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Japan in Spring Tour Report

Meeting up with Kaz Shinoda and Kato-san in the morning at Narita Airport, Janene, Kay and I were quickly on the road in wet and grey conditions to start our birding at the Tonegawa River. The rain suited the Marsh Grassbirds which displayed continuously and perched up beautifully. A small number of Japanese Reed Buntings also performed well. We found a beautiful, slightly bedraggled male Japanese Green Pheasant so we were off to an excellent start. We explored more wetlands that held small numbers of a good cross-section of shorebirds. Best were several Spotted Redshanks and a single Long-toed Stint looking immaculate in fresh breeding plumage. After lunch with the rain continuing we opted to visit the Yatsu National Wildlife Protection Area, a tidal flat in Tokyo Bay. There were a bunch of shorebirds most looking stunning again including sakhalina Dunlins, Grey-tailed Tattler, Black-bellied Plover and some distant Great Knots.

Next morning we had a bit of a lie-in before stretching our legs at some parks close to our hotel in Haneda. Best was a male Narcissus Flycatcher plus some dapper Azure-winged Magpies. In the middle of the day we flew to Amami to commence our exploration of the Nansei Shoto Islands. We were again off to a good start in fine weather conditions enjoying excellent views of the endemic Lidth’s Jay, male Ryukyu Robin and several tuneful Ryukyu Green Pigeons. In the evening we joined the outstanding Mr. Tsuneda on a most incredible evening of spot-lighting for nocturnal wildlife. We kicked off with the first of twenty Amami Black Rabbits before finding Elegant Scops-owl, four Amami Woodcock, two spectacular snakes, a Himehabu and a Japanese Coral Snake. As a grand finale we found two roosting Amami Thrushes that gave unhindered views in the spotlight. What a result!

It was a late night so we started out the next morning with a more relaxed start, again returning to the Amami Natural Forest. Owston’s Woodpecker was watched drumming at close range with Ryukyu Minivet seen collecting nesting material. We opted for a midday siesta before heading out in the afternoon to the Kimsakubaru Virgin Forest Park. After a while we picked up a male Ryukyu Flycatcher that gave super views. At the bottom of the hill we heard a few Japanese Paradise Flycatchers, one of which gave a fast flyover view.

Haneda Park
The next morning we returned to the same site to try for better views of the Japanese Paradise Flycatcher. After a bit of effort we were rewarded with amazing views, the male doing this incredible manakin-like flight display right next to us; quite the bird. We headed towards the airport and firstly explored some canefields that were quiet except for a pair of fly-over Oriental Pratincoles. At a nearby estuary we found quite an assortment of shorebirds this time finding a single Pectoral Sandpiper, a couple of Terek Sandpipers, a single Marsh Sandpiper, several stegmanni Lesser Sand-Plovers, a couple of bonus Black-faced Spoonbills, an Osprey and a couple of the interesting nominate Intermediate Egrets in breeding condition.

We made the flight to Okinawa and drove the three hours to Yanbaru staying in the excellent Ada Garden hotel. On the drive we found an active nest of Pryer’s Woodpecker getting excellent views of both adults and a nearly fledged chick. The adults were quite timid so we left them to feed the chick. In the late afternoon we found our first Okinawa Rails and had some excellent views. With both of the major endemics in the bag this enabled us to have a relaxing birding session the next day. Both Brown Hawk-Owl and Elegant Scops-Owl were heard in the evening with the hawk-owl keeping to the private property behind the hotel.

Next morning we went for a pre-breakfast drive and observed several more Okinawa Rails. The conservation program of actively trapping mongoose is having a beneficial impact on the rail population and it was great to see this previous global rarity so easily and often. It is a great bird! We also found two magnificent Okinawa Habu crossing the road, the first individual nearly a metre long and a genuinely impressive snake. Janene spotted a White-breasted Waterhen. We visited a nearby reservoir hoping for the elusive Black Wood-Pigeon with no results on this species. We found a pair of Okinawa (Ryukyu) Robins collecting earthworms to feed their chicks-the male posing tamely on some fence posts for good photo ops. The rain came now in torrential downpours and we explored some ricefields that were fairly quiet.

Community Garden
A couple of us opted for an early morning walk near the hotel with Janene scoring a flock of Black Wood-Pigeons in flight before Dion arrived! More great views of several classy birds including Okinawa Rail, Ruddy Kingfisher, Japanese Bush-Warbler while the woodpecker was heard. We again returned to the reservoir hoping for the pigeon with no luck. The farming country turned up some interesting birds by far the best being a Swinhoe’s Snipe that allowed an excellent view. Scaly-breasted Munia was also a good bird for your Japanese list!

