Monday, November 27, 2006

Burning the midnight oil...

Well, what can I say? It has been a crazy couple of weeks with work taking central stage once again. Last week was typically one that really took the biscuit and the piss out of the working game. Monday and Tuesday saw a finish no earlier than 10pm whiel Wednesday saw my "now getting fat" ass leave work past midnight to just make it in time for the last train. Thankfully we had Thursday off so I managed to haul my ever-expanding belly (JH in Dublin will love this) out of bed and I went birding for peace of mind sake. I went off to Sonoda, on the Hankyu line in the direction of Kobe to try and see the Hoopoe that had been hanging around there for a couple of weeks. I had gone there the previous Sunday but to no avail. However, after meeting Kazu and arriving on site, the bird reappeared much to the delight of the gathered throngs of photographers. A nice bird and a new species for Japan for me. Bringing me ever closer to the elusive 300.

What is funny about these kind of gatherings is that the collected value of the camera gear is astronomical. In the picture below, which captures about one tenth of the people there, there is tens of thousands of yoyos of gear. It's funny and something one would not see back home, although it is becoming more popular now. Only a stone throw from this spot was a very rare bird from the southern climes which should not be anywhere near Osaka...a white-breasted waterhen (see below). Although I had seen the bird the previous Sunday, I did not get any decent shots so i wanted to get better ones this time. It didn't really happen again as the bird was distant. Still, it constituted the 282nd Japan tick for me. Nice.

We are presently working on some very big cases at work, hence the late hours. Friday was not typical of the hours we generally do, but I got to work at 8am and left at 2.30am the next morning. To say I was delerious would be an understatement. With the help of Sam's cocoa-covered coffee beans, I managed to stave off the sleep and got some work done. A taxi home and bed by 4am...i should have been plastered drunk and not just coming home from work!! A can of beer outside the convenience store helped the sleep...

Saturday night was spent having some beer with a girl, Harley D, from home who has been in Japan for a couple of months now. I know her through friends and it was great to hear a familiar accent and to get news of friends we have in common. It was a great night and good fun. We went for beers in Umeda which I haven't done in a while and with Sam off to Tokyo for a month, it was a fitting night of farewell drinks.

Lastly, it is only 3 and half weeks before my, as Pee Wee eloquently put it, my gnarled face will be gracing Pana but Cilla, my place as Cork's Bachelor of the Year may be tainted by that aforementioned gnarled face! However, I shall be drunk on one pint of guinness so the fun will start quick smart. I would also like to congrat Cally and Oonagh on the birth of Ivan James O'Callaghan, and hot on their heels, Paul and Jean on the birth of Ronan Byrd...I can just see the two lads growing up together and trying to better each other at everything...just like their Dads!! Looking forward to seeing them...

Ok, on that note, I bid you all adieu...

Carmo's Diet: this week, I have mostly been eating MSG and cocoa-flavored coffee beans

Carmo's Birds: Hoopoe*; WHITE-BREASTED WATERHEN; American Wigeon; Dusky Thrush; Kestral.

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: Sarah Wayne Callies

Sunday, November 12, 2006

6 weeks and counting...

6 weeks is all that stands between me and my first pint of decent guinness in nearly 2 years. Oh, and also to see my family and friends of course!! The time will fly and I am thoroughly looking forward to being back on Irish soil once again. It has been far too long. Being busy at work and not having enough time to get proper rest at the weekend, I am hoping that I can relax when I get back to ol' gaff and taste some really good home cooking. Don't get me wrong, Japanese food is fantastic and I love it, but there are some aspects of it that really just don't do it for me. As you can see in the following photos, this was dessert that was served up to us at the work retreat in Akame a week or so ago. It looked nice, but dear god it tasted like... Please note that I've aged about 100 years since i arrived in Japan.

On Friday I went to see Capote in Umeda Sky Theatre and it was excellent. I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and having read the book many years ago, it was cool to see a movie based on how the book was written and the impact it had on Capote. Seymour Hoffman was superb. It is a real treat going to the movies in Japan as tickets cost about 12yoyos and the standard of some of the cinema theatres remind me of the old Ormonde back home many many years ago. Not great but it serves a purpose. Next in line is the new Boorman movie, "the wind that shakes the barley" which is being released here next week and only in selected cinemas. I am really looking forward to that. No doubt I will come out of the movie in an irate and angry mood, singing rebel songs and ranting on about how the Black and Tans were the devil's horsemen incarnate. It should be entertaining for those around me.

Last night I went to Tin's Hall, which is a bar in the Tennoji area of Osaka, and there was an excellent jazz/soul band playing. Gav, Sam and I managed to nab a table and we had a few beers while listening to a covers of Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire, and other notable soul legends. No singing though, just a bass guitar, sax, piano and drums. Then a moment occurred bringing me back to my school days of old, when somebody came up to me and said that their friend liked me and wanted to speak with me. So, for the laugh I went up and talked to this chick via her friend who was translating. Fantastically nice people but the lack of Japanese on my part really does hinder these kind of moments. Still, I might call on that...

When I got home I decided to stay up and listen to Ireland trounce South Africa and it was great to hear that Davide Wallace, my flatmates cousin, was back wearing the green, and generally played his all round excellent game. Listening to Ciaran Fitzgerald commentating was marvellous. Today, went birding with Neil along the Yamato-gawa in search of the winter's first gulls and we werent' disappointed. The only problem was that it was so damn cold...winter is truly on it's way.

Carmo's Diet: This week, I have mostly been eating oranges

Carmo's Birds: Mongolian, Slaty-backed, Vega, Black-tailed and Taimarensis Gulls.

