400 yen and you can get to see a whole bunch in a zoo-like setting.



They are fascinating creatures, even these Macaques, for their resemblances to humans in some ways–close enough but still alien enough to be engrossing. Here’s one picking at stuff on the back of its hand, allowing us to see it’s palm; note on the close-up the ridges and valleys of palm- and fingerprints.



Also in the garden were a lot of flowers, trees, and other plants; this one below (larger version on click) I thought exotic and beautiful, a stunning feature of the garden–until I noticed a whole bunch of them in front of our apartment building this morning, I had just never noticed them.


This blossom is a lot less attractive; Sachi noted it’s resemblance to a certain body part, which I will not repeat here.


Enough for tonight. I’ll finish up with the other photos tomorrow.

Nature Sinning Against Nature?

May 3rd, 2008 Comments off

Question: If a seal rapes a penguin, could that be accurately termed as bestiality? And no, the question is not academic. I mean, when I was growing up, we had both a cat and a dog, and anyone who has owned both species at the same time knows that this is nothing new–but that’s in captivity, without relief from the opposite sex. More like animal prison sex.

Money quote: “At first glimpse, we thought the seal was killing the penguin.” Photo art/kinky animal porn at the linked site.

The “event” lasted 45 minutes, after which the seal left twenty dollars on a nearby rock and swam away.

Categories: Nature 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:

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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:

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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:

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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:

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

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

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

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



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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.

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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: