Saturday, February 25, 2006

Bell's out..(DING!)..ROUND 2!! Ton vs. Carmo

After a somewhat late night surfing the net at photo editing software, I stumbled out of bed at 10am in a dreary haze. I went to the shower-room to, well shower of course, instead started to brush my teeth with shaving foam...I kid you not. Thank god I don't operate heavy machinery..only billions of dollars worth of patent instead!! HAHAAA, the fools. Anyway, I trotted (exaggeration) to the train station, grabbed the train to Umeda where I wanted to look at Yodabashi for cameras for the Leurve machine but forgot to print out what he wanted (Sorry Deccie Leurve, next weekend!!) so I just grabbed a 'bucks (I'm such a regular) and headed out to Shinsai.

A beautiful day, very spring like, warm, blue skies, crows carrying nest material, buds on the trees. It's shaping up to hit soon, I'm not looking forward to the was murder last year. I reached Chopstick early, as is my tendancy, and lay out for Ton (steady on there!!!). 3.5 hours later, round 2 was finished, a gruelling battle which Ton won on points, but only just. The masterpiece is taking real shape. I think it is looking well. It hurt like a *&^%$#@$ but Discovery Channel, although on mute, kept me entertained with the reason why Alexander the Great died. Poor bastard was poisoned probably, slowly.

Ben took care of the after care and we chatted for a bit. A really sound lad from the US of Atrocities. He was impressed with the work and informed me that Ton is one of the top 3 tattoo artists in Japan!! Ton has a fantastic manner about him, very serene, gentle and calm but cool as. A genius too if you ask me. It has blown me away the way simple shading can produce an image on the skin that looks alive and strong. Maybe you might see what I mean from the photos (click on them for the bigger picture). I am looking forward to next week's final installment!

What got me the most afterwards, and still is now, was the feeling of absolute euphoria as I walked through Shinsaibashi to make my way to the subway to get home. I felt, and still feel, stoned out of my head. Pee Wee, remember that time we walked around the home territories one sunny Saturday afternoon before work and the had the best few hours of our lives (at the time of course) and we didn't say a word until we had to buy a snickers....I felt just like that. I was thinking of ya wee lad, wishing that we could do the same around Shinsai.

Avast me hearties, I am off to bathe and keep this beast clean. A quiet night in I feel. Still feeling out of it. Don't you just love endorphins.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Tattooing with Chopstick and Fukui birds

I guess I should really divulge what the unbreakable appointment was on Saturday, because I know you are all having sleepless nights wondering, what in gods name is he doing now. I am in the process of procuring my fourth, and final, tattoo. I booked into Chopstick Tattoo with the artist known as Ton. He's a really nice guy and one helluva talented tattooist. His portfolio is amazing! I was then astounded to hear that a friend of LM's was told to get her tattoo in Chopstick, by a tattooist in Montreal(!), while she was in Osaka! I was well impressed. Well, I spent 4 and half hours lying on the bench and stage one was duly completed. It's just the outline so bear with me until it is done, which will be on March 4th. Fabulous.

Sunday was spent birding with Neil and an Aussie called James, who is presently residing in Kyoto. I met Neil at 1am in Kyoto and then picked up James and off we went, my leg bandaged and ready to rock. We visited two areas near the Fukui-Ishikawa border (about a 4 hour drive north of Kyoto) area; Sakai-cho, Fukui-shi for the goose flocks and the nearby coast in the hope of seeing seabirds as well as the Katano Kamoike area and it's neighbouring coast too. We arrived on the Fukui coast pre-dawn, grabbed a couple of hours sleep before getting out of the car and had an adult Glaucous-winged Gull fly by as light grew; our first interesting bird of the day. Then we headed inland to the goose-grounds and quickly found the Swan Goose amongst one of the larger parties of Greater White-fronts, though couldn't find the other rare geese present. After that we made or way into Ishikawa to visit Katano Kamoike, it's surrounding fields and nearby coastline before returning to Sakai-cho to see the goose numbers build up in late afternoon and finally located the Lesser White-fronted Geese and the Lesser Canada Goose. Then I went away and found another Lesser White-fronted goose because I'm a legend. An amazing day out with 74 species(!) seen, including 9 species of bird of prey. I saw 4 new species and 2 new species for Japan. Fantastic stuff. I got some photos...can anyone find the Lesser White-front Goose in the picture below?? It's a heavily cropped image but I only realized the Lesser White-front was there when I was looking at them this evening!!

