Monday 26 September 2011

Yatsu Higata Tideland, Tokyo, Japan, Sept 2011

Typhoon Roke greeted us into Japan and the forecast was wet and windy for the length of our stay. It looked as though the whole visit would be a write-off which would have been a crying shame as it is the first time Redgannet has been to Japan since starting the blog. The landing was bumpy ahead of the storm, but Roke pretty much blew himself out by the end of the day and the next morning dawned bright if still a little breezy.

The train left two minutes late, so I adjusted my watch as it was more likely to be fast than a Japanese train late. Neat piles of leaves and branches indicated either that Roke had been a particularly tidy typhoon or that clean-up efforts were already underway before 06.00. 40 minutes later I was at Keisei Tsudanuma train station and a 5 minute taxi ride from there took me to the tidal expansion and flood relief basin of Yatsu Higata Tideland (Google Earth ref; 35 40 30N 140 00 33E). The surrounding land has been reclaimed from the bay and the mudflats are confined by concrete banks, buildings, a school and a main road.

Immediately in front of me at the corner of the enclosure was a line of posts and the first piece of mud to be revealed as the tide withdrew. A Grey Plover was exploring the freshly exposed mud while a few Black-tailed Gulls roosted on the posts. In the deeper water further out Grey Herons were fishing.

It is the fourth week of September and I hoped to find some migrant waders sitting out the storm, but the rest of the area held only Cormorants, Grey herons, and Great and Little Egrets. Typhoon Roke had been heading north and I had surmised that the birds migrating south would have found it hard going and dropped into a sheltered spot such as this, but I later discovered that the tidal surge had brought very high water to the basin and perhaps the normal roosting spots had been swamped, forcing the birds to find sanctuary elsewhere.

A brown, scaly-breasted, bar-backed bird alternated between clinging to the concrete face of the bank and standing proudly on one of the stumps. I could hear Brown-eared Bulbuls screeching somewhere close by and assumed it may be a young one. Closer inspection revealed it to be a Blue Rock Thrush.
I was taking an anti-clockwise route around the tideland. Clockwise would have brought me quickly to the visitor centre, but it was not open until 08.00 and I wanted to check out a little park and rose garden half way along the north-east edge which I hoped would be harbouring a few flycatchers or perhaps some thrushes. The water was retreating quickly now and a couple of waders on the mud along the north-east edge were moving further out as the tide ebbed away.

Foolishly, I was distracted by a Grey Heron fishing and by the time I got my binoculars onto the waders, they had moved too far out and into the sun, making identification tricky. One was most likely to be a Dunlin, but I couldn’t rule out Curlew Sandpiper. The other I suspect to have been a Wandering Tattler, but could not make an adequate case to include him on the list below.

Then in a gap in the bushes that run alongside the railings, I spotted a small black and white bird. It was a Red-necked Phalarope which seemed to be listing to one side and looked slightly disorientated. It had possibly been blown in by the storm. I pointed it out to a couple of Japanese birders who became quite animated as they seldom see it at Yatsu Higata they told me.

Sadly, there were no flycatchers or thrushes in the little park. There was however, some White-cheeked Starlings, Great Tits and a Japanese White-eye. Carrion Crows and one Large-billed Crow were seen here too, as well as some definite Brown-eared Bulbuls and a Pygmy Woodpecker that showed very briefly.

In the top north corner is a large reed bed with a boardwalk running through it. The gates to access the boardwalk have always been locked in my experience, but a viewing area with some rather exquisite railings allowed me a good view of a couple of Zitting Cisticolas.
The typhoon and its accompanying tidal surges were playing havoc with the tides and the water was already flooding back in to the enclosed mudflats. The level didn’t actually drop enough to reveal much mud and reached high tide again 3 hours earlier than predicted on the normal tide tables. Round about this time I reached the visitor centre which charges Yen360 admission. Scopes are provided for convenience of visitors and there are toilets, a café, shop and education features.

A Little Grebe had laid five eggs into a nest on the freshwater pond just a few days before and was busy maintaining the nest and carefully tending her late clutch. On a bare piece of ground outside the huge viewing windows, a Common Greenshank was staying ahead of the rising waters with a few Black-winged Stilts.

