Archive for the ‘Dusky Thrush’ Tag

West Pacific Odyssey part 6: Japanese waters and the Bonin and Izu Islands. 9th – 14th April 2019.   Leave a comment

Sorry to any readers who may have visited this blog recently to find a series of photos with no captions. After uploading the photos I though I clicked on ‘save’ I must have hit ‘publish’ instead.

 

This is the 6th and final episode of my account to the West Pacific Odyssey, an epic 31 journey on the ship Professor Khromov (aka Spirit of Enderby) between New Zealand and Japan and covers our time from when we entered Japanese waters on 9th April until when we flew home from Japan on the 14th.

 

On 9th April we entered Japanese waters. The composition of the species we had been seeing had already changed from being predominately boobies, tropicbirds and terns to predominately storm-petrels and shearwaters. With a number of Matsadaira’s Storm-petrels being seen in the wake it was decided to drag a bag of chum behind the ship which brought them in closer. This in turn brought bird photographers off the foredeck to the stern (including stalwart birders Mike and ‘green sock’ Geoff who had both travelled with me in 2016 on the Atlantic Odyssey).

 

Matsadaira’s Storm-petrels are a large storm-petrel with a wing span 8cm or more than a Leach’s. Their wholly brown underparts …

 

… and the white bases to their primaries give them a very different look. Around 1990 there was a spate of claims of this species in the UK although none were substantiated. Indeed it was shown that at least some of the records were Eurasian Nightjars, feeding offshore at dusk and performing a strange fluttering flight, something that totally baffled the observers at the time..

 

Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were relatively common. They have a wide range across the Indian and Pacific Oceans and breed in both hemispheres. Dark phase birds predominate in the southern hemisphere and light in north …

 

… whether this indicates incipient speciation is not clear but at the moment they are not acting like separate species.

 

If you want to see some photos of dark phase birds then follow this link to part 2 of my account of the West Pacific Odyssey.

 

Also in these waters to the south of Japan we saw our first Bonin Petrels, the only Pterodroma I was to see in the northern hemisphere part of this cruise.

 

As well as a diagnostic underwing pattern …

 

… this species shows a much greyer back than other similar Pterodromas.

 

And along with the shearwaters we started seeing our first Black-footed Albatrosses. This is a species that breeds mainly in the Hawaiian chain but ranges widely over the North Pacific.

 

Early on on the 10th we passed the island of Hahajima in the Ogasawara (or Bonin) Islands. A Humpback Whale greeted us as we arrived. It was such a pity we couldn’t go ashore as it was calm then …

 

… but we had to head north to Chichijima in order to clear customs and have a bio-security check. The officials from Japan had spent days travelling by ferry from Tokyo and perhaps unsurprisingly insisted on doing a though job. We had expected that we could go ashore to clear immigration and then have a look around but instead they came on board. Even so it took four hours before they departed and then there wasn’t enough time to go ashore …

 

… at least there were more Humpback Whales to watch.

 

Not landing was a bit frustrating as we had been at sea for six days now and although there was no specific wildlife to see ashore, quite a few people wanted to ‘stretch their legs’. However for the birders (which meant almost all of the clients) a treat was in store …

 

… as the day drew to a close we headed round to the east side of Chichijima. We were on the look out for a very rare and recently described species of small known as Bryan’s Shearwater …

 

… however nobody had told me that Bannerman’s Shearwater, another small shearwater and one we had seen at sea further south, also occurred there as well. So in fact the first four or five ‘Bryan’s’ that I saw were in fact Bannerman’s … Photo by Niall D Perrins see here

 

… however eventually at least one Bryan’s Shearwater, smaller and with more white around the eye than Bannerman’s, flew down the starboard side. This is a very little known species, critically endangered and only recently described. This photo is by Hiro Tanoi, the ace Japanese seawatcher who along with his wife Shoko, was onboard the Professor Khromov with us, but was taken on an earlier trip to Chichijima. See here for his website.

 

We were back off Hahajima at dawn but the weather was deteriorating. The Bonin Islands have two endemics, the Bonin Honeycreeper (actually a white-eye, albeit a very attractive one) and the soon to be split greenfinch. There was a a major blow when we were told at the last minute that customs had forbidden us to use our zodiacs in case we introduced foreign organisms into this pristine environment. So whilst the expedition organisers tried to get local boats to come and ferry us ashore we stood on deck and watched the antics of the local Humpback Whales.

 

Eventually the captain decided that as he couldn’t safely anchor any further inshore and the local boats might be bashed against the hull, so both for the ship’s safety and ours he would have to abandon the visit.

 

As you can see the weather (the tail end of a typhoon that has swept across the Tokyo area) deteriorated even further, so we had no option but sail north. Getting to Hahajima from Tokyo is a very difficult proposition so as we sailed away I knew that my only realistic chance of seeing those birds was sailing away with me.

 

However the day still had a goody in store for us. We started seeing the odd Tristam’s Petrel. Similar to Matsudaira’s but smaller, with a stronger pale bar along the greater coverts and lacking the white base to the primaries …

 

… this species was also high on my wanted list, as of course is any new species of seabird.

 

They didn’t come as close as Matsudaira’s had earlier, but as the day drew on they started appearing in staggering numbers, several flocks holding a thousand plus birds were seen and at times the surface of the sea looked like it was covered in a swarm of gnats.

 

On the morning of the 12th we approached the active volcano of Torishima.

 

Beautiful Black-footed Albatrosses sailed in front of the dramatic cliffs, but this wasn’t our main target.

 

… distant white specks on the slopes were revealed to be what we had longed to see, Short-tailed Albatross colonies at their main breeding colony.

 

We could also see the research station, once the base for those who almost drove this magnificent species to extinction by killing them for their feathers.          From Wikidedia: The IUCN classifies this species as vulnerable with an occurrence range of 34,800,000 km2 and a breeding range of 9 km2 . The Short-tailed Albatross came perilously close to extinction. They were hunted on an almost industrial scale for their feathers in the latter half of the 19th century, with some estimates claiming upward of 10 million birds hunted. By the 1930s the only population left was on Torishima, between 1927 and until 1933 hunting continued when the Japanese government declared the ban of hunting to save the species, by which time the albatrosses had stopped breeding on the island. At this point the species was assumed to be extinct and research became impossible with the outbreak of World War II. On 1949 an American researcher arriving on this island declared the species to be extinct, but an estimated 50 individuals, most likely juveniles, survived at sea (all albatross species take a long time to reach sexual maturity and will not return to their natal colony for many years). After the return of the birds they were carefully protected, and the first egg was laid by the returning birds in 1954. Varieties of albatross decoys were placed around on the island after it was discovered that like other albatross species, this species also were enticed to breed if placed in a group. Today, longline fisheries, and volcanic eruptions on Torishima are the largest threats; however, introduced predators, environmental contaminants, soil instability, and extreme weather are also threats. There are many measures underway to protect this species. Japan, Canada, and the United States list this bird as a protected species. Torishima is a National Wildlife Protection Area, and native plant species are being transplanted to assist in nesting. Also, most commercial longline fisheries use bycatch mitigation devices.

 

So the species survived thanks to the immature birds that remained at sea when all the adults had been slaughtered. Fortunately no feather collectors went back to check if there were any more left. As a size comparison here is an immature Short-tailed Albatross (left) with a Black-footed Albatross (right) and a Wedge-tailed Shearwater (lower centre).

 

 

The immatures (left) are great but the adult with its pink bill, white body and golden head and neck is a joy to see.

 

As the Wikipedia article says, there remains a threat from volcanic eruptions but now the population has reached around 2000 there would be a good population out at sea that could recolonise the island at a later date, certainly more than the estimated 50 that survived at sea after the end of the feather trade.

 

Of course landing by anyone other than researchers is banned and there is an exclusion zone around the island where fishing and the dumping of any material (including chum) is prohibited, so we steamed away from the island with a whole bunch of albatrosses and shearwaters in our wake …

 

… whilst Chris Collins …

 

… and Lisle Gwynn got on with the unpleasant job of chum preparation.

 

Soon of course the albatrosses keen sense of smell told them there was food available …

 

… and Black-footed Albatrosses glided in for a free feast (and the day brightened up as well).

 

Short-tailed Albatrosses joined the melee of Black-foots and shearwaters around the stern …

 

… giving truly wonderful views. I saw a few of this species on my cruise (also on the Prof Khromov) off the Kuril Islands on the ‘Russian Ring of Fire’ trip in 2016 but views were distant and nothing like as good as this.

 

As well as the brown immatures there were a number of sub-adults. An albatross of this size (only out competed by the Royal and Wandering groups) will take ten years to reach maturity.

 

I had to ask the question when preparing this post: just how many photos of this wonderful and enigmatic species that almost went extinct, is too many? But I though I’d squeeze in another couple. If you want to see my review of all the albatrosses in the world posted for ‘World Albatross Day’ then click here

 

By my standards the photos were good, but here is a truly great photo of a truly great bird (in every sense of the word) by fellow passenger Toy Janssen. Short-tailed is hardly the best name. Some have suggested calling it Steller’s Albatross after its discoverer Georg Wilhelm Steller the first European to set in North America by travelling eastwards across Siberia, but no other albatross sports a patronym. I think a great opportunity was lost when they failed to call it Golden-headed Albatross.

 

The following morning we anchored off Miyakejima in the Izu Islands. Then Helen dropped a bombshell. Although we had been ensured that we could use our zodiacs to get ashore but overnight the authorities had changed their mind and we would have to use local boats. We could see the busses hired to take us to the forest to see the endemic birds waiting by the quayside. Long dialogs ensued with the port, but the wind started to increase and the consensus was that the boatmen might be able to get us off but couldn’t guarantee getting us back on board again. I might add that Helen and the expedition staff did everything they could to try and get us ashore. The fault doesn’t lie with them.

 

Having had three shore excursion cancelled in last four days we were all pretty pissed off. It would mean that we would be ten days at sea without landing, but far more important was that we would miss the island endemics and specialities, Japanese Woodpigeon, Ijima’s Leaf Warbler, Owsten’s Tit and Izu Thrush. However when I got home I found that the Birdquest spring tour of Japan includes the Izu islands and I had plan to do that tour sometime soon (pandemics permitting of course). So unlike the Bonin Islands all is not lost. Later we took a short excursion around some nearby rock stacks with Mijakejima looming in the background.

 

The rough conditions didn’t stop boatmen landing fishermen on these rocks!

 

The day was sunny, the scenery magnificent and our target appeared right on cue …

 

A flock of Japanese Murrelets, the only auks I saw on this trip.

 

I had seen a couple of distant Japanese Murrelets from the bridge of Prof Kromov just to the east of Sakhalin on the ‘Russian Ring of Fire’ trip but the views this time were so much better.

 

We circumnavigated the rocks and headed back towards Mijakejima before heading north towards Yokohama …

 

On the way back we noticed that the outcrop that we had seen from the other side now seemed to have a teddy bear perched on the summit!

 

A few Streaked Shearwaters had been seen by some of the birders ever since we we left the Solomon Islands, but now we were in the core of their range and they we positively abundant. Not so the Short-tailed Shearwaters from Australia which normally arrive by this time in order to moult. They were conspicuous by the absence.

 

We were treated to hundreds of the speckled heads and white underparts of the Streaked Shearwaters (a species that has even been seen in the Western Palaearctic off Eilat) during our final afternoon.

 

Although this post is about a trip in 2019, it was 2020 before I posted it. This year we have heard of a Short-tailed Shearwater found moribund in Ireland, a White-chinned Petrel in Orkney, a Zino’s Petrel off Scilly, a Scopoli’s Shearwater in the North Sea, a Yelkoun Shearwater in Dorset (one that I did see) and multiple records of Brown Boobies. Something is happening to the world’s seabirds, undoubtedly caused by the warming of the oceans and the disrupting of currents. Maybe one day a Streaked Shearwater will reach Britain.

 

As evening approached we continued to sail north towards Tokyo and the volume of shipping traffic, which had been so light on on the cruise, dramatically increased.

 

On the morning of the 14th we entered Sagami Bay which leads to Tokyo Bay and the Port at Yokohama. We started seeing a whole bunch of new birds, such as Black Kites, Large-billed Crows and a whole host of gulls including Black-headed, Kamchatka (a race of Common), Vega, Slaty-backed, Glaucous-winged and this Black-tailed Gull.

 

It was quite hazy as we approached the port at Yokohama and Mount Fiji could only be seen faintly through the haze, so I’ve used this photo from Celebratory Cruises . Note that this shot must have been taken in winter as there is far more snow on the mountain then when we saw it in mid-April.

 

We were transferred to a bus that took us to the airport at Narita. There was some time to spare, so an hour or so was spent birding around the car park which produced views of a few good birds like Dusky Thrush. This photo is actually of a vagrant Dusky Thrush seen in Derbyshire in December 2016 taken by my friend Roger Howell when we twitched the bird.

 

We also saw Azure-winged Magpie (this photo taken by Janos Olay on my 2018 Mongolia trip.) I’d have loved to stay and spent some time birding in Japan but I’d been away for five weeks already, it was time to go home.

 

So for the last time I’ll post this map of our route. It had been an incredible journey of 5650 nautical miles (10,460 km) over 31 days (35 days away from home).

I landed on ten islands (plus photographed and admired many more from the ship) in six countries and entering the territorial waters of another two.

I saw 258 species of bird including those on New Zealand and Japan. That total included 42 species of ‘tubenose’ and 80+ seabird species (including all the gull, tern and cormorant species we encountered).

60 species were additions to my life list including 20 species of seabird (mainly ‘tubenoses’).

I saw 20 species of cetacean of which six where additions to my life list.

And I made many good friends.

On the negative side not being able to land on Rennell in the Solomons and Hahajima and Miyakijima south of Japan where serious blows but things went far smoother than say in 2020, when the ship having departed New Zealand had to sail to Vanuatu where the tour abruptly ended due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

It will remain one of the most rewarding trips I’ve ever undertaken.

 

But if I have to choose one photo to end the account of this amazing trip it would have to be a Short-tailed Albatross approaching head on.

2016 – that was another year that was.   2 comments

2016 earned the reputation as the year when everything went wrong – the awful Brexit result which will have adverse consequences for the rest of my life, the shock American presidential election which may have ramifications far beyond the borders of the USA, the ongoing slaughter in Syria and the threat of terrorism and the death of many much-loved celebrities; but on a personal level 2016 has been both a great success and very enjoyable with much travel at home and abroad and lots of quality birding and bird ringing.

This post summarises what we have been up to this year, most of the photos have been uploaded before and more details can be found by reading the original posts.

 

IMG_2326 Golden Temple Amritsa

In January I spent three weeks in western India, mainly visiting the states of Punjab, Rajasthan and Gujarat. The tour started with a visit to the wonderful Golden Temple at Amritsar.

IMG_3818 Forest Owlet

The final few days of the trip were spent in the state of Maharashtra where we searched for the recently rediscovered Forest Owlet. The bizarre story of the discovery, loss, presumed extinction and rediscovery of this enigmatic species is explained in an entry posted on the 18th March. The tour was well covered on this blog with seven separate posts uploaded in February and March.

IMG_3910 Millenium bridge

A post in March tells of our trip to Essex and from there to London. As well as sorting out my Russian visa for a subsequent trip we also visited St Paul’s cathedral from where I took this shot of the Millennium Bridge.

IMG_4019 Jennie & Margaret

From Essex we moved on to Cambridge to stay with my old University friend Jenny.

7F1A7748 rough seas

The longest and most remarkable trip of the year was the Atlantic Odyssey which ran from late March to early May. Starting at Ushuaia in southernmost Argentina we sailed on the Plancius to South Georgia, Tristan da Cunha, St Helena, Ascension and Cabo Verde.

IMG_5203 KPs

South Georgia was a delight with stunning views of King Penguins ….

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….cute Fur Seal pups plus several species of albatross and many other seabirds.

7F1A1180 Ascension cliffs

In complete contrast we encountered desert like conditions on the island of Ascension and a range of tropical seabirds ….

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…. and tropical cetaceans like this Clymene Dolphin.

7F1A1086 Ascension Frigatebird imm

But the star of the show was the breeding endemic Ascension Frigatebird that only breeds on a single half hectare offshore rock stack. Although the trip was over five weeks long and we sailed from the subantarctic to borders of the Western Palearctic I only had 13 life birds – but most of them were very sought after indeed.

Formentor

After landing at Cabo Verde we flew to Mallorca to join Birdquest’s 35th anniversary reunion. We had a very enjoyable time meeting up with old friends and making new ones amongst great scenery and great birds.

7F1A2048 Scopoli's Shearwater

Birding highlights were my first views of Moltoni’s Warbler, and first proper views of the endemic Balearic Warbler and the newly split Mediterranean Flycatcher. On a boat crossing to the island of Cabrera we had the best ever views of Scopoli’s and Balearic Shearwaters. Unfortunately these two wonderful trips have not been covered well on the blog with just a single extended post uploaded on 18th May covering the entire six weeks. It has always been my intention to give a more detailed coverage but other things have got in the way!

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I was only home for a couple of weeks before it time to join another cruise, the so-called ‘Russian Ring of Fire’ to the Russian Far East. Cancelled at short notice in 2015 due to the Russia authorities intransigence, the cruise from Kamchatka to the Commander and Kuril Islands and on to Sakhalin was absolutely outstanding, even if we did get snow at sea level in early June.

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I saw something like 17 life birds on the trip, perhaps the most beautiful and most desired was the wonderful Whiskered Auklet. As with the previous cruise, other commitments prevented me from doing it justice on this blog, but a summary was posted on 25th June.

IMG_5975 Caernarfon Castle

In late June and early July Margaret and I had a two week trip around Wales, parts of northern England and ended with a visit to Essex. As well as visiting friends and family we enjoyed many sights from castles in north Wales ….

IMG_6234 Blackpool Tower

…. to a wet and dreary Blackpool. I uploaded two posts on this trip in late July/early August.

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From mid July to early November my time was taken up with ringing. Covering the entire autumn migration I paid 60 visits to Durlston Country Park as well as ringing at several other sites. We ringed over 4700 birds adding greatly to our knowledge of bird migration at Durlston. Autumn 2016 will be long remembered for the remarkable influx of birds from Siberia, caused by a strong easterly airflow that persisted for weeks. Although we didn’t catch any real rarities, there was much larger than usual number of Ring Ouzels passing though ….

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…. and as a group we ringed at least 16 Yellow-browed Warblers, a species that breeds no nearer than the Urals. The only ringing I did away from Dorset was when my friend Chris and I spent several days at Spurn Bird