The week that was was busy, a bit stressful at times when the Big K was losing his cool with other staff members but all in all I am enjoying it. I am feeling more confident with each day. I also received my copies of the article I got published in Wings! I am delighted with it. The layout was superb and the photos looked really well. I really would not mind getting more involved in this line of work. I get a good buzz from it and felt very proud to see the article in print. Long may it continue!

Next week there is a new person starting at work...another √Čireannach!! Bring on the Irish, we'll take over Japan yet!! Apart from all that, not much else. Feeling in good form, tired (what's new I hear you all yell), could do with a holiday (ie sun, sea and surf) and a lot of sleep. It's now late and I should really be in bed. I hope this finds everyone well and in good spirits. Just to let everyone know, a buddy of mine back home, Billy O'Mahony, has opened up a new super Pet Store in Cork called Pet Essentials. You can check out the website for directions and a look at what they have in store. All sorts of foodstuffs, and whatnot that pets needs. Well worth checking out and I would like to wish Billy and Lisa the best of luck in their new venture. So PLEASE check it out and pay them a visit.

Carmo's diet: this week I've mostly been eating olives and getting fine needles dragged across my leg

Carmo's Birds: too many to mention, highlights include Black-throated Diver*, Pacific Diver, Long-billed Murrelet, EASTERN REEF EGRET, Blue Rock Thrush, Shelduck*, White-tailed Eagle, Japanese Sparrowhawk, SWAN GOOSE, LESSER-WHITE FRONTED GOOSE, CACKLING GOOSE, Glaucous-winged gull, Pelagic Cormorant.....206 species for Japan now I think.

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: Mrs. Wright-Penn

Friday, February 17, 2006

Briefly for I must dash...

Good evening, morning, night...whatever time line you are on, I say to you HELLO!!! Well, it's been a long week, punctuated with sessions in the gym and long nights in front of the computer woking on the endless number of photos from Hokkaido. I hadn't realized I had taken so many. I am only half way through so it'll be a bit longer yet avesphiles!! Also, some more scenic images for all you avesphobes but alas, no photos of apolgies to all my fans. To be perfectly honest, I saw myself in the mirror today and by Christ I've aged. I don't mean Sean Connery-esque, I'm talking Freddie Krueger-esque!!! The bags under my eyes are big enough to cast shadows on the floor. JH, you can stop cheering now and jumping up and down..yes they are as big, if not bigger and blacker than yours.

As my 'puter is starting to act a bit funny (it's ok JW, all the photos are backed up on my iPod! RAW images and all) so I'm bringing it to the Applestore in the morning. I have to be in Shinsaibashi anyway, an appointment I can't break...all will be divulged in due course. So fingers crossed the 'puter is ok. It's still under warranty.

The week that was involved Valentine's Day (christ, what a painful day) which is HUGE here. I like the way it is done here though. The chicks, sorry I mean the ladies give gifts to the men and the men don't have to do anything at all!! BRILLIANT! So, as I was at work all day, all I witnessed was the secretaries giving choccies to the sensai's and a couple of other of the old fellas. It was hilarious. Of course, every male got a box of chocolates. It is done so that nobody is left out. In that respect it is good as it can be harsh for the school kids when they don't get a card or whatever. Jayzus, being a teenager was tough, eh?! Now I can hear all the feminists out there jeering this day but you will all be glad to know that in March there is White Day. This is the opposite day to Val's Day where the men buy the girlies gifts. Traditionally it is marshmallows but now that the westernization of Japan is slowly happening in some traditional aspects, lingerie and whatnot (disgusting) is the favourite puchase.

