Trip Report: Japan, June 10-21, 1998

Johan Lindén, Sotalaisg. 1 C 51, FIN-20810 Åbo, Finland;


10.6Arrival to Narita Airport 8:30 (0.5 h ahead of schedule)
10-13.6Tokyo-Yokohama area
15.6KEK-syncrotron, Tsukuba
16-17.6SPring-8 synchrotron near Aioi
17-21.6Tokyo-Yokohama area
  18.6Visit to Yatsu-Higata 8:00-10:00
  19.6Visit to Meiji shrine 8:30-10:00
  20.6Visit to Tamagawa river, at Sakuragaoka subway station 9:00-12:00
  21.6Departure from Narita at 10:55


Rainy season in Japan. Several days were rainy. The rain began usually around 9 o'clock and stopped some 12 hours later. Temperature was on rainy days between 20 and 26°C. During the sunny days the temperature was between 24 and app. 31°C. Humidity was quite high.


Sun is up already before 5 am! (probably around 4:30). It gets dark around 18:45 as sun sets. Not good for birdwatchers. If you are free after say 18:00, forget about birdwatching, because it will take you at least 1.5 h to get anywhere, unless you happen to live close to a good birding site. So my suggestion is that they should add at least 2 h for daylight saving ;-).

Wednesday 10.6

I arrived at Narita airport 8:30. Didn't sleep on the airplane and felt a bit tired. It was cloudy and rainy. The temperature was around 20°C. Took the limousine bus at 9:10 to Suitengumae subway station. 10:00 took the subway (Hanzomon line) to Nagatsuta. Met colleagues from Finland in Nagatsuta at 11:30. Spent rest of the day by activating my railway pass (took app. an hour in Yokohama JR office) and by visiting my hosts at Tokyo Institute of Technology (TITECH) in Nagatsuta, Yokohama. Arrived at Central hotel Machida around 19:00, it was already dark. Went to bed at 22:00.

Bird species observed from the limousine bus: Gray Starling (abundant), Jungle and Carrion Crow (both very frequent) Egretta sp. (very frequent on rice fields, river banks and ponds), Great Cormorant (very frequent), Rufous Turtle Dove (two or three on roofs and antennas), Domestic Pigeons, Tree Sparrows (abundant), Barn Swallow (quite frequent), Carduelis sp. (seen at a distance, probably Oriental Greenfinches, as they were quite frequent).

TITECH campus: Japanese Wagtail (1 ad ), Brown-eared Bulbul, in flight (took it at first for a turdus sp.)

Thursday 11.6

Woke up at 6:00 (waker was set at 8:00, though). My jet lag was completely gone. 7:00-8:00 went to explore the surroundings of the hotel before breakfast. The rain began at 8:30 and continued until late in the evening. No sun. The temperature was around 23°C.

Species observed in the park 100 m west of the hotel: 4 Azure-winged Magpies (a family? The sound is a little reminiscent of our Magpie), Brown-eared Bulbuls (abundant everywhere in Yokohama-Tokyo area, it's a good idea to learn to identify its wide repertoire of shrieks; On several occasions I spent a lot of time looking for the source of an interesting bird call, only to realize it was the bulbul), 20 ad+juv Gray Starlings, 10-20 Barn Swallows, an ad Black-backed Wagtail feeding a juv., 2 House Martins (at Sakai-gawa river), 2 Spot-billed Ducks (Sakai-gawa), 3 ad Mallards (2m+1f), a Great Cormorant sitting on a power line, a juv. Oriental Turtle Dove (lacking the patches on the neck), Jungle and Carrion Crows, Eurasian Tree Sparrows. At 10:00 the same day at Suzukakedai subway station: Oriental Greenfinches (sound very much resembling that of the Eurasian species, maybe somewhat higher in pitch).

Decided to skip keeping book on the following species, due to their abundance: Eurasian Tree Sparrow, both crows, Brown-eared Bulbul, Gray Starling, Oriental Greenfinch and Barn Swallow.

Rest of day was busy with seminars and a "Finnish" party at my host lab at TITECH. In the evening I observed some bats on the campus (no idea which species).

Friday 12.6

Woke up around 7:00, had breakfast around 8:00 and took the subway to ISTECH in eastern part of Tokyo. The day began cloudy, but in the afternoon the sun broke through and the mercury went up to some 25 C.

Stayed at ISTECH until 15:00. Went to Ginza after that. Saw the surroundings of the imperial palace. Species observed at the outskirts of the palace: 2 ad Little Grebes in the moat (heard a nice sample of its voice as well), 2 Spot-billed Ducks in the moat, 1 ad Great Cormorant, 1 ad Great Egret flew towards south. Also in the moat, tortoises (read-eared?).

Stayed down-town until dusk (19). Had a very nice portion of Sushi in Ginza (actually I never had anything which wasn't tasty)

Saturday 13.6

Explored again the surroundings of the hotel 7:00-8:00. The day was cloudy and warm (22°C). The rain began at 9:00 and continued until late in the evening. Species observed behind the hotel: The same as on Thursday, except that the Azure-winged Magpies and the Cormorant were missing. Instead I saw an ad Great Tit and heard the voice of the Azure-winged Magpie, and something which sounded like a Jay, which it probably was.

After the seminar on Saturday morning we had a Japanese party in the lab with sushi, beer and snacks, until 4 PM. It was practically too late for bird watching i. e., too late to reach any reasonable place before dusk. The weather wasn't favorable either. Went to down-town Machida for shopping instead.

Sunday 14.6

My first day off. 7:00-8:00 I did my customary exploration in the morning. However, it seemed like the surroundings of the hotels had nothing more to offer, as no new species were added to the list. The biotopes weren't too bad, though: parks, small forests, bamboo groves, some cultivated fields and the Sakai-gawa river. Had agreed with my colleagues to visit Kamakura, an old town some 50 km south west of Yokohama and home of the old giant Buddha statue from the 13th century. This day the obligatory rain began already at 8:00. We arrived in Kamakura around 9:30. Visited some of the very beautiful old shrines, starting from Engaku-ji. The places were crowded with people, who in spite of the rainy weather were there to see the hydrangeas in full bloom. The only birds that could be heard or seen were bulbuls, Crows and Gray Starlings until I suddenly heard an unknown warbler. As the bird was easily located to a fruit tree I had no problems adding the Japanese White-Eye to my list (the bird is, however, not a warbler). Later on, I saw another bird catching a fat green caterpillar. The White-Eye should be an easy case in spring as the voice readily reveals the birds whereabouts. No further observations that day (wasn't really a birding trip, with four non-birders around). In one of the dams I saw another tortoise species along with red-eared ones, with a kind of pointed nose. I haven't yet tried to identify the species from the slide, besides it was not necessarily native to Japan. The rest of the day was rainy and foggy and was spent in Yokohama and Tokyo.

Monday 15.6

Left for Tsukuba around 7:30. The weather was very pleasant this day, cloudy in the morning but sunny later on, and temperatures around 24°C. Saw my first and only(!) gull species during the whole trip from the bus window, in the eastern parts of Tokyo. It was an ad Black-tailed Gull. Within the Tokyo area the Great Cormorants were seen constantly. On the rice fields I spotted on a couple occasions Cattle Egrets and Little and Great Egrets and possibly one Intermediate Egret. It was pretty difficult to tell the species, while being on a moving bus. Additionally from the bus at a distance a probable juv. Black-crowned Night Heron. On the bus station in Tsukuba I saw two Skylarks, which were very frequent around the KEK synchrotron, which I visited while in Tsukuba. A song which I didn't recognize then was also heard, two days later I learned that it belonged the Siberian Meadow-Bunting. Went back to Tokyo around 6 PM. From the train no further species were added to the list. Got a good view however on the Great, Little and Cattle Egrets. Decided to cut down the bookkeeping on Great cormorants, Great and Little Egrets.

Tuesday 16.6

Again a pretty early wake-up. It was a sunny warm day, in the afternoon it was about 26°C. Had to catch the 8:43 Shinkansen (bullet train) from Shin-Yokohama to Osaka and from there on to Aioi, some 650 km south west of Tokyo. I was going to visit the SPring-8 synchrotron facility. The train trip was very comfortable. I had bought in advance (in Finland) a JR pass, which entitled me to one week of free traveling on all JR lines. The pass paid itself back on a single trip to Osaka and back to Tokyo, so I figured it was better to buy the pass even though I didn't plan to go to any other distant places. In fact the ticket could be used on all JR lines within the Tokyo-Yokohama area so it was a good decision. We were very lucky as despite the rainy season we could see the majestic Mt. Fuji in bright sun shine.