An eager guide was keen to show me a few birds and identify them for me. Even so, the total on the list below was a bit disappointing. I had to keep reminding myself that I was expecting the whole trip to be a washout and that this day had been snatched back from the typhoon, but it still seemed very quiet. Back at the station as I started home, I found a 'blue' butterfly which had a deep dark blue top-side. If anyone can tell me the name from this photo, I would be very pleased.

A big thank you goes to Tom Kompier who has put forward Pseudozizeeria maha, or Pale Grass Blue

Bird seen; 25
Little Grebe 2, Great Cormorant 6, Grey Heron 18, Great Egret 4, Little Egret 3, Spot-billed Duck 8, Black-winged Stilt 12, Grey Plover 2, Common Greenshank 1, Common Sandpiper 1, Dunlin 5, Red-necked Phalarope 1, Black-tailed Gull 20, Oriental Turtle Dove 1, Pygmy Woodpecker 1, White Wagtail 6, Brown-eared Bulbul 8, Blue- Rock Thrush 2, Zitting Cisticola 2, Great Tit 5, Japanese White-eye 1, Carrion Crow 6, Large-billed Crow 1, White-cheeked Starling 40, Eurasian Tree Sparrow.
There are two railway stations in Narita. Take the Keisei line to Keisei Tsudanuma ((Yen 470 @ 120 = £1) Google Earth ref; 35 41 00N 140 01 27E). Walk the 2 km or take a taxi (Yen 890 @ 120 = £1) to access the tideland at ref; 35 40 30N 140 00 33E. Buses 51 and 52 (Yen170 (and thank you to Satoru for putting me off at the right stop)) run along the Maroni / Dori Road which will save 1.25 km
Alternatively change onto the local train for the next station, Yatsu, (Google Earth ref; 35 41 07N 35 40 46E) and take the shorter walk 0.8km through the rose garden to access the tideland at ref; 35 40 46N 140 00 23E. Note; Fast trains continue through Yatsu without stopping. Change to a local/slow train at Keisei Tsudanuma for this option.
The JR Line also has a station nearby known simply as Tsudanuma. From Narita this involves a change at Chiba and is the less convenient option.

Yatsu Higata Tideland, Tokyo, Japan, NRT

Thursday 22 September 2011

Merrill Park, New Jersey, Sept 2011

My target species for a visit to Newark was taking the long way round and migrating from New Jersey via Ohio. I didn’t see it, but I did hear its cursing call. I’ll get you Corey Finger!
A beautiful warm morning dawned and found me on a bicycle heading north-west along Gill Lane from Woodbridge. The road passes under a railway bridge and then through the cemeteries of Mount Lebanon and Forest Lawns. In keeping with most cemeteries, they find themselves with some left over soil which is stored near the maintenance sheds on the left (Google Earth ref; 40 33 50 N 74 19 15W). Rank vegetation has grown up here and this morning had attracted American Robins, Palm Warblers and Song Sparrows.
I would have loved to get a better view of an odd looking Common Yellowthroat that was doing a very good impression of a Kentucky Warbler, but it was gone before I could get a second glance.

Merrill Park is characterised by a river that runs along the base of a wooded embankment. The river has been carrying a lot of water recently. I assume that the lines of debris and the soft ground were as a result of the rain brought by the recent storm ‘Irene’. Trees along the bank were undermined and some had fallen. I followed the river downstream, north-east, hoping to meet some warblers moving along the tree line towards me.

Soon I came across a Downy Woodpecker, and a Tufted Titmouse moving quickly along with some Magnolia Warblers. The trees still carried a lot of leaf so it was difficult to get a really good look. More Magnolia Warblers were seen as I continued on Chain O’ Links Road, also a Blackburnian Warbler and an American Redstart.
I stopped for a while at a likely looking spot where the high bank sloped steeply down to the river and gave me a good vantage point. A gap in the greenery also gave me a sight line for anything working its way south-west through the trees. Blue Jays were being very noisy to my left as I waited and after 20 minutes of seeing nothing but an American Robin and a Grey Catbird, I gave in to their incessant alarm calling and went to see what was the matter.

Downy feathers floated down from a large tree and helped me to pinpoint the Cooper’s Hawk that had caught something and was being mobbed by the jays as it tried to feed.

