Thursday 21 January 2016

Japan 2015 day six: Arasaki and back to Tokyo

24 December 2015

Conditions had improved considerably overnight and Christmas Eve was a vast improvement on the previous day's wind and rain. Our first port of call were the houses near Arasaki crane centre, where we could see a flock of Eastern Rooks were gathered. We were extremely fortunate to find that one of the closest birds was a Daurian Jackdaw - the only individual we saw all day, despite searching the Rook flocks repeatedly.

Pleased with this early fluke, we headed around the extensive reedbed on the west side of Arasaki. This is a regular spot for Chinese Penduline Tit and so it proved - at least six gave reasonable views and were best located by call. Reed Buntings and Japanese Bush Warblers were common while other buntings included several each of Chestnut-eared, Black-faced and Meadow. A juvenile Hen Harrier flying past proved the only one of our trip.

 Japanese Bush Warblers were readily heard but extremely difficult to see well

Chinese Penduline Tit - unobtrusive and well camouflaged

The rest of the morning and early afternoon was spent exploring the fields and visiting the crane centre. The crane spectacle was even more impressive in the drastically improved weather conditions, but we were all in agreement that obtaining nicely composed shots of them was a challenging task - messy backgrounds, muddy fields and the like made it difficult. Nevertheless cranes are enigmatic, beautiful, characterful and downright noisy birds, and the views from the crane centre's tower viewpoint certainly confirmed that.

Thousands of Hooded and White-naped Cranes being fed at Arasaki

Hooded Cranes were by far the most numerous and generally tended to show closest to the various roads that intertwine the mosaic of agricultural fields.

White-naped Cranes were also numerous although due to their size I found profile shots difficult with my 400mm, so I made do with close ups.

Once again several Sandhill and the two Common Cranes were seen as well as an even greater number of what were presumably hybrids - several of the latter were seen and photographed although admittedly I'm not sure on the parentage of some of them.

Sandhill Crane

Anyone got any ideas? Common x Hooded, Sandhill x Hooded, or just pale Hooded?

The highlight of the morning, though, was the discovery of a Savannah Sparrow just east of the main bridge/channel. Flying from the road it landed some 20 metres away on a bund running through the adjacent field, thankfully unobscured. I'll admit Savannah Sparrow simply wasn't on my radar when in Japan and I kept trying to turn it in to a Yellow-browed Bunting - yellow on the supraloral and clean underparts being the train of thought, but several things didn't look right and both Rich and I said "Savannah Sparrow" in unison - but surely not?! As it transpired with a quick Google search, the species is a rare but reasonably regular winter vagrant to Japan - no mega find, but a nice bonus nonetheless.

After this it was back to Akune Harbour for another quick photo session with the Black-tailed and Vega Gulls. The gulls were decent enough but it was once again the Black-eared Kites that stole the show, putting in entertaining performances as they came in and picked morsels of popcorn and bread from the water. Our first truly confiding Dusky Thrush gave great views in a nearby park, although unfortunately was flushed by a Bull-headed Shrike all too quickly.

Finally - a showy Dusky Thrush in Akune

Black-eared Kite lacking a tail

A multitude of kites fixated on the floating popcorn 'slick'

We headed west to Kogawa Dam mid-afternoon. The gen suggested that the river bridge before the reservoir itself could be good for Crested Kingfisher, and we saw our only individual of the trip looking west from here. At least three Brown Dippers were showing quite well on the rapids to the east while a Japanese Wagtails was seen in flight. The reservoir itself was a bit of a disappointment but we saw our first Mandarins of the trip as well as the ubiquitous Black-faced Buntings.

With an hour or so to spare we decided to give Satsuma another go. Retracing our steps from yesterday we again drew a blank on Scaly-sided Merganser but had four Mandarins from the Route 397 bridge and Japanese Wagtail again from the main bridge in Satsuma.

With that it was back to Kagoshima airport for our flight back to Tokyo. As ever with the Japanese internal flights, everything went extremely smoothly and we were in our hotel, near Haneda airport, by 21:30 and were feeling pumped for what would hopefully be an exciting Christmas Day.

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