Trip Report: Japan, May 24 - June 21, 1999

Jim Danzenbaker, San Jose, CA, USA;

The following is a report of my trip to Japan from May 24 through June 21. It was my first trip to anywhere near this part of the world and, therefore, it was an all around learning experience. I visited Mt. Fuji, the Izu and Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands, Southeastern Hokkaido, and extreme northern Honshu. There is still plenty of Japan left to be visited in the future. This report includes both birds and, at times, some of the culture and customs that I experienced. For you who are more interested in reading about the birds, the names of the birds have been capitalized.

Participants (at times):

Mike and Lee were the ones that made this whole trip possible. They made the reservations, navigated through some of the more challenging times, and knew where to go on the islands and in the Misawa area.

May 24 - Departure

My birding started at the airport in San Jose, CA where there was a group of 19 very late migrating WHIMBREL opposite the Reno Airlines terminal. Any large flock of Whimbrels in the San Jose area is noteworthy so this was a good start. They were also in view from the plane as we taxied as was a surprise BURROWING OWL which was unfazed as we went by. My last San Jose birds were a mixed flock of CLIFF, VIOLET-GREEN, and ROUGH-WINGED SWALLOWs and an AMERICAN KESTREL. Arrived in Los Angeles and a two hour wait for the Malaysia Airlines flight to Tokyo. I finished up a few last minute items which included booking my return ticket to the states in June (I had an open ticket) and boarded the flight on time. The last birds which I saw as we flew off were a single RED-TAILED HAWK and several HEERMANN'S GULLS. We eventually flew right over San Jose, and I was able to look down and see the house, a slightly different route than when I flew on Malaysian in 1993.

May 25 - Arrival

I arrived in Narita (Tokyo's International Airport) at around 6:30 PM due to the international dateline, and my first birds seen were a single BLACK-EARED KITE and a flock of GREY STARLINGs. Luckily, my backpack arrived unscathed, and I emerged from customs to start my adventure. My first stop was at the tourist counter where I had some help getting my bearings. My goal was to learn about the train and bus schedules that I would be using the next day to get to the Mt. Fuji area. I exchanged traveler's checks at a rate of 121 yen to the dollar which is a very good rate and would make the trip slightly less expensive although still more than I had ever spent on any trip after 1993. I opted to spend the night at the airport Holiday Inn due to convenience. I didn't sleep very well probably due to jetlag and anticipation of things to come.

May 26 - Tokyo - Kawaguchi-ko

I woke at 4:30 and took a stroll around the grounds near the Hotel to start my birding. Immediately, weird noises came from everywhere. The first bird I identified was a BROWN-EARED BULBUL which was perched on a telephone wire. Its varied squeaky call reminded a bit of the Golden-crowned Flycatcher of South America. I soon realized that the only way that I would keep these sounds organized in my mind was to initially equate the calls to species that I was familiar with regardless of how much of a stretch it really was. EURASIAN TREE SPARROWs were common as were JUNGLE CROWs which flew over singly and in groups. The size and shape of the bill easily separated this species from the Carrion Crow. A flyover wagtail was probably a BLACK-BACKED WAGTAIL. A call resembling the quality of a neotropical wren played hard to get but eventually revealed itself to be a JAPANESE BUSH WARBLER. At the time, I did not realize that the only place where Japanese Bush Warblers did not occur in Japan was out in the middle of the ocean... they were everywhere! A calling bunting proved to be my first SIBERIAN MEADOW BUNTING, a colorful bird with a black and white striped head and mostly cinnamon underparts. ORIENTAL GREENFINCHes and GREAT TITs engaged in aerial games overhead. A RUFOUS TURTLE DOVE perched atop a telephone pole.

After my introduction to Japanese birds, I returned to the room, confirmed identification of the birds, packed, left my mom and dad a note of my findings (they would arrive in two days) and caught the shuttle back to the airport.

At the airport, I bought a train ticket to Shinjuku Station in Tokyo and headed straight for the train station (luckily there is only one set of tracks so I couldn't get lost). While waiting, I bought a tall thin can of coke at 120 yen! Welcome to Japan prices. The train, as with everything in Japan, came exactly on time so it was easy to tell that it was the correct train. A note: the trains and terminals are very clean, and also temporarily walking away from my luggage to get a coke elicited no uneasy thoughts as theft is almost unheard of there. The train raced through broken woodland with scattered towns and many rice paddies. The rice fields eventually yielded to the concrete, high-rises, and hustle and bustle of Tokyo. Birds seen from the train included CATTLE, GREAT and probably one INTERMEDIATE EGRET, GREAT CORMORANT, STRIATED and BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON and my first SPOT-BILLED DUCKs loafing in a rice paddy. BROWN-EARED BULBULs and many JUNGLE and CARRION CROWs were obvious.

The trip ended an hour and twenty minutes after it started at Shinjuku Station, Tokyo's Grand Central station. Many rail lines merge at this station so it is expansive and it took a kind bystander to set my course to the west exit which was nearest the bus station. Once away from the train station, I was faced with an entire fleet of buses with many people streaming by in all directions. Neon signs were everywhere advertising the benefits of just about everything (I guess). I wove my way through this thoroughfare and eventually ended up at the correct bus terminal (believe it or not), purchased a 1700 yen bus ticket to Kawaguchi-ko and, in ten minutes, found myself on a comfortable bus heading out of Tokyo to the relative serenity of the rice paddy dotted countryside. Rice paddies gave way to forested hillsides as we neared the Mt. Fuji area.

Upon arrival at Kawaguchi-ko, I headed straight for the local tourist bureau and located someone who spoke a bit of English. With his help, I made reservations at a local minshuku (a B&B in Japan) overlooking the lake although it would not be ready for three hours. I made arrangements to leave my backpack and daypack at the tourist office and started a short three hour hike in the general direction of Mt. Fuji which loomed impressively in the overcast skies south of town. A note about Kawaguchi-ko Station and the surrounding town - it may look small on a map but, when on foot, it is much larger! I found it difficult to know exactly where I was at any given time since the streets jut out in strange angles at many intersections. I may have been temporarily directionally challenged but, thankfully, Mt. Fuji was always there to the south so I always had an idea of where I wanted to go.

I quickly stopped at the Mt. Fuji Visitors Center which had all the accompaniments of our national park visitor centers including cafeteria, souvenir shop, and a large screen showing Mt. Fuji visuals with the music of Yanni in the background. After my brief visit, I hit the main FujiSubaru road which appeared to head into promising habitat. However, mid-afternoon in Japan is just like mid-afternoon anywhere else in the world - nice scenery but very little bird activity. However, a pair of WILLOW TITs at their nest cavity provided a video opportunity. Unfortunately, the overcast skies did not help the quality of the footage. A few GREAT TITs, JUNGLE CROWs, and BROWN-EARED BULBULs rounded out a rather lackluster afternoon. I returned to the tourist office, retrieved my luggage, and was taken to the minshuku and was relieved to have a place to leave my luggage for several days. My room on the second floor had two tables, a chair, a TV, and a beautiful view of Kawaguchi-ko (ko is Japanese for lake) with Mt. Fuji in all its glory as a backdrop. Bedding came from the closet, as many futons as were needed and loads of pillows. For dinner, I backtracked around the lake and stopped at a convenience store since I didn't want to spend much time for dinner. On the walk back to the minshuku, I heard and saw ORIENTAL GREAT REED WARBLER (song was reminiscent of Yellow-breasted Chat), a JAPANESE PYGMY WOODPECKER and several BLACK-EARED KITEs which etched lazy circles in the sky. Dinner was followed by an early night's sleep after the realization of my unsatisfactory amounts of sleep over the last 48 hours.

May 27 - Mt. Fuji Area

Woke early since this would be my only full day birding the Mt. Fuji-Five Lakes area. Unfortunately, when I looked outside, it was raining... heavily. I decided to delay a bit in the hopes that it would lessen which it did... for a few minutes. Eventually, I decided that I had spent all that time getting here and didn't want the rain to get in the way so I packed my daypack, donned by raincoat and umbrella, traded my house slippers for hiking boots, and left at about 4:30. The rain kept coming but at least it wasn't windy. The only birds active in town were the omnipresent BROWN-EARED BULBULs and a single calling COMMON CUCKOO which seemed appropriate at the time.

I passed the Mt. Fuji Visitor Center and started my hike along the tree-lined road but the rain was joined by gusty winds. I reached the WILLOW TITs which were still active in the bad weather. There was an approximate trail and I opted to duck into the woods here to get some temporary relief from the rain. I ended up staying there for two hours amidst the heavy rain and lashing gusty winds which must have been in excess of 60 mph. By the way, the answer to the question "If a tree falls in the forest, does it make a sound?" The answer is "no" because any sound is drowned out by the bellowing wind which caused it to fall. After two hours of standing in the woods, drenched (with a raincoat and umbrella), I decided to hike back to the visitor center and hope for eventual clearing and birdable weather. Several hours in the center allowed me to dry off and read about a half dozen chapters of my novel which I had unknowingly packed with the day's supplies. (Did I know that I would get a chance to read it?) During those two hours, many fully loaded tour buses came and went, their charges anxious to at least learn about Fuji even if they could not see it.

By noon, the skies seemed to be clearing, and I promptly left and resumed my hike. I switched to a less traveled road which paralleled the FujiSubaru road with improved results. The flocks were numerous with GREAT, LONG-TAILED, and WILLOW TITs making up the majority of the birds. A surprise encounter with a skulking SHORT (STUB)-TAILED BUSH WARBLER was good as it is a species which could easily be missed without special effort. Further along, a JAPANESE YELLOW BUNTING came into view as did the commoner SIBERIAN MEADOW BUNTINGs and ORIENTAL GREENFINCHes. Another trail through the woods yielded several EASTERN CROWNED WILLOW WARBLERs which were especially pleasing since they were in full song which I hoped to commit to memory for future retrieval. COMMON CUCKOOs called, and one showed itself on the limb of a nearby tree.

Further ahead, I encountered an OLIVE-TREE PIPIT, which was olive and was in a tree! I ventured further up and had a brief glimpse of a WHITE'S GROUND THRUSH although it was not a satisfactory view. At 5pm with FORK-TAILED SWIFTs flying overhead, I had reached my highest point and looked back in a break in the forest and saw Kawaguchi-ko and my minshuku in the far distance. Since it was getting late, and I had a long walk ahead of me, I started my descent. I wasn't 100 yards along when I looked up and saw blue skies overhead (the first I had seen in Japan). I then looked behind me and had a breathtaking view of Mt. Fuji in all its majestic beauty with no clouds, a beautiful blue backdrop and full sun on its remaining snow - a stunning view for eyes which had grown weary of the overcast and rains that I had thought were the norm for this part of Japan.

