Thursday, August 9, 2018

Connecticut's first LITTLE EGRET - Aug 8, 2018

On Saturday, Aug 4, 2018 Barbara Gearhart found a Little Egret at Napatree Point, Rhode Island. This was tantalizingly close to Connecticut, which had no prior records of the species. Further tormenting CT birders, early each morning the egret was spotted at Napatree and seemed to fly towards Barn Island in CT. Yet exhaustive searches of the large marsh system there did not turn up the bird. It was presumed to be feeding somewhere in CT, but could not be found...

After a long evening walk at Barn Island on Monday the 6th, Allison Black and I decided to stop by Stonington Point to scan the water for egrets traveling to roost. We were surprised to find 100+ egrets roosting with several hundred cormorants on the east breakwater off Stonington Point. The birds were too far and the light too low to have any chance at picking out the Little Egret, if it decided to roost there. But we were intrigued, as that breakwater is just over the state line into Connecticut.

On Tuesday the 7th, the bird's main daytime feeding grounds were finally revealed. It was again observed first thing at Napatree, and again flew north towards CT...but this time Matt Schenck saw it turn southeast towards Misquamicut, RI. It was refound later that morning by Tom Seiter feeding along Atlantic Ave in Misquamicut. This location is six miles east of Napatree...and six miles farther from Connecticut.

Meanwhile, a few of us had been talking strategy. We wanted to get out to that breakwater for dusk to see if the vagrant egret was using that roost. We thought it was likely that it would be out there, but getting to the breakwater and then finding the bird in falling light would not be easy. The fact that the bird was found feeding well into Rhode Island only increased our resolve to get out there, since we thought it would be our only hope while it kept to its current daytime pattern.


Phil Rusch was able to secure a charter out of Avondale, RI for this evening (Aug 8). My boat, docked in Norwalk, was not a reasonable logistical option. Phil, Dave Provencher, Allison Black and I filled the charter. Each of us had already put effort into finding this bird in CT, and we were eager to try a new angle.


We left the dock by 6:30pm and were pulling up to the east breakwater at 6:45. The first egret arrived around 7pm. A handful more trickled in before a flock of 20 arrived - all Snowies. At 7:14pm I noticed a distant lone bird perched further down the rocks that looked perhaps large-billed and did not have obviously yellow lores, and asked the captain to put towards it. The closer we got, the more suspicious it looked. "Guys, get on this bird." Sure enough, we had found it.


We were pretty stoked that our efforts had paid off. And very grateful that the bird didn't wait until dark to come to roost! It just happened to work out beautifully.


The LITTLE EGRET eventually moved further down the breakwater to join the main throng of Snowies, and we headed back to dock a very happy group!





Second from right. Note the strong black bill and the bird's overall larger size than Snowy Egret.

Center frame. Note the thick, black legs among more classic features.

The captain who agreed to take us out, Dave Shepherd, was incredibly accommodating and seemed genuinely excited to be a part of our experiment. If you'd like to contact Capt. Dave to try to replicate our results, you can give him a call at 845-263-0119.


Please also contact Ian Devlin at captain_ian@yahoo.com. He is one heck of a local fishing guide who is also a birder and will be happy to take folks out for the egret, just as he did for last year's Bridled Tern!

For anyone trying to view this bird from land, I think it will be difficult at best. The closest point of land is Stonington Point, which is two-thirds of a mile from the breakwater. Even in perfect viewing conditions, certain identification may not be possible at all. If you can't secure access to a boat, you can kayak out there...but please be safe.


I suppose that someone could scope from the point while another person on boat/kayak tries to give directions to the egret. Whether or not you would feel comfortable "counting" a bird under those circumstances is of course up to you.


Here is a map showing the three known locations this bird seems to be favoring based on its current pattern. It must leave the roost very early, as it has been seen feeding at Napatree first thing in the morning. It then moves east to feed in the marsh off Atlantic Ave in Misquamicut. It apparently comes to back roost on the east Stonington breakwater in CT after 7pm.



