Friday 29 January 2016

Japan 2015 day 10: Rausu and Notsuke

28 December 2015

Mick was still struggling with his sleeping plans a little and had woken up at 05:00, recording a Blakiston's Fish Owl again at the pond shortly afterwards. By the time Rich and I were up it was getting light and the owl show was over, so we indulged in a rather hearty breakfast. A short walk in the area afterwards produced a pair of Brown Dippers and female Teal on the stream plus an abundance of Jays as well as Willow and Marsh Tits.

Hokkaido Red Squirrel

From here we drove east to the coast, once again finding the roads generally empty and snow-free, making journey times pleasingly quick. We opted to bird the harbours north to Rausu but generally found them to be fairly quiet: Kunbetsu held six Black Scoters, Azabucho a seemingly injured Pacific Diver and Matsunoricho a Red-necked Grebe and 200 roosting Pelagic Cormorants. Each harbour held the ubiquitous Harlequins, which also littered the sheltered inshore waters right along the coast.

The day you become tired of drake Harlequins is the day you've become tired of life

Arriving at Rausu, we found the harbour relatively devoid of birds with just a handful of Glaucous and Kamchatka Gulls of any note. With that it was back south towards the Notsoke peninsula - a long peninsula shaped like a skeleton's arm, jutting several kilometres out in to the Sea of Okhotsk.

Adult Glaucous Gull, Rausu 

Adult Kamchatka Gull, Rausu

Notsuke is a spectacularly bleak place, very much reminiscent of a cross between Spurn and Dungeness. There are very few people here in winter - the fishing sheds are boarded up and boats hauled up on land, many falling appart. Countless piles of fishing equipment (nets, buoys, cages) in varying states of disrepair scatter the landscape, adding to the rustic feel, and the silence only serves to accentuate the place as a true wilderness.

The opportunistic scavenging of several Red Foxes was quite fitting in such surroundings, and one or two of these were almost as tame as - yet altogether more pleasing on the eye than - London's urban foxes.

Red Fox

Notsuke is a brilliant place for birding - though at first it seemed quiet, it soon became apparent that the ice-free north side of the peninsula supported many thousands of seaduck - mainly Black Scoters but some sizeable rafts of Scaup and Red-breasted Merganser too. Among these were smaller numbers of Long-tailed Duck, Stejneger's Scoter (c.50) and tens of Red-throated Divers.

It took a while before we saw our first eagles, but we quickly notched up 30+ Steller's after the first appeared on roadside posts. Some allowed a reasonably close approach and consequently a few half-decent shots were taken.

Smaller numbers of White-tailed were also present and small groups of Glaucous Gulls patrolled the coastline - in total upwards of 50 were seen. Though we found a nice flock of 24 Snow Buntings, a walk along the peninsula in the lighthouse area didn't produce the hoped-for Asian Rosy Finch.

Glaucous Gulls, Notsuke 

A scan of the frozen bay to the south produced evocative views of several Steller's sitting out on the ice.

With the sun dropping fast we decided to return north to Rausu, where we were staying. A quick stop in Shibetsu harbour late afternoon left us kicking ourselves that we hadn't visited slightly earlier. With the tide in the sea was almost at eye-level from the quay, giving a fantastic angle on the assembled ducks. Having lost the sun to the horizon, it was galling to have drake Harlequins to within 10 metres - an opportunity missed without doubt!

Back at Rausu we tucked in to yet another fantastic meal and I took a dip in the onsen before heading round to Washi no Yado on the north side of town. It didn't take long before a Blakiston's Fish Owl appeared to begin fishing on the stream, and over the course of the next few hours we had at least three sightings - including one memorable moment when two birds were seen together in the stream, hissing and interacting with each other. Just brilliant!

Blakiston's Fish Owl - an image-filled blog post on these idols of Hokkaido will appear at a later date

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