Two hours and twenty minutes later, I marched into the minshuku amidst the exclamations of the owners about the rain, the wind, how did I walk in a storm, etc. Removing my boots revealed what I had thought was happening throughout the day... I had given birth to four blisters on my toes. I guess I shouldn't have expected anything less after hiking for fifteen hours less two. The futon never felt better. I watched TV for a few minutes, and they showed storm damage done to property in and around Tokyo. Great, I had been standing in the woods during a typhoon!

May 28 - Kawaguchi-ko - Tokyo

Woke early again but my passion for hiking was significantly reduced since my feet were still quite tender. I opted for a hike around the lake on this nice bright morning. Several MALLARDs and a male TUFTED DUCK were on the lake, and the ORIENTAL GREAT REED WARBLER was singing from its usual perch near a patch of reeds along the lake shore. The commoner species made themselves known including BLACK-EARED KITEs and BROWN-EARED BULBULs. I returned to the minshuku for a delicious breakfast which included two eggs with bits of ham, bits of ham with local greens, a bowl of rice, a whole fish, a plate of lettuce, tomato, and banana, and soup. Very filling especially since my stomach was ready for a big meal.

Afterwards, I packed up my things and got a ride back to the train station. After buying my bus ticket and depositing my bags at the tourist center, I embarked on another hike. Birds were generally the same as the previous day with the addition of GRAY STARLINGs and EURASIAN JAY. The hike lasted four hours, and when I returned to the bus station, my toes were once again complaining. However, my attention was diverted by the folks looking at me, a bearded westerner with backpack and extra carry-on bags, rubbing bare feet at a bus station... I guess they don't often see that in Kawaguchi-ko!

I boarded the bus and enjoyed the calming effect of the bus ride before the rush hour storm awaiting me at Shinjuku Station. With my backpack positioned again, I headed for the station hoping that my directional memory was intact. After a few minor detours, I made it to the station, walked down a flight of steps, and encountered the city of Tokyo's inhabitants walking to and fro in their homeward march. I bought my ticket and managed to locate the JR line which would take me to Narita airport. Unfortunately, I missed the train by about five minutes and had to wait 40 minutes for the next one. Reserved seating was nice, and my arrival back at Narita was only one hour delayed from the original plan. A note about birding from the train - only the last 20 minutes travels through any sort of half-way decent habitat with herons standing in rice paddies and forest edges to scan from the racing train. The majority of the trip weaves through Tokyo's suburbs.

My parents met me at the airport as was the plan (they had flown in the night before), and we all took the hour-and-a-quarter shuttle from Narita to Haneda which is Tokyo's domestic airport. 45 minutes later, my brother Mike and sister-in-law Lee arrived from Misawa, and the family was all together for the first time in twenty months. We headed straight for Takeshiba Ferry terminal to catch the ferry to the Izu Islands, but luck was not on our side, and we missed the ferry by ten minutes. We spent the night in one of the pricey hotels nearby (it was already 10:30pm, and hotel options were few when travelling as a group with lots of luggage).

May 29 - Tokyo - Izu Islands Ferry

Woke at 10am (no, that's not a typo) since we had no birding plans, and the six hour ferry ride wasn't due to leave until 10:30pm. We birded the waterfront and enjoyed the various GREAT CORMORANTs, BLACK-HEADED and BLACK-TAILED GULLs, LITTLE TERNs, GRAY HERONs, SPOT-BILLED DUCKs, and LITTLE and GREAT EGRETs. It also gave us a chance to get caught up with each other. A bowl of noodles for lunch really hit the spot as did the dinner at a nearby Wendy's. Ferry boarding started at 10pm, and we all managed to get into the right line and on the ferry as a group. Our overnight accommodations were second class Japanese style which meant a space on the floor with a rectangular pillow and several blankets. It was an organized dash to get to the sleeping area to pick out good spots. There was only one other geijin (westerner) on board. Since shoes were not allowed on the actual sleeping area, the best spots were along the side so that you could reach for luggage without having to take shoes off each time. We managed two spaces along the side which was good. However bleak sleeping on the floor with a bunch of other people may sound, it was relatively quiet, and it felt very good (at least for me), and I was asleep in no time.

May 30 - Izu Islands

Dawn came early, and we were out on deck at 4:15 to hopefully view seabirds before our scheduled 5am arrival on Miyakejima. I got my first glimpse of my long anticipated STREAKED SHEARWATER as well as several SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATERs. I decided not to count the STREAKED SHEARWATER until I saw the white face clearly which luckily happened after about 15 individuals flew by. We docked on schedule while a TEMMINCK'S CORMORANT looked on. We were met by the owners of the minshuku where we were to spend one night instead of two.

After dropping off luggage, we were given a ride to the nature center which was next to the best forest on the island. The forest had a network of trails which led to Tairo-ike (ike is pond in Japanese). Immediately, the songs of IJIMA'S WILLOW WARBLER (island endemic), JAPANESE ROBIN, IZU ISLAND THRUSH (island endemic), JAPANESE BUSH WARBLER, and WREN filled the air. The IJIMA'S WILLOW WARBLERs were easily pished in for close viewing. Its penetrating call reminded me of the song of the Prothonatary Warbler, either that or it was the only way that I could commit it to memory. A male IZU ISLAND THRUSH landed on the road in front of us for excellent viewing as it bounded closer before changing its mind and winging to another perch inside the forest. A JAPANESE ROBIN called nearby, and since Mike had told us that this species could be tough to see, we opted for looking for this individual which proved to be not very difficult as it perched on a fairly exposed perch. This robin is gorgeous with a bright orange head and tail with a warm brown body and paler underparts, superficially like a Rufous-headed Tody-Tyrant in Ecuador only in a thrush's body.

We started our walk down to the lake and found more JAPANESE ROBINs including singles perching on the trail hand rail and a pair scolding a weasel. We later found out that these introduced weasels are doing quite well at the expense of Collared Scops Owls (which abandon their nest if there is any disturbance) and ground nesting birds. At a platform overlooking the pond, we looked up and caught glimpses of JAPANESE WOODPIGEONs flying overhead and FORK-TAILED SWIFTs chasing unseen bugs. Several hours of trying to video IJIMA'S WILLOW WARBLERs, JAPANESE BUSH WARBLERs and JAPANESE ROBINs proved quite challenging.We ended our morning's birding back at the visitor center which had fully stocked bird feeders which attracted many VARIED TITs (endemic island race), RUFOUS TURTLE-DOVEs, ORIENTAL GREENFINCHes, and a few JAPANESE BUSH-WARBLERs, IZU ISLAND THRUSHes, and BROWN-EARED BULBULs.

We opted for a rental car so that visiting other parts of the island would be easier. After a quick stop for drinks, we arrived at our next birding stop, a scrubby area along the coastline which held the last endemic breeding bird which we hoped to see. Thankfully, we unrolled our windows and heard the varied song of the STYAN'S GRASSHOPPER WARBLER (recent split from Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler) immediately. We eventually got very good views of this species as they had a habit of returning to favorite perches to sing.

In the meantime, clouds of STREAKED SHEARWATERs were gathering offshore, and I estimated 46,750 at one point. This would explain why I never saw one after 150 pelagic trips off the central California coast! Islets offshore were visible where Japanese Murrelets breed, but they had already left for points north. A note: Japanese Murrelet numbers are decreasing in this area due to an increase in the number of Black-tailed Gulls which have been attracted to the fish scraps left by fishermen.

Other birds of note in this area were JAPANESE WOODPIGEONs which allowed for decent viewing (a rare treat according to Mike), a single BULL-HEADED SHRIKE, an immature TEMMINCK'S CORMORANT, and great views of BLUE ROCK THRUSHes and FORK-TAILED SWIFTs which performed aerial maneuvers along the lava cliffs along the ocean. Our return to the minshuku was greeted by a hot shower and a Japanese style dinner consisting of fried flying fish, two kinds of sashimi, braised eggplant and green pepper over rice, soup with periwinkles, local wild greens with bits of ham, and tea. Afterwards, a short walk outside allowed us to hear several BROWN HAWK OWLs which could not be coaxed into view, and a surprise calling WANDERING TATTLER somewhere overhead. Afterwards, a comfortable sleep on a futon.

May 31 - Izu Islands - Tokyo

LITTLE CUCKOOs make a great alarm clock, and they preformed their function well. Other birds near the minshuku included JAPANESE PYGMY WOODPECKER, IJIMA'S WILLOW WARBLER, JAPANESE BUSH WARBLER, and IZU ISLAND THRUSHes. We opted to return to our birding spot of the previous afternoon and quickly realized that the sizable number of STREAKED SHEARWATERs had swelled to about 200,000, all easily visible from shore. Other more notable species included very visible LITTLE CUCKOOs calling everywhere (mostly calling on the wing), a beautiful male GREEN PHEASANT (my first truly unintroduced wild pheasant), a separate hen pheasant with six young, and several groups of CHINESE BAMBOO PARTRIDGEs which called from dense ground cover but never came into view.

Having exhausted the possibilities, we journeyed further around the island and ended up at a lighthouse. LITTLE CUCKOOs, again, took center stage, and I found a WANDERING TATTLER which, despite best efforts, we could not turn into my desired Gray-tailed Tattler even though Wandering is, by far, the rarer. A surprise WHISKERED TERN (rare in Japan) flew overhead.

Afterwards, a trip up to the center of the island ended in a parking area with trails leading to the edge of the volcano which formed the island so many years ago. Since I find it difficult to leave any mountain unclimbed, I quickly strapped on my hiking boots and reached the crater edge and looked down... into nothing very special. STYAN'S GRASSHOPPER WARBLERs and ORIENTAL GREENFINCHes sang nearby, and a GREEN PHEASANT belted its call across the crater.

