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A Report from

Japan 14 - 22 October 2003 (Tokyo and Hachiojima Island),

Paul Bamford

Following a call from the Tokyo Office I was asked to undertake a 2 week assignment in Tokyo for a large domestic Japanese Corporation.  So with little time to plan I was on the 11 hour flight to Tokyo with hardly any preparation, no chance to find Mark Brazil's Guide book or a field guide written in English.  I had contacted Chris Cook an ex patriot English birder resident in Tokyo and Chris provided invaluable advice and spent a few hours with me on the 19 October at Yatsa-higata, a local Tokyo Bay wader hot spot.  I had previously got completely lost trying to find this site the day before.  My first task was to buy a guide book, I got the Japanese Bird Societies guide, which has English names but all Japanese text, a bit tricky to work out subtle plumage hints and bird calls.  The guide is pretty comprehensive, although the illustrations are at pre Lars Jonsson level and need a fair degree of artistic licence to be used effectively.  Fortunately most of the endemic or local specialities were fairly distinctive and easy to identify.

Menji Shrine and Tokyo Bird Park Saturday 18 October

This is the site all the trip reports mention as a great place to get to grips with the common species, its also very central and easy to get to by the subway system.  I got there first thing 06:30 and it was cool and gloomy, the overwhelming impression was the noise and numbers of Jungle Crows and Brow-eared Bulbuls, these birds make an almighty racket and make it very difficult to pick out anything else.  The park is an interesting place and the woodland areas look old and have very large trees, which makes the light pretty grim.  The best place is the Iris Garden but this was closed so early in the morning.  I wandered around for about 3 hours and did indeed connect with the common species  such as Great and Varied Tits, Japanese White-eyes, Pied and Grey Wagtails, lots of Tree Sparrows, a mystery pipit, Eastern Turtle Doves and Feral pigeons.  I missed the woodpeckers, finches and buntings, on a return visit near the end of the trip the park was still lacking these species, I think I was there in mid season, after the summer but before the winter residents had arrived.

After the shrine, I made my way to the Tokyo Bay Wild Bird Park, this is in the middle of an industrial area on the flight path to Haneda Airport.  Again it was a site mentioned in several trip reports and to be fair was quiet a good spot if you blanked out the large factories and load speakers!  Perhaps, October is again a quiet time to visit and my 2 hours produced a nice Bull-headed Shrike, Spot-billed Ducks, Greater Scaup and other common wildfowl and a lone Common Sandpiper but very few passerines.  Great, Intermediate and Little Egrets were around plus grey Herons but not much else.  There were huge flocks of bulbuls again causing a amazing amount of noise.  In the afternoon, I attempted to find Yatsu-higata in the rain and failed hopelessly after turning left instead of right at the Japan Rail (JR) station at Finubashi.

Yatsu-higata and Gyotoku Sunday 19 October

Chris Cook met me at my hotel and we made our way across Tokyo via the main station and down to Finubashi where the reserve is.  The weather was bright, warm and clear and the tide was rising.  To be honest it was one of those good to be alive days and you just knew it was going to be memorable.  Another great reason for meeting Chris was he had a scope (I did not have room to take mine! Not a good plan when wader watching)

Having someone who knows where they are going, we reached the site within 10 minutes walking time from the station.  It's a small tidal pool area feed by a natural (although concreted channel), the edges have small areas of  reeds and rough vegetation.  There are several sand banks out in the middle and I suppose the site is about 1,000 meters long and 300 meters across.

The first birds were the usual herons and egrets with black-tailed and Vega gulls drifting around.  There is a path around the area and a formal well managed garden area where the visitor centre is located, access is free although there appeared to be a small fee to go into the centre.  There are toilet facilities at the centre and dotted around the edges of the site are what look like bus shelters, these are not hides and there are no seats or benches. We set the scope up just outside the formal garden area by the centre and investigated a group of waders right in the middle of the tidal area.  Almost immediately I found a Sharpe-tailed Sandpiper which was both a surprise and delight for me, it was feeding amongst a flock of Red-necked Stints, Dunlin, Grey Plover and Eurasian Curlews.  Unfortunately, something spooked the whole flock and they all disappeared out of sight over the nearby motorway, never to return.  Fortunately there were still the odd bunch of waders dispersed around the site so we moved off to investigate further.  It was interesting to watch the cormorants catch some pretty big fish in the shallow waters, life is tough for the local mullet around there.  Soon we found another small group of waders close by the lake edge and here we watched 19 Great Knot, within binocular range, my second wader lifer for the day and another long sought after species, SE Asia birders had been teasing me with digi-scope photo's of these birds and finally I had my own memories.  The site continued to turn up new birds for the next hour or so as the tide came in and a Terek Sandpiper turned up along with 12 or so Mongolian (Lesser-sand) Plovers, Godwits, stilts and Greenshanks were loafing around and a solitary Turnstone dropped by.