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: Lily Evangeline again...episode 6 Season 3 of Lost rocked!

Saturday, November 04, 2006

48 waterfalls and a skylark

Well, the last week has been pretty hectic, with work, some photography, the CT challenge and an overnight work trip to Akame falls in Mie prefecture, about 2 hours drive north east of Osaka. The bonus of the week was having a public holiday yesterday which was nice. I bought myself a nice new monopod/head set up for the camera, trying to minimize the shake at long focal lengths and hoping to maintain the object in sharp focus. It worked well, the Siberian Rubythroat photograph (below) testament to that fact...a nice little fella that popped out in front of me while taking a leisurely stroll through Osaka-jo park last weekend. The rest of the week was humdrum but the work trip away had its pluses, as well as its minuses. An incredibly beautiful setting in the hills, the temperature somewhat chilly and the autumn colors just about begining to peak through now.

Although the area is called Akame 48 waterfalls, there is actually only 24 waterfalls but there is only one path winding through the valley. So, when one walks the entire length of the path one sees 24 waterfalls, however, one also has to walk back through the same path, thereby seeing the 24 waterfalls again...which in Japanese speak means that you have seen 48 waterfalls. Logical really. The purpose of the work gathering was to talk together and have a rest. Talking together we did for the first 2 hours after we arrived, the gaijin staff having a separate meeting to the Japanese staff. Then, a 2 hour period of personal time, with only 1 hour of light left, was spent walking along the path of the 48 waterfalls. It is truly spectacular. The dense forest, the heady smell of vegetation and the sound of bird calls sometimes overcoming the noise and rush of the fast flowing river and the crashing sounds of the waterfalls. This is also a protected area for the endagered Fire Salamander and other species of salamander that live here. Unfortunately we didn't see any in the river but a couple of 1 metre long speciemens were on display in a small exhibit situated at the begining of the trail. Incredible creatures.

That night, a traditional Japanese dinner, some of it great, some of it terrible. A lot of free beer and a lot of speech making. It was my responsibility to take the photos so I spent most of dinner and speech time doing just that. I prattled on about our expedition to Mt. Fuji, entertaining as you can imagine. Then, another hour or so of personal time so we just got some beer and drank outside in the chilly mountain air. Nice. I really wanted to go to the onsen but with the tattoos I have, it was better that I didn't. If the boss saw them there could be a chance I would get fired. I kid you not. Furthermore, most onsens have a blanket ban on tattoos but I have never been asked to leave one before. It's very taboo in Japan these days as most of the people who have tattoos are members of the yakuza, the Japanese mafia. Then, a meeting with the boss that lasted until 5am from what I heard. We lasted until 3am and had to sit through an uncomfortable experience of watching one of the senior staff members being publicly humiliated, with some of the female staff members crying silent tears at the horror unfolding before them. It was horrendous. Totally out of order. Thankfully it was all in Japanese but the faces of the JP staff told the story without the need for a translator. I left at 3am and went to bed. While having my last ciggie of the day, standing on the balcony overlooking the river and forest, an Oriental Scops Owl was singing away to its hearts content and bats were hunting under the street lamp...magical.

The next day, we awoke to a beautiful morning. With Jays flying back and forth across the tree-covered mountains, Ashy Minivets calling from the dense forest, and the hammering of trees by woodpeckers, it was the one relaxed moment I had in the 24 hours previous to that. After a group photograph, it was back to Osaka (above) by 11am and to work for an hour of so to check that there were no emergency matters needing attention from that morning's incoming correspondance. Then, as we thanked the boss for the fabulous evening, he asked us did we get a good rest. It took me a few seconds to realize he was being serious. What the fcuk? Of course I wasn't rested. I got 4 hours bloody sleep and had to listen to BS all night. I just smiled and answered in the affirmative and went home. I spent the rest of the afternoon chilling out.

Last night I went for beers with the boys and few of the girls, which was a great laugh. Today, I woke and arose at 9am, tidying the apartment, cooking some food, reading a book. I received a fantastic parcel from JW and the Blanan inhabitants during the week, filled with books, S&V Tayto, a DVD, a t-shirt and a signed copies of the rare Forbidden Son's first album and of the Whales and Dolphin Guide that JW wrote and illustrated. I have enough books now to last me at least 6 months! I was over the moon. So, I started The Master by Colm Toibin this morning. So far, so good...

So, you may be wondering why I have the word "skylark" in the title of this post?? Well, I decided to take a wander on the local train and got off at Hoshida station where there are nice fields of farmed land, mainly rice paddies, although these are very dry now. However, I wanted to get some photos of the local birds (feathered kind boys, the ones that fly...) and build up my portfolio of images. I spent a very relaxed and frustrating afternoon chasing skylarks. In the end, I still didn't manage to get one decent shot. However, I did manage to see another lifer...Chestnut-eared Bunting!! I was totally surprised and quite delighted. A cast of Siberian Stonechat, Olive-backed pipit, Black-faced bunting, Daurian Redstart, Bull-headed shrike and Fan-tailed warbler,plus a flock of at least 700 Tree Sparrows made for a very entertaining afternoon.

And now, maybe I will finally get to catch up on all the emails I need to reply to, I just haven't had the energy lately and the emails are mounting! Therefore, I shall leave you to do whatever it is you are doing and I am off to write some emails...

Carmo's Diet: This week, I have mostly been eating tofu and seaweed

Carmo's Birds: CHESTNUT-EARED BUNTING*; Siberian Rubythroat; Ashy Minivet; ORIENTAL SCOPS OWL (calling only); Mandarin Duck; Daurian Redstart; Black-faced Bunting; Jay;

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy:Missy Peregrym