Another fifteen minutes, and we were all back at the car and another half hour, back a the minshuku to collect our luggage and catch our ride to the ferry. Interesting to note that there are two ferry landings on Miyakejima, and no one knows which landing will be used too long before departure since it is dependent on the weather. Therefore, long ranging planning is not possible. Soon after leaving port, our pelagic eyes perked up again as we encountered STREAKED SHEARWATERs and occasional SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATERs. One probable TRISTRAM'S (SOOTY) STORM-PETREL was glimpsed. A couple RED-NECKED PHALAROPEs were near the mouth of Tokyo Bay. Upon arrival at Takeshiba Terminal, we walked to the train station, transferred to the subway, and then walked several blocks to the New Sanno Hotel, taking advantage of my dad's military status. Dinner was at the hotel followed by sleep which came quickly.

June 1 - Tokyo - Bonin Islands Ferry

We woke at a leisurely hour and headed for the hotel restaurant for a grand western style breakfast buffet the likes of which I would be dreaming about for days. We opted for a taxi to take us to the ferry terminal for our 26 hour trip to the Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands since this seemed more practical considering the luggage. Our merry group of five was trimmed to four since Lee stayed behind for her flight to Taiwan later that day.

We boarded the ferry at 10am and were given our floor assignments (a ticket with a number on it) which matched a blanket and pillow laid out on the floor. Having settled in, we hit the decks, laid claim to a corner table outside and soon joined the rest of the folks on board in waving to the onlookers as the ferry nudged its way into Tokyo harbor accompanied by the melody of Auld Lang Syne. Seabirds started early with several SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATERs followed by flocks of STREAKED SHEARWATERs. Two POMARINE JAEGERs were spotted at a distance, and we passed a flock of RED-NECKED PHALAROPEs floating in the calm seas.

Once free of Tokyo Harbor, we settled in for the 26 hour cruise. A highlight for me was a flyby JAPANESE MURRELET which I watched for about 20 seconds before it flew out of sight. This is a bird that we had missed on its breeding grounds in Miyakejima, so I was glad to pick this one up. One BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS and several distant storm-petrels were all we could find for the remainder of the day. We dined downstairs à la vending machines in the cafeteria. In the cafeteria, one decides on an entree which is pictured with a name and a price, then yen is inserted into another machine, you push the proper button for your meal choice, and a ticket pops out. You hand the ticket to the cook behind the counter who serves you the food. Very efficient with no cash registers. Although lying on the floor amid many other people may sound uncomfortable, sleep came easily.

June 2 - Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands

We woke early as the sun rose at 4:15. Immediately from our viewing positions on the deck, we saw BULWER'S PETRELs (easily identified after last fall's Monterey Bay bird), BONIN PETREL, and several storm petrels which were probably TRISTRAM'S (SOOTY) STORM-PETRELs. As we continued south, bird numbers increased, and the above three species seemed to always be in view. It is a unique experience to be scoping a pterodroma from a ship but it was more than possible given the calm seas and the size of the ferry. Scoping from deck also netted one distant Humbpack Whale. Eventually, the seabirds were joined by WEDGE-TAILED SHEARWATERs and a few BROWN BOOBYs. A fishing boat had another BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSS in its wake but not the anticipated Short-tailed Albatross which had already left the waters around Torishima for the rich feeding grounds to the north.

We docked in Chichijima (jima or shima means "island" in Japanese) one hour ahead of schedule and immediately noticed the change in climate as a heavy mist with wind had rolled into port with the ship. However, we were only staying on the island for an hour and a half before boarding the next ferry for the two hour ride to Hahajima, the next island to the south. We departed and took our positions at the back railing since we had information that Matsudaira's Storm-Petrels followed this ferry. We did see storm-petrels but not as closely as we had wanted, but we did manage to see the white shafts in the wing on one bird which clinched the identification as a MATSUDAIRA'S STORM-PETREL. A bird flock near the north end of Hahajima contained mostly BROWN NODDYs with two SOOTY TERNs mixed in.

Safely on shore with all luggage accounted for, we were met by the owners of the minshuku where we were staying for the night. Ten minutes after arriving at the minshuku, a Japanese birder we had met on the long ferry stopped by wanting to know if we were interested in hiking to a Brown Booby colony on the south end of the island. Mike and I were so we got in and off we went on the only paved road of any significance on the island. Fifteen minutes later, the smooth paved road abruptly ended... into absolutely nothing except a dirt trail which headed into the woods. We started walking, and the trail got muddier and muddier as we sweated through the humid air. We stopped for a couple of brief views of JAPANESE WHITE-EYEs and the endemic BONIN ISLAND HONEYEATER. We eventually ended up on a shell and coral strewn beach and could see the boobies on the top of a hillside not far away. We were, to say the least, surprised to hear that we were to walk up to that colony in only about ten minutes which included 45 degree angle slopes with a few convenient roots as footholds for climbing up and down. Angled slopes on one side and spiny plants on the other were another feature of this trail which was definitely not on the regular tourist itinerary. It was worth the effort though as we watched the boobies, at close range, strutting, mating, and cavorting with each other at their cliffside housing. Interesting to note that the males have blue around the eyes and the females have yellow. Otherwise, the sexes were visually similar. After 40 minutes, we clambered down and arrived back a the minshuku an hour later in time for a food run. Unfortunately, all restaurants and shops were closed so we settled for the cups of noodles which our parents had purchased while we were booby watching. Cold drinks came from the many vending machines. Afterwards, we all retired.

June 3 - Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands

An easy morning considering that the island has only one endemic bird and several endemic races of commonly occurring birds. We hiked up the road and enjoyed some good views of BONIN ISLANDS HONEYEATERs amid the swarms of JAPANESE WHITE-EYEs. A resident COMMON BUZZARD perched on a telephone pole while BROWN-EARED BULBULs were everywhere. Heat and humidity started early, and we returned to the minshuku to pack up for the ferry back to Chichijima. The ferry back to Chichijima was rather uneventful other than getting a slightly better view of several MATSUDAIRA'S STORM-PETRELs which still did not come satisfactorily close to the ship. We were met in Chichijima by the owners of the minshuku where we were to stay for two nights (the first stop which lasted more than one night). We unloaded our gear and headed out for a quick walk around town. Dinner was at a local restaurant with a western style selection of food. Glad I didn't get the super hot chili. We took advantage of the chance to do laundry and it didn't take long to fall asleep on the futon.

June 4 - Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands

A leisurely wake-up as our morning activities were to start at 9am. We found a market which opened at 8am (when most places opened) and bought snacks and lunch to last us for the rest of the day. At 9am we arrived at the dock and boarded the dolphin watching boat which would take us from 9 to 3:30. We were the only caucasians on board and, thankfully, Lee had asked for an English speaking person when she made the reservation for us. Within fifteen minutes of our departure, we were watching a pod of five Spotted Dolphins which bow rode when the boat was moving. These mammals were not obviously spotted - the best mark was the light tip to the dark beak which was clearly seen at close range. More often than not, the boat was stationary allowing folks who had come prepared to jump overboard and swim with the dolphins. There were several other dolphin watching boats in the area which reduced bow riding chances even further.

After a half hour and some snippets of video, we journeyed onwards and soon saw marine mammals jumping on the horizon. Closer inspection confirmed that they were Spinner Dolphins, several of which continued their midair multiple rotation jumps which were truly spectacular. Whether these dolphins were not used to swimming with people or because the waters were a bit choppier, the boat stayed in constant motion which allowed for longer bow riding footage. I was only able to record the aerial spinning of the dolphins in my mind as they did not perform when I had my camera ready.

Onwards around the picturesque south end of the island with its rocky islets and occasional soaring BROWN BOOBYs. We rounded one corner and heard the announcement that a Green Sea Turtle had been spotted. It wasn't long before I had a video of one of the two turtles as they swam on the placid surface of the clear water. Watching it dive one last time allowed us to continue. A small cove was our target, and we disembarked, lunches in hand, for a quick ten minute walk to a scenic isolated beach. As both my brother and I are not beachcombers, we both grew restless, Mike in pursuit of scenic photos with no people and I to the rocky seawalls to study crabs and other denizens of this unique habitat. I eventually wandered up higher on a ridge and noticed many burrows with fresh sand at the entrance to each. Were they the homes of Wedge-tailed Shearwater?...Bulwer's Petrel?...Matsudaira's Storm-Petrel?...Bonin Petrel?... I don't know since the ecologically sensitive half of my brain decided against sticking my hand in a hole and finding out (there are no snakes on the island so that was not a possibility).

We reboarded the boat and continued around more rocky islets, passed the dolphin swimming area of earlier in the day and traveled north on the western side of the island to an underwater world full of surprises. Our destination was an underwater sea reserve filled with vibrantly colored fish of many shapes and habits. We watched black and yellow Threadfin Butterflys mingle with turquoise and red parrotfish and Yellow Tangs (?) with schools of larger gray fish swimming through. They were all attracted to the basket of dead mackerel which was lowered from the boat and positioned underneath our glass bottom boat. A moray eel came in looking as menacing as any that I have seen on TV. Several sea snakes were attracted and had little problem competing since they could swim right through the basket. They would then sink their teeth in and twirl until a piece of fish came loose. We named them the spinner snakes, and we enjoyed watching their unique feeding style. A manta ray type made a pass but stayed low to the sea floor. After an hour of reverse warbler neck (looking straight down strains different muscles) we left, rounded a few more coves, spied goats on several hillsides, and eventually ended up back at port at 3:30. Sea and sun zaps energy quickly, and I flopped onto the futon when we got back to the minshuku. Dinner was light snacks and a cup of noodles which is surprisingly filling. Sleep followed and was needed since the next three nights would be on board ferries.