It had been very warm when we landed yesterday and I was hoping to indulge myself in some fine New Jersey odonata spotting by the river. As midday approached though, there was very little action. It was cooler today with rain later, but the lack of odes was very obvious as the third week of September began. I wonder if the floods caused by Irene had flushed a lot of dragonflies downstream? Butterflies were also scarce this morning and I suspect that the paucity may be due to a sudden drop in temperature overnight and the progression of the season.

Head north-east on Gill Lane from the junction with Highway 1 at Woodbridge Mall, Iselin.  After  500m pass under the railway bridge and soon you will find the cemeteries on either side of the road. It is possible to walk up alongside the railway (Google Earth ref; 40 33 41N 74 18 48W)  with hawks, sparrows and wrens often found. Shortly after crossing the river, you will come to the end of Gill Lane. Turn right and follow Middlesex/Essex Turnpike for 500m. Turn right onto Oak Tree Road and you will cross the river again. Chain O’ Links road is on your left (Google Earth ref; 40 34 20N 74 18 52W) and access to the park will be found along here. It is a 3km ride altogether.
Species seen; 23
Mallard 10, Cooper’s Hawk 2, Ring-billed Gull 2, Mourning Dove 25, Chimney Swift 1, Belted Kingfisher 1, Red-headed Woodpecker 4, Hairy Woodpecker 1, Downy Woodpecker 4, Grey Catbird 2, American Catbird 40, Tufted Titmouse 1, Blue Jay 15, Common Starling 40, House Sparrow 150, House Finch 4, American Goldfinch 4, Magnolia Warbler 6, Palm Warbler 8, Blackpoll Warbler 1, American Redstart 1, Common Yellowthroat 2, Northern Cardinal 2.

Other posts from Newark and New Jersey can be found at the links below;

Visit the dedicated USA and Canada page for more posts from North America.
EWR, Newark, Merrill Park

Monday 19 September 2011

The Magic Hedge, Montrose Point, Chicago. Sept 2011

From a few honeysuckles planted outside the ground floor windows of a US Army barracks, the Magic Hedge (Google Earth ref; 41 57 46N 87 38 04W) has developed into one of Chicago's foremost birding locations and probably the most famous along the Chicago Lakefront Birding Trail.
The barracks have long since gone, but the hedge has been enhanced and given protected status since its humble beginnings.
I took the long way in this morning, stepping from the bus (no. 146) at N. Lake Shore Drive and W. Addison. The underpass comes out at Bill Jarvis Migrant Bird Sanctuary (Google Earth ref; 41 56 57N 87 38 29W). Signs stating that the sanctuary closes at dusk imply that it must open at some point, but in fact, it does not.

The mowers were already cutting when I arrived just after 07.00, but I could see plenty of bird activity as I approached and the butterflies were up early too. This one is a Buckeye.
Swainson's Thrushes were very common this morning with Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Ovenbird and Wilson's Warbler also seen along the fence line.

There is a viewing platform on the lake side of the reserve and I arrived here just as a small party was passing through. Red-eyed Vireo, American Redstart and Magnolia Warblers flitted through the trees while Grey Catbirds gorged on berries from the elder bushes.
The walk along the lake-front past the church and the golf course was lined with beautiful blue cornflowers which had taken over from the thistles. Palm Warblers, American Goldfinches and an unidentified empidonax flycatcher were seen along the path.

Another bird party greeted me as I arrived at the hedge. Cedar Waxwings flew over while a Black and White Warbler, Palm Warbler and a Chestnut-sided Warbler passed through.

A  young Red-headed Woodpecker called from a large tree. It sported just a few specks of red on its dark juvenile head.
The American Redstarts rivalled the Swainson's Thrushes for the most sightings today with the highest numbers coming from the Ring-billed Gulls and overflying Cedar Waxwings.
There were good numbers of birds, but not a great variety, so I moved on to take a look at the dunes by the pier.

Another birder was working the line of bushes close to the water and I was benefitting from the birds that she flushed, adding Northern Flicker to pad out my day list. Palm Warbler were common here again with yet another empid evading identification. I am sorry, but I just do not have the skill required to separate them without their song.

Along the beach, mats of soggy weed covered the beach. Sanderlings and a Semipalmated Plover found rich pickings there.

