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Honshu, Japan, April 2013

Honshu, Japan, 11-21/4/13

The weather in April in Thailand is simply too hot for my likening. A break from school allowed us to plan a trip somewhere cooler.

We managed to get some affordable tickets with Airasia. Not the best of routes as we had to fly over Kuala Lumpur and would arrive around midnight. However, having a network of friends in Japan opened up good lodging , home cooked food and friendship.

Day 1

We arrived just before midnight to Tokyo. Our friend picked us up at Haneda Airport with was a huge blessing. It was my first time to visit an authentic Japanese styled house. So neat, small and yet so sufficient.

Otaku in Southern Tokyo is a bit of a yuppie area and reminded me of 'small town' western cities.
My 1st bird the following morning was a bunch of Eastern Jungle Crows, familiar from home but a lot more vocal here. Eurasian Treesparrows followed after that. Suddenly some unfamiliar sounds came to me...what could it be? I was on my friend's balcony....I spotted something medium sized, had a feeling it could be Brown-eared Bulbuls......ran for the bins downstairs and nicely got a pair in full view.....great looking bird with lots of interesting 1st lifer!

Shortly after that I went for a walk to a park nice to be out in cool air.....

Japanese White-eye
Eastern Jungle Crow
Brown-eared Bulbul
Eurasian Treesparrow
Barn Swallow
White Wagtail (M. lugens)
Japanese Tit

After that we travelled by subway all the way across Tokyo to the Northern suburb of Adatchi. Here we met some friends of my wife. Again I found a park. This one was a lot larger and seemed new, by the name of Tonery park.

The lawns were full of White-cheeked Starlings and Dusky Thrushes. Now, how cool is that? The pond had several pairs of Eurasian Wigeons. Such a striking bird and to see it at close range! Wow!

Reed Bunting - 1 in the reeds
Brown-eared Bulbul - a few
Oriental Turtle Dove - plenty
White Wagtail - 2
Grey-capped Greenfinch - a couple of flocks, lifer
Japanese Tit - a few
Eurasian Wigeons - 3 pairs
Chinese Spot-billed Duck - many
Common Coot - a few
Common Moorhen - a couple
Little Grebe - 2
Little Egret - 1
Great Cormorant - in flight, 5 birds
Eastern Jungle Crow - many
Barn Swallow - several
White-cheeked Starling - common
Dusky Thrush - common

Day 2

We spent most of the day trying to arrange a car for the remainder of our trip.
Since we were in the outskirts of Northern Tokyo there was no GPS available in English nor road maps in English. Spent several hours to get it straightented out.

Afternoon meant back to the park again. Such a lovely place. Didn't add any lifers but got better shots. New birds were Common Teal and Azure-winged Magpies on a wire.

Day 3

We somehow made it out of Tokyo in our rented vehicle. GPS was programmed wrongly by the car company so we had to rely on our better instincts as we found our way to the toll way going North.
Traffic rolls slowly here but in an orderly fashion on smooth roads. I don’t think I ever hit a bump during our entire stay. Started to see some rural landscape and fairly quickly got into mountainous areas.

Then we stopped at a high way stop and got to view the snow capped mountains from a distance. I managed to see a pair of Grey Buntings (lifer), Eastern Buzzard (lifer), and a bunch of Japanese Tits, a single Hawfinch (bird I haven't seen for 13 years) and Eurasian Siskins. Fun stop for everyone.

Continued all the way to Niigata city passing through the ski resort town of closed for the season. Patches of snow all over the place.

Had to pay 70$US as we got off the tollway......wicked! 200miles of driving.....

Our friend took us up to a hill top (600m) next to the Japanese Sea. Vegetation was all dried out and I didn't expect to see much birdlife.
Decided to leave the long lens in the car. Mistake! As I reached the top there were several Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers to be seen. Also saw several Long-tailed Tits. Then there was the mystery bird which I never got my eyes on...kept calling....pheeeeeew-wit-wit....Daurian Redstart and Red-flanked Bluetails were nice additions as well.

