Monday, April 23, 2007

Entertaining parents and being entertained by three starlings

For the last few weeks it has been hectic here in Nippon. The folks visited for a couple of weeks, taking on a spectacular tour of Japan in the little time they were here. I was very impressed with the fact that nothing fazed them, they got around with ease and never once rang me on an SOS call. Brilliant. Taking in Hiroshima, Miyajima, Osaka, Kyoto, Nara, Arashiyama, Yoshino (see cherry blossoms left), and Tokyo, with a day trip to Mt. Fuji and surrounding area. The JR rail pass was a total must for this type of touring holiday as for just 29000yen, all rail travel on JR lines, including the Shinkansen (but not the Nozumi) for one week. For example, a return ticket to Tokyo itself costs in the region of 22000yen! Chuck in the 18000yen return trip to Hiroshima and all the local lines getting around Kansai, it's a massive saving. A must for anyone coming to Japan on holidays. I must say it was a pleasure having the folks over here and I thoroughly enjoyed their company and having them stay here with me when they were in Osaka. They are back home now and still in shock I think at the fact they were here.

Since they left, work had been crazy all last week and I found myself unable to get out of bed on Saturday morning to search for migs. I did meet up with a friend of mine though at 10am at Nanko for a spot of birding for a few hours which was nice. A beautiful day despite the forecast. After the typhoon winds hit (albeit weakly) on Wednesday, I was hoping for a few rares in Osaka. Although not a rare, I finally managed to catch up with a Japanese Robin...a stunning male. No photos though (hurrah, I hear the multitudes cry).

The weekend previously, the day before the folks left, I got given a couple of hours respite from the olds to go birding. With a Silky Starling (pictured above) relocated in Hamadera and Violet-backed Starling in Danichi down by the Yodagawa, I managed to see three species of Starling in one day, with the ubiquitous White-cheeked starling abundant! Not too exciting for the avesphobes out there, but for the birders, especially from Ireland, that's pretty damn special (see my Flikr page for the other two species). The weekend just past, I managed to catch up with Japanese Grey Thrush (see below), Siberian Blue Robin and Grey Bunting in Osaka-jo. It started pissing rain on Sunday morning so I went home and went shopping with PJ.

Also this weekend, I bought 2 albums, namely "Veneer" by Jose Gonzalez and "Riot in an Empty Street" by Kings of Convenience which were recommended to me by JD (the artist formerly known as PW)...INCREDIBLE!!!! I think these albums are well worth buying and brilliant for chilling out. They have been constantly blaring from my iPOD since I bought them. Thanks JD, excellent choice. Anymore recommendations from people would be more than welcome. Bro, I can't find the comments you left with your recomms so please drop me a line with them. I also finished "Arthur and George" by Julian Barnes, a more than welcome gift from AW. Another excellent choice AW...simply excellent. I have read a few of Barnes' work, such as "A History of the World in 10 1/2 chapters", "Flaubert's Parrot", and "Oscar and Lucinda". A&G is funny, brilliant and so well written, as always is the case with Barnes. Now, the Master and Margharita by Bulkakov from PW. Although I read many years ago, I look forward to reading it's so out there and hilairous.

Now, the week begins and I near a 2 day work week next week. The annual Golden Week holiday is upon us yet again. My third one since I have got here. It's mad to think I am here 2 years now. Time just flies. It really does. I leave you with a photo of Todai-ji Daibutsu-den hall which is in Nara and is the largest wooden building in the world, housing one of the largest bronze statues in the world, an incredible 63 metre statue of Buddha, first cast in 762AD. Well worth checking out...

Carmo's Birds: Silky, Violet-backed, and White-cheeked Starling; Black Kite; JP ROBIN*; JP Grey Thrush; Arctic Warbler; Narcissus and Brown Flycatchers; Grey Bunting; Siberian Blue Robin

Carmo's Diet: this week, I have mostly been eating Cheese and Onion Tayto

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: this chick I saw in Outback on Saturday night...