You can see the state line that separates CT, RI, and NY in the bottom left corner of the map. The CT/RI line lies just east of the breakwater in question.

 - Nick

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Japan, Feb 2018: Honshu leg 2

February 18:
Julian had to get back a day earlier than Dave and I, so he took the hotel’s shuttle to HND for his departure, which went smoothly. Dave and I walked across the street to Nippon Rent-A-Car, where we had secured a cheap 12-hour compact car rental for the day. We drove east to Chiba/Ibaraki to clean up on a handful of key species we didn’t want to miss.

We ended up doing a lot more driving than birding. Traffic was dense at times, and the going was slow, even on the toll roads. Our targets were very scattered throughout the two prefectures, and we ended up doing a large loop.

One of our prime targets was Brown-headed Thrush. This species can be seen in small numbers at several locations in and around Tokyo, but a particular cluster of reports around Narita Airport was most convenient for us. We began by walking the woodland immediately north of the Hilton Tokyo Narita Airport, between the hotel itself and the Tokko River. After unsuccessfully stalking a couple of Turdus thrushes in dense undergrowth, we had brief but close views of a BROWN-HEADED THRUSH along the north edge of the woodland. The birding here was good for common passerines and included a JAPANESE WAGTAIL.

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S42905236

From here we drove ENE to the Tone River reed beds in search of Ochre-rumped Bunting, which had been seen there recently. Upon arrival the wind really kicked up, and we knew that passerine birding would be affected. We dipped on the bunting but had our first looks at EASTERN MARSH-HARRIERS. Flocks of diving ducks littered the river, and several species of gull were commuting up and down river.

male Dusky Thrush

presumed female Dusky Thrush
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S42909987

We made a very quick stop at Ukishima Marsh, only because we were driving past it, and noted another EASTERN MARSH-HARRIER. This is a very reliable spot for this raptor, and from what I can gather it may be a roost site for them, as I have seen several double-digit evening counts.

Our next stop was the Edosaki rice paddies, where a flock of TAIGA BEAN-GEESE winters. We found the birds pretty quickly and proceeded to drive the farm roads so we could get close views and photos…that is, until a man began waving from the other end of the fields and yelling at us in Japanese. It was obvious that he was adamantly telling us to leave. It took us a bit to realize that we had entered from the west side (which must have been the back way) and illegally driven into the field complex, which is actually a protected area! We had no idea; it was an honest mistake. These things can happen when you chase down random eBird reports that include no background information. Anyway, we left the fields and drove away without even getting out of the car. It was a bit anti-climactic. Before we left, though, we did pick out two GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GEESE in the bean-goose flock.

Taiga Bean-Geese

Two Greater White-fronted Geese (front right) with Taiga Bean-Geese
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S42912962

We would find our next stop, the Motono rice fields, more frustrating. We were in search of the “BEWICK’S” TUNDRA SWANS that winter here. We had a particular farm pond marked, but we arrived to find carloads of people doing who-knows-what, and only six sleeping swans on the pond. We didn’t even bother with that mess and resigned to driving around the surrounding fields, checking farms and waterways for more swans without any luck. Moving on!

After all that driving, it was time for some proper birding. We spent the last couple hours of daylight at North Lake Inbanuma, not in search of anything in particular. We viewed from the northwestern shore, which was quite birdy, though our attention would be fixed onto one bird for some time. We spotted a TERN flying over the lake, which we soon realized was one of the marsh terns (Whiskered, White-winged, or Black…in decreasing order of likelihood). Any of those would be a very good bird for February. I recalled a marsh tern being reported from a lake in Chiba in the preceding days, but do not think it had been identified with confidence; it was presumed a Whiskered based on likelihood. This was likely the same bird. Dave and I struggled in the field to put a name to it. This was a first-winter bird. We captured a bunch of images. Later that evening, after dinner, we scoured the internet for resources and realized it was a WHISKERED TERN. It was a nice lesson in basic-plumaged Chlidonias terns. While the tern monopolized our attention for a while, we did get to enjoy some of the other birds around the lake. FALCATED DUCKS were well-represented with a flock of 160, by far our highest count of that species for the trip. Three SMEW were scoped from a distance. A few more EASTERN MARSH-HARRIERS coursed over the reeds that lined the lake. We could have explored this place for a while longer, but we were losing light and we had to return the car by a certain time to get the reduced 12-hour rate. Our birding in Japan had come to an end. It was great to close out the trip with an unexpected bird and a bit of an ID challenge, especially after a day of pure ticking-and-running.