From Harry Lehto I had got the advice to keep my eyes open for the Gray-headed Lapwing, which breeds on rice fields along the railway. And indeed in Gifu-Hashima where the train made a brief stop I was able to count 3 lapwings, and at the same place I saw briefly an ad Black-crowned night heron. From there on I saw on several occasions lapwings, which at least in this part of the country didn't seem to be very uncommon. Also from Gifu-Hashima on, I saw a total of 3 Black Kites. During the trip there were several of the "white" egrets and quite frequently Gray Herons.

SPring-8 was in a hilly area with forests and meadows, some 30 min. from Aioi (with bus). We arrived there at 13:00. From the bus I saw two buteo-like raptors, but hadn't time to use my binoculars. On the meadows between the hills Skylarks were still actively singing.

In the evening at dusk I saw: 1 ad Black Kite, a singing Bush Warbler, a Japanese White-Eye and several Black-backed Wagtails. During the night one could listen to a concert of crickets and watch the stars; the viewing wasn't very good, though, and I had some problems finding common constellations. Eventually I found the Big Dipper and Lyra, in positions differing a lot from those at northern latitudes.

Wednesday 17.6

7:00 went for a 1.5 h walk before breakfast. This was to become one of the warmest days during my stay, with a temperature approaching 29°C. Started by checking the Bush Warbler in morning sun (wanted to get absolutely sure about the species, as I wasn't familiar with the very distinct and surprisingly strong voice). Other observed species: 2 ad Great Tits, 6 Siberian Meadow-Buntings m & f/juv. (+song), 3 m Gray Wagtails (+song), 2 ad Black Kites, 1 ad Japanese Pygmy-Woodpecker.

At 10:00 I took the bus back to Aioi, and from there I took the Shinkansen back to Shin-Yokohama. I was back to TITECH at 15:00. From the Shinkansen train I was able to add two Little Terns to my list of species, otherwise I saw the same species as on the journey to Aioi, except for the Black-crowned Night Heron. The number of Lapwings seen on the return was larger, probably because I had learned to spot stationary birds (in flight the black and white on the wings immediately reveal the bird). The last bird I saw was some 30-45 min. east of Gifu-Hashima - Shizuoka?

Thursday 18.6

Wake up at 5:30. I was planning to visit the Yatsu-Higata tidal flat. Unfortunately my hotel in Machida was located pretty far from this place. Took the Yokohama line to Higashikanagawa (south of Shin-Yokohama), and from there on another JR-line to Tokyo central station. There I changed to the Keiyo line heading for Shin-narashino station. I was there at app. 8 o'clock. The weather was fine, no rain, some clouds, which disappeared soon after my arrival to the tidal flat at 8:30 and soon the mercury was approaching some 26°C. Didn't choose the straightest way to the tidal-flat, which was good because while crossing a park I was able to admire an ad m Bull-headed Shrike from a distance of 4 m. A bunch of noisy Azure-winged Magpies refused to pose for my camera, so that I never got a picture of this beautiful bird. In the reed belt outside the parking lot a Great Reed Warbler was singing from an exposed position. Then suddenly I heard a kind of familiar heew-dee-hew-de-hew (hyy-dii-hyj-di-hyj, in Finnish/Swedish transliteration) sound of a Scarlet Finch, however it doesn't nest in Japan. So the species remained unidentified.

At the tidal flat itself the waders were almost completely absent. Three Curlews, one Snowy plover, and 12 Black-bellied Plovers was the complete saldo. The Great and Little Egrets were quite abundant, as were the Gray Herons and the Great Cormorants. Additionally I saw one Intermediate Egret; its size was clearly smaller than that of the two Great egrets flanking it. Furthermore it had a completely yellow beak, differing it from a little egret. Further species seen were: 3 Little Terns, 1 m Pintail, 1 m Eurasian Wigeon, 1 f/juv. Mallard, several Spot-billed Ducks, 1 ad Little Grebe with a chick, additionally 3 ad and 2 juv. (were fed by a parent) Great Reed Warblers, 1 juv. Bull-headed Shrike. I also went inside the nature observation center when it opened at 9:00. Quite an impressive facility. I left the place at 10:20, with an overall positive impression, however I felt that I should have been either one month earlier or one month later to see more shore birds.

