Sunday, August 27, 2006

And then there were three..

...three rooms that is. The biggest news I have for you at the moment is that I am moving apartments and so I will keep this as brief as I can. Basically it is at least twice the size of the apartment I have now, with a spare bedroom for would-be visitors, a sizeable kitchen-cum-living area with a gas cooker (oh bliss) and grill (oh heaven), and a separate bedroom. Furthermore, there is a sizeable balcony also!! At last, something that will feel like a home and not a prefab temporary dwelling.

Other news, my species total for Japan goes beyond my Irish list with 274. What the magical bird'll just have to wait and see. Work has been quiet lately so getting out early is a bonus, particularly with moving my stuff across to the new apartment all week. By early I mean between 7-8pm. I shall write an interesting comparative piece about the "in-humane working hours" of an Apple plant in China and the firm I work but later.

I hope this finds everyone well. Presently enjoying low 30's temperature and lessening humidity...nice. I leave you with a photo of me taking a photo of a dragonfly which is out of picture. I have come to wearing towels around my head when out birding in the sun...keeps the sweat out of my eyes and I don't get a burnt scalp. All the cool kids are doing it...

Carmo's Diet: this week, I have mostly been eating...spaciousness

Carmo's Birds: not yet...

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: one from my little bro, and a dinger at that....Rachel Weisz

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Fog, birds, whales and fog...oh, and Albatross

I spent 5 fabulous days aboard a ferry which runs from Nagoya to Tomokomai in Hokkaido for a spot of R&R and what I hoped would be world-class seawatching. I was not to be disappointed. Neil and I set off on Friday night from Nagoya with 36 hours and 1000km of the Pacific ahead of us. We couldn't wait. A bath, a bite to eat and a beer set us up for a good night's sleep. It was weird going into the public bath on the boat, sitting in the bath with the water sloshing around was a strange feeling but funny all the same. We arose at 4am and were out on deck for 4.30, just before the sun rose. The 3 mornings we had on board were foggy and foggy. It was so thick we couldn't see past our noses. That was boring, frustrating but exhilarating all the same. The joys of seawatching, as a wise man once said to me. When the fog cleared we were sometimes greeted by thousands of birds or none at all. It was an up and down, if you pardon the pun, kind of trip. We stopped off in Sendai (see above) on the Saturday evening and headed back out again en route for Tomokomai, on the south coast of Hokkaido. Black-tailed gulls greeted us in Sendai, taking bread directly from my hands as I stood on deck, waiting for the boat to leave again, allowing us to see Sendai through the eye of a gull (see below).

The Sunday morning found us staring into fog but when the fog cleared, it was like entering nirvana. The first bird of the day was an Arctic Skua, follwed quickly by hundreds of Sooty Shearwaters. Then, as I was checking the port side, I heard "...ross" being shouted by Neil from the starboard side. I ran around to see him frantically pointing and shouting the word I dreamed of hearing..."Albatross!!!!". I couldn't believe it. I saw this majestic bird, with an 8 foot wingspan, effortlessly glide over the waves, banking with the skill of a bird with one with the ocean. What was more amazing was that this was just not an ordinary albatross (not that there is one), it was a Short-tailed Albatross. A lifer for both Neil and I and one of the rarest Albatross's in the world. There are only 2000 of these magnificent birds in the world. Amazing. Then, as we were celebrating and recounting the bird, I spotted a pair of Black-footed Albatross off the stern!! Incredible, 2 species of Albatross. I couldn't believe it. The day only got better with South Polar Skua, Flesh-footed and Short-tailed Shearwaters, Maderian Petrel, probably Swinhoe's Petrel, probably Ancient Murrelet and 20-30 more Black-footed Albatross. An amazing 4 hours before we landed in Tomokomai. The remainder of the day was filled by a walk in a forest and the purchasing of food-stuffs for the return leg. So, after 7 hours ashore, we boarded the boat again and headed back for the 36 hours and 1000km of the Pacific.
Monday was a write off with no birds and thick fog but it was relaxing and quite boring. Although we were tired from getting up at 4am every morning, the sea air was fantastic and the mood was good. Monday evening's sunset (above) was made all the better with sightings of many cetaceans, most notably an acrobatic Baird's Beaked Whale which performed two quite magnificant leaps clean of the water and twisting in mid-air. It was a fitting end to a quite uneventful day, the performing whale obliterating all memories of the birdless day. The follwing morning we were greeted with a magnificent sunrise, with Mount Fuji in the background (below), making it a surreal moment. I was suddenly reminded I was in Japan, and not on a ferry off the south coast of Ireland. It was beautiful. The morning, we were happy to be on deck at 4am to be greeted by no fog and hundreds and thousands of Streaked Shearwaters. The final journey into Nagoya harbour was quite good, with the Shearwaters and Red-necked Phalaropes in their thousands, a surprise flock of Grey Phalarope, and scattered pods of Finless Porpoise with young, swimming quickly away from the boat as we cruised into the harbour. About a thousand Little Terns had Common Terns (black bills) mixed in with them greeted us as we were pulling into port. All in all a fantastic trip, great to be out of the sweatshop and to breath clean air. I miss the sea, the smell and the movement. It was good to be there again. Great to be out of the city.

Carmo's Diet: This week, I have mostly been feasting on the sight of an Albatross

Carmo's Birds: SOUTH POLAR SKUA; Long-tailed Skua; Pomarine Skua; Arctic Skua; Common Tern; SHORT-TAILED ALBATROSS; BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS; MADERIAN PETREL; FLESH-FOOTED SHEAWATER; SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER; Red-necked Phalarope; Streaked Shearwater...Japan List: 273 species (the same as my Irish List!!!)