Whiskered Tern

Whiskered Tern

Whiskered Tern
Eastern Marsh-Harrier

Eastern Marsh-Harrier
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S42919855

After returning the car, we walked to dinner near Haneda Inn where we had pizza at an Italian restaurant. I promise that the pizza was actually pretty good. Or maybe we were just sick of fish. Night at Haneda Inn.

February 19:

Dave and I took an early morning shuttle to HND for our flight back home, direct to JFK.

 - Nick

PS - Again, check Cloudbirders soon for the full report with logistical/planning details! Some parts of this blog may refer back to that section of the full trip report, so if you see a line of text referring to a piece of information that does not seem to exist here, it is likely in that full report. Thanks for reading!

Japan, Feb 2018: Hokkaido

February 12:
We awoke to a coating of snow on the ground but had no issues getting to the airport. We made sure we were there for rental car office opening. The vehicle was dropped off quickly and we made our flight easily. We flew from KOJ to KUH (Kushiro, Hokkaido) via a quick layover at HND.

We rented from Nissan at Kushiro airport via Japan Experience. Another easy-breezy car pickup. This time we made sure to rent a beast, a Nissan XTrail with snow tires.

It was a mad dash to get birding! We had two stops to make before our first shot at Blakiston’s Fish-Owl. So we drove north to Otowa Bridge, where a NORTHERN SHRIKE had been wintering. We spotted the shrike straight away, perched rather low to the stream. We parked the car and gathered our gear only to find that the bird had vanished. Better view desired. Yes, we have this species throughout the northern tier of North America, but shrike taxonomy is far from settled, and we would at the very least be seeing a different subspecies here. While here we had our first looks at the majestic RED-CROWNED CRANE. This is a well-known roost site for the crane, so it is a popular dawn location for birders at this time of year.

Very nearby we had a tip on a URAL OWL roost. With directions well-researched, we found the bird resting comfortably in its tree. The Ural Owls on Hokkaido are ghostly pale, IMO a better looking form than the darker subspecies. This was without a doubt one of the most sought after species of the trip for the three of us.

Ural Owl
Julian scopes the owl for an intimate view
On a roll, we spent as much time with the owl as we could before we had to continue northeast to Yoroushi Hot Spring, where we would be spending the night at Yuyado Daiichi. We wanted to be set up by dark, in case the owl came in for an early meal.

From the moment we rolled up, we realized that this would be a different experience. Lodge staff greeted us with tea and sat us in their lobby that overlooked the stream and feeding station. We had our first looks at “BRANDT’S” EURASIAN JAY and the asiatica subspecies of EURASIAN NUTHATCH.


"Brandt's" Eurasian Jay
Our traditional Japanese-style room was luxurious and spacious, also with a view over the stream.





We headed downstairs, made dinner reservations, and set up for the owl vigil. Basically, you sit along the large glass windows and wait for the owl. Visits, as you would imagine, are unpredictable. The birds did not show at all the night before. Sometimes one has to wait through the night for a predawn visit. They keep a calendar of sightings at the front desk. Well, it’s a good thing we were set up early, because the owl caught a fish right outside the window around 6:10pm. The entirety of the visit probably lasted a minute or two, max.