I had promised to be at TITECH around noon and would never have made it unless I hadn't got the idea of taking the Shinkansen to Shin-Yokohama instead of the ordinary JR-line, and it didn't cost me a single yen as the JR pass was still valid.

Friday 19.6

Went to the Meiji shrine in the morning, arrived there at 8:30, after being stowed into an authentic rush-hour subway train at Shinjuku station on the circular JR line. At Harajuku I was squeezed out and enter the almost deserted Meiji Park. What a contrast to the crowded subway! There was no rain, but the sky was completely covered by clouds. In Meiji I visited the Iris garden, which was still in almost full bloom. At one of the dams I saw a Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker being fed by its parent. The voice of the species could be heard quite frequently as well as that of the Great Tit. I was in vain hoping to catch a glimpse of the Varied Tit. Then suddenly I saw the silhouette of an extremely long-tailed bird. However short the sighting was, it must have been a m Black Paradise-Flycatcher. There was no further interesting bird observations. Whatever voices could be heard were drowned in a cacophony of Jungle-crow shrieks. Arrived at TITECH around 11:30 when the rain began.

Saturday 20.6

Decided to visit the Tama-gawa river close to the Seiseki-Sakuragaoka subway station. Although the distance from Machida was short there was a problem with the subway lines as there was no direct transfer at Kitano from the Yokohama line (I was heading north this time). So I had a 15 min. walk from Katakura to Kitano through a nice suburban area with cucumber and aubergine fields and small houses. During the walk I saw a m Gray Wagtail and three House Martins, but still no sign of Red-rumped Swallows or swift species, which puzzled me.

I arrived at Seiseki-Sakuragaoka around 9:00 and had a 10 min. walk to the river bank. It was already very hot, and there were very few clouds. During the day the temperature went up above 30°C. In the trees flanking the reed belt I saw two Azure-winged Magpies. In the reed belt the bird fauna consisted mainly of Eurasian Tree Sparrows, Skylarks, Great Reed Warblers, and Fan-tailed Warblers. The latters I saw only at large distances. However, its size and song flight made identification unambiguous. Occasional Cormorants, Egrets and Crows could been seen in flight at large distances, otherwise the river bank was pretty quiet. I tried to communicate with an elderly bird-watching couple. For some reason they wanted to draw my attention to the very common Skylarks (Hibari in Japanese), when I asked them about the Fan-tailed Warbler (Sekka in Japanese). I saw also an Accipiter sp. at a very large distance and at an unfavorable angle.

I continued northward along the river bank and saw one juv. Common Kingfisher, which was very nice indeed, as the bird sat for quite a long time at a distance of some 10 m. North of the pedestrian bridge I heard the by now familiar song of the Siberian Meadow-Bunting and saw the bird at a close distance. A large Charadrius plover landed on a sand bank close by: it was a Long-billed Plover. A Great Egret stood in the shallow water close by. I continued upstream to the point were two branches of the river join together and walked then briskly in the hot sun shine towards the Mogusen subway station, thankful for the very frequent vending machines with cold drinks. It was 12 o'clock.

Went back to TITECH to finish my things there (Saturday is a working day in Japan). Around 17:00 I walked along the Sakai-gawa river but couldn't add any more bird species to my list. I observed at close distance an ad Japanese Wagtail and an ad Black-backed Wagtail. Also I briskly walked into a small forest, one of the few that was penetrable (on the campus of TITECH the small forest areas were extremely dense in vegetation and would have required a machete to enter). The only new experiences were a couple of mosquito bites (my colleague who has been in Japan for 1.5 years assured me that there were no mosquitoes or ticks on Honshu) and sticky cob web. Did some more shopping in the evening and prepared for my departure.