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: Anybody...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

In search of dragons

A trip last Saturday morning to a beautiful part of Kansai called Kabutoyama Shinrin Koen where a forest park and ponds are situated, half-way between Osaka and Kobe. A long walk up the road from the train station in the morning heat and humidity took TM and I to the entrance of the park where we encountered our first dragonflies. This was the main reason for going there, particularly to get some photos of the dragons for JW back home, but also to get out and sample some fresh air. We came across a fantastic temple perched atop one of the hills with a spectacular view of Osaka and Kobe. Eventhough the cities are approx. 40km apart, it is nothing but a sprawling metropolis which join the two cities together. There is not much along the coast that resembles the area of old. It's just a mass of concrete. The light and air quality was so bad though, that you couldn't quite make out the view from the photos but I'll be going back there again in winter so I'll get some better shots then.
A walk through the hills and we came to the main pond areas where there were dragonflies flying around everywhere, at least 8-9 species. Amazing. The photo above is the Giant Spike-tailed Dragonfly which is Japan's largest dragon, at a whopping 4 inches in length. It was also a brave bastard, chasing swallows around the pond when they came down to drink. I spent some time there taking photos. This beast was the most impressive.

However, there were some other beautiful dragons present, such as the much smaller but just as striking red dragonfly species. Skimmers were also present, as were damselflies. We just chilled out here for a while, enjoying the sun and fresh air. It was great to taste vegetation and look at the colours around us after a week of staring at a computer screen and walking on and seeing nothing but concrete. Mind you, work was not that bad this week, our docket is somewhat quiet at the moment, primarily because the JPO are on holidays, or are certainly short-staffed right now. August is the time of year when a lot of people take holidays, it's a traditional Japanese thing to do.

So, I am following suit and heading off to Hokkaido on a ferry for a few days. Sailing from Nagoya (3 hours away by express train east-north-east of Osaka) to southern Hokkiado takes approx. 36 hours, so that will give you an idea of the size of the country, although we do stop off in Tokyo aswell on the way. After we get to Hokkaido, we will have a few hours, not sure how many, on dry land and then it's back on the boat for another 36 hours. Why I hear you ask? Seabirds. Oh yes folks, with a bit of luck, there could be another bird blog next week! My primary target on this trip is, not the Red-Rumped Swallow pictured below (just had to squeeze a bird shot in), but ALBATROSS.... the wanderer of the oceans. We have a good chance of seeing 3 species but if I see just one bird, I wil be so happy. I can't wait. I have been starved of seabirds for two years now so this is going to be exciting. I'm sure you all can't wait for the report :)

Carmo's Diet: This week, I have mostly been eating dates stuffed with almonds.
Carmo's Birds: not a lot...they've all decided to stay in the shade
Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: Rachel Nichols (from Alias)

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

A man came to visit...

It has been a while since I posted anything, time, state of mind and all that played there part. So firstly, I shall tell you what I did the weekend before last, when a friend of mine from home came to visit me in Osaka. John Lee (see photo below), genius scupltor, and all round good man, was on a visa run from Soeul, South Korea, and was staying in Osaka for the weekend. I met up with John on the Friday night. We went for a bite to eat in a ramen shop, a rather plush one at that, and then went for a couple of beers. It was great to see someone from home, to hear a familiar accent and to talk about places, people and experiences we had in common. I had not seen John in probably close to 2 years, as I did not see him much when he returned from a trip around Asia (Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, and other places) a couple of years ago. He is now in Korea teaching English trying to save money to go travelling again. I had a great laugh that night and made me realize how much I miss my friends back home, the banter, the craic agus ceol (John played a bit of tin whistle for me on Saturday).

The following day a group of us, Pads, Paul, Gavin, John and I, went to Kyoto for the day. It was the first time that John and Gavin had been in Kyoto so we took them to Gion and the temples in that area, particularly to see the impressive Koyizumi Temple (not sure of the spelling for the moment). I think the boys had a good time, and we visited the war memorial for all the unknown soldiers that died during WWII. We sat around there for a while and then just went wandering around Gion.

On our wanderings, we met up with some wannabe-geisha, who gladly posed for a photograph and John was delighted. They looked pretty cool. However, as we wandered down this side street, we stumbled upon the real deal...a genuine Geisha, ready to go to some party or a private audience. The cab driver got out of the car, received instructions from the house mother, he then removed his hat and bowed. That was impressive. Cabbies never do that. Much to our delight, the Geisha posed for a couple of photos for us before being whisked away in the cab. You can see pictures of her on my flikr homepage, the link is on the left. The difference between the wannabe-geishas (see below) and the real thing was so obvious. The quality of the make-up, the ukata, the poise and general aura surrounding the genuine Geisha was amazing.

After that fantastic surprise, we headed to a bar to watch the All Blacks beat Australia and then we headed back to Kyobashi for some food and a couple of beers before heading home. John stayed with me and we had to get up at 6am to get him to the airport on time. It was good to see a familiar face and to chat about home. It felt good to do that. I was sorry that John was only here for a couple of days, but it was a good couple of days.

Now, it is back to normality and the routine of work. However, a brilliant morning spent walking around a park and looking for dragonflies on Saturday made up for what was a routine week at work. But more on that later....(I bet you can`t wait for those photographs!!)

Carmo`s Diet: This week, I have mostly been eating soba, chicken, tomato, and greenage
Carmo`s Birds: not alot, just the usual residents
Carmo`s Birds for Byrdy: Liv Tyler