Day 4.

Our friends have a cozy house next to some wooded hills. The residential area has all these narrow winding streets that curve instead of the regular squarish outline so commonly used all over the world. Here the houses all had individual design and most had a little Japanese Garden included.
The early morning saw me at Niigata Botanical Garden. Not many people around in the early morning which was a blessing.

At the car park there were 3 Black-faced Buntings. I have only seen them once in Thailand and this time I got some fabulous views. No photo though.

On the lawn by the lake the mandatory White Wagtails were found. But, ‘hey, that one looks different! Oh, yes, Japanese Wagtail!’ I later heard it singing from an antenna and was surprised how rich the song was.

The pond held good numbers of Common Teal and some Spot-billed Ducks. A Black-eared Kite caught fish time and again in the pond while Grey Heron with deliberate wing beats flew across the lake.
In a small area of reeds 3 Stejnegri Stonechats had taken residence. A Meadow Bunting sang from the top of a tree. Another lifer!

The song of Brown-eared Bulbuls added to the charm of the place.

After that we drove around a bit and I managed to get a photo of a Rustic Bunting, another new one!
Later on in the day we all went to a pituresque waterfall. Only bird I saw was a Grey Wagtail but it was new for Japan.

The late afternoon we went Cherry blossom (Sakura) hunting. We found massive amounts of these trees blossoming in a park near the sport stadium of Niigata city.
Loads of people were out walking and taking pictures. After all, it was Sunday and these trees only bloom for one week.
Didn't see many birds besides the regular water fowls and Bulbuls but did add Great Crested Grebe to my list.

Then suddenly I caught eye of a Pheasant in the dry and dead reedbed. I did not expect this to happen but how amazingly colorful the Japanese Green Pheasant is! People walking by stopped to see what we were looking at and I got to share my bins with some strangers.

On the way to the car park I saw a man with an impressive camera lens. He also spoke good English. Told me he was waiting for the people to go home so the birds would come out and he could get some pictures. He had shot Japanese Green Woodpecker just two weeks earlier.
I asked him about a bird I had only heard a couple of days earlier. He somehow immediately recogniced my improvised whistle of the bird. 'That is Japan number one song bird'! ‘It is called Uguisu’! Japanese Bush Warbler! I am glad I found out as I actually hadn't seen the bird.

Crossing a river in Niigata yielded some Slaty-backed Gulls.

I just think it is great to bird in 'bits and pieces'. Slowly learning about the area, the vegetation and what is around. Sometimes when I am birding full long days back in Thailand I can feel a bit drained. The holistic approach is slower but more rewarding in my opinion.

Day 5

Off we went to visit Muramatsu Park where the Sakura trees were all blooming. Everyone drives gently here and the rather narrow country roads are of high standard.

Thank God for our large Toyota sedan. Lots of folks drive small vehicles which wouldn't have been enough for the 4 of us plus our friend taking us around the area.

Today we had a pick-nick outdoors. Spring weather had been smiling at us and though a lot colder then in Thailand not very cold for an old Swede like myself.

We walked up the hill by the park and up there I had the pleasure of viewing several Varied Tits. This is one of those birds that stand out while flipping through the fieldguide. Very happy to have seen this one!

After the park we decided to continue driving through the fields towards the higher and still snow capped mountains nearby.

On route I saw several Meadow Buntings and my 1st Bull-headed Shrike, another lifer!
Up the mountain we were basically alone and did several stops for photography at scenic places. Eventually we arrived at a dam where we got a chance to throw some snowballs.

The evening meal was cooked by 'your's truly' (fettuchini with meat sauce) while enjoying a couple of Kirin Stout. Good beer!

Day 6

A rather long and time consuming drive to the Nagano prefecture. It took forever to get out of Niigata through the regular roads. We had programmed the GPS for the tollway but it kept pulling us away from the express way.