Sunday 21.6

Checked out from the hotel at 06:15. Arrived at suitengumae subway station around 8:00. Checked in on my flight there (very convenient to get rid of heavy luggage at such an early stage). Took the limousine bus (why limousine? not a hint of luxury in those busses) to Narita at 8:45. Arrived there at 9:40 with plenty of time to check out the rather meager tax-free shop. During the subway and bus trips no further species were added to my list. In fact the species observed were practically the same as on the 10th of June. The weather was cloudy and a bit gloomy, but there was no rain yet. The plane left according to the schedule at 10:55.


I'd like to thank Harry Lehto who gave me very valuable information concerning birds and birding in Japan. I'd like to thank my colleagues and friends in Japan & Finland: Maarit Karppinen, Mikk Lippmaa, Akiko Nara, Kaisa Peitola and Hisao Yamauchi.

Literature and Maps:

I used A field guide to the birds of Japan, by the Wild Bird Society of Japan, Shinji Takano. It was OK for my purposes. However the taxonomy is a bit odd, and good descriptions of the bird sounds were sometimes missing. There is a brief description of birding sites in Japan. I bought the book in Finland. I found a bilingual map of Tokyo, Yokohama at the Tokyo railway station. The map is issued by: Shobunsha publications inc.


The following sites might be interesting for you if you are planning to do some birdwatching in Japan:

List of species observed:

(p) denotes that the species is identifiable from photographs

Note: the Skylark and House Martin are considered to be of different species in Japan.

  1. Little Grebe, Tachyhabtus ruficollis, Kaitsuburi
    12.6 moat of imperial palace 2 ad
    18.6 Yatsu-higata 1 ad 1 juv. (p)

  2. Great Cormorant, Phalacrocorax carbo, Umi-u
    Everyday several

  3. Black-crowned Night Heron, Nycticorax nycticorax, Goi-sagi
    15.6 From bus to Tsukuba 1 juv.
    16.6 From Shinkansen at Gifu-Hashima 1 ad.

  4. Cattle Egret, Bubulcus ibis, Ama-sagi
    15.6 From bus toTsukuba and train back to Tokyo 4 + 6 + 6
    16.6 From Shinkansen to Aioi, several
    17.6 From Shinkansen to Shin-Yokohama, several

  5. Great Egret, Egretta alba, Dai-sagi (p)
    Practically every day, several

  6. Intermediate Egret, Egretta intermedia, Chu-sagi
    15.6 From bus to Tsukuba (?)
    16 & 17.6 From Shinkansen (?)
    18.6 Yatsu-higata 1 juv./winter plumage

  7. Little Egret, Egretta garzetta, Ko-sagi
    Practically every day

  8. Gray Heron, Ardea cinerea, Ao-sagi
    16. & 17.6 From Shinkansen, several
    18.6 Yatsu-higata c. 10 ad+juv.

  9. Mallard, Anas platyrhynchos, Ma-gamo
    Practically everyday, behind the hotel at Sakai-gawa river (not as common as A. poe)

  10. Spot-billed Duck, Anas poecilorhyncha, Karu-gamo
    Practically every day, very common (p)

  11. Eurasian Wigeon, Anas penelope, Hidori-gamo
    18.6 Yatsu-higata 1 ad m

  12. Pintail, Anas acuta, Onaga-gamo
    18.6 Yatsu-higata 1 ad m

  13. Black Kite, Milvus migrans, Tobi
    16. & 17.6 From Shinkansen appr. 3 + 6 (only between Nagoya and Aioi)
    16.6 & 17.6 SPring-8 synchrotron 2 + 2

    Buteo/Pernis/Butastur sp.
    16.6 seen from bus to SPring-8 2

    Accipiter sp.
    20.6 Tama-gawa river 1

  14. Long-billed Plover, Charadrius placidus, Ikaru-chidori
    20.6 Tama-gawa river 1

  15. Snowy Plover, Charadrius alexandrinus, Shiro-chidori
    18.6 Yatsu-higata 1 ad

  16. Black-bellied Plover, Pluvialis squatarola, Daizen
    18.6 Yatsu-higata 12 juv.

  17. Gray-headed Lapwing, Microsarcops cinereus, Keri
    16. & 17.6 From Shinkansen appr. 20 + 30 (Only between Aioi and Shizuoka?)