By the late afternoon we were on the plane to Tokyo followed by dinner and then off to the ferry terminal for our overnight voyage to Miyake-jima. We met up with Janene’s friend Neil who has been birding in Japan for several decades. At 5am we were on the island and off in our rather obstreperous hire car! First stop was Cape Izu and we were watching a Styan’s Grasshopper-Warbler before we were out of the car. Later we could watch them display flying like grassbirds. At sea we spotted a few Brown Boobies. Next we headed to a forest area and enjoyed excellent views of Izu Thrush, Japanese Robin, the Izu population of Varied Tit and after a bit of effort the first of several Ijima’s Leaf-Warblers. We had poor flight views of the ultra shy Black Wood-Pigeon that were again proving very difficult. We moved to another location with a volcanic lake and had several more thrushes and leaf-warblers. At the last minute Dion and Kay found a superb Black Wood-Pigeon perched, enjoyed all the more for the effort we had invested in trying to see it. Other new birds for the trip included Temminck’s Cormorant, Chinese Bamboo-Partridge, Black-tailed Gull, Bull-headed Shrike, Winter Wren, Bank Swallow, Meadow Bunting and Oriental Greenfinch.

Happy with our clean up of the endemic birds it was back on the ferry and a serious pelagic birding session. Amongst the thousands of Streaked Shearwaters we found twenty or more Sooty Shearwaters and two Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. Things really picked up when we found a sub-adult Short-tailed Albatross flying around up high like a giant frigatebird-something I have never seen before in albatross behaviour. Then we had a few Laysan and Black-footed Albatross and at least five Japanese Murrelets, one pair sitting on the ocean close to the ship and giving a good view. Entering Tokyo Bay a pair of Long-tailed Jaegers in full breeding plumage rounded out the pelagic. Then it was trains to a hotel and off to bed after a great day.

On the last morning we headed to the coast at Oiso. It was really something extraordinary to watch the White-bellied Green-Pigeons coming into drink sea water on the rocks next to the fishermen. Black-eared Kite, Asian House-Martin, Slaty-backed Gull were new for the list whilst offshore there was a spectacle of thousands of Streaked Shearwaters. Also impressive was a Temminck’s Cormorant in full breeding plumage. The last birding stop was at the Sakawa River. Here we enjoyed close views of Long-billed Plover, several lugens White Wagtails, a brief Japanese Wagtail, a wonderful male Japanese Green Pheasant, Eurasian Kestrel and a very white worn out bleached first year Glaucous Gull. Then it was on the trains to Narita and back home. Thank you so much Kaz for your excellent birding and logistic skills and thank you to Kato for helping out so much in the Tokyo area.

By Dion Hobcroft

Amami Harbour first light

* denotes introduced species in Japan

*Chinese Bamboo-Partridge (Bambusicola thoracicus sonorivox)
Japanese Green Pheasant (Phasianinus versicolor)

Eastern Spot-billed Duck (Anas zonorhyncha)
Eurasian Teal (Anas crecca)
Eurasian Wigeon (Anas penelope)

Black-footed Albatross (Phoebastria nigripes)
Laysan Albatross (Phoebastria immutabilis)
Short-tailed Albatross (Phoebastria albatrus)

Streaked Shearwater (Calonectris leucomelas)
Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus)
Wedge-tailed Shearwater (Ardenna pacificus)

Black-faced Spoonbill (Platalea minor)

Black-crowned Night Heron (Nycticorax nycticorax)
Eastern Cattle Egret (Bubulcus coromandus)
Great Egret (Ardea alba)
Grey Heron (Ardea cinerea)
Little Egret (Egretta garzetta)
Pacific Reef Egret (Egretta sacra)
Intermediate Egret (Mesophoyx intermedia)

Brown Booby (Sula leucogaster)

Temminck’s Cormorant (Phalacrocorax capillatus)
Great Cormorant (Phalacrocorax carbo)

Osprey (Pandion haliaetus)
Black-eared Kite (Milvus lineatus)

Eurasian Kestrel (Falco tinnunculus)

Ruddy-breasted Crake (Porzana fusca): heard only
Okinawa Rail (Gallirallus okinawae)
White-breasted Waterhen (Amaurornis phoenicurus)
Common Moorhen (Gallinula chloropus)

Cultural District Tokyo
Black-winged Stilt (Himantopus himantopus)

Little Ringed Plover (Charadrius dubius)
Long-billed Plover (Charadrius placidus)
Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus)
Lesser Sand-Plover (Charadrius mongolus)
Pacific Golden Plover (Pluvialis fulva)
Grey Plover (Pluvialis squatarola)

