Wednesday 20 January 2016

Japan 2015 day five: Arasaki, Satsuma ... and plenty of rain

23 December 2015

We awoke to strong winds and drizzle - not ideal birding weather but at least the gale had cleared the awful stench from Izumi's streets. Every cloud and all that!

Heading west from Izumi we soon found our first Hooded and White-naped Cranes feeding in roadside fields near Arasaki. The light was atrocious and we barely bothered to lift our lenses, instead continuing west to the coast at Akune where a handful of Slaty-backed Gulls were found among the usual Vega and Black-tailed.

After making our way down an almost impassably narrow street just south of Akune, which took us several minutes to get out of having finally managed to turn round, we ended up at Ushinonama harbour. A few more Slaty-backed were noted here while Mick picked up an adult Brown Booby mincing around offshore.

Looks that only a mother could love: Slaty-backed Gull at Ushinonama 

The low cloud and occasional rain were showing no signs of improving so, deciding it was the perfect weather for ducks, we headed inland to Satsuma, where Scaly-sided Merganser has been regular in recent winters. Alas a search of the Sendai River from various bridges and bends in the sometimes atrocious conditions drew a blank with the mergansers, but a couple of drake Falcated Ducks were nice among decent numbers of commoner duck and both Japanese Bush Warbler and Eastern Water Rail were new for the trip.

A couple of Japanese Wagtails gave good views from the Route 507 bridge in Satsuma while two White-bellied Green Pigeons showed well by the river not far south of the Route 397 bridge. Two flocks of Russet Sparrows were noted in the area, each numbering approximately 200.

Heading back to the coast and Arasaki, the weather briefly showed signs of brightening up before settling back in to the more familiar light rain/heavy rain pattern. Even the weather cannot dampen the spectacular sight of thousands of cranes in the area, and we marvelled at the throngs of both Hooded and White-naped Cranes feeding in the roadside fields to the east of the main bridge, many giving stupidly good views.

Cranes and wildfowl at Arasaki

White-naped Crane 

Hooded Cranes in the rain 

Closer scrutiny revealed seven Sandhill (a singleton and a group of six) and two Common Cranes, one of the latter seemingly paired with an hybrid adult and with two hybrid juveniles in tow!

Mutant family: adult Common Crane, adult(?) Common x Hooded Crane and two hybrid juveniles 

Sandhill Crane

But it wasn't just cranes - thousands of dabbling ducks were also feeding in the fields and we soon found at least 20 Falcated Ducks scattered among the mainly Mallard, Pintail and Wigeon. They were extremely skittish and almost continually spooked, this playing in to our hands a little as it allowed us to check different groups as they landed. We were fortunate enough to pick out a stunning drake Baikal Teal among one of the closest groups but, all too soon, they were back in the air - this proved the only individual we saw in Japan.

Drake Baikal Teal - the only individual of the trip

Rich also picked out what at first looked promising for an American Wigeon, but it soon revealed itself to be a hybrid with clearer views. This was one of two hybrids we saw, the other on a pond slightly inland on the east side of the main channel (no pure individuals were seen).

Two different hybrid American x Eurasian Wigeons in the Arasaki area

The estuary at the east end produced three Black-faced Spoonbills but almost constant scrutiny of the large flocks of Eastern Rooks failed to produce one of our target species, Daurian Jackdaw. Despite the rain passerines appeared quite active along the roadsides, and we enjoyed decent views of a couple of Chestnut-eared Buntings among the groups of the much commoner Meadow Buntings. A couple of large flocks of Russet Sparrows were doing the rounds, with good numbers in the visitor centre area and plenty more near the channel at the west end, and we had one or two Bull-headed Shrikes.

Chestnut-eared Bunting attempting to hide

All too soon the light was fading and with the rain still falling, we called it a day early and headed back to our hotel in Izumi.

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