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A side of Japan you don't hear too much about

The weekend before the folks arrived over I wandered off down to a place called Sinsekai near Tennoji with PJ and YN. The purpose of the trip was to see the old othello, shogi and majiong houses that are scattered through one of the covered over shopping streets...or lane more like it. The side of Japan I am talking about are the homeless people. There are so so many. It is unbelievable. The homeless people don't beg. You never see them (in the places I have been too at least) out on the street asking for money. They have small communities in the local parks, under railway bridges, down by the river, or anywhere they can get shelter. "Temporary" dwellings are erected and they buy second-hand car batteries to provide energy to power heaters or is incredible to see. Some of these guys just have their home on their bike and where they lay down is where they call home for the night.

I was talking to one of the guys down by the Yodogawa river one day. He lived in well constructed wooden "hut" with 3 rooms, built on stilts, keeping the base of the structure out of the water. he had lived there for 3 years and was quite happy there. His only vice was the evil weed (and I am not talking about the Bale, the artist formerly known as PW) of which he smoked 60 a day. His English was perfect and he had served in the merchant navy for 20 years before becoming a fisherman and then he packed it all in. The government give him a pension which is enough to keep him in food and essentials. Although the government men come to him every year to ask him to move, he always replies only if they provide him with an apartment or house. He said they also turn around then and leave.

The saddest thing is that the locals don't really seem to care or mind. It is just like home in many ways with this. However, some of these guys also spend their days playing othello, shogi or majiong. In the local park in Tennoji, there were a few games of shogi going on which had attracted a few onlookers. One guy was just interested in reading and keeping an eye on his fetching luggage (see above). But what one should notice that, even though his home, his dwelling is the carboard he is sitting on, he has still taken off his shoes so as not spoil the surface he will sit on/eat on/sleep in.

The houses that provided a venue for the games were crazy. Just stacks of tables and rows of old guys playing away. I took a sneaky photo just to show you. I didn't want to be obvious in case the owner came out and attacked my ninja style. As YN kept saying all afternoon "so dodgy around here". I used to play Othello with my grandfather JW when I was a kid. A great game and he always beat me. He let me win one day but I told him not to as then I would never learn.

The folks are here and having a ball. They are in Tokyo now for a few days and just called to say the place is amazing. I really should get up and see the place...

Carmo's diet: This week, I have mostly been eating evidence

Carmo's Birds: not a lot...

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: Jennifer Garner


Monday, April 02, 2007

Drum roll please....300 has been surpassed

The nerves were jangling as Neil and I sat down for a well deserved beer on the ferry following a 3 hour journey from Kyoto to Nagoya, involving three train changes, and then a 30 minute bus ride to the ferry terminal. I couldn't wait for sunrise, couldn't wait to get out on deck and feel the cold, oh so cold wind. Thankfully the room we were sleeping in (carpet floor with a futon each of about 18 inches wide and a sheet) only had 4 other occupants so it was not crowded. I didn't sleep well though. Arising at 4.45am was a struggle but we knew we had to be on deck just before dawn. Thankfully we were...

Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, at 5.40am (JST), Wednesday, March 21, 2007, I connected with and correctly called a Laysan Albatross off to port flying south (how was the lingo C?)...a dream bird for achieving species number 300 in Japan, exactly 4 weeks short of my 2 year anniversary here. Perfect...I couldn't have asked for anything better. 300 species is not bad for someone who only birds at weekends and has not gone anywhere near the islands that contain the endemics and specialites of Japan. Anyway, I digress. In amongst the couple of Laysan were also Black-footed Albatross, thousands of Streaked Shearwaters (see above), and a large number of kittiwakes. We powered on up to Sendai, arriving at 5pm, the birding over for the day but not before we were treated to a massive mixed flock of 4000 Black and White-winged Scoters before entering Sendai harbor. A fantastic way to finish a successful day's birding. Other birds on the first day were a handful of Rhinoceros Auklets, a dozen or so Brunnich Guillemots, a Spectacled Guillemot and a couple of Pom and Arctic Skuas. Now it was time for a bath, some food and a beer before hitting the floor at 8pm for some shut eye.

The next days trip was to Tomakomai in Hokkaido was quiet, with a single Red-throated Diver and more auks being the highlights on the water. Streaked Shearwaters were present in only a handful instead of the constant stream of thousands in more southern waters. The wind got icier and the snow capped moutains were incredibly scenic. The ice-capped volcanoe entering Tomakomai harbour, with smoke rising from small fissures on the top, was breathtaking (see right). Under the water, and from dawn to 11am when we docked in Tomakomai, all we saw were the violent wake of Dall's pospoises as they powered their way through the water at speed in chase of prey. It was just incredible. Everywhere we looked we could see little pods of Dall's. Amongst the small interludes from the Dall's we also saw a couple of minke whales and an amazing group of hunting Northern Fur Seals in deep water, breaking out of the waves in sleek fashion and at incredible speed. That was something I'll never forget. We also saw small groups "jug handling" on the water's surface (see below). Above the water, we were lucky to watch a couple of large flocks of Bewick's swans migrating over open ocean, heading north to their breeding grounds. One group numbered close to one hundred. They flew very close to the boat and it was mad watching this massive white "V" shaped flock coming towards us. Brilliant.

The return leg from Tomakomai to Sendai the next morning was incredible. Non-stop birds from dawn to dusk. Literally thousands of Ancient Murrelets (see below), hundreds of Rhinoceros Auklets, Kittiwakes, a handful of Crested and Least Auklets, a couple of Pom and Arctic Skuas and a single South Polar Skua. Stars of the day were a single Japanese Murrelent close to the boat, and a single Horned Puffin which is a rare winter visitor to Japan from the eastern and northern Pacific reaches. A lifer for Neil and his only lifer of the trip. He was delighted. We had a period of time for about 20 minutes at one stage when there were divers (Pacific and Black-throated) and grebes (Red-necked and Great Crested) flying up off the water and we just didn't have time to check all the auks that were flying out and away from the boat. It was mad. The whole day was busy with birds flying by and the end of the day was just as exciting as the begining.

I picked up yet another Laysan Albatross in the quickly fading light at about 5pm. This was quickly followed by a Black-footed Albatross (see below), and 8 more after that. It was just perfect, almost too perfect a way to end what was an amazing day for bird numbers and species. Watching a Black-footed Albatross just cruise along the waves with the sun setting and the wind a mere gentle breeze will always stay with me as a reminder of what a crazy, stressed-out and overly fast-paced life we lead. To be able to just cruise on by with little effort wasted and yet still get to where you want to go quickly must be idyllic.

The last leg of the journey was quiet and 2 hours shorter than expected as the ferry made some good time overnight due to the incredibly calm conditions. However, even on the approach to Nagoya bay (it takes over an hour to get to dockside) we were still seeing Ancient Murrelets in good numbers and thousands of Black-tailed gulls streaming towards land from open ocean, obviously attracted to something the fishing boats were discharging. The Black-tailed gulls were fantastically tame in Sendai, allowing us to feed them out of our hands, which permitted very close photographs being taken (see below). Madness. The closing scene from the ferry trip were small parties of Finless porposie in Nagoya bay, presumably a resident group as there were also there when we arrived back in to Nagoya the previous time we took the ferry last August. A nice way to end the trip (see my flikr page for lots more photos, avian and non-avian).

All in all, my list expanded to 306, and with news that the shrike on Shikoku is now accepted as a Red-backed (due to moulting into adult plumage), is now at 307. Oh roll on spring, and it's rolling in fast. The swallows arrived in big numbers on Sunday and the cherry blossoms suddenly exploded this morning. I dread and look forward to the spring because around the corner is the onset of 5 months of hot and humid city life...yummy. My folks arrive in this week so I will post again before the week is out...just to get off the birdy theme that has no doubt bored some of you, in which case you won't have read this last sentence...

Carmo's Birds: LAYSAN ALBATROSS, Black-footed Albatross, Red-throated Diver*, Common Guillemot, Spectacled Guillemot, Bruinnich's Guillemot, CRESTED AUKLET, RHINOCEROS AUKLET, LEAST AUKLET, JAPANESE MURRELET, ANCIENT MURELET, HORNED PUFFIN, South Polar Skua, Streaked Shearwater, Sooty/Short-tailed Shearwater, Red-necked Phalarope, Pacific and Black-throated Diver, Asian Rosy Finch...the list just goes on

Carmo's Diet: This week, I have mostly been eating roast beef sandwiches

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: Kiele Sanchez