Amami Woodcock (Scolopax mira)
Common Snipe (Gallinago gallinago)
Swinhoe’s Snipe (Gallinago megala)
Bar-tailed Godwit (Limosa lapponica)
Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus)
Green Sandpiper (Tringa ochropus)
Marsh Sandpiper (Tringa stagnatilis)
Spotted Redshank (Tringa erythropus)
Common Greenshank (Tringa nebularia)
Grey-tailed Tattler (Tringa brevipes)
Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)
Terek Sandpiper (Xenus cinereus)
Ruddy Turnstone (Arenaria interpres)
Red-necked Stint (Calidris ruficollis)
Long-toed Stint (Calidris subminuta)
Pectoral Sandpiper (Calidris melanotos)
Dunlin (Calidris alpina)
Great Knot (Calidris tenuirostris)

Oriental Pratincole (Glareola maldivarum)

Long-tailed Jaeger (Stercorarius longicaudus)
Black-tailed Gull (Larus crassirostris)
Slaty-backed Gull (Larus schistisagus)
Glaucous Gull (Larus hyperboreus)
Black-headed Gull (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Black-naped Tern (Sterna sumatrana)
Common Tern (Sterna hirundo longipennis)
Little Tern (Sternula albifrons)

Japanese Murrelet (Synthliboramphus wumizusume)

*Rock Pigeon (Columba livia)
Black Woodpigeon (Columba janthina)
Oriental Turtle-Dove (Streptopelia orientalis)
White-bellied Green-Pigeon (Treron sieboldii)
Ryukyu Green-Pigeon (Treron riukiuensis)

Oriental Cuckoo (Cuculus optatus): heard only Lesser Cuckoo (Cuculus poliocephalus): heard only

Elegant Scops Owl (Otus elegans)
Brown Hawk Owl (Ninox scutulata togotogo): heard only

White-throated Needletail (Hirundapus caudacutus) Pacific Swift (Apus pacificus)

Ruddy Kingfisher (Halcyon coromanda bangsi)
Common Kingfisher (Alcedo atthis)

Shinto Site
Owston’s (White-backed) Woodpecker (Dendrocopos leucotos owstoni)
Pryer’s Woodpecker (Dendrocopos noguchii)
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker (Yungipicus kizuki)

Ryukyu Minivet (Pericrocotus tegimae)

Bull-headed Shrike (Lanius bucephalus)

Japanese Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone atrocaudata)

Lidth’s Jay (Garrulus lidthi)
Azure-winged Magpie (Cyanopica cyanus)
Carrion Crow (Corvus corone)
Large-billed Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos)

Eastern Great Tit (Parus minor)
Varied Tit (Poecile varius)
Izu (Varied) Tit (Poecile varius owstoni)

Asian House Martin (Delichon dasypus)
Sand Martin (Riparia riparia)
Red-rumped Swallow (Cecropis daurica)
Barn Swallow (Hirundo rustica)
Pacific Swallow (Hirundo tahitica namiyei)

Eurasian Skylark (Alauda arvensis japonica)

Zitting Cisticola (Cisticola juncidis brunniceps)

Chinese Bulbul (Pycnonotus sinensis orii) Brown-eared Bulbul (Microscelis amaurotis)

Japanese Bush-Warbler (Cettia diphone)
Marsh Grassbird (Megalurus pryeri pryeri)
Styan’s Grasshopper Warbler (Locustella pleskei)
Oriental Reed-Warbler (Acrocephalus orientalis)
Ijima’s Leaf-Warbler (Phylloscopus ijimae)

Japanese White-eye (Zosterops japonicus)

Winter Wren (Troglodytes troglodytes fumigatus)

White-cheeked Starling (Sturnus cineraceus)

Amami Thrush (Zoothera major)
Izu Thrush (Turdus celaenops)
Blue Rock-Thrush (Monticola solitarius philippensis)

Japanese Robin (Luscinia akahige tanensis)
Ryukyu Robin (Luscinia komadori komadori)
Okinawa (Ryukyu) Robin (Luscinia komadori namiyei)
Narcissus Flycatcher (Ficedula narcissina)
Ryukyu Flycatcher (Ficedula owstoni)

Eurasian Tree Sparrow (Passer montanus)

Scaly-breasted Munia (Lonchura punctulata topela)

Black-backed (White) Wagtail (Motacilla alba lugens)
Japanese Wagtail (Motacilla grandis)

Oriental Greenfinch (Carduelis sinica minor)

Meadow Bunting (Emberiza cioides ciopsis)
Japanese Reed Bunting (Emberiza yessoensis)


Amami Black Rabbit


Himehabu (Trimesurus okinavensis)
Okinawa Habu

Hyan Coral Snake (Sinomicrurus japonicus)

Pryor’s Keelback (Amphiesma pryori)


Fire-bellied Newt

Follow That Bird   Phone: 61 2 9973 1865
Fax: 61 2 9973 1875
3/59 Central Road
Avalon NSW 2107
Sydney Australia
- sydney's birding company  
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Photos of Variegated Fairy-wren and Little Tern courtesy of Neil Fifer