Culture lesson over. Off to Ishikawa on Saturday night with Neil. It's a 6 hour drive so we are leaving 1-2am to get there for dawn. Should be good day's birding. By the way, my budding career in photojournalism is taking shape. My article is published and for public consumption. It's going down very well so I am well chuffed. I still haven't seen it though.

Am off to bed now. Have a good weekend and I'll see you soon....

Carmo's Diet: this week, I have mostly been eating chocolate...the travesty

Carmo's Birds: being edited

Carmo's Bird for Byrdy: Grace Kelly...simply beautiful

Sunday, February 12, 2006

A quiet weekend...

I went back to work on Thursday, still feeling groggy and not quite with it. Whatever drugs the doc gave me made me sleepy and somewhat wired at the same time. I finished the drugs on Thursday night and felt on the mend when I woke on Friday morning. A few beers with the boys and a new colleague on Friday night was a nice way to end a pretty shite week. I went to the gym on Saturday morning just coz I felt like it. I took it easy there and soaked in the bath afterwards for a bit...that was nice and relaxing. I think most of the lads give me space in the bath due to my's a bit of a taboo here, as I'm sure I've said before. That afternoon I shwed our new colleague around the area we live, the shops, stores, dry-cleaners and whatnot. Stayed in last night, editing photos and went to bed early. Well, I am 33 now so I have to watch the body even more, keep it fine tuned!! As if...

As for today, it being the day of rest, rest is indeed what I did. I woke early, as I do, and spent the day working on stuff for the CBR, editing my photos from Hokkaido (most of which are poor I'm afraid...cold hands means shaky images) and doing a couple of Su Doku puzzles to break the day up. My folks gave me the foreign press collection (The english Times) of So Doku and I must say it's addictive. I missed my train stop on Thursday night coming back from work as I was caught up in one of them. I like them. I'm such a geek...

I also had my first journalistic article, including my photographs, published this week but I have yet to see a copy of it. I am hoping that the magazine will post a couple of copies out to me. It's a birding article folks in Wings magazine, the glossy that Birdwatch Ireland publish 4 times a year. A budding photojournalist?? Here's hoping, although going by my Hokkaido photos, I doubt it.

As my birdy pics and scenic photos are not quite finished yet, the suspense shall continue to build for another few days while I finish the editing process and write the "Bird Post". I promise the bird post shall be up by the end of the week...well, I hope.

I just want to leave you with one of my favourite poems from WBY. If anyone has a copy of his poetry and doesn't want it, my letterbox will gladly accept it!!

Carmo's Diet: this week, I've mostly been eating drugs, chicken and vegtable juice.

Carmo's Birds: blurry and distant

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: Jessica Alba

The Stolen Child
Where dips the rocky highland
Of Sleuth Wood in the lake,
There lies a leafy island
Where flapping herons wake
The drowsy water-rats;
There we've hid our faery vats,
Full of berries
And of reddest stolen cherries.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping

than you can understand.

Where the wave of moonlight glosses
The dim grey sands with light,
Far off by furthest Rosses
We foot it all the night,
Weaving olden dances,
Mingling hands and mingling glances
Till the moon has taken flight;
To and fro we leap
And chase the frothy bubbles,
While the world is full of troubles
And is anxious in its sleep.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping

than you can understand.

Where the wandering water gushes
From the hills above Glen-Car,
In pools among the rushes
That scarce could bathe a star,
We seek for slumbering trout
And whispering in their ears
Give them unquiet dreams;
Leaning softly out
From ferns that drop their tears
Over the young streams.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping

than you can understand.