Blakiston's Fish-Owl
You are very, very close to the action
As you could imagine, dinner was quite relaxed! Pressure’s off, baby. Our two target owl species within hours of one another, and great views to boot. Already on a bit of a high, we were about to enjoy the meal of the trip. Some five courses came out for us, all wonderfully presented and delicious (though we weren’t quite sure what some of it was). Halfway through our meal, Mark Brazil, who was guiding a group of his own, was kind enough to notify us when a SABLE appeared around the feeding station. This was a life weasel for us and one of the cooler mammals of the trip for sure.




Sable
After dinner we again set up shop at the lobby windows to wait for another owl appearance. This time there was no tension, so we enjoyed local Whiskey and recounted the afternoon’s wildly successful events. At 10:15pm, after being entertained by two Sables chasing one another, we called it a night.

February 13:
At breakfast this morning we learned that the Fish-Owl made a repeat appearance around 4am. Breakfast was buffet style and truly superb. In the stream right outside the breakfast room was a SOLITARY SNIPE. This is a regular wintering bird here but is far from guaranteed on any given day. We were pleased to have great on-the-ground views to compliment our flight views from Karuizawa.

Solitary Snipe

We reluctantly departed Yuyado Daiichi at 9am. We were in no rush to leave that place! We had scheduled more time on Hokkaido than any other island, in part to allow for a weather delay or two if necessary. The forecast for the rest of our stay was fine with no imminent blizzards on the horizon. Given that information, we had the opportunity to explore a bit. Of interest to us was the Shari-Abashari stretch of coast, which marks the southernmost edge of the Sea of Okhotsk. There is actually a history of Ross’s Gull wrecks here during inclement weather in early winter. We assume that this is an under-birded stretch of coast and deserved a check while we were nearby. Shari itself was iced in. Solid sea ice. While it made for quite a visual (my first personal experience with sea ice), it was no good for waterbirds. We had our long-awaited first looks at EAGLES, one or two each of STELLER’S and WHITE-TAILED. We could see that there was open water to the west, towards Abashari, so we continued in that direction, hoping for a concentration of alcids, waterfowl, and/or gulls. We were disappointed to find the open water mostly devoid of birds. Hey, it was worth a shot.

Looking towards the Shiretoko Peninsula from the Abashari area

White-tailed Eagle
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S42720513

Sea ice map:
http://www1.kaiho.mlit.go.jp/KAN1/drift_ice/ice_chart/ice_calendar.html

From Shari we were ultimately headed to Rausu for the night. The most direct route would have been over the Shiretoko Pass, which is along the Shiretoko-Odan Road (Route 334 per Google maps) on the Shiretoko Peninsula. BUT this pass is CLOSED during winter, so instead we drove southeast along 244, which reaches the coast at Shibetsu. From the Shibetsu area we drove north up the coast towards Rausu and began stopping at overlooks and harbors. At a small coastal harbor (one of many) possibly called Kunbetsu (?) we began to get into some birds. The dominant sea ducks in east Hokkaido are BLACK SCOTER, COMMON GOLDENEYE, HARLEQUIN DUCK, COMMON MERGANSER, RED-BREASTED MERGANSER, and GREATER SCAUP. This particular spot had one each of ARCTIC and PACIFIC LOONS plus one or two distant Arctic/Pacific. A bit further north, from the Sakimui Bridge, we picked out another ARCTIC LOON and our first SPECTACLED GUILLEMOT. Loons were scarce for us, and these were the only two Arctics we would see, so they are especially worth mentioning. Our first Hokkaido flocks of large white-headed gulls were apparent; SLATY-BACKED GULL is by far the most common species, with lesser numbers of GLAUCOUS and GLAUCOUS-WINGED. There was no sea ice in sight, which we took as a bad omen for tomorrow’s eagle cruise!

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S42720596

Unfortunately we had to call it quits with light still left because we had yet another date with Blakiston’s Fish-Owl that evening and still had to check into our hotel in Rausu. We booked this trip too late to get a room at Washi-no-Yado, so we had to settle for a place in town called Rausu-no-Yado Marumi, booked via Japanican. We were surprised to get a room on the second floor that overlooked the ocean! There is a Seicomart right there for foodstuffs. 