Eventually we ended up in the town of Fujimi at our friends home 1300 m above sea level. They run a small pension which fitted our purposes perfectly.
The whole area caters for tourists with many pensions and restaurants of all sorts. Tourist season hadn't started yet though as they were just coming out of winter and it was only locals around besides us.

Day 7.

Got out of bed before everyone else and went for a walk. Lots of forest up here. Well, it looked planted to me as the trees were of the same size and to close to each other with almost no underbrush.

A pair of Chestnut-eared Starlings truly thrilled me as they gave long views. Great lifer!
Again I heard the song of Japanese Bush Warbler. This time I simply waited and was rewarded with good views as the bird moved around on the ground inside a bush.
Our friends have a bird feeder and it was truly busy with little birds feeding on seeds. Close looks of Varied Tit, Coal Tit, Willow Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch, and a Hawfinch.
Other birds in the vicinity. Long-tailed Tit, Black-faced Buntings and the ever present Brown-eared Bulbul. The day ended with a nice barbecue and refreshments.

Day 8. Still at Fujimi. Simply an't pull myself away from this lovely spring weather. Felt the aftermath of our barbecue last night so a rather late start to the day.
We all tried a foot bath and then later the Onsen (Japanese Spa). Sauna, cold water (freezing) pool and then soaking in hot water under open skies. Wonderful! Everyone enjoyed it.

Another walk around the area of our friend's pension. Heard an incredible song. Stalking it came upon a Chinese Hwamei, that I didn’t even know were found in Japan. Then a pair of skulking Japanese Thrushes, birds I have seen a couple of times in Thailand.
The Japanese Bush Warbler sand from the top of a coniferous tree (fieldguide says they are always low) and I managed some shots.

Day 9. Woke up to 6 degrees and sunny weather. Did my walk around the area. Long-tailed Tits as usual very active. Brown-eared Bulbuls likewise. A pair of Japanese Thrushes skulking in between bushes. A Hwamei on the ground. A pair of Chestnut-eared Starlings showed well. Japanese Tit, Varied Tit, Coal Tit at feeder along with Eurasian Nuthatch. Grey-capped Greenfinches all over. Japanese Bush Warbler singing away. Do I need to stress how I enjoyed myself?

We then sadly have to leave this wonderful place. The drive to Yamanashi prefecture went well and we hooked up with friends all over again.

Not much birdlife to speak of along the way but our friend took us up a mountain next to town and as we ascended it opened up to some simply superb scenery with mountain lakes, rivers, forests and natural scenery. So spectacular!

Day 10. An easy morning but managed to get some views of a distant Mt. Fuji.
Totally unexpected a Pale Thrush came hopping next to my friend's house. This was another lifer for me and for it to show up inside the vicinity of the city was very cool.
A pick-nick in rather cold weather to a park in Minami-Alps was a great decision. The park was wonderfully neat and held a flock of Japanese Grosbeaks feeding on the newly cut lawn. Several Hawfinches were also on the lawn. Such great birds.

We had to say goodbye and set the GPS for our next destination in Tokyo. Drizzling rains and low temperature wasn't too bad for me as it brought back childhood memories from Sweden.

Returned the hired car and settled in our friend’s house in Northern Tokyo.

Day 11. Cold weather had moved in all over Japan with snow in the mountains. Tokyo was bleak and wet. After noon it stopped drizzling and we were able to visit the famous shopping areas of inner Tokyo. A visit to a park produced Common Kingfisher and House Martin to my Japanese bird list. The park was full of Large-billed Crows and some White-cheeked Starlings, Dusky Thrushes, Oriental Turtle Dove and a lone pair of Japanese Tits.

Our flight with Airasia from Hadake went well and we arrived in Kuala Lumpur at dawn for our connecting flight back to Bangkok.