June 5 - Ogasawara (Bonin) Islands

A day of ferry rides began when Mike and I boarded the ferry to Hahajima again in hopes of improved viewing of MATSUDAIRA'S STORM-PETRELs (the white primary shafts were proving elusive). Luck was on our side, and the sun was shining unlike the previous crossings. When the storm-petrels banked, the white shafts showed quite clearly. Other surprises were a full-tailed LONG-TAILED JAEGER and a POMARINE JAEGER. A flock of five RUDDY TURNSTONEs were on the beach near where we docked, and we saw our Japanese birding friend and the minshuku owners again who must have wondered what we were doing since, 45 minutes after docking, we were heading back again. Results of the crossings follow:

1: Chichijima to Hahajima - sunny with light winds
2: Hahajima to Chichijima - sunny with light winds
NameScientific Name12
Wedge-tailed ShearwaterPuffinus pacificus 1115
Matsudaira's Storm-PetrelOceanodroma matsudairae 1819
Bulwer's PetrelBulweria bulwerii 4241
Bonin PetrelPterodroma hypoleuca 2516
Brown BoobySula leucogaster9 8
Pomarine JaegerStercorarius pomarinus 1-
Long-tailed JaegerStercorarius longicaudus 1-
Brown NoddyAnous stolidus 5748
Sooty TernSterna fuscata 2-

Arrival back at Chichijima had us returning to the minshuku to retrieve luggage in time for the ferry back to the mainland which would leave in one hour. Gear in tow and tickets purchased, we were soon back on the ferry heading for Tokyo. The departure was memorable as it seemed the whole town came out to see us off. A tiko drummer played as we inched away from the dock, and we were escorted by a flotilla of various scuba diving and dolphin watching boats who had turned up to wish their customers a fond farewell. They stayed with us for at least twenty minutes waving all the time. After all, they would need to wait another three days for the next shipload of tourists. The top deck soon became more roomy as passengers went below deck for sleeping and staying out of the cooler ocean breezes. Bird numbers were good, and we picked up several AUDUBON'S SHEARWATERs which were new for the trip.

June 6 - Bonin Islands Ferry - Tokyo - Kushiro Ferry

The same routine, wake up around 4:30am and head for the decks to start our seabirding. We were greeted by more BONIN PETRELs and BULWER'S PETRELs, but they soon disappeared, and the WEDGE-TAILED SHEARWATERs were replaced with STREAKED SHEARWATERs. We saw several BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSes feeding behind fishing boats, and several more jaegers flew by. It is unfortunate that we could not stop the boat to view seabirds but such is the case when birding from a ferry. A jumping swordfish (or marlin or something else) broke the horizon, and we saw several probable TRISTRAM'S (SOOTY) STORM-PETRELs.

Species and numbers observed on the two day crossing follow:

1: Day 1 (warmer water) - sunny heading north into scattered clouds - light winds
2: Day 2 (colder water) - scattered to mostly cloudy skies - light winds
NameScientific Name 12
Black-footed AlbatrossPhoebastria nigripes -5
Wedge-tailed ShearwaterPuffinus pacificus 1003
Streaked ShearwaterCalonectris leucomelas -'000s
Short-tailed ShearwaterPuffinus tenuirostris -225
Sooty ShearwaterPuffinus griseus -1
Audubon's ShearwaterPuffinus iherminieri 2-
Matsudaira's Storm-PetrelOceanodroma matsudairae 344
Sooty (Tristram's) Storm-PetrelOceanodroma tristrami -1
Bulwer's PetrelBulweria bulwerii 1256
Bonin PetrelPterodroma hypoleuca 1833
Brown BoobySula leucogaster 49-
Pomarine JaegerStercorarius pomarinus -2
Parasitic JaegerStercorarius parasiticus -1
Long-tailed JaegerStercorarius longicaudus -1
Brown NoddyAnous stolidus 26-
Sooty TernSterna fuscata 2-

Many Flying Fish and a few apparent Swordfish (one with multiple jumps) were seen.

Ships flying the flags of many nations greeted us as we entered Tokyo Bay. SLATY-BACKED and BLACK-TAILED GULLs, GRAY HERONs, and GREAT CORMORANTs were in evidence as we neared the dock. Once docked, the three others left for a Wendy's dinner while I sat with the luggage. Mike left shortly after since he had to return to Misawa for work the next day; our group was down to three. Dad returned, and I hit the fast food and really savored the Frosty! After dinner, we took a taxi to the South Terminal for our 32 hour ferry to Kushiro on Hokkaido, the northernmost of Japan's main islands. A ferry was already there when we arrived but it didn't look like the picture in the brochure. Eventually it left, and a more promising one came in. At 10pm, we boarded that ferry, the Sabrina, found our sleeping quarters which were second class western style (4 sets of bunk beds with curtains for privacy), toured the ship and fell asleep. There were very few people on board, and we had full reign over the eight beds in our section. Most sections were completely empty. The low number of people onboard is probably why this ferry route will be cancelled at the end of this summer.

June 7 - Kushiro Ferry

Woke early, this time at 3:30am for what would prove to be the ultimate pelagic trip. Despite the overcast conditions with rain, the birds started almost immediately with boat loads of STREAKED SHEARWATERs everywhere. SHORT-TAILEDs and the occasional SOOTY SHEARWATER were mixed in. Storm-Petrels viewed through the scope early on appeared to be WILSON'S STORM-PETRELS by flight, shape, and white rump. Several SWINHOE'S STORM-PETRELs were seen, identified by size and short tail. The increasing numbers of SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATERs contained greater numbers of FLESH-FOOTED SHEARWATERs. Scoping the distant waters revealed large flocks of dark-rumped storm petrels, 300-400 at a time which reminded me of storm petrel study tours. The excitement level grew as we encountered our first individual LAYSAN ALBATROSSes and BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSes. The rain finally stopped but we maintained our current positions since the breeze from the ship made birding and scoping very difficult from exposed locations. We saw several pods of Risso's Dolphins and a group of Orcas.

At 1pm, we passed our first fishing boat with an incredible number of birds behind it. I estimated 250 LAYSAN and 150 BLACK-FOOTED ALBATROSSes with a full host of smaller birds. Absolutely an incredible sight which heightened our state of alertness for the much sought after Short-tailed Albatross. We continued to pass fishing boats all afternoon, each harboring the same or slightly less variety and number of seabirds as the first boat. At 3pm, my dad came racing back to the stern to tell me of two albatrosses which had pink bills, two juvenile SHORT-TAILED ALBATROSSes... drat...we looked but couldn't find them. At least he saw them which made me relieved. I started thinking of all the leaders on Shearwater Journeys pelagic trips who had already seen one... with one exception, and that exception still existed. Oh well. We were continuing to plod onwards with many flying and floating albatrosses around.

At 3:15, I looked ahead and... it has a pink bill, it has a white face, panic, jump up and down, get the video camera, we were both looking at an immature SHORT-TAILED ALBATROSS!!!... a dream bird in the flesh, can't they stop the ferry for this momentous occasion? WOW!! The two Japanese birders who were next to us were also delighted. It disappeared just as quickly as it appeared, and we turned our attention to finding... more? SOUTH POLAR SKUAs were now becoming evident as pairs and singles were seemingly in all directions. NORTHERN FULMARs and adult SLATY-BACKED GULLs were numerous. Suddenly, another pink bill and white face... another SHORT-TAILED ALBATROSS just in time for mom who was just emerging on to the deck so we all saw this one. Amazing! Further ahead, a juvenile was afloat with several BLACK-FOOTEDs but it couldn't hide its pink bill. After all that excitement, how could we top it? We couldn't although the adult SHORT-TAILED ALBATROSS I spotted through the scope at a distance was a good attempt. We ended this dream pelagic day with 6 SHORT-TAILED ALBATROSS!!

Eventually, the waters became as smooth as a lake, perfect alcid and cetacean viewing conditions, and we were rewarded with sightings of several JAPANESE MURRELETs. I felt like yelling out "Murrelets" like on a SJ trip but thought better of it as we steamed onwards. A few more were seen by all interested parties as well as groups of basking Northern Fur Seals, a surprise Minke Whale, some groups of Dall's Porpoises and a RHINOCEROS AUKLET. The day ended with an albino SOOTY/SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER. Tallying numbers while slurping a cup of noodles rounded out this most incredible day of pelagic birding. Species and numbers follow:

1: Day 1 - light rain most of the day and overcast but viewing conditions were good. Rains stopped in the afternoon and what winds there were ended so that the seas were flat calm with optimal viewing conditions.
2: Day 2 - light rain but still not much wind for good viewing - only three hours before docking and all in Hokkaido waters.
NameScientific Name 12
Laysan AlbatrossPhoebastria immutabilis 1470!!!177
Short-tailed Albatross!!!2Phoebastria albatrus 6!!!-
Black-footed AlbatrossPhoebastria nigripes 493!!!1
Streaked ShearwaterCalonectris leucomelas 35000-
Short-tailed ShearwaterPuffinus tenuirostris 7500012302
Short-tailed/Sooty Shearwater  2500
(1 albino)
Sooty ShearwaterPuffinus griseus 403-
Flesh-footed Shearwater3Puffinus carneipes 10741
Northern FulmarFulmarus glacialis 7674
Sooty (Tristram's) Storm-Petrel4Oceanodroma tristrami 207-
Swinhoe's Storm-Petrel4Oceanodroma tristrami 25-
unidentified dark storm-petrel4  2440-
Wilson's Storm-Petrel5Oceanodroma oceanicus 20-
Leach's Storm-Petrel6Oceanodroma leucorhoa 257
Band-rumped Storm-Petrel7Oceanodroma castro 32-
undientified white-rumped storm-petrel  30-
Bonin Petrel8Pterodroma hypoleuca 1-
South Polar SkuaCatharacta maccormicki 20-25!!!9-
Pomarine JaegerStercorarius pomarinus 2-
Parasitic JaegerStercorarius parasiticus -3
Long-tailed JaegerStercorarius longicaudus 1-
Slaty-backed GullLarus schistisagus 30+
Black-tailed GullLarus crassirostris 5+
Rhincoeros AukletCerohinca monocerata 21
Japanese (Crested) Murrelet10Synthliboramphus wumizusume 4-
Japanese/Ancient Murrelet  5-
Common MurreUria aalge -6


  1. This number is not a typo. From noon onwards, we were passing fishing boats which had 250+ Laysan's in their wake... sometimes a string of albatrosses would last for several hundred yards behind the boats. The nearest points of land appeared to be the Rikuchu Kaigan Coast between Kinkazan (Miyagi Prefecture) and Miyako (Iwate? Prefecture) on Honshu's east coast. The sightings started around 12:30pm and lasted until about 6:00pm.

  2. I almost jumped overboard when I saw these! My dad saw the first two flying ahead of the boat while I was viewing at the stern. Details follow:

    Obs.TimeDistance from boatActivity AgePlumage
    13pmnot farflyingjuvnot known
    23pmnot farflyingjuvnot known
    33:30pm15 metersfloatingimm prominent white on face with blotchy white underparts
    43:35pm20 metersfloatingimm prominent white on face with blotchy white underparts
    53:40pm15 metersfloatingjuv apparently all brown with big pink bill
    63:55pm500 metersfloatingadult WOW! At a distance through the Kowa but still unmistakable!!!

