Thursday, January 31, 2008

The month that was that wasn't...part deux

...and so the month continued and I went to see the Meoto-iwa or "Wedded Rocks" at Futami in Mie prefecture, situated on the east coast of the Wakayama penninsula, with PJ, Yumi-chan, and ZL. It was a horrible day, showers, mist, fog, dark, low clouds and the prospect of being a disaster. A hard week of work warranted the get away, and PJ was itching to drive, and drive a long way. It was a sorry place, a pair of rocks a stones throw from the shore, with a temple on the shoreline, the trinket shops, tacky souvenir shops, and locals trying to make a buck from the religious pilgrims that make the trek to this famous shrine. The Meoto-iwa (Wedded Rocks) are the symbol of what keeps Japan from floating away. The rocks are considered to be male and female, and have been joined in wedlock via the sacred ropes (shimenawa). These ropes are renewed each year on the 5th of January, so we only just missed it by a week. As famous as this is, it was a bit of a disappointment but at least I saw the rocks...yeah.

I went home for a week to spend some time with the folks, see some people, and discuss matters. It was good to be home, good to see CC, JH, GB, KMcL, DW, TOR, JH (PhD), and some family too. The weather was crap apart from the final Friday so I went birding with CC down Red Barn/Pilmore Strand way in east Cork. A nice day out on the beach, notching up a county tick (Water Pipit - catching ya Barty boy!!!) and seeing an American bird (Buff-bellied Pipit) at close quarters. The flights were grand and all was good.

What struck me most was how much I have been assimilated into the way of the Japanese commuter. I hated having to listen to people talking on their phones on trains and buses. Having to listen to some gobshite talking on the phone about how she was going off to Florida for free coz her wealthy friends parents were going to pay for her; how another gobshite on the bus was talking about how he was fcuked over by the horsey-set in Leopardstown and how the guy he was talking to on the phone was not to tell anyone how horsey-gobshite's kids were black-belts in Karate, to which some other guy down the back of the bus shouted out "Don't worry bud, neither will everyone else on de bus!", to which the entire bus laughed heartily and horsey-gobshite hung up the phone...twat.

What is with Blackberry phones!?? Everybody who thinks they're someone has one! I make my apologies for JH as he only has one coz work pays for least that is my good friend's excuse, and having known him for 30 years, I have to say I believe him. It's just a phone. What more do you want it to do.

And another thing, what is it about talking on trains, planes and automobiles (buses)?? Why can't people just take 5 freakin' minutes to themselves and not have to contact somebody else who is traveling to a destination where these people will meet anyway? Why would somebody have to slap hard down on a table on a train when the person next to him (ie, me) was sleeping?!! He apologized after I just looked at him and just asked "Why?". That was all well and good but he could have been a bit more freakin' considerate and not to have done it in the first place...

For anyone who has travelled on Japan's subways, trains, and planes...the quietness and peacefulness is so, so nice

PS: welcome home JW...the South Polar Explorer

Carmo's Diet: This week, I have mostly been eating Katsu-don

Carmo's Birds: Not a lot...plenty of monkies though (more later)

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: Lost is back again...go on Evangaline Lily

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The month that was...(1)

It has been a roller-coaster of a month, starting off on a high and ending confused and dazed. In this post, I will concentrate on the trip to Kyushu with Neil and Sean, one that will stick in my mind as a highlight of my time in Japan. So readers, be warned, for what follows is birding...and superb birding at that.

(Black-faced Spoonbills sleeping)

Neil and I took an overnight sleeper train from Osaka to Kumomoto, situated west of central Kyushu, arriving surprisingly 40 minutes late at 8am. During the sleepless night I had, I witnessed the manic and startling behavior of Japan's trainspotters, whose totally obsession with all things rail astounds me. As I nonchalantly dragged on a ciggie at 4am as we stopped at Fukuoka, I was alarmed at the sound of what I thought was an Olympian 100m sprinter coming up the platform. As I casually turned around, there was a possessed Japanese man running with such intent up towards the top of the train that I first thought I was in for a beating by one of the Nationalist Party. What was foremost in his mind was getting video footage of the particular engine being attached to the front of our train...and they say birders are mad.
(Hooded Cranes landing)

As much as I'd like to bore you all with the details and little quirks of our birding tour of Kyushu, I shall just divulge the highlights here. Day one saw us twitch Chinese Gray Shrike successfully, while I nabbed my first tick of the trip when we say a flock of Eurasian Magpies from the train. Getting to the the Minshiku at Arasaki after nightfall, following the magnificent sight of 12 Black-faced Spoonbills and approx. 250 Saunder's Gulls (both species on the Red Data List of globally threatened species) nearby, the sound of 11,000 cranes started to echo off the courtyard of what would be our base for the following 3 nights. Rising before dawn to the sound of the cranes was incredible. To watch them take to the skies in a cloud of loud noise was awe-inspiring. I will never forget the sight nor sound of the cranes at Arasaki. It is certainly one of the most spectacular natural events I have observed in Japan and recommend it to all, regardless of your interest or otherwise in birds. It is truly a marvel.
(feeding time at Arasaki)

The remainder of our trip saw us notch up some incredible species in Forest Wagtail (Mi-ike Lake, Miyazaki), Ryuku Minivet, a self-found Willow Warbler (a rare bird for Japan, especially on the main islands), Great Spotted Eagle, Hen Harrier, Eurasian Starling, Brown Shrike, Chinese Penduline Tit, Dusky Warbler, Ruddy Crake, Sandhill, White-naped, Hooded, and Common Cranes, including Common x Hooded Crane hybrids, Rooks, Daurian Jackdaw, Black-faced and Eurasian Spoonbill together, Saunder's Gulls, Pallas's Gull, Oystercatcher, Eurasian Curlew, and Eastern Reef Egret. In all, I notched up 8 lifers and an additional 4 Japanese ticks, bringing me to 352, a tally I never thought possible in under 3 years in Japan. An unforgettable trip.
(Forest Wagtail)(

While we were in Kyushu, word reached us of an unprecedented invasion of Rough-legged Buzzards (left) into western Japan. Usually a couple of records are noted from Hokkaido each winter. However, with up to 30 birds present from Osaka to the western edge of Honshu, we were hoping that the Osaka/Kyoto birds would linger for a week or so. As luck would have it, I managed to connect with the last remaining of 3 birds at Ogura (Kyoto) the following weekend. A stunning bird which performed well and seemed unfazed by the presence of humans. It landed within 30 meters of about 50 photographers and continued to stare at us for 30 minutes before taking off and flying over our heads and away off over the paddy fields. It was certainly worth the 3 hour wait in snow flurries and a biting northerly wind sweeping over the flat and exposed landscape of Ogura.

Carmo's Diet: That week, I had mostly been eating fish, miso soup, rice, and pickled cucumber


Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: whatever you can get

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Wednesday, January 02, 2008

...and so it ends and begins again

another year has come and gone. Hard to believe how time is flying. As I approach the year that puts me as close to 40 as I am to 30, it will be a year of huge change once again...hopefully. I would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone who drops by here a very happy and successful 2008. I got wasted on New Years Eve and had some fun times but I shall not delve into it here for I have no time. This rare photograph of me was taken as part of the Shoot Yourself project devised by the superb photographer Martin Gommel, aka Kwerfeldein , and Brian Auer of Epic Edits. Oh, and it was taken by a good friend of mine Seiko Kageyama...she warned me to give her the credit for it...

I had the pleasure of spending most of New Years Day with Seiko in Kyoto. While we braved the cold and the flurries of snow in a park in the city, the rest of the afternoon was spent with her family. It was a traditional Japanese new years day affair, the biggest celebratory day in the Japanese calendar. The eve of the 1st is spent visiting shrines/temples at midnight. The following day is spent eating and laughing judging from Seiko's house. It was wonderful really. It gave me a sense of family and home, something which I have not experienced in quite a while. While her Mum paid me compliments (she thinks my mouth and jaw are like Clooney's) and her Dad said I was a "rare person" (make of that what you will), I ate my fill on home cooked food and drank sake and Japanese wine. On the way out the door, her Mum gave me an envelope which she said I should take as it was a tradition of her generation. I thanked her and left. When I opened it, I couldn't believe what was inside...5,000yen! I was gobsmacked and Seiko, as she always does, laughed at me and commented on how I really am a living, breathing Woody Allen movie...

The previous weekend was a long weekend and it was spent chilling out and catching up on the CBR. It also threw some pleasant and totally unexpected is like that and one must go with the flow and see where it takes one. Not sure where this will bring me but probably to the next bend and that is all.

Now I am about to head off to Kyushu with Neil and Sean for a few days of birding and to gaze upon active volcanoes. I am excited about the prospect of the next few days and what they could bring. I hope it will be as good as I anticipate it to be...

Carmo's Diet: This week I have mostly been eating pain killers.

Carmo's Birds: not a lot...but hopefully loads to come

Carmo's Birds for Byrdy: Marianna De Rossi