A whining screech had been vying for my attention for a while and I turned my attention to the tower where a young Peregrine Falcon was complaining hungrily to one of its parents who was tucking into what, until 20 minutes before, had been a Flicker.

Occasionally the youngster would take a turn around the dunes, putting the Sanderlings to flight even though it was not making a serious attempt to catch anything. Perhaps the parent bird was purposefully witholding from the juvenile to encourage it to put more effort into catching something (PS in the photo below indicates that I have taken liberties with the placement of the birds in the picture).

I had bumped into a few birders through the day, but hadn't joined up with anyone until I bumped into Clara and Mike who made interesting companions until they had to move on.

Back by the hedge, Monarch Butterflies were sipping nectar from the sunflowers and I noticed that one of them was wearing an identification tag. Its identification code was PLT 226 and the actual date of the sighting was 12 Sept 2011. I sent an email to Monarch Watch hoping to have a little more information to pass on about this individual. I have not received acknowledgement of receipt, so if anyone can make sure that the sighting information gets to the right place, I would be grateful. Thank you.

The sunflowers were also attracting American Goldfinches. The birds were exerting a lot of effort to extract the seeds from the unripe heads.

Band-winged Meadowhawk, sat quietly for a picture and allowed a very close approach.

Bus no. 146 passes through Chicago, stopping regularly along the Magnificent Mile. Alight at W. Addison to visit Bill Jarvis Migrant Bird Sanctuary. To go straight to the hedge, stay on until Montrose Dr and head towards the lake after alighting. To return from the Magic Hedge, follow West Montrose Dr back under the North Shore Dr Freeway and a bus stop will be seen on the corner of West Montrose and North Marine Dr at Clarendon Park.

Species seen; 37
Double-crested Cormorant 6, Canada Goose 60, Mallard 15, Cooper’s Hawk 1, Peregrine Falcon 2, Semipalmated Plover 2, Sanderling 8, Ring-billed Gull 120, American Herring Gull 3, Mourning Dove 8, Chimney Swift 1, Ruby-throated Hummingbird 3, Red-headed Woodpecker 2, Northern Flicker 1, Eastern Wood-Pewee 2, Eastern Kingbird 2, American Barn Swallow 30, Cedar Waxwing 150, Grey Catbird 6, Swainson’s Thrush 50, Carolina Chickadee 2, American Crow 4, Common Starling 40, Red-eyed Vireo 1, Tennessee Warbler 1, Chestnut-sided Warbler 2, Magnolia Warbler 4, Palm Warbler 25, Black and White Warbler 6, American Redstart 30, Ovenbird 4, Northern Waterthrush 2, Common Yellowthroat 2, Wilson’s Warbler 1, Song Sparrow 3, Northern Cardinal 3.
For a previous post from Chicago, follow the link below;
Visit the dedicated USA and Canada page for posts from this vast continent.

Friday 16 September 2011

High Resolution Images from August 2011

High Resolution Images from August 2011

The images in the main blog have been reduced in size to 600 pixels or less across to facilitate quick loading. It goes against all my sensibilities to reduce the resolution, so each month I shall select a few shots that warrant being seen in in hi-res.

These posts may take slightly longer to load, so please be patient.

Any month that includes a trip to Cape Town will surely feature in the hi-res post. This Common Sandpiper was feeding at the edge of the big lake at Paarl Bird Sanctuary.

This is a Speckled Mousebird from Bontebok National Park during an unexpectedly sunny interval.

While I was patch-sitting in New York for The Management at 10,000Birds, who were taking their holidays and leaving their birds un-watched, I came upon this American Woodcock at Jamaica Bay.

The links will take you to the original post.

Other galleries can be found at the dedicated High Resolution page.

Wednesday 14 September 2011

ForestPuffin goes trailblazing

Having introduced me to butterflies last week, ForestPuffin, the fledgling blogger and young son of my birdy buddy Martin, then went trailblazing for us in Fore Woods, an RSPB reserve in Crowhurst, near Battle, East Sussex.  

We shipped in provisions later and heard tell that Migrant Hawkers and Common Goldenrings were the flavour of the day.

We returned along the stream to the scene of his earlier successes where both species sat very well for us and we all managed some good pictures.