    The three that were floating close to the ship as we motored by were apparently not at all concerned with our presence. They just paddled a few feet further away from the ship. No bands were seen although each one could have had 50 bands which we could not have seen! There was possibly a 7th bird but I was busy concentrated on watching #5!

  3. These became quite common and were interspersed in the throngs of Short-tailed Shearwaters. About 90% of them had significant wing molt which made them very easy to spot since the Short-taileds and Sooties did not show any noticeable wing molt. Interest to note that Flesh-footeds that show up off northern California are usually pristine in plumage which can't be said for Sooties (molt).

  4. Dark-rumped storm petrels were very common during the morning of day 1. Probably most of the unidentified dark-rumped petrels were Sooties but I was conservative with the ids. The Swinhoe's were seen in the morning and could easily be distinguished by size and wing length. The Sooties (and the unidents) were seen all morning, sometimes in groups of hundreds but not very close to the ship. It reminded me of storm petrel study tours with large groups on the water with other large groups flying in the background. The storm-petrel total numbers are conservative.

  5. Wilson's were seen at around 6am. The closest land was Cape Inubo in Chiba? Prefecture. They were identifed by wing shape and flight behavior. Several more were seen during the morning. These are relatively scarce in Japan (I think) so this may be significant.

  6. The first Leach's were seen in the late afternoon of the first day as we left the offshore waters of Honshu towards Hokkaido. Size, flight, and amount of white on the rump were obvious.

  7. Several seen at about 6am on day 1 with the Wilson's. More noticeable near Ojika Peninsula (Sendai - Miyagi Prefecture). Distinguished by flight and size.

  8. One seen with the throngs of shearwaters at around 9am. This is a rare bird off Honshu but with all the practice at identifying this bird near the Bonin Islands, there was no problem with the id (no dark cap or two toned wings among other things) although Stejneger's would have been nice!

  9. I did not expect to see the numbers that were there but I was thrilled with the numbers (after all, it is my phone number!). These started up when we reached the main stream of Short-tailed/Sooties flying north. First one bird, then pairs of skuas until, during the height of the action, 4-6 were in view at once. I did not see any that appeared to be Antarctic although I was looking.

  10. The waters were so placid during the late afternoon and evening of day 1 that alcids were easy to see. We practically ran over two pairs of Japanese Murrelets, and we were able to see the distinguishing black and white pattern on the head/neck. Others were not seen well enough for positve id.

The cetaceans on the Tokyo-Kushiro Ferry were also noteworthy as referenced by the following list:
OrcaOrcinus orca4 pod with no tall-finned male
Minke WhaleBalaenoptera Acutorostrata1 thanks to the calm seas during the evening
Risso's DolphinGrampus griseus6 1 group
Pac. White-sided DolphinLagenorhynchus obliquidens 221 group
Dall's PorpoisePhocoenoides dalli 14 (day 1)
33 (day 2)
many groups
Northern Fur SealCallorhinus ursinus 50+many groups loafing on the surface

The Tokyo to Kushiro ferry will be closing down operations later this year although a second ferry (currently operational) connects Mito to Kushiro. This will cut the total ferry time by probably about 6 hours so I don't know when the ferry would be passing along the Rikuchu Kaigan Coast where the albatrosses were.

The ferry was very comfortable, and hardly anybody was on board (maybe 30 other folks total - only two other birders). Second class accomodations were comfortable bunk beds. Food on board out of vending machines (cup of noodles, beverages, etc) or dining in the restaurant (fair selection although expensive)

Another birder showed up at the minshuku at Furen-ko where we were staying and mentioned 1500 Laysan's and 4 Short-tailed Albatrosses on his crossing on the ferry which was five days later. The same ones?

June 8 - Kushiro - Furen-ko (Hokkaido)

Woke at 4:30 am since dawn was breaking earlier and earlier each day. I took my position on the deck and, once again, it was raining. However, it didn't take long for the first LAYSAN ALBATROSSes to show up. New birds on the first few hours of seawatching included COMMON MURREs and several PARASITIC JAEGERs. Many small groups of Dall's Porpoises (more than I have ever seen) rooster-tailed near the ship.

At 7:30am, the ferry docked at Kushiro, Hokkaido. Mom called the rental car office and in a half hour, we were picked up and transported to the office and collected our rental car. As the rain continued, we started our two hour drive to Furen-ko in the northeastern corner of Hokkaido.

One hour into our journey, we stopped at an area that looked birdable, a building and a parking area overlooking the Lake Akkeshi-Bekanbeushi Marsh which is a RAMSAR site. The Waterfowl Observation Center had two levels, the first housed exhibits and an informative film on Japanese Cranes, the dangers of lead shot, etc. The second level looked out over the surrounding marshes and had four telescopes set up for viewing. We were lucky to see our first JAPANESE CRANEs, several WHITE-TAILED EAGLEs, two WHOOPER SWANs, several TUFTED DUCKs, many GRAY HERONS and BLACK-BROWED REED WARBLERs and COMMON REED BUNTINGs. FORK-TAILED SWIFTs, BARN SWALLOWs, and SAND MARTINs with an occasional RED-RUMPED SWALLOW hawked insects low over the marshes which allowed for superior viewing. Outside, JAPANESE BUSH WARBLERs and EASTERN CROWNED WILLOW WARBLERs called, sounds which are commonly heard in almost all wooded areas in Japan.

We piled back into the car and continued onwards but found the time to stop several more times, each time yielding new species. GREAT, WILLOW, and COAL TITs greeted us in one woods in addition to a very different sound. The sound was weird, and I had to track it down. It was a sound I had never heard before, and I couldn't even place it in a family. Suddenly, I saw a bird flying overhead, a fast, stiff wing-beat and a chunky body, and a long bill and I realized that this was the songster, a LATHAM'S SNIPE, a Japanese breeding endemic which I had really wanted to see. We watched for a while and then continued.

A EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK flew along the road with the car for a while, and a HOBBY landed on a telephone pole for good viewing. A side dirt road looked appealing so we made a brief but rewarding stop. Since the rains had finally ended, birds were singing from exposed perches, and we saw our first SIBERIAN STONECHATs and BLACK-FACED BUNTINGs. While watching one STONECHAT, a stunning SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT emerged, sang a few bars, and disappeared into the denser vegetation. Several brightly plumaged LONG-TAILED ROSEFINCHes and many ORIENTAL GREENFINCHes fed on dandelions and thistles by the side of the road. More LATHAM'S SNIPEs performed aerial acrobatics overhead. From time to time, the snipes would make aerial dives from great heights and they made a sound like a freight train while descending, a lasting memory.

We eventually arrived at Furen-ko and located the minshuku, our home for the next four nights. The minshuku overlooks some mudflats which, thankfully held a single FAR EASTERN CURLEW, a very late migrant but much appreciated since it was a life shorebird! The owner, Matsuo-san, is a birder who speaks English which helped a great deal.

Having unloaded most of our luggage, we were anxious to explore the nearby area, specifically Shunkunitae Nature Reserve, a nearby area which harbored some special birds. Our walk started in another local park which held the usual assortment of tits and CROWNED WILLOW WARBLERs with the addition of a JAPANESE PYGMY WOODPECKER. Reorienting ourselves, we found the boardwalk into Shunkunitae and looked for specialties. However, since it was mid-afternoon, our chances were not good, and we only got a brief glimpse of a LANCEOLATED GRASSHOPPER WARBLER, a hard-to-see species even in the best of times.

We headed back to the minshuku so that I could unload my luggage (my room was ready). Matsuo-san asked if we would like to go look for the BLAKISTON'S FISH-OWL, a species I knew would be very difficult and would require incredible luck to see. Twenty minutes later, we were standing on a bridge overlooking a creek, binoculars and flashlights in hand. At 6:30, the owls started calling, first the male and then the male and female together. Unfortunately, they called 53 times but seemingly never moved a muscle, and we never saw them. We did, however, see the bright sapphire flash of a EURASIAN KINGFISHER fly under the bridge, and heard SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT, COMMON TREECREEPER, LONG-TAILED ROSEFINCH. WHITE-THROATED NEEDLETAILs (a swift) and the weird flight calls of EURASIAN WOODCOCKs and LATHAM's SNIPEs overhead. A good evening although, afterward, we were unable to find a place to eat due to the time so we opted for cup of noodles and then sleep.

June 9 - Furen-ko

Woke early and headed out to Shunkunitae in hopes of seeing Locustella warblers. We were rewarded with a MIDDENDORFF'S GRASSHOPPER WARBLER which perched on the boardwalk and further ahead, a LANCEOLATED GRASSHOPPER WARBLER which also briefly perched on the boardwalk. Surprisingly, the Middendorff's remained silent but the insect like trills of the Lanceolated were everywhere proving that they had definitely arrived. Further along the trail, a beautiful SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT sang from a treetop while numerous GREAT, MARSH, and COAL TITs and EURASIAN NUTHATCHes moved through the closer trees. Tapping revealed a stunning GREAT-SPOTTED WOODPECKER while in the denser part of the woods, a pair of RED-FLANKED BLUETAILs chased each other while WREN and another SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT called in the background. Both Black Woodpecker and Eurasian Wryneck were said to occur in the area but we came up empty on both.

In the open area of the boardwalk, a regal pair of JAPANESE CRANEs were feeding which allowed for optimal viewing. EURASIAN WIGEONs swam in the background while BLACK-FACED BUNTINGs, BLACK-BACKED WAGTAILs, and ORIENTAL GREENFINCHes completed the background repertoire. In more open areas, (JAPANESE) SKYLARKs graced the skies with their music filling the air. JUNGLE CROWs and CARRION CROWs were always in view. We saw several more MIDDENDORFF'S GRASSHOPPER WARBLERs performing their short aerial song as we trekked back to the minshuku for breakfast.

Breakfast was delicious and included scrambled eggs with mushrooms, ham, salad, several slices of toast with a selection of four types of homemade jams and cafe au lait. If this doesn't sound Japanese, try eating it with chopsticks! Afterwards, we decided to explore a trail later to be known as the fish owl trail due to its proximity to the fish owl bridge. In the woods along the trail, we saw numerous tits and nuthatches, ASIAN BROWN FLYCATCHER, SAKHALIN WARBLER (a split from Pale-legged Warbler), many EASTERN CROWNED WILLOW WARBLERs, LONG-TAILED TITs and LONG-TAILED ROSEFINCHes. On our return trip, a Red Fox loped along the road ahead of us.

