Sunday 31 January 2016

Japan 2015 day 11: heading south to Furen

29 December 2015

Early morning saw us driving south to Shibetsu, where the light was better than the previous evening but the Harlequins weren't quite as showy as they had been.

With nothing more than the usual selection of ducks and gulls on offer we continued round to the Notsuke Peninsula for another shot at Asian Rosy Finch. Alas a long walk, covering the final two or three kilometres from the lighthouse to the very tip of the peninsula, failed to produce any rosy finches though did offer a similar selection of species to the previous day, including the roving flock of Snow Buntings. Rich also added Slavonian Grebe and Black Brant to our trip list from the point. Unfortunately eagle numbers were well down on the previous afternoon and photo opportunities were few and far between - a scan of the frozen bay revealed that many were sat very distantly out on the ice.

Steller's tucking in to an unsatisfying looking meal

A herd of Sika Deer showed extremely well near the visitor centre - easily the best views we had of the species, the group including this impressive stag:

After a quick 7-11 stop in Shibetsu we were on our way south again. At a bridge just a few kilometres south of the town a small flock of birds flew over the car, which we excitedly and unanimously agreed looked like waxwings. It transpired that they were in fact Pine Grosbeaks - not the prize we were perhaps after, but the first adult males I've seen of this species nonetheless.

A little further south lay the port of Odaito. The harbour waters here were partially frozen over and throwing bread out soon confirmed our suspicions that this was a golden opportunity to photograph gulls at rest on an uncluttered background. For the next half an hour we managed plenty of pleasing images of the gathered Glaucous, Glaucous-winged and Slaty-backed Gulls, some of the former certainly appearing to be the dainty barrovianus. A couple of Vega Gulls were also noted - our first on Hokkaido.

Presumed adult Vega Gull

A short while passed and an adult white-winged gull came flying in towards us. Assuming it would be another barrovianus Glaucous I fired off a few shots in flight before the bird landed directly in front of Mick and I. Something didn't seem quite right and a quick scan through the bins suggested a dainty bird with mid-grey primaries... "Hybrid!" I called before quickly correcting myself: "Kumlien's Gull!"

The Kumlien's showed well for a few minutes before disappearing from whence it came - but not before all of us had managed some pleasing shots. Another quality Japanese bird that seems to occur in only very small numbers annually.

Adult Kumlien's Gull, Odaito

After this we continued south around the largely frozen Lake Furen. The occasional eagle was noted but birds otherwise seemed scarce, the strong breeze presumably not helping in the case of passerines. The last hour of the day was spent in the woods at Furen, looking for a reported Ural Owl - no sign, but a good selection of common species including nice views of Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker and Steller's Sea Eagle.

With the light having almost gone, we made for Lodge Furen and checked in. We were warmly welcomed by Take and his wife, a fine evening meal following at 18:30. Take proved extremely useful for the latest gen in the Furen area and was also pleased to hear of some of our own sightings, particularly the Kumlien's. A stay at Lodge Furen is a must for any birder visiting Hokkaido - a great location and fantastic hospitality, and Take also boasts an enviable library of bird books to boot!

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