Japan was very impressive to say the least. How so many people can manage to live in peace and order and act civil in a relatively small country is simply remarkable.

Compared with Thailand it was of course costly but we managed to keep our costs at acceptable levels. We took pleasure from the little things of daily living and all the many natural sights and sounds around us.
Birding wise April is sort of a transitory period when winter visitors have left and summer visitors haven't arrived. For me though, that didn't matter much as there was still plenty to look at. 63 species seen whereof 16 were lifers.

Images from the trip are found here:

1. Japanese Green Pheasant – 1 in Niigata City, lifer
2. Eurasian Wigeon – common in suitable habitat
3. Mallard – a few but not very common
4. Eastern Spot-billed Duck – very common, lifer
5. Eurasian Teal – common in suitable habitat
6. Tufted Duck – seen once in a lake near Yamanachi town
7. Great Crested Grebe – a pair in Niigata City
8. Little Grebe – common
9. Grey Heron – common
10. Little Egret – a few
11. Great White Egret – a few
12. Great Cormorants – seen on a few occasions
13. Black-eared Kite – seen several times
14. Northern Goshawk – once in woods
15. Eastern Buzzard – common, lifer
16. Eastern Marsh Harrier – 1 female
17. Common Moorhen – common in suitable habitat
18. Common Coot – common in suitable habitat
19. Slaty-backed Gull – a few over river in Niigata City
20. Rock Dove - common
21. Oriental Turtle Dove – common
22. Common Kingfisher – 1 in Yoyogi park in Tokyo
23. Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker – pretty common - lifer
24. Great Spotted Woodpecker – 1 in Fujimi.
25. Bull-headed Shrike – seen 3 times, lifer
26. Eurasian Jay (Japanese Jay) – once briefly at Fujimi
27. Azure-winged Magpie – 1 on wires in Adatchi, Tokyo
28. Carrion Crow – common in Fujimi
29. Eastern Jungle Crow – common
30. Japanese Tit (P. minor) – common
31. Coal Tit – common at my friend’s feeder at Fujimi
32. Varied Tit – common in suitable habitat, lifer
33. Willow Tit – common at my friend’s feeder at Fujimi
34. Barn Swallow – common
35. Asian House Martin – 2 at Yoyogi Park
36. Long-tailed Tit – common in suitable habitat
37. Brown-eared Bulbul – very common, seen daily, lifer
38. Japanese Bush Warbler – seen twice, encountered several times, lifer
39. Chinese Hwamei – 2 birds at Fumimi
40. Eurasian Nuthatch – common at my friend’s feeder in Fujimi
41. Japanese White-eye - common
42. Chestnut-eared Starlings – a pair at Fujimi that showed daily while there, lifer
43. White-cheeked Starling – common in parks on lawns
44. Dusky Starling – common on lawns in parks, lifer
45. Japanese Thrush – a pair at Fujimi
46. Pale Thrush – 1 at Mimmi-Alps, lifer
47. Red-flanked Bluetail – 2 at hill top next to the sea near Niigata
48. Daurian Redstart – as above
49. Stejnegri Stonechat – 3 in reeds at Niigata Botanical Gardens
50. Eurasian Treesparrow – common
51. Grey Wagtail (Motacilla cinerea robusta) - seen twice
52. White Wagtail (M. abla lugens) – common
53. Japanese Wagtail – a few, lifer
54. Brambling – a few at Fujimi
55. Oriental Greenfinch – common in suitable habitat, lifer
56. Eurasian Siskin – flocks seen twice
57. Hawfinch – seen 3 times
58. Japanese Grosbeak – 6 on a lawn at a park in Mimmi-Alps
59. Meadow Bunting – common, lifer
60. Rustic Bunting – seen once, lifer
61. Black-faced Bunting – seen 3 times
62. Grey Bunting – once on route, lifer
63. Common Reed Bunting – twice in suitable habitat
Mountain in Niigata prefecture
Mountain in Niigata prefecture