We then decided to explore Nisupo Misaki, the cape northeast of Furen-ko where I hoped to find Spectacled Guillemot. We wove our way through the town of Nemuro and then found our way to the outer cape which reminded me superficially of Point Reyes. We did find numerous GREATER SCAUP, and another stop allowed us to study GLAUCOUS GULL, SLATY-BACKED GULL and BLACK-TAILED GULL alongside each other. A group of five HARLEQUIN DUCKs steamed by in the surf. A closer study of the gulls offshore produced a dozen BLACK-LEGGED KITTIWAKEs. No guillemots or Red-faced Cormorants though. Timing was always on our mind as we wanted to be back at the fish-owl bridge by 6:30. This we did after watching several EURASIAN BULLFINCHes feeding on dandelion seeds by the side of the road. Once again, the BLAKISTON'S FISH-OWLs hooted although not as frequently as the preceding night. They, once again, stayed out of sight which confirmed the next night's plans. We all enjoyed the EURASIAN WOODCOCKs and LATHAM'S SNIPEs while an invisible GRAY'S GRASSHOPPER WARBLER belted out its song from a hidden perch. We ended our vigil at 7:30 and went back to the minshuku to dine and sleep.

June 10 - Rausu Pass (Hokkaido)

Early wake up at 2:30 for a 3:00 am departure for Rausu Pass to look for Japanese Accentor. Since dawn breaks at 3:15am, its almost impossible to be in a birding area 2.5 hours away at anytime near dawn without forfeiting an entire night's sleep, and we opted for sleep. The roads to Rausu Pass are very good although the speed limits are low compared to those in the U.S., and we only slowed for viewing groups of Sika Deer in nearby fields. We arrived at the pass with high hopes for a successful outing. The first hour of the search produced a brilliant singing SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT, enough BLACK-FACED BUNTINGs to sink a ship, several EURASIAN BULLFINCHes, a SIBERIAN STONECHAT, a calling ORIENTAL CUCKOO, a GRAY WAGTAIL, and FORK-TAILED SWIFTs overhead. Another 45 minutes (it seemed longer since we pished the whole time) of meandering up and down the road checking the stunted pines and bending our ears for strange calls went by with no success. Suddenly, when both my dad and I happened to be in the same spot on the road, a JAPANESE ACCENTOR lit on top of a pine tree for 20 seconds allowing us an excellent view of this brown bird. Afterwards, it was gone, back to its annoying habit of spending its life hopping on the ground in dense cover. Jubilant with success (it was a life bird for my dad also), we descended a bit and turned our attention to the beautiful snow capped mountains that were around us, the numerous Sika Deer and the other forest sounds which included BROWN THRUSH, NARCISSUS FLYCATCHER, OLIVE TREE-PIPIT and all those tits again.

We slowly descended to the ocean once again heading south, passing through small towns alive with the color of tulips, marigolds, and daffodils in private gardens along the main road. Spring comes late, and winter comes early, so the flowers are concentrated into a 3-4 month window. We journeyed out to Natsuke Hanto, a hook of land stretching out into the sea in the hopes of finding Common Redshank which I wanted to see since it is a shorebird. On our drive out to the lighthouse at the end of the road, we saw about a half dozen JAPANESE CRANEs, and scope scanning did net a very late migrating group of MONGOLIAN PLOVERs, two in bright summer garb. MIDDENDORFF'S GRASSHOPPER WARBLERs, BLACK-BROWED REED WARBLERs and ORIENTAL GREENFINCHes were everywhere. No Redshanks though and we left as quickly as we had come.

In several towns that we passed through, there were expanses of pebbles that people were grooming. Eventually we found out that these were areas for drying seaweed and in most towns, people were laying out seaweed, smoothing out the pebbles, or harvesting the seaweed to be used in soups and other food. Further south, we checked groups of ducks but could not locate any Falcated Teal. We arrived back at Furen-ko in time for a quick check of Shunkunitae although 4pm is not an advisable time to see birds. 6:30 found us back a the fish-owl bridge listening to the owls, and 7:45 had us back at the minshuku making plans for the following day and our fourth attempt a the owls.

June 11 - Furen-ko

The resident GRAY'S GRASSHOPPER WARBLER was belting out its tune at 3:15 which is much better than a wakeup rooster. Today, I was determined to see this most difficult to see bird. After careful searching, I caught a few glimpses and eventually managed a view through binoculars. A few RED-CHEEKED STARLINGs cavorted nearby, and a BULL-HEADED SHRIKE pounced on unseen prey for an early breakfast. We headed for the fish-owl trail again. During a long walk, I was able to locate several HAWFINCHes at a distance as well as a few EURASIAN JAYs. At one point, I heard a very persistent woodpecker which seemed quite riled up, and it was later joined by several raucous jays. At that point, I knew they were probably mobbing an owl, and several minutes later, I saw a URAL OWL winging silently through the woods in search of another diurnal roost. I returned to the car to hear that my folks had been seeing quite a few birds on the trail including ASIAN BROWN and NARCISSUS FLYCATCHERs, LONG-TAILED TITs and lots of EURASIAN NUTHATCHes.

We headed back to the minshuku for breakfast and a chance to trade stories with an English couple who had just arrived. The breakfast was delicious and filled the void that had formed in my stomach after the long hike. Matsuo-san pinpointed another area to look for Black Woodpeckers since Shunkunitae was not producing this species. After breakfast, we piled into the vehicles again and headed off in the general direction. A brief stop near a marsh allowed us to view a family of JAPANESE CRANEs with two two-week old chicks. Due to a few complications with maps, we walked quite a bit on trails leading to nowhere although one trail did have several RED-FLANKED BLUETAILs and a sauntering Red Fox. No trails led to Black Woodpecker marks though. Finally, we located a main road, looked at the map, got our bearings and triangulated the correct road. 2 kms down the road, we located Black Woodpecker markings although we found no birds. However, we did see a WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER and an exquisite pair of alternate plumaged COMMON REDSHANKs. Our afternoon completed, we returned to the infamous fish-owl bridge and soon found ourselves in much more favorable circumstances. Although the owls did not call, we did see one large shape... that had ears! It flew to a nearby tree, and we got the flashlight on it although the view was not good due to interfering vegetation. It was better than not seeing it at all!. Back to the minshuku afterwards and sleep which came quickly with the realization that we did not need to stand on the bridge again the following evening.

June 12 - Furen-ko - Kushiro

We headed back to the fish-owl trail one last time with my parents as they were leaving on the ferry from Kushiro to Tokyo at noon. Nothing new on the trails until my dad spotted a SOOTY FLYCATCHER near the parking area. In the same flock was a SAKHALIN WARBLER which allowed for good views since we were able to look down on it. Afterwards, we returned to the minshuku for breakfast which lived up to its usual standards of excellence. We then departed for Kushiro with map of the city in hand. Unfortunately, we knew where we were on the map but didn't know the location of the ferry terminal so we decided to drive through town, get to the coast, turn right, and wait until something looked familiar. This, thankfully, worked (in addition to the sign that said "Ferry Terminal 2 kms.") and I wished my folks a good trip home with hopes that the southbound ferry would be as good as the northbound. Our group of five was down to one.

After a few stops in town, I headed back to Furen-ko but decided to take the coast road which would be more scenic and could harbor a few other birds. The road was almost void of traffic, and the seacoast scenery was spectacular although there were very few birds other than one inlet which held quite a few gulls including my first Hokkaido BLACK-HEADED GULLs. I stopped at Cape Ochiishi which I knew had Guillemots but I did so halfheartedly as I was very tired from all the driving. I did manage a few fine views of TEMMINCK'S CORMORANTs at their breeding colony. I returned to the minshuku after an evening drive through the woods where viewing EURASIAN WOODCOCKs strutting in the headlights was a change from watching their aerial antics.

June 13 - Furen-ko - Natsuke Hanto - Cape Ochiishimisaki (Hokkaido)

An early wakeup since, at this point, I was seemingly obsessed with finding a Black Woodpecker. Driving along the dirt forest road yielded many fine views of EURASIAN WOODCOCKs strutting around in the road including video footage of birds in the headlights. The walk down to the woodpecker spot had many calling JAPANESE ROBINs and BROWN THRUSHes along with the usual cast of avian characters. When I reached the spot, I was amazed to hear nearby BLACK WOODPECKER noises and finally, one emerged from the forest and probed a nearby dead tree. As I watched, another flew in, and then a third called from close by. I reveled in the moment and temporarily forgot about the other birds I was looking for. Finally, the woodpeckers moved on, and I decided to search for the Hazel Grouse that Matsuo-san had mentioned was in the area. No Hazel Grouse regardless of trying to produce the proper whistle by blowing through two 5-yen coins. I did see several WHITE'S GROUND THRUSHes - at least better views than the one that I saw on Mt. Fuji. I headed back to the minshuku at 7:30 in time for breakfast.

Afterward, I asked Matsuo-san about Yellow-breasted Bunting, a previously very common species which was now quite rare due to the harvesting of this species on its wintering grounds to the south. He said that the tip of Natsuke Hanto was best so I opted to try for the species. I arrived at the spot on a hot windy day at about 10am so I thought I was crazy for even trying. I checked the area around the lighthouse and came up empty other than the first LITTLE GREBE for the trip. I checked the bird recording again while I regained my strength in the car and then headed in a different direction. Suddenly, I heard a familiar sound, a sound that was on the tape recording but I had thought that I had turned the tape recorder off and left it in the car! Much to my surprise, I had stumbled into the territory of a male YELLOW-BREASTED BUNTING, a brilliant chestnut and yellow bunting which sang like a meadowlark from the tops of the bushes. I was ecstatic, as I had thought my chances for this bird were close to nil. I hiked onwards but did not see much other than the common ORIENTAL GREENFINCHes, MIDDENDORFF'S GRASSHOPPER WARBLERs, and LONG-TAILED ROSEFINCHes and (JAPANESE) SKYLARKs. On the way back, I saw two male YELLOW-BREASTED BUNTINGs. I never did see any females and could only hope that they were sitting on eggs somewhere in the low vegetation.

I then opted for another hike out to the spot where Common Redshanks were said to be common. I thought it would also be my best chance for a Falcated Teal. I found the trail, hiked out to the very end with my scope, set it up to view some JAPANESE CRANEs and, immediately, two ducks emerged from behind some sparse vegetation. I took a look and recognized the distinctive shape of the male FALCATED TEAL and again was quite excited with the find. Only two ducks in the whole place, and they were the ones that I was looking for! I watched them for 45 minutes but, unfortunately, they did not come closer so videos were out if the question.