This female Migrant Hawker shows the characteristic yellow 'golf tee' or 'nail' marking on the second section of her abdomen and even allowed my 11-year-old son to reach out and touch it. The Migrant Hawkers were airborne in good numbers in the sunny corner of the field, but I was not able to get a flight shot.

The Goldenrings were fewer in number but almost as approachable. Only 2 were seen, but they were seen well enough to last me for the rest of the season.

 We took it in turns to get up nice and close, trying not to disturb it so that we would all get a go.

A good look was also had of a Common Lizard Lacerta vivipara. We are a herpetologically deprived country with only one other leggy species, the rare and localised Sand Lizard, to choose from. The Slow Worm is a legless species that takes our entire national lizard list to 3.  It makes identification easy though. Seeing one close and still like this is unusual for me. 

Thanks again to ForestPuffin for his pioneering.

Monday 12 September 2011

ForestPuffin and the Adonis Blue

For many years my birdy buddy Martin, struggled under the weight of my enthusiasm for an emerging passion for birdwatching. His 10-year-old son, who has recently started a blog under the name of ForestPuffin,   is now shouldering the burden of mentor as my, ‘til now dormant, interest in butterflies slowly wakens.

They came to visit last weekend and when Sunday brightened and developed into an unexpectedly sunny afternoon, the suggestion was made to chase a few local, range-restricted species. Thus, my introduction to the world of “blues” (some of which are brown) began. All the butterflies below are noted in red as this is my first outing and I have never logged Lepidoptera on a list before. The identities of some butterflies, such as the Peacock or the Cabbage White for example, are known by genetic inheritance, but even with such a restricted selection (only 58 species of butterfly occur regularly in Britain) there were some that I had never heard of.

After fears that it might not survive into the new millennium, the Adonis Blue was reintroduced to Queensdown Warren (Google Earth ref; 51 20' 11” N 00 37' 30" E) in 2002 and has successfully colonised neighbouring sites since then. A grazing regime in the spring and autumn uses cattle and sheep on this 8o hectare reserve which comprises varied habitat including south-facing chalk grassland pasture, which the butterflies find so attractive. The Adonis Blue is used as the emblem of the Kent Wildlife Trust,  which manages the Queensdown Warren reserve and was also chosen as the featured species on the cover of the Collins Butterfly Guide (Tolman and Lewington), so it must hold some significance. This was the butterfly that my young guide was looking for and we had early encouragement from a group of naturalists who were returning to their cars as we arrived and who informed us of the best place to go looking for them.
As we worked our way to the patch of Wild Marjoram that the butterflies like to feed on at this time of year, we were looking for some other target species that have eluded ForestPuffin in his home county.

The Chalk-hill Blue is blue and prefers chalky slopes (this lepidopterizing is going to be easy) and was quickly found. It is noted in the UK for the male’s dark border inside the white surround of its forewings and its row of spots on the trailing edge of the hindwing. It has much paler colouration than the other “blues”.
With a greater diversity of plants acceptable to its caterpillars, the Common Blue has a much wider distribution and is less habitat dependent. It is a richer colour of blue, but lacks the dark, inner border of the Chalk-hill Blue’s forewing and the hindwing markings too.

Next came a quick education in the “browns”. The Gate-keeper and the Meadow Brown are superficially similar at first sight, but the former is smaller with a double white dot in the dark spot on its forewing and a single white dot in the dark spot of the hindwing. The bigger Meadow Brown lacks the spot on the hindwing and sports only one dot in the dark mark on the forewing.

Then came the cry that indicated that the Adonis Blue had been located. With a noticeably richer blue even than the Common Blue and the white surround punctuated with dark veins that reached the very edge of the wing, there was no doubting the identification and it drew a sigh of pleasure from both of my companions.

But there was still more to come. While my young mentor was familiar with the Brown Argos, I had not seen one before and was surprised to find that it belonged to the “blues”. It somewhat resembles some of the females of the previous species, being brown with orange markings on the outside edges of all four wings, but it is noticeably smaller and the markings are plain.

