As I was going to the Philippines in late Feb, I decided to accept Des Allen’s kind invitation to join his trip to Hokkaido, the extra cost from Manila to Tokyo (with Philippine Airlines) being only £150 return. Although few new birds came from this winter trip, it was most enjoyable with some unforgetable sights such as large numbers of Steller’s Sea-Eagles, murrelets and cranes, and the rare Scaly-sided Merganser and Grey Bunting.
The brief extension to South Korea was to look for three species not regularly found in Japan - Relict Gull, Siberian Accentor and Pallas’s Reed Bunting - plus the large wintering flock of Baikal Teal. I succeeded in achieving the first aim but missed the reported 50,000 Baikal Teal by a week - they had just left for Sosan in the northwest! This was a much cheaper alternative to my original choice of visiting Amami-Oshima, where Lidth’s Jay and Ryukyu Scops-Owl should have been seen OK but Amami Woodcock and Thrush would be difficult in winter.
A few changes were apparent since my previous visits to Japan 10 years and more ago, eg young people appear taller, girls prettier and there are now two excellent British birders resident. The Tokyo - Kushiro ferry is now faster, bad for birding, but traveling, other than by express train, still takes a long time and costs remain high; members of the Wild Bird Soc of Japan (WBSJ) get a 30% discount on the ferry and the Japan Rail Pass is still a good deal. Lenses for scopes and secondhand photographic equipment (if you can find it) can also be good buys. Hundreds of eagles no longer frequent the Shiretoko peninsula, apparently because the salmon stocks are greatly reduced due to over-fishing (they’ve even queered their own pitch!). Eagles are still present in eastern Hokkaido - 1448 were counted in 1995 - but more dispersed, with the main concentration at Furen-ko (Lake Furen).
This winter, a relatively cold one, was exceptionally poor for many winter visitors, eg Bluetails, Daurian Redstarts, waxwings and buntings. However, a very few Scaly-sided Merganser were wintering, as in most recent years; although difficult to locate, I was able to find one in Kyushu, thanks to 3 Japanese birders from Tokyo. The major dip was Japanese Waxwing which had not been reported at all. It is said to be common every 3 years, particularly in Kyushu in March / April, but is usually seen annually by Feb, eg in Matsumoto - but not this year.
Alan Wilkinson’s report of his Feb 95 visit to Japan is a good complement to Mark Brazil’s site guide, and the Tourist Offices in London are sources of much free literature, eg a youth hostel map of Japan and a basic railway timetable. A new field guide is available in Tokyo, produced by the Ornithological Society of Japan, with excellent plates but a Japanese text.
Dave Diskin’s Birding South Korea in Winter (1995) gives almost all you need to know. It does not mention Yangdong and nearby Ankye Reservoir - a nice site I found - and the best gull view-point at Nakdong is now further south on the mainland - see attached map. Ulsukto Island, Nakdong is being extensively developed and may not be worth visiting soon, even though part is supposed to be a nature reserve. Note that if intending to use the ferries to/ from Japan, 2 out of 3, including the hydrofoil (£78 from Japan), shut down for 2 weeks during the Chinese New Year, usually in Feb - I had to switch from Fukuoka to Shimanoseki at the last minute and only just made it in time.
Finally, the success of my trip was due entirely to the considerable help and generous hospitality of Des Allen, Sadao Ishimura and Nial Moores - I cannot thank any of them enough. On Hokkaido, Takada-san at Furo-so was very knowledgeable and helpful - he took us to a feeding station for Blakiston’s Fish-Owl - while his wife cooked the best food I ate all trip. In South Korea I was very grateful to Miss Kim, her friend, In Sik Lee and his friend for assistance and hospitality. Mark Eldridge and Graham Speight were helpful before I left Britain.
FEB 5 Arrived Narita 09.00 after a 12 hour delay in the PAL flight; train into Tokyo, shopping; pm at Meiji Shrine - Mandarin, Rustic Bunting; night at Des Allen’s house.
FEB 6 Tokyo parks (Inagashira, Ukimafunado and Ueno) for Baer’s Pochard and Baikal Teal, without success; night at DA’s.
FEB 7 Train to Mount Takao - White’s Thrush, Jap Grosbeak (but no Jap Accentor or Grey Bunting); DA’s.
FEB 8 Cycle with DA to his local temple/ farmland “patch” - Jap Green Woodpecker, Jap Wagtail. Joined WBSJ at Tokyo office; Yoyogi Park; Yatsu with Ishimura-san - Saunders’ Gull; dinner at Ishimura’s; ferry at 22.00 with Ishimura-san and DA.
FEB 9 Ferry all day, calm but cold - Laysan Albatross, Short-tailed Shearwater, Ancient Murrelet.
FEB 10 Ferry till 07.00 - Least and Crested Auklets; drive from Kushiro to Capes Kiritappu - Rosy Finch - and Nosappu; night at Furo-so minshuku.
FEB 11 Furen-ko - eagles - Cape Nosappu, Notsuke peninsula, Furo-so - Blakiston’s Fish-Owl.
FEB 12 Furen-ko all day - 150 Steller’s Eagles - while the others visited the capes; Furo-so.
FEB 13 Drive to crane sanctuaries near Kushiro; ferry at 14.00 -1000s of Crested Auklets.
FEB 14 Ferry till 20.30 - divers, Black-footed Albatross, Streaked Shearwater; trains to DA’s.
FEB 15 Train to Fukuoka/ Hakata; night at Nial Moore’s flat in Kashi.
FEB 16 Day with NM:- temple grounds at Kashi, Hakata Bay for gulls (with a fine tutorial by Nial), and Tachibanayama (Standing Flower Mountain) - Grey Bunting, Ural Owl heard; NM’s.
FEB 17 Train to Izumi, bus to Arasaki - cranes, Crested Kingfisher, Daurian Jackdaw; Minshuku Tsurumitei.
FEB 18 Drive with Japanese birders to Mi-ike, 05.30-08.00 - Scaly-sided Merganser - and back to Izumi. 13.30 train to Yatsushira; taxi to Kumagawa estuary - gulls (Great Black-headed and Saunders’) too far away due to high tide - hitch back to station; train to Fukuoka; NM’s.
FEB 19 Ohori-koen, Fukuoka, with NM - gulls, Red-throated Flycatcher; train to Imazu, walk to Hakata Bay and Zuibaijigawa estuary - Black-faced Spoonbill, Chinese Penduline-Tit; train to Fukuoka; taxi to ferry terminal - no ferry - hitch to station, train to Shimanoseki; 18.30 overnight ferry to Pusan (£53).
FEB 20 Pusan at 08.30; met by Miss Kim and friend (arranged by NM); drive to Nakdong Estuary - cold and windy, tide fairly high - distant view of Relict and Saunders’ Gulls. Drive to Chunam Reservoir complex, joined by In Sik Lee and friend - Baikal Teal and White-naped Crane - then excellent local meal. Drive back to Pusan, in horrendous holiday traffic; bus to historic Kyongju; night at Han-Jin Jang Yogwan (£10 single).
FEB 21 Bus to Yangdong - Daurian Redstart and Siberian Accentor; 2 km walk to Ankye Reservoir - Bean Geese and a Snow Goose; walk along river towards Kyongju for 5+ km - Pallas’s Reed and Pine Buntings; bus back to Kyongju; afternoon touring historic sites - Japanese Grosbeak; Han-Jin Jang.
FEB 22 Luxury bus at 07.00 to Seoul - 4 hours, £9 - then afternoon flight to Manila.
Taxonomy, names and sequence are based on Birds of the World: A Checklist by JF Clements (1991), with a few obvious modifications. Capitals indicate new species for JH.
Pacific Diver 6 from ferry on 14th, with 4+ unidentified divers; 2 in Hakata Bay
Red-throated Diver 3 from ferry on 14th
Little Grebe Fairly common in small numbers, especially in parks
Great Crested Grebe Small numbers in Hakata Bay, 1 at Arasaki and a few in Shimanoseki harbour
Black-footed Albatross Only 1 from the ferry, on 15th
Laysan Albatross 6+ from the ferry on 9th, 8-10 on 14th and 7 on 15th
Streaked Shearwater Only 2 from the ferry, on 15th
Short-tailed Shearwater 5 from the ferry on 9th and 1 on 15th
Great Cormorant Abundant around Tokyo and common in estuaries and inland waters in Kyushu
Japanese/ Temminck’s Cormorant The not uncommon large cormorants in northern waters, mainly from the ferry, were presumably this species, indistinguishable from the above without a good view
Pelagic Cormorant Common off the Hokkaido capes and in northern waters from the ferry
Whooper Swan Locally common in eastern Hokkaido
Brent Goose 3+ Notsuke peninsula, Hokkaido
Mandarin Duck 35 near the Meiji Shrine, 14 at Inagushira-koen and a few at Ueno, Tokyo
Eurasian Wigeon Small numbers in Tokyo, common on Kyushu with even a few at Mi-ike
Falcated Duck 2 drakes in Ohori-koen and 17 in Hakata Bay
Gadwall Fairly common in Tokyo parks and small numbers in Kyushu
Common Teal Common in Tokyo and Kyushu
Mallard Common in Tokyo and Kyushu
Spot-billed Duck Similar numbers and distribution to Mallard
Northern Pintail Abundant in Tokyo, a few on Hokkaido and fairly common on Kyushu
Northern Shoveler Fairly common in Tokyo but scarcer on Kyushu
Common Pochard Abundant locally in Kyushu, eg at Ohori-koen and common in Tokyo
Tufted Duck Small numbers on inland waters in Tokyo and Kyushu
Greater Scaup Locally common off the Hokkaido coast
Harlequin Duck Common off the Hokkaido coast
Long-tailed Duck Locally common off the Hokkaido coast and in northern waters from the ferry
Black Scoter Locally common off the Hokkaido coast and from the ferry
White-winged/ Velvet Scoter Small numbers off the Hokkaido coast
Common Goldeneye Fairly common off the Hokkaido coast
Smew 4 drakes and 3 females at Kushiro
Red-breasted Merganser Several on/ around Hokkaido and Kyushu, including 1 female at Mi-ike
SCALY-SIDED MERGANSER Mergus squamatus An immature male at Mi-ike
Common Merganser/ Goosander A few around Hokkaido
Little Egret A few from the Tokyo - Hakata train and in Kyushu
Pacific Reef-Egret 1 at Shingu, Hakata Bay
Grey Heron Common at Arasaki and small numbers throughout Kyushu
Great Egret A few from Tokyo to Kyushu
Cattle Egret A few small parties on Kyushu
Green Heron A few singles on Kyushu
Black-crowned Night-Heron A few in Tokyo and quite common on Kyushu, eg 7 fishing at Kashi
[Scarlet Ibis] 1 at Arasaki had obviously escaped from somewhere
Eurasian Spoonbill At least 1 in the flock of 14 spoonbills roosting at the Zuibaiji estuary
BLACK-FACED SPOONBILL Platalea minor At least 2 in the above flock
Osprey 1 at Arasaki and 2 at Yatsushira
Black-eared Kite 100+ at Lake Furen, common at Arasaki and small numbers elsewhere
White-tailed Eagle A scattering throughout SE Hokkaido, with 30+ at Furen-ko
Steller’s Sea-Eagle A scattering throughout SE Hokkaido, with 14 at a small cape near Akkeshi and 150+ at Furen-ko - only visible late am on 12th when approx. half were on the ice and the others soared out of the Shikunitai “island” woodland - few were seen there in the afternoon
Eastern Marsh-Harrier A pair at Arasaki
Common Buzzard 1 at Mt Takao and several on Hokkaido
Eurasian Kestrel A few on Kyushu
Peregrine Falcon Singles at Capes Kiritappu and Nosappu
Chinese Bamboo-Partridge Heard in brush at Tokyo and Hakata Bay
Common Moorhen Common in Tokyo and Kyushu
Eurasian Coot Small numbers in Tokyo and Kyushu, eg 4 at Ohori-koen
Common Crane 2 at Arasaki
HOODED CRANE Grus monacha 7000/ 8000 at Arasaki
Sandhill Crane 2 at Arasaki
Red-crowned Crane 75 at one “reserve” and 90 at another, with a lot of movement
WHITE-NAPED CRANE Grus vipio 800/ 1000 at Arasaki
Eurasian Curlew 3 at Yatsu, Tokyo
Common Greenshank 3 at the Zuibaiji estuary
Green Sandpiper 1 at Arasaki
Common Sandpiper A few at Arasaki
Dunlin Numerous at Yatsu
Black-winged Stilt 6 at Yatsu
Grey Plover Common at Yatsu
Northern Lapwing Fairly common at Arasaki
Black-tailed Gull Larus crassirostris Common from the ferry, at Yatsu and around Hakata Bay
Mew/ Kamchatka Gull Larus (canus) kamtschatschensis Common at Kushiro, fairly common from the ferry and a few around Hakata
Glaucous-winged Gull Larus glaucescens Common at Cape Nosappu and a few around Furen-ko
Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus Common on Hokkaido and in northern waters
HEUGLIN’S/ Herring GULL Larus heuglini taimyrensis 2+ at Shingu, Hakata Bay and 1 at Ohori-koen
Vega/ Herring/ Heuglin’s Gull Larus (argentatus/ heuglini) vegae Common from the ferry and in Hakata Bay
[Yellow-legged Gull Larus cachinnans barabensis] A small, white-headed (unstreaked) dark eyed gull at Shingu, Hakata Bay on 16th was suspected of being this species by NM - an unusual and interesting sighting since there are no “official” records for East Asia (although Nial has seen similar birds in Kyushu before).
Slaty-backed Gull Larus schistisagus Abundant on Hokkaido and from the ferry, with a few at Ohori-koen and Hakata Bay
Common Black-headed Gull Larus ridibundus Numerous in Tokyo and Kyushu.
SAUNDERS’ GULL Larus saundersi 1 at Yatsu and 7 at the Zuibaiji estuary
Black-legged Kittiwake Larus tridactylus Abundant from the ferry on 9th and 14th but uncommon near Hokkaido
Pomarine Skua 30+ on both ferry journeys
Common Murre/ Guillemot 30+ guillemots from the ferry on 13th included both species, but most were unidentified
Thick-billed Murre/ Brunnich’s Guillemot 2 from the ferry on 10th and see above
Pigeon Guillemot A bird at Cape Kiritappu was cause for debate - I considered it to be this species
Spectacled Guillemot At least 1 off Cape Nosappu
Ancient Murrelet 150/ 200 from the ferry on 9th and 500/ 1000 on 14th
Japanese Murrelet 2 from the ferry on 15th
CRESTED AUKLET Aethia cristatella 50 from the ferry on 10th and 10,000+ on 13th - many dense flocks streaming past the bows of the ship for hours
LEAST AUKLET Aethia pusilla 500/ 1000 from the ferry on 10th and 500 on 13th, with 25+ at Cape Kiritappu.
Rufous Turtle-Dove Very common throughout the Tokyo area and Kyushu
Blakiston’s Fish-Owl A pair of adults at a feeding station at dusk were followed by 2 first-years after leaving
Ural Owl One was heard at Tachibanayama but did not fly in to view
Short-eared Owl 2 at Notsuke peninsula
Common Kingfisher 1 at Arasaki
Crested Kingfisher 1 at Arasaki
Pygmy Woodpecker Fairly common - 1 or 2 heard or seen in most woodland throughout
Japanese (Green) Woodpecker Singles at Mt Takao and Tachibanayama, and 3 at DA’s suburban “patch”
Eurasian Jay Fairly common on Hokkaido and several elsewhere
Black-billed Magpie 2 from the Fukuoka - Izumi train
Azure-winged Magpie A small party at Yatsu was the only record - I had previously found it common in Tokyo
DAURIAN JACKDAW Corvus dauricus At least 4 in a large Corvid flock at Arasaki
Rook 100+ in the flock at Arasaki
Carrion Crow A few on Hokkaido and probably common around Arasaki
Large-billed Crow Common throughout
Ryukyu Minivet Flight calls heard at Mi-ike (and birds later seen by my two Japanese “friends”) were thought to be this sp. P.tegimae, some of which apparently migrate northwards in winter(!), rather than Ashy P.divaricatus which leaves Japan.
Bull-headed Shrike Several singles, including 1 at DA’s “patch” and 2 at Shingu
Blue Rock-Thrush 1 at Shingu
Scaly (White’s) Thrush A good view of 1 at Mt Takao
Pale Thrush Fairly common, particularly at Mt Takao, but skulking - in most woodland around Tokyo and on Kyushu
Brown-headed Thrush Several in woodland around Tokyo and on Kyushu
Dusky Thrush Surprisingly scarce, with only a scattering of small numbers around Tokyo and Kyushu
Common Starling A party of 6 birds flying from a TV arial at the Kumagawa estuary, Kyushu was thought to be this rare species, which is normally only seen around Arasaki; the only other likely possibility is Japanese Waxwing!
White-cheeked Starling Fairly common around Tokyo and on Kyushu
Red-throated Flycatcher Found by NM at Ohori-koen a few days earlier, 1 was still present there on 19th - a rare record. Said to be a potential split from F. parva
Daurian Redstart Only 1, at Hakata Bay on 16th , a most unusual situation
Eurasian Nuthatch Fairly common in woodland throughout
(Winter) Wren 2 at Mt Takao were the only ones noted, but probably overlooked
Long-tailed Tit Several small parties in woodland throughout
Asian Martin 30+ at Izumi and a town 30-40km to the North
Goldcrest A few at Mt Takao
Brown-eared Bulbul Abundant throughout
Japanese White-eye Common in woodland and parkland in Tokyo and Kyushu
Zitting Cisticola 2 or 3 at Arasaki
Japanese Bush-Warbler Several around Tokyo and on Kyushu
Marsh Tit Common on Hokkaido
Willow Tit A few on Hokkaido and around Tokyo.
Coal Tit Common throughout
Great Tit Abundant throughout. Japanese research has idicated that this form might merit splitting, as Parus minor.
Varied Tit Fairly common around Tokyo, including the Meiji Shrine, and on Kyushu
CHINESE PENDULINE-TIT Remiz consobrinus Two parties of 5 and 3+ in typha at the Zuibaiji estuary - not found at Arasaki
Japanese Skylark Common throughout Kyushu
Russet Sparrow A single flock of c.500 near Mi-ike, mianly perched on wires
Eurasian Tree Sparrow Abundant in the vicinity of buildings throughout
Black-backed Wagtail Common throughout the Tokyo region and Kyushu
Japanese Wagtail 2 at DA’s “patch” and a few on Kyushu
Grey Wagtail Several on Mt Takao and Kyushu
Buff-bellied Pipit Common on farmland on Kyushu. Another potential split - Anthus japonicus - as this form nests alongside A.rubescens in the Russian far east without interbreeding, according to Pavel Tomkovich (per NM).
Grey-capped Greenfinch Fairly common in Tokyo and Kyushu, usually in small flocks
Eurasian Siskin/ Redpoll A flock of 40/ 50 by L Furen contained one or both of these sp.
ASIAN ROSY-FINCH Leucosticte arctoa Two flocks of 10+ on Hokkaido: one near Cape Akkeshi and the other at Cape Kiritappu
Eurasian Bullfinch 2 at DA’s “patch”
Hawfinch 2 at DA’s “patch”
Japanese Grosbeak 3 at Mt Takao and 6 at Mi-ike
Meadow Bunting Common in small numbers in Tokyo and Kyushu
Rustic Bunting 2 at Meiji Shrine and the Zuibaiji estuary, several at Hakata Bay on 16th
Yellow-throated Bunting A few at DA’s “patch” and Mi-ike, and 10 at Hakata Bay
Black-faced Bunting Fairly common around Tokyo and on Kyushu
GREY BUNTING Emberiza variabilis 4 at Tachibanayama and 3/ 4 heard at Hakata Bay but could not be seen despite a long search - an arch-skulker in winter
Reed Bunting Several at Arasaki
Baer’s Pochard Ohori-koen, Fukuoka and Tokyo in Jan
Baikal Teal Karuizawa or Ura-Myogi; Tokyo in Jan
Steller’s Eider 35 at Cape Nosappu, seen briefly by DA at third attempt
Bufflehead 2 at Cape Notsuke
Spotted Eagle 1 near Sendai
Imperial Eagle 1 near Sendai
Siberian Crane 1 near Kagoshima airport, Kyushu
Rock Sandpiper Choshi, Chiba-ken - note that it only occurs in Hokkaido on spring passage in late March/ April
Great Black-headed Gull Kumagawa estuary
Stock Dove 2 at Arasaki
Japanese Waxwing ?
Pallas’s Rosefinch 1 near Mount Fuji in Jan
2. SOUTH KOREA
C Chunam reservoir complex; K Kyongju vicinity; N Nakdong estuary; Y Yangdong vicinity.
Little Grebe Common at C and Y, a few at K
Great Crested Grebe Common throughout
Great Cormorant Abundant around Pusan harbour - nesting on a large rock beyond the harbour entrance - Japanese/ Temminck’s Cormorants may also have been present; and a few elsewhere
Bewick’s Swan Several at C
Whooper Swan 500 at C, 100 at N and 4 at Y
Bean Goose 5000 at C, 2000+ at Y and 50 at N
White-fronted Goose 500 at C
Snow Goose 1, possibly 2, white phase birds at Y
Ruddy Shelduck At least 1 at Y
Common Shelduck 100 at N
Eurasian Wigeon Common at N and C, with a few at Y
Falcated Teal 20+ at C
Gadwall Several at C and 10+ at Y
BAIKAL TEAL Only a handful remained at C (Tongpan Res)
Common Teal Common at C,Y and K
Mallard Common at C,Y and K
Spot-billed Duck Common at C,Y and K
Northern Pintail Several at C
Northern Shoveler Common at C and Y with a few at K
Common Pochard Common at C
Tufted Duck Several at C
CommonGoldeneye Only 1, at Y
Smew 17 at C, 100+ at Y and a few on the river at K
Red-breasted Merganser A few at C
Common Merganser/ Goosander 200+ on the res at Y
Little Egret Common at N and C
Grey Heron Common throughout
Great Egret Occasional throughout
Eurasian Spoonbill 5 at C
Black-eared Kite Only 1 or 2
Northern Goshawk 1 perched on mud at the edge of Chunan Res
Eurasian Kestrel A few at C and Y
Ring-necked Pheasant 1 at Y
Eurasian Coot Several at C
White-naped Crane 3 at C
Northern Lapwing 10+ at C
Eurasian Curlew 20 at N
Saunders’ Gull A few at N but impossible to count due to distance and adverse
Common Black-headed Gull Common throughout
Black-tailed Gull Common at Pusan harbour
RELICT GULL Larus relictus 5+ at N
Common/ Kamchatka Gull 1+ at Pusan harbour
Herring/ Vega Gull Common at Pusan harbour,a few at N and 1 at Y
Slaty-backed Gull At least 1 in Pusan harbour
Ancient Murrelet At least 1 in Pusan harbour
Rufous Turtle-Dove Common throughout
Pygmy-Woodpecker 1 at Y
Eurasian Jay Common at Y and K
Black-billed Magpie Common throughout
Carrion Crow Fairly common throughout
Bull-headed Shrike Several at C and Y, and 2 at K
Dusky Thrush Strangely scarce - only 6, at K
Daurian Redstart 3 at Y
Winter Wren 2 at Y
Vinous-throated Parrotbill Common at C,Y and K
Long-tailed Tit Common at Y and K, with a few at C
Brown-eared Bulbul Common at C,K and Y
Coal Tit 1 at Y
Great Tit Common at C, Y and K
Varied Tit 2 at K
Japanese Skylark Several at N and C, with 60+ at Y
Tree Sparrow Common throughout
Black-backed Wagtail Several throughout
Buff-bellied Pipit Several at N, C and K, with 50+ at Y
SIBERIAN ACCENTOR Prunella montanella 4 at Y
Grey-capped Greenfinch Common throughout
Japanese Grosbeak 15 at K
Pine Bunting A female in a scrubby ditch near the Yangdong - Kyongju road
was an identification problem, finally resolved at home with Buntings and Sparrows (1996)
Meadow Bunting 2+ at N, C and Y
Yellow-throated Bunting Common at C,Y and K
Rustic Bunting 10 at Y
PALLAS’ (REED) BUNTING Emberiza pallasi 2 at Y
MAMMALS IN JAPAN
Fox vulpes vulpes 2 on Hokkaido
Northern Fur Seal Callorhinus ursinus Quite common in northern waters from the ferry
Northern/ Steller’s Sea Lion Eumetopias jubatus Common from the ferry
Harbour Seal Phoca vitulina kurilensis A few on the ice at Notsuke peninsula
Bottle-nosed Dolphin Tursiops truncatus Sporadically quite common from the ferry
Pygmy Killer Whale Feresa attenuata A single pod from the ferry
Dall’s Porpoise Phocoenoides dalli Several from the ferry
Sika Deer Cervus nippon A few in Hokkaido.