I got back to the car and decided to head to Cape Ochiishimisaki again to look for Spectacled Guillemot and Red-faced Cormorant since I seemed to be on a run of good luck. While driving, I caught sight of a Eurasian Tree Sparrow type bird on a telephone wire and, since I had just remembered that I had not seen Russet Sparrow yet (who looks for a Tree Sparrow lookalike anyway?), I decided to stop and investigate. Much to my surprise, I noticed a very rusty crown and nape, no earmark, and more white on the wing than a Tree Sparrow. Without any effort, RUSSET SPARROW had become my fourth life bird of the day! It flew off and I continued on. Further, I spotted a cuckoo on a telephone wire and stopped to take a look. It was a rufous phase bird that I had not seen before, and I thought the barring below was more even than the common cuckoos I had previously seen. I was staring at my oft heard but never seen ORIENTAL CUCKOO and luckily it called after flying into the trees which confirmed the identification. This was captured on video.

I finally arrived at Cape Ochiishi and ventured further around the cape before deciding on my viewing spot with much better results. I immediately found several SPECTACLED GUILLEMOTs, a new pelagic bird for me. They sound very much like our own Pigeon Guillemots (and probably Black Guillemots). After watching their movements, I started to scan the horizon and found throngs of SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATERs that included four LAYSAN ALBATROSSes which I had never seen on a sea-watch (the Pt. Arena bird loafing in the cove didn't count!). Further scoping revealed another surprise; an immature HORNED PUFFIN that I knew was a rare sight in summer. Many of the shearwaters were coming relatively close to land and diving at the surface to what must have been a very large school of fish considering the area that they were covering. While I scoped, a fawn Sika Deer stood nearby, and a MIDDENDORFF'S GRASSHOPPER WARBLER sang from several very close fence posts. I actually saw a LAYSAN ALBATROSS and a MIDENDORFF'S GRASSHOPPER WARBLER in the same scope view although each was way out of focus!

I told Matsuo-san about the shearwaters when I returned to the minshuku, and he mentioned to me that a fisherman friend of his had earlier delivered to him four dead Short-tailed Shearwaters which had been caught in his nets for the first time ever. This led me to believe that whatever was going on out there was unusual. After my tasty cup of noodle and a hot shower and bath, I slept.

June 14 - Furen-ko - Cape Ochiishimisaki (Hokkaido)

Another early search for the Hazel Grouse netted more stunning views of a BLACK WOODPECKER as well as several GREAT-SPOTTED WOODPECKERs and WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKERs. A cooperative female RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL chipped on an overhead branch while a pair of ASIAN BROWN FLYCATCHERs was busily building their nest. The highlight, however, was the flock of JAPANESE GREEN PIGEONs that began calling 100 yards down the trail from where I sat. I raced to a vantagepoint and watched and video'd as they sang their very sonorous song that can only be described as unmistakable. After enjoying them for nearly ten minutes, they flew off, never to be seen again. The Hazel Grouse search proved unsuccessful so I made y way back to the minshuku for breakfast. Afterwards, I slept for a while since the long string of early mornings and long hikes was beginning to take its toll.

A bit refreshed, I headed out to do another sea-watch at Cape Ochiishimisaki with fantastic results. Five hours of sea watching produced the following:
Yellow-billed LoonGavia adamsii1
Pacific (or Arctic) LoonGavia ...2
Laysan AlbatrossDiomedea immutabilis96
Short-tailed ShearwaterPuffinus tenuirostris85000
Sooty ShearwaterPuffinus griseus225
Flesh-footed ShearwaterPuffinus carneipes1
Northern FulmarFulmarus glacialis5000
Red-faced Cormorant 1Phalacrocorax urile1
Pelagic CormorantPhalacrocorax pelagicus20
Temminck's CormorantPhalacrocorax capillatus45
South Polar Skua 2Catharacta maccormicki1
Pomarine JaegerStercorarius pomarinus149
Jaeger (unident)Stercorarius ...5
Black-legged KittiwakeRissa tridactyla15
Black-tailed GullLarus crassirostris10
Slaty-backed GullLarus schistisagus75
Spectacled GuillemotCepphus carbo7
Rhinoceros AukletCerohinca monocerata350
Least Auklet 3Aethia pusilla1
PeregrineFalco peregrinus1


  1. A full alternate plumaged adult in the water. It eventually flew off to its breeding grounds on an offshore island to the east
  2. One surprise individual flew east along the coast, close, then circled around and flew west again. This was rare since they are usually only seen from shore under windy conditions.
  3. Although common in winter, this is a rare bird in summer in this area.

The highlights were everything but special note to the adult RED-FACED CORMORANT (life bird - very few breeding in Japan and only on several rocky islets accessible only by boat), and LEAST AUKLET (life bird). The loons were also unexpected. It was 6pm when I finally left, and my cup of noodles was waiting for me back at the minshuku as well as a hot bath. I had a conversation with Matsuo-san and several other Japanese birders about the habits of pelagic birds, migration, food, etc. and finally succumbed to sleep.

June 15 - Hokkaido

The morning started with an unfruitful search for the Hazel Grouse although I had several more views of WHITE'S GROUND THRUSHes. The JAPANESE GREEN PIGEONs were calling as were RED-FLANKED BLUETAILs and LANCEOLATED GRASSHOPPER WARBLERs. A GOOSANDER family with very young ducklings wove their way through the channels of water. I returned to Shunkunitae but had no luck with the Wrynecks although a large group of EURASIAN WIGEONs dropped by for decent viewing. A return to Ochiishimisaki followed breakfast but the previous day's performance could not be matched. By 12:30pm, 20 LAYSAN ALBATROSSes and 8 jaegers had winged by, and then the fog rolled in which enveloped everything and lasted the remainder of the day.

I had been lucky since this part of Japan was known for this thick fog and this was the first that I had encountered. On the way back to the car, I was attacked by a Japanese Devil Crow otherwise known as a Jungle Crow which attacked me along the trail for no apparent reason other than I must have been near a nest without my knowledge. Poe should have titled his poem "The Jungle Crow". I returned to the minshuku for a quick nap and then decided to return to the fish-owl woods for a hike. It turned out to be a 4.5-hour hike with no new birds to speak of other than possibly a calling Hodgson's Hawk Cuckoo. The hike took me through various forest habitats from the deciduous trees near the river with calling GRAY'S GRASSHOPPER WARBLERs and SAKHALIN WARBLERs to higher mixed evergreen woods with grasses where Sika Deer and RUFOUS TURTLE-DOVEs and EURASIAN JAYs were common. I returned to an almost empty minshuku at the end of the day as everyone had left except one guest. I joined them for a cup of green tea and a grapefruit, a strange combination but it tasted good. My fond farewells given, I retired early as I would be leaving the minshuku and Hokkaido the following day for the next leg of my journey.

June 16 - Hokkaido - Misawa (Honshu)

I slept in until 4am and then packed, loaded the car, and left. I checked out a few of my favorite spots by car but the very dense fog allowed for minimal viewing. The song of the local GRAY'S GRASSHOPPER WARBLER pierced the fog, as did the scratchy calls of the local GRAY STARLINGs and the eloquent songster, a nearby BLACK-BROWED RED WARBLER. Ten minutes after leaving the minshuku, the rains started, the first rains since arriving on Hokkaido eight days before. The rain strengthened as I neared Kushiro.

The rental car returned, I enjoyed two concern-free 45-minute flights to Sapporo in western Hokkaido and then to Misawa which is located about 30 miles from the northern tip of the Main Island of Honshu. There, my brother, Mike, fetched me at the airport. We dropped off luggage and darted off to a nearby duck pond where Mike usually can find Japanese Wagtails. We arrived and immediately, my ever-growing Japan list (yeah, right!) increased by COMMON COOT, COMMON MOORHEN, an over-summering COMMON POCHARD with a wing problem, and a BEWICK'S SWAN. LITTLE CUCKOO and COMMON CUCKOO called in the distance. Having completed our walk, we were almost in the car when we heard wagtails and Mike's keen eyes spotted a family group of four JAPANESE WAGTAILs in one of the bushes in the center of the pond. It was interesting to see both JAPANESE and GRAY WAGTAILs there but no Black-backed. However, shortly after leaving, we saw several BLACK-BACKED WAGTAILs. When we returned home, we took a short walk to where several AZURE-WINGED MAGPIEs lived, and one of them played hide-and-seek with us. A highlight of the evening was an American style home cooked meal!

June 17 - Misawa

A rooster replaced the Gray's Grasshopper Warbler as an alarm clock this morning and, thankfully, dawn broke at 4:15am in Misawa instead of 3:15am. Mike had decided that a good place to drop me off for a productive morning of birding was an extensive area of reeds/rice paddies where several Japanese endemic breeders occurred. Almost before we got out of the car, we started hearing and seeing some of the specialties; several GRAY-HEADED BUNTINGs with their distinctive double collar to the left, a JAPANESE REED WARBLER trilled to the right, and two JAPANESE REED BUNTINGs flitted through some nearby brush. Completing the cacophony of sound were the ubiquitous calls of the BLACK-BROWED REED WARBLERs. Several EASTERN MARSH HARRIERs winged overhead with the numerous BLACK-EARED KITEs.

With this introduction to the marsh, Mike left me behind so he could go to work. I wandered a bit, taking a short video of a JAPANESE REED BUNTING here, the synchronous flight of two EASTERN MARSH HARRIERs over there, and a JAPANESE REED WARBLER which clung to a blade of grass. The JAPANESE REED WARBLERs were interesting in that, many times, they would emote their song while in short flight. As I looked over the marsh, it was easy to get an idea of their numbers just by the warblers in short flight. A larger, louder warbler turned out to be the ORIENTAL GREAT REED WARBLER, the species that I had seen at Kawaguchi-ko so many days before. After some short videotaping, I found a spot to store my telescope and daypack, as I did not want to wander around with all that extra weight all morning.