Room with a view...of a gull roost!
Anyway, we arrived at Washi-no-Yado and were shown the “observation room.” See my notes in the “Hokkaido planning” section of the full report on Cloudbirders for more info. To reiterate…it's a bit of a shit show here; very disorganized. But we all crammed in and made it work. Once again we got lucky with the owl, having to hardly wait at all after dark for its 5:45pm appearance. Satisfied with our two easy BLAKISTON’S experiences, we took off at 7:45pm.

Blakiston's Fish-Owl
The Observation Room at Washi
February 14:
We were greeted by a stunning sunrise view from our hotel room. There was nothing moving offshore, which is a shame because we had a great vantage. I went down to the water’s edge behind the hotel to try to chum in some gulls with cat food. Amazingly they would not take the bait. Spoiled by quality fish I guess! I was still able to get a few photos before we had to leave to make the eagle boat.


Glaucous Gull
Our eagle cruise was at 9am on the boat Kamuiwakka. Upon arrival we were informed that there was in fact no inshore sea ice, so we would not get that experience. The trip was shortened from 2 hours to 90 minutes, and price was knocked from 10,000yen to 7,000yen per person. We had heard that we were still in for a treat regardless of the ice conditions, and this was 100% accurate. The eagles put on quite a show. We estimated 50 STELLER’S and 75 WHITE-TAILED – just wow. At one point at least 100 eagles were visible at once. In addition to the star attraction, we had some nice looks at gulls and ducks as we commuted through the harbor. Back at the dock, a couple of ASIAN ROSY-FINCHES called as they flew high overhead, but we did not score any views.










size comparison between the two species




https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S42740771

In the afternoon we chose to explore a bit more, birding our way up the coast north of Rausu, stopping at any decent ocean view. It was still very quiet on the water. Where were the birds? We did have some nice gull flocks along the way, especially a few pure groups of KAMCHATKA GULLS. The highlights were few but included PACIFIC LOON, 2 COMMON MURRE, several SPECTACLED GUILLEMOTS, a flight view of a CRESTED AUKLET, and our first SIKA DEER of the trip.

mixed gull flock

Kamchatka Gulls

Slaty-backed Gull

Sika Deer
Night back at Rausu-no-Yado with full dinner included.

February 15:
We were on the road early this morning, eager to get ourselves further east and hopefully into some waterbirds! Hopes were high for the Notsuke Peninsula, a long sandspit that juts into the sea. The road out to the tip is some 10 miles long. We went about as far as we could, to the nature center/observation tower about 9 miles out. The weather was…challenging. We were greeted by a gale from the northwest which could not be escaped in this open landscape. We’re talking the kind of wind that knocks scopes over with ease, blows sand above eye level, and makes winter birding miserable. Returning here later in the week would have taken us far out of our way, so we had to power through.

Sika Deer and a Red Fox sprint across the frigid, barren landscape
This can be a decent place for Asian Rosy-Finch and Snow Bunting, but in this weather we were not holding our breaths for any passerines. We finally got out of the car to scope from the tower. While unloading his gear from the trunk, Dave’s camera slipped out of his hand and slammed against the pavement. Turns out that pavement beats camera like rock beats scissors.

Dave wouldn’t be missing that camera today. From the tower we were pleased to see many alcids moving offshore, for the first time. But they were mostly specks that were rocketing between whitecaps. We were able to identify some birds as they shot past; there were several SPECTACLED GUILLEMOTS, three LEAST AUKLETS, and a THICK-BILLED MURRE.

BLACK SCOTER was the dominant duck, but we were on a search for “STEJNEGER’S” WHITE-WINGED SCOTER. After many stops on our way back towards the mainland, we finally located a handful. It seems that the first 5k of the road is actually the most productive for this species based on previous reports, and this is where we had ours.

"Stejneger's" White-winged Scoters
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S42762054

Once we were done with the Notsuke Peninsula we headed southeast for the Nemuro Peninsula. Stopping at a couple harbors en route we had the usual suspects except for a single adult “HERRING” GULL, the only one we would see on all of Hokkaido. This bird was interesting in that it seemed pale-mantled and had a staring pale iris, recalling smithsonianus. I ran back for my camera only to have the bird fly seconds before I returned. My flight photos were equivocal, though the broad white trailing edge was more vegae-like.

Our first Nemuro Peninsula stop was the Onnemoto Bird Hide, where there is a history of a wintering flock of Rock Sandpipers. We did not connect with this species, and there had not yet been any reports from there all winter. We had our first of many PIGEON GUILLEMOTS there, apparently of both the snowi and columba subspecies.

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S42764553

Next we scoped for a while from Cape Nosappu, where alcids were more abundant. SPECTACLED GUILLEMOTS were common, including several small flocks. We estimated about 45 of them. We also had 1 COMMON MURRE, 3 PIGEON GULLEMOTS (both forms), 1 ANCIENT MURRELET and 1 LEAST AUKLET. Most views were quite distant, but a few of the guillemots hung pretty close to shore. Immature RED-FACED CORMORANTS are known to winter here in ones and twos, and we had at least two birds this afternoon. One came in to roost on the cliffs to the west of the lighthouse, and another was seen well flying by with the numerous PELAGIC CORMORANTS.

Red-faced Cormorant (right) with Pelagic Cormorant


Japanese Coast Guard patrolling waters between Hokkaido and the Kuril Islands, in dispute but currently claimed by Russia

https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S42765081

We stopped back at Onnemoto hide for another Rock Sand check, also in vain. But Julian spotted a SHORT-EARED OWL coursing the fields. We had a second one further down the road as we drove back west.

We checked in at Furen Lodge and met Take and his wife Masako. This is a true birder’s lodge, run by a birder for birders. Take’s enthusiasm is infectious, and his wealth of knowledge on Hokkaido birdlife is impressive. We picked his brain for as much info as we could, and we spent some time going through his extensive library. Dinner was delicious.

February 16:
Dave and I took a pre-breakfast walk up the road to the Shunkunitai Nature Center woodlands. There were a couple of birdy pockets, and we tallied a quick 21 species, including two encounters with a flyover BOHEMIAN WAXWING, before we had to be back for breakfast at 7.


Black-eared Kite
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S42823237

This morning we were scheduled for the 9am alcid boat out of Habomai. It cost 5000 yen per person for 900-1045am cruise (see my notes on this in the Hokkaido Planning section above). Despite our gripes, we had fine views of several alcids. We ended up with 10 PIGEON GUILLEMOT (both forms), 30 SPECTACLED GUILLEMOT, 3 ANCIENT MURRELET and 3 LEAST AUKLET.

Least Auklet

Ancient Murrelets

Pigeon Guillemot (Which form, though? We had trouble with a couple individuals)

Spectacled Guillemot (transition plumage)

Spectacled Guillemot (basic plumage)

Pigeon Guillemot, form snowi

same bird as above

Spectacled Guillemot (alternate plumage)

Common Pochard

Harlequin Duck
Shiretoko Peninsula

alcid boat out of Habomai

passing Cape Nosappu

Birders call out alcids from the bow
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S42827781

After the cruise we dropped Dave back at the lodge for a rest, and Julian and I decided to check a couple more harbors. Wheel Rock at Hanasaki Harbor provides a great vantage to the sea. There were no alcids here, but we did have 4 more “STEJNEGER’S” WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS and 7 RED-NECKED GREBES. Down at Hanasaki Port itself we photographed some gulls and proceeded to Ochiishi Port. A Gyrfalcon had been reported here a few days prior as a flyby, and Asian Rosy-Finches are known to winter along the slopes above the harbor. It was dead for us.


White-tailed Eagle

first cycle Kamchatka Gull

Black Scoter

Black-eared Kite
A quick check of woodlands near Furen Lodge didn’t get us much. Night at Furen Lodge, back before dark to plan our last day on Hokkaido.

Sika Deer

Whooper Swan
February 17:
This was our Hokkaido “clean-up day,” and we had many stops scheduled on our way back towards Kushiro. Snow was forecast for the day and we had lots to accomplish before our 7pm flight to Tokyo! We took an early start on our stealth mission for ASIAN ROSY-FINCH. We would visit the infamous house on Cape Kiritappu that feeds the local wintering finch flock. The problem is that the owner of the home/inn detests birders that try to view his finches from the road. Our plan was to get in and out early, not long after sunrise, before anyone could notice our presence. The plan worked, as we didn’t have to wait very long before a flock of 48 birds landed on the powerlines along the road. Here we had prolonged views of the skittish flock from the car. We did not have any issues with the owner. Next we quickly scoped from the lighthouse parking area further down the road and had another 3 “STEJNEGER’S” WHITE-WINGED SCOTERS. Note that seawatching here on a sunny morning is tough because you’re mainly looking to the east. This cape is also a known spot for Rough-legged Hawk, but we were not aware of any being seen this winter.

Asian Rosy-Finch
"Peep is a crime."
The infamous sign in front of the rosy-finch yard.

Flock of Asian Rosy-Finches on the wires
seawatching further out the cape
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S42855734

We jogged inland a bit to the Kiritappu Wetlands Center because Eurasian Bullfinch (“Baikal,” a possible split) had been reported there before. It was a shot in the dark, and we only had common passerines here.

Biwase Observation Point is the known local wintering spot for “BLACK” BRANT, and we had little trouble finding the flock, though they were distant. A trip tick anyway.

Our route took us by Lake Akkeshi where we would check for Smew, which had eluded us to this point and was a major target bird. After a quick convenience store stop we picked a random side road to check for a view of the lake on its south shore. In the open water directly in front of us was a handsome pair of SMEW!

drake Smew
https://ebird.org/view/checklist/S42858999

We continued towards the city on Route 44 and chose a random pull-off to stop and bird. We were caught off guard when a flock of 4 EURASIAN BULLFINCHES flew over calling – nice! Looking on a map now, I see that this was on the northern border of Kushirocho Forest Park.

We were really kicking butt at this point, even ahead of schedule for the day. We took advantage of this extra time to drop into Kushiro itself so Dave could try to track down a new camera body. He found a camera shop and soon walked out with a brand new Nikon D500 J

The snow began to fall as we made our way north out of Kushiro. We stopped by Otowa Bridge again in hopes of a better look at the wintering NORTHERN SHRIKE that we had seen so briefly back on the 12th. Lo and behold the bird was back. This time we were able to set up scopes for prolonged views before it flew off to the north. I hit a bit of a dead-end trying to ID this bird to subspecies:


"Asian" Northern Shrike
Red-crowned Crane
Our last scheduled stop of the day was the Tsurui Ito Red-crowned Crane Sanctuary. Up to this point we had not yet had a chance to really spend time with this iconic Japanese bird. The moderate snowfall made for a wonderful wintry atmosphere. There were some 125 birds in the field here, plus a bonus COMMON CRANE, which is a rare bird on Hokkaido. The cranes weren’t doing much around midday other than feeding in the field. A few birds flew out, but we did not see any fly in. There was a bit of dancing and calling, which I’m glad we were able to see/hear. For those looking for a more exciting crane experience, I recommend researching the various local crane sanctuaries and their feeding schedules. With some effort, you can get a good show from them.










Crane-sanity!

some perspective
We were prepared to spend the entire day searching for our targets, but we got everything very easily and were able to grab a relaxing lunch before heading back towards Kushiro Airport, where we had another easy vehicle drop-off and shuttle across the street to the terminal. The weather cleared just in time to get us out with only a minor delay. Note that the restaurants at this airport only exist BEFORE you go through security; there are only snacks available at the gates. We learned the hard way and I got a bit hangry...

giant Fish-Owl sculptures bidding us farewell outside the Kushiro Airport
Easy arrival back in Tokyo (HND). Night at Haneda Inn, again.

 - NB