  18. Eurasian Curlew, Numenius arquata, Daishaku-shigi
    18.6 Yatsu-higata 3

  19. Black-tailed Gull, Larus crassiostris, Umineko
    15.6 From bus to Tsukuba 1 ad

  20. Little Tern, Sterna albifrons, Ko-ajisashi
    17.6 From Shinkansen 2

    Domestic Pigeon, Columba livia
    Very common in urban areas

  21. Rufous Turtle Dove, Streptopelia orientalis, Kiji-bato (p)
    Every day, very common

  22. Common Kingfisher, Alcedo atthis, Kawasemi (p)
    20.6 Tama-gawa river 1 juv. (p)

  23. Japanese Pygmy-Woodpecker, Dendrocopos kizuki, Ko-gera
    17.6 SPring-8 1
    19.6 Meiji shrine 1 ad 1 juv. + calls of other birds

  24. Skylark, Alauda arvensis (orientalis?), Hibari (p)
    15.6 Tsukuba bus station 2
    15.6 KEK synchrotron, several singing birds
    16 & 17.6 SPring-8, at least 5 singing birds
    20.6 Tama-gawa river at least 7 singing birds

  25. Barn Swallow, Hirundo rustica, Tsubame
    Every day, very common

  26. House Martin, Delichon japonica, Iwa-tsubame
    Seen behind the hotel at bridges over Sakai-gawa river, not so common elsewhere
    20.6 Kitano 3

  27. Gray Wagtail, Motacilla cinerea, Ki-sekirei
    17.6 SPring-8 3 + song
    20.6 Kitano 1 m + song

  28. Black-backed Wagtail, Motacilla lugens, Haku-sekirei
    Pretty common

  29. Japanese Wagtail, Motacilla grandis, Seguro-sekirei
    Pretty common

  30. Brown-eared Bulbul, Hypsipetes amaurotis, Hiyodori (p)
    Every day, very common + calls and song

  31. Bull-headed Shrike, Lanius bucephalus, Mozu
    18.6 Yatsu-higata 1 ad, later on 1 juv. (p)

  32. Bush Warbler, Cettia diphone, Uguisu
    16 & 17.6 SPring-8 1 singing bird

  33. Great Reed Warbler, Acrocephalus arundinaceus, O-yoshikiri (p)
    18.6 Yatsu-higata 3 singing birds and an ad feeding 2 juv.
    20.6 Tama-gawa river, several singing birds

  34. Fan-tailed Warbler, Cisticola juncidis, Sekka
    20.6 Tama-gawa river, several singing birds

  35. Black Paradise-Flycatcher, Terpsiphone atrocaudata, Sankocho
    19.6 Meiji shrine, 1 m briefly seen

  36. Great Tit, Parus major, Shiju-kara
    12.6 Behind the hotel 1 ad, occasionally seen and heard on other places as well

  37. Japanese White-Eye, Zosterops japonica, Mejiro
    14.6 Kamakura 1 + 1 + song
    17.6 SPring-8 1 m + song

  38. Siberian Meadow-Bunting, Emberiza cioides, Hojiro
    15.6 KEK song heard but not identified with 100% certainty
    17.6 SPring-8 6 m + f/juv. + song
    20.6 Tama-gawa river 1 m + song

  39. Oriental Greenfinch, Carduelis sinica, Kawara-hiwa
    Pretty common in urban areas

    Voice of unidentified passerine, any suggestions?
    18.6 Yatsu-higata. sound: heew-dee-hew-de-hew (hyy-dii-hyj-di-hyj). A kind of fluty pitch resembling that of a Scarlet finch

  40. Eurasian Tree Sparrow, Passer montanus, Suzume
    Every day, very common

  41. Gray Starling, Sturnus cineraceus, Mukudori (p)
    Every day, very common

    Voice of Jay ?
    13.6 At Sakai-gawa river

  42. Azure-winged Magpie, Cyanopica cyana, Onaga
    11.6 Behind hotel, 4
    18.6 Yatsu-higata, several
    20.6 Tama-gawa river 2

  43. Carrion Crow, Corvus corone corone, Hashiboso-garasu
    Every day, very common

  44. Jungle Crow, Corvus macrorhynchos, Hashibuto-garasu (p)
    Every day, very common

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; September 14, 1998; updated February 28, 2003