The first trail off the main dirt road proved worthwhile and gave me a chance to study male JAPANESE REED BUNTINGs alongside COMMON REED BUNTINGs. The two are easy to separate since the male JAPANESE REED BUNTING lacks the white collar (among other things) of the COMMON REED BUNTING. What appeared to be a gray lump in the trail ahead, on closer inspection, had a cocked tail and a red bill, a WATER RAIL, a species I knew I wanted to see but had not given myself positive odds. When it saw me coming (or was it the camera), it quickly bolted off the trail, never to be seen or heard for the remainder of the day. I counted myself lucky on this one. Further ahead, a duck flew by that reminded me a great deal of a female Wood Duck, rather small with a long tail. It circled around and flew right at me then veered overhead showing white on the face and white edges to the speculum. Indeed, this was a female MANDARIN but could I count this without seeing a stunning male?

After a while, I decided that it was time to rest and I fell asleep in the middle of the trail propped up by my daypack. A half-hour later, I awoke, slightly refreshed and ready to bird the remainder of the morning. The sun was finally breaking through, and the BLACK-EARED KITEs were starting to fly. They would fly circles, ever higher, until reaching the level of an apparent easterly wind that took them off to who knows where, a better feeding area perhaps? Since it was mid-June, I doubted that I was seeing any sort of migration. At one point, a GOSHAWK joined the group but opted for a dive down to earth rather than continuing east with the kites. Several COMMON BUZZARDs occasionally joined the circling kites.

At 12:10pm, a surprise call came from a nearby patch of tall reeds. Thankfully, listening to the Japanese Bird tapes on the ride to the marsh had paid off, and I knew that I was listening to a SCHRENCK'S LITTLE BITTERN, a species that Mike had mentioned was a marsh breeder but he had seen it only once. When Mike came to get me, another SCHRENCK'S LITTLE BITTERN called, the first he had ever heard! Again, I had a lucky day. The afternoon was spent resting at home and getting caught up on a few things. Lee flew in at 6:40, and we were back to a threesome again. Dinner was at a noodle restaurant; it doesn't sound like much but it sure hit the spot and it was filling. It didn't take long to fall asleep.

June 18 - Misawa

The roosters were the alarm clock again, and Mike and I ventured out to the reed beds/rice paddies again via a nearby sandy area to look for Kentish Plover and anything else that may be around. Soon after we arrived, we spotted several KENTISH PLOVERs (a.k.a. Snowy Plover) and we also found BLACK-BACKED WAGTAIL to be common. RUFOUS TURTLE-DOVES were in the area as well as plenty of ORIENTAL GREENFINCHes. Upon arrival at the reedbeds, I realized that today was a little slower than the preceding day although the BLACK-BROWED REED WARBLERs seem to be a bit more cooperative than the day before. At around 9 am, a call emanated from a nearby reed bed which proved to be a CHINESE YELLOW BITTERN, a species I had seen in Malaysia. However, it only called once and from the confines of the reeds, so seeing it was out of the question. Videotaping GRAY-HEADED BUNTINGs and JAPANESE REED WARBLERs took up the remainder of the morning. A few COMMON BUZZARDs were in the air, and the EASTERN MARSH HARRIERs were still flying overhead. Mike joined me at noon, and we were quickly home to enjoy lunch. The afternoon was spent talking with Lee and enjoying peace and quiet and catching up on sleep. A home cooked meal ended the day.

June 19 - Misawa Hills

An early start to what would prove to be a very rewarding day with AZURE-WINGED MAGPIEs on a telephone wire and a HAWFINCH feeding in a roadside tree. Mike and I journeyed up into the hills to the west of Misawa in search of some of the foothill species which are not found in Hokkaido or in the lowlands near Misawa. We spied a few JAPANESE WAGTAILs on the way along, and a EUROPEAN SPARROWHAWK flew behind us as we climbed in elevation.

Our first full stop along the river which paralleled the road was prompted by an image of a tiny lump perched atop a dead snag of a large tree. Closer inspection through the Kowa showed that it was a male BLUE-AND-WHITE FLYCATCHER, a species very closely resembling a Black-throated Blue Warbler in plumage but definitely not in habits. Eventually, he and his mate crossed the road but he reappeared, faithful to the same perch. Looking along the river produced a BROWN DIPPER which is very aptly named. A sound which immediately interested Mike came from across the river, and he excitedly announced that it was a RUDDY KINGFISHER, a species he had never seen but had heard only a few times. We heard it three or four times but it stayed invisible to us. Being a crepuspular species, this would be our only chance to see it as we would not be there for the evening chorus.

We journeyed further, and I heard a song that reminded me of a Japanese Robin although slightly different. Mike said it was a SIBERIAN BLUE ROBIN, a species that I had missed in Hokkaido. A few minutes of searching turned out to be rewarding with a good view of this striking blue backed bird with long legs and forward stance. This species proved to be more common than I thought.

Our final destination was the trails around Tsuta Olsen, a hot springs resort with a system of trails through an adjoining woods. Our targets were Japanese Green Woodpecker, Gray Bunting, Japanese Grosbeaks and male Mandarin. We were greeted in the parking lot by the resident BROWN-EARED BULBULs, JAPANESE PYGMY WOODPECKERs and GREAT TITs. A stop at the first of several reflecting pools yielded another BROWN DIPPER but the male Mandarin eluded us. Signs mentioning the presence of both Ruddy and Crested Kingfishers were as close as we were going to get to these two species. Further along, a GREAT-SPOTTED WOODPECKER with a bill full of juicy grubs flew to a stump to feed the babies squawking from a nest hole. Mike, in the meantime, was tracking down a sound which eventually turned out to be a JAPANESE GREEN WOODPECKER which differs from the European by the barred underparts. Carefully watching them revealed a nearby nest which excited Mike who had never seen their nest before.

The next pond near the trail did have one male MANDARIN calmly swimming along with full sails and immaculate plumage. Unfortunately it was swimming away and did not make a good video opportunity. GRAY BUNTINGs called in the background as did the very common EURASIAN NUTHATCH, EASTERN CROWNED WILLOW WARBLER, and GREAT, WILLOW, and COAL TITs.

Having completed the loop trail, we ended up in the parking lot, looked up, and noticed a circling raptor. Bins activated, we identified it immediately as an ORIENTAL HONEY BUZZARD, another life bird. Luck was on my side as we continued to watch the skies. A small accipiter came into view which turned out to be a JAPANESE SPARROWHAWK, a bird which is even less commonly seen than Sharpies are during the summer. ASIAN HOUSE MARTINs and WHITE-THROATED NEEDLE-TAILs (a swift) performed aerial acrobatics overhead.

After a while, we both went back to the woodpecker spot, cameras in hand hoping to record some of the domestic life of the Japanese Green Woodpeckers. It proved to be quite difficult and, after a few minutes of taping, I opted to continue my wanderings along the trail. I did find one JAPANESE GROSBEAK although the view was not soul satisfying. Later in the afternoon, we reconvened at the car and trekked homeward after making a few fruitless stops for Common Sandpiper along the river. Another delicious dinner awaited us, and the rest of the evening was spent watching previous bird trip videos.

June 20 - Misawa Hills

A return visit was in store this day to Tsuta Olsen for continued monitoring of the woodpeckers and a better glimpse of the Grosbeak and a view of Gray Bunting. We stopped at the Blue-and-white Flycatcher spot and he was back on the usual perch singing away as he was the day before, and the Brown Dipper was still there. No Ruddy Kingfisher though. Along the trails, bird song was evident but nothing like the activity of the previous day. However, I did see GRAY BUNTING, a view of one of three birds which jumped up from a patch of low bamboo and lit in the open for a brief but satisfying view. The Japanese Grosbeaks were quiet and never did reveal themselves. A WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER tapped on a nearby tree and was answered by its nearby mate.

Upon my return to the car, I opted to drive around while Mike continued with the woodpeckers. My first stop was along the river because I wanted to count the number of resident Dippers and to look for Common Sandpipers. The river was full of GRAY WAGTAILs with bills full of food for hidden young. Three Dippers were near one of the manmade falls along the river but these were the only ones I saw. A JAPANESE GREEN WOODPECKER flew into a nearby tree, and I was lucky to get a better view of this one than I had of yesterday's birds. I drove down further and stopped to check for sandpipers at the first spot that we had searched for the preceding afternoon. This time, the results were positive as one lone bird quietly wandered along the rocks looking for bugs. I watched until it went out of sight behind a bend in the river and then took off to get high enough for viewing Arctic Warblers.

A road that Mike had recommended proved to gain altitude rather quickly, and I was suddenly in proper habitat. Timing was against me as it was almost noon but I did manage to see a HAWFINCH and track down a singing ARCTIC WARBLER. A return to the lowlands and a check along another finger of the river yielded a downy COMMON SANDPIPER with a concerned parent looking on. I then drove to the dirt road which harbored yesterday's Siberian Blue Robin and headed further up the road. A long hike revealed a splendid birding road with good potential although, again, the time of day was against me. A JAPANESE SPARROWHAWK called and dive bombed an ORIENTAL HONEY BUZZARD (the same individuals as yesterday?) while GREAT TITs, GREAT-SPOTTED WOODPECKER and the omnipresent JAPANESE BUSH WARBLERs called nearby. Signs for bear were common but I did not see one or observe any signs of one. That would have been exciting!

I returned to the parking lot, Mike came out, and we headed back to Misawa. Dinner was at an all-you-could-eat restaurant where one selected raw meat, fish, chicken, green pepper, etc., brought it back to the table and cooked it on a grill in the center of the table. At least I couldn't complain if it wasn't cooked correctly! More videos rounded out my last full day in Japan.

June 21 - Misawa - Tokyo - Return

A leisurely breakfast started my final day in Japan. My only birding came from a quick walk down the street to check on the AZURE-WINGED MAGPIEs and to hopefully see the family of Hobbys which Mike and Lee had mentioned were nesting nearby. The Magpies cooperated but the Hobbys did not.

Mike was due to pick me up at 10:45 for my 11:30 flight but, due to circumstances beyond our control, this did not happen. I ended up on a 2:55 flight to Tokyo and a very rushed trip through Haneda airport to the shuttle bus to Narita. As we departed Haneda, a COMMON SANDPIPER, which flew in front of the shuttle bus, made me wonder why I had put in the effort to find one near Misawa. I arrived at the Malaysia ticket counter 40 minutes before my international flight and, who knows why, they allowed me to check in (they were just closing down the ticket counter). A long flight to LA followed by a delayed flight to San Jose, and I was home again reveling in being able to read street signs again!

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This page served with permission of the author by Urs Geiser;; July 28, 1999