Completing our haul for the day was a Silver-spotted Skipper. To my unaccustomed eyes, it had the look of a moth about it with wings folded horizontally above its body at rest. This is another chalky slope specialist. Recent changes in the management of this habitat and the rise of rabbit numbers to keep the pastures well grazed, have benefitted this butterfly, though it is still a species that warrants concern.
Apparently, I scored a good hat-trick of desirable species, so thank you very much to ForestPuffin for taking me out and introducing me to the world of the butterfly.

Saturday 10 September 2011

Powai Gardens, Mumbai, India. Sept 2011

During this first week of September, adherents across India are celebrating the festival of Ganpati, or Ganesh Chaturthi. It is a moveable feast, but is usually around this time of year. Celebrants parade idols of Lord Ganesh, accompanied by drums, dancing and nevedya offerings, to water and cast him in. Here, he will turn to sand and water before completing the circle and returning to the faithful in his deity form as the benevolent Elephant God.

So as not to distract the faithful and to avoid the crowds that would likely throng the shores of Powai Lake, I took myself to the Renaissance Hotel (Google Earth ref; 19 08 04N 72 54 05E (These co-ordinates may not be pinpoint accurate. Please check this link before you rely on them))  where I hoped that the private frontage onto the lake would afford me some peace and tranquillity, but the hotel was preparing scaffolding, launch ramps and stages for the celebrations with lots of people making lots of noise.

A few birds rose above the industry, notably a Common Tern which was quartering across the lake and made a fly-by close to shore. I was unable to access the shoreline here as an electric fence runs along the bank protecting the hotels’ frontage.

Monsoon rains must have been heavy recently as the ground was very soft and the omnipresent House Crows were easily able to pick into the squishy lawns. A couple of Red-vented Bulbuls showed well, but I quickly decided that it would be better to move on.

Walking out of the Renaissance Hotel along the ranks of tuk-tuks, taxis and buses, I came across Powai Garden which can be seen on Google Earth, described as a Deer Park, on the western shore of Powai Lake. Not knowing if it was a private garden, I popped my head in for a quick look and found a small forest with a large stream running through it. A White-breasted Kingfisher spooked from the railing of a dilapidated bridge and settled on a branch over the river further up.

I suspected that the stream must be the outflow from the lake and debris on the railings of the bridge showed that the level must have been substantially higher just very recently. The South-west Monsoon blesses the area around Mumbai from about mid June ‘til its withdrawal at the end of September. We had landed into a very vigorous shower last night and more rain had been threatening all day.

A path running alongside the river led me a couple of hundred meters upstream to a long high curtain of water cascading over the dam wall. Kids were swimming and catching tiny fish which they delighted in showing me. A path leads up to the top of the dam on either side of the wall; I chose the path to the left. A gate prevented me from walking out onto the dam and a fence was in place to keep me away from the water’s edge, but a good view could still be had out across the lake, with houseboats moored along the banks.

Back in the forest there was very little bird activity. An Ashy Prinia and a Common Tailorbird were seen, but little else apart from the crows and the Black Kites. Among the dragonflies were a Variegated Flutterer and a Green Skimmer. This exquisitely patterned butterfly showed a rich blue upperside, but always settled with its wings closed. Any suggestions will be gratefully received as ever.

Just after 16.00 the rain began again and the biting insects were getting the better of me after I had sweated off all the repellent. Tip for next time; bring the name and address of the hotel as the keycard does not have it and my return taxi driver did not know it. Hotels have reciprocal agreements that set taxi tariffs for journeys to and from. As an example, the hotel rate was IR 350. The return journey by street cab cost IR 55.
“Ganpati bappa, Morya!
Pudhchya varshii lavkar yaa,
Ganpati gele gaavaala,
Chain pade na aamhala!
Species seen;14
Indian Cormorant 1, Little Egret 1, Black Kite 25, Common Tern 1, Asian Palm Swift 1, Dusky Crag Martin 2, Red-vented Bulbul 2, Ashy Prinia 1, Common Tailorbird 1, House Crow 200, Large-billed Crow 1, Common Myna 30, House Sparrow 20, Nutmeg Mannikin 1.

This butterfly seen in the water hyacinth at the edge of the lake also needs a name if anyone knows. If there is no looky-likey to the Grey Pansy, then that is what it is. Confirmation would be well received though.

Other posts from Mumbai may be found by following the links below;

Visit the dedicated India page for other Indian destinations

Powai garden, Mumbai, India,