By around 13:30 the tide was well in so we decided to leave and I dropped into another bird sanctuary called Gyotoku, its an old shooting reserve for the emperor, although nowadays it's a well managed and fenced off area of wetland.  After a fairly long walk from the station in very hot weather, I arrived at the entrance where a path runs besides a channel which feeds the flooded area.  In the trees and vegetation along the banks several Azure Winged Magpies were chasing around, another excellent bird  giving great views, then arriving at the park HQ, a odd place with a sort of bird hospital with some very sad looking inmates and a 3 story observation building.  As usual the observation building had loads of telescopes fixed to the window sills, which were fine for viewing over the lakes.  To my surprise a Northern Goshawk was perched out in the middle of the flooded area on an old post, not typical Goshawk country? But providing splendid views.  Just outside the centre in a duck feeds area a lovely male Daurian Redstart was feeding enthusiastically around the reeds, a beautiful bird an the first of the season according to a local reserve worker.

Hachijo-jima Island Saturday 25 October

Well I had an eventful couple of days! everything was fine with the journey out and I had an interesting 3 hours birding from the boat, there were as expected 1,000's of Streaked Shearwaters, providing excellent views.  The only down side was that I didn't really get on to anything else to get a 100% id. there were a couple of large dark petrels and a few smaller birds but all were either to far away or lost in the waves to quickly.  I wasn't to worried as I thought that I'd be able to pick them up on the return journey.  However, that was not to be, as the Sunday sailing was cancelled (due to a tropical storm warning) so I had to fly back! so missed my planned 10 hour pelagic bird watch!

On Hachijo-jima Island, I spent 7 hours birding on the mountain (the one on the left hand side as you come into port) in overcast and showery weather, which was very good (and peaceful, as I didn't see another person the whole day out in the field.)  The second bird I saw after leaving the ship was the Izu Thrush, which is pretty common around the edge of town, Blue Rock Thrushes were numerous along the river, which held  Japanese, Grey and White Wagtails.  I flushed a couple of Snipe but could not tell if they were anything other than common ones.  Once into the true forest area, I immediately found a couple of White's (Scaly) Thrushes (I saw at least 8 birds during the day) foraging at the side of the path (I walked up route 21 on the local walking guide map).  There was a great deal of warbler activity in the low scrub by the road, particularly close to streams and it took quiet some time to get good views of the Japanese Bush Warblers as the darted about keeping very low to the ground.  I heard at least two different grating/metallic warbler like calls and wondered if Middendorff's Grasshopper Warbler was a possibility? as several of the warblers I watched appeared larger and with a less distinctive black eye stripe, also one had a distinctive rusty coloured broad tail. 

In the early afternoon whilst tracking an over flying Japanese Wood pigeon, I caught sight of a Phylloscopus- type warbler, and after much study and reading I think it was almost certainly an Ijima's Warbler, it was feeding high in the canopy but was easier to see than the Bush Warblers!  During my lunch stop, I heard a distinctive song and eventually tracked down a Japanese Robin, which again was very elusive and shy, but eventually gave its self up to a great view (briefly) perched out in the open for about 10 seconds.  Other birds of interest included Daurian Redstart, many Japanese White-eyes, Brambling, Varied and Great Tit, White-checked Starling, Chinese Bamboo Partridge, Oriental Turtle Doves, Oriental House Martins and loads of noisy Bulbuls!

Kasairinkaal Park Sunday 26 October

Due to my early arrival back in Tokyo, I went over to Kasairinkaal Park which is located adjacent to the JR station one stop before Tokyo Disney Land!.  There has been a pair of Black-faced Spoonbills here for quiet a while, however, the park is worth a visit anyhow as I'm sure if you catch the tide right it must pick up quiet a few other waders.  It is very easy to find as it is only 5 stops from Tokyo main station.  Feeding under where the spoonbills were roosting was a lone Dowitcher, which looking at the guide books I have looked at appeared to be Asiatic.  The bird had very distinct barring under the wing and quite pale upper parts, there was a fair bit of debate amongst the other bird watchers and camera men who also saw it but I couldn't make out what they finally decided on as to its id.?  Other birds encountered around the bird reserve ware a pair of Azure-winged Magpies, female Daurian Redstart, Common Kingfisher, various egrets and herons, wildfowl, regular Tokyo Bay gulls, black-winged stilts, Greenshanks and Common Sandpipers.

In summary over the two weekends using public transport, I identified 66 bird species including 20 life birds, and heard a further 2 and no identification on at least another 6.  I had a very enjoyable business trip to Tokyo and have managed to collect plenty of reasons for a return visit.  Apologises for any miss spelling of place names and please contact me if you require any further information on


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