Away with us he's going,
The solemn-eyed:
He'll hear no more the lowing
Of the calves on the warm hillside
Or the kettle on the hob
Sing peace into his breast,
Or see the brown mice bob
Round and round the oatmeal-chest.
For he comes, the human child,
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
From a world more full of weeping

than he can understand

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Hokkaido, the land of ice and birds

Greetings everyone, having just returned from Hokkaido last night, I am still in awe and wonder at what was one of the most beautiful and harsh places I have ever visited. Although I fell ill just before I was due to fly to Hokkaido, it did not deter me from having an amazing 4 days in what I can truly call a heaven and hell on earth. Now, stuck at home with Type A influenza for my troubles, I shall tell you all a bit about my trip. Before you all make a face and groan about this being a birding post, I will spare you all the torture by adopting a bird-absent post for all you avesphobes and post a birding entry for my avesphiles when I get a chance to process the couple of hundred of photos I took.

Having left noisy, polluted and cold (at least that what the weather man said) Osaka, we flew up to Hokkaido via Tokyo (that's a bad photo of Mt. Fuji from the plane on the right), arriving at 1.30pm on Thursday. We rented a Toyota 4WD RV and headed east to Shibetsu and then south to Nemuro peninsula for two nights. The drive down to Nemuro was spectacular, and would be a common sight for the remainder of the trip. Firstly, the amount of snow we encountered was phenomonal and secondly, the bays, harbours, inlets and rivers were frozen solid, with pack ice washing up on the tide and in some places, the sea frozen as far as the eye could see. A truly winter wonderland. With temperatures averaging at -9C (not taking the windchill factor into account), it was cold to say the least. There were times when I thought my camera batteries would be too cold to work! Nemuro peninsula was stunning, with ice covered cliffs, snow fields for miles and beaches covered with snow, meeting the frozen tide line as the sea, slushy with ice, washed over the edges of the snow line. It was mindblowing. The roads were in great condition and were clear of all snow and ice for most of the 90 minute drive from the airport to Nemuro. I thought we would be taking our time on the roads but to be honest, there was no problem.

We stayed in the world famous Furen Lodge Minshiku (pictured above), run by Matsuo-san and his wife. A very friendly couple who served us up the best meal I have EVER had in Japan. Matsuo-san ate with us (both breakfast and dinner) while his wife was elsewhere, doing other household chores no doubt or eating by herself in the kitchen. I am not sure of this but it was a custom that was mirrored when we stayed in Hegua-jima last October. Fresh fish, homemade pickle, rice, fruit, soup, homemade cranberry shoschu (a liquer) and mandarains were piled high on our many dishes. We ate cod, saffron cod and cod roe which I was surprised at, seeing as the species is heavily protected now in European waters. Matsuo-san was aware of it but said they were plentiful in Hokkaido although numbers were begining to decrease slightly. He had excellent English and when we signed the guest book I noticed that a few Irish birders had stayed there the week perviously...such a small world. We birded Nemuro peninsula and Nosappu Misaki (the headland on the peninsula) the next day and had amazing views of Ringed seals, feeding alongside Black and White-winged scoters. The seals were huge and very beautiful. We tried to get out to another lighthouse but the road was impassable and we didn't have snow shoes to walk through the snow fields, which was a pity.

Saturday morning, Rob and I decided to head back out to Nosappu Misaki to try and get better views of red-faced cormorant. However, when we got up at 5am, a massive blizzard was blowing and the temperatures had dropped to -12C. We looked at each other and decided what the hell. Rob is a very experienced driver in snow and ice as he goes snowboarding from Jan-Mar every year in Japan near his in-laws house. I knew I was in safe hands so off we went. We got beyond Nemuro itself but then could get no further as the roads past the "city" were closed due to drifting snow on the roads. So, we decided to drive around the "city" (well, a large town really) looking for waxwings and ended up getting stuck in a snow drift. Firstly we had to dig someone else out of a snow bank before attending to our car. It was not pleasant and my face was sore...frostbite fears soon took hold of my frozen mind. I couldn't see past my nose but finally, after much digging and pushing, we got the RV out and away we headed back to the Minshiku for breakfast. Matsuo-san was very worried about us and we apologised for not calling him to tell him we were okay. This part of Hokkaido is the coldest in Japan and it was having the worst snow in living memory. This meant that we couldn't get to a lot of places we wanted to and we couldn't go walking in the fields, forests and sometimes the beaches due to the snow. In some places we walked it was unbelievable. I was walking across a field to get to the frozen bay of Furen to see if the Steller's Eagles were on the ice when I was suddenly chest-deep in snow and couldn't get out. In the end, I had to crawl and drag myself out but it was all good fun. Actually, standing on the frozen sea, looking at Steller's eagles fly around in a snow shower, with the wind howling and some crazy Japanese fisherman sitting in a tent fishing was a high point of the trip to the Nemuro penisula for me.

A change of plan on Saturday after the snow storm, saw us drive further south and west along the coast to Kushiro, an area famous for the Japanese Crane. It is one of the natural wonders of the country and it was one not to be missed. We birded down the coast, looking on in continued amazement at the frozen rivers, sea and cliffs. How anyone lives here in winter is beyond me. It was such a bleak, flat, desolate place in many areas and oh so cold. We stayed in a really nice hotel near Tsuri-mura, nestled in the hills on the south coast. An visit to an onsen that evening to wash away the weariness and cold of the day, was well earned. There was something quite peaceful and relaxing, sitting in a natural hot spring outside, with the temperatures at -9C, ice forming on one's was really good. The open fire in the hotel, with burning logs was nice while having my last ciggie of the day. An early start the next morning saw us standing at a roost site for the Japanese cranes. It was -18C!!!! I couldn't believe how cold it was but we stuck it out for 90 minutes, watching the sun rise over the hill, creating a misty, eerie scene over the river, listening to the Cranes call and seeing them dance in the dawn light...a truly fantastic memory to cherish.

After the cranes, we headed up north again, driving through the hinterland and mountains to Rausu. Passing by volcanoes with steam (for want of a better word) rising form the peaks was tremendous and incredible. The scenery changed so drastically driving to Rausu, from mountain valleys to flat plains but with one constant...snow, ice and blue skies. Rausu is a fishing port on the very nothern part of the east coast and it was COLD. All the harbours were frozen over, the bays were frozen, as were the rivers and the roads. Mountains rose up from the frozen sea, themselves covered in snow and ice. As we drove across the sea front at dusk, White-tailed and Steller's Sea Eagles were coming into roost on the mountain sides. Alighting on trees in peoples back yards, calling and grappling with each other. I was in heaven. All I could do was look on in awe and wonder at these beautiful creatures, thinking how Jim would be speechless if he was here with me and Ciaran would just light a ciggie, sit down and shake his head in wonder. It was a moment I will treasure for the rest of my life.

Rausu, for me at least, was the brightest jewel of the trip. A beautiful coastal village sandwiched between the mountains and the sea. It left an indelible mark with me, something I will always have. I would dearly like to go back there again, not just for the amazing birds we saw (a Blakiston's fish owl that just blew me away), but the place itself. Truly magical. In summer,the most spectacular salmon run in Japan occurs here, so I was told. However, the salmon are not just hunted by eagles and owls, but bears also. I may have to reutrn to witness that. So it was with a heavy heart (and dodgy bowels and stomach) that we left Rausu and headed back for home. I felt truly rotten coming back on the Monday and it put a small dent in what was an amazing adventure, but not enough to tarnish the memory. That would be impossible.

Hokkaido is a must for anyone coming to Japan. I hope the photos can do it some justice and I just wanted to throw one picture of a White-tailed eagle in that flew just past me, as it is the best one I have processed so far. More photos will be posted on my photopage (see link) for you all to peruse at your leisure, birds included when I have time to process them!! I have probably left loads out but I am sure I will be talking about Hokkaido again back to my sick bed and the copious amounts of drugs I was given this morning.

Carmo's Diet: This week, I've mostly been living the dream....