Japan in Spring May 06—19, 2017
Posted by Brad Schram
As the evening of May 7 approached, all had safely arrived at Excel Hotel Tokyu in Terminal 2, Haneda International Airport, Tokyo for our tour of Japan’s offshore island highlights. Meeting in the lobby at 7 PM, we proceeded to the dining room for an excellent meal and became acquainted. Tales of travel and brief local birding excursions were exchanged before Kaz briefed us on the next day’s flight to Shonai Airport and onward to Sakata to begin our tour.
Following our May 8 flight, associated baggage collection, and boarding of the hotel shuttle, we drove the half-hour route, enjoying our first ground-level experience of the Japanese countryside. Much of our way proceeded through rice paddies on both sides of the road, all eyes anxious for our first birds of the trip. Gray Herons and Great Egrets were seen easily while the large Eastern Spot-billed Ducks were only somewhat less obvious. The Japanese Black-eared subspecies of Black Kite cruised the paddies and roadside continually, but a large raptor rising from a paddy proved to be a Gray-faced Buzzard—the only one we were to see on the tour. Although some miles from the Sea of Japan, Black-tailed Gulls attended the paddies as well, very much in the manner of California Gulls around inland water in the American West.
Following check-in at the Hotel Inn Sakata, we had lunch at the nearby “Steak & Burger,” hired taxis, and drove to Swan Park at the edge of the Mogami River. The music of a huge remote-controlled weed mower accompanied the first half-hour of birding at riverside, but our wonder at the device somewhat compensated for the noise. The water and shorebirds along the river were unaffected by the din, while a pair of Bull-headed Shrikes profited notably by working the recently cut grass for grubs and insects. A lingering Taiga Bean Goose stalked a distant riverside lawn. In quick order we located the source of constant raucous song from the reeds, a posing Oriental Reed Warbler, as well as Great Crested Grebe, Eurasian (Common) Green-winged Teal, and the nearly ubiquitous Eastern Spot-billed Ducks. Other highlights included scope views of Common Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, and Common Kingfisher. Chestnut-eared Buntings led us through a game of hide-and-seek in the grass while a distant snipe of tentative identification, most probably Swinhoe’s, engaged our investigative instincts. All the while, ubiquitous White Wagtails of the resident black-backed lugens subspecies came and went while White-cheeked Starlings and Black-eared Kites could be found in any 360-degree binocular sweep. We left the Mogami River at 5:30 in a slight chilly breeze, returning to our hotel for dinner and a night’s rest.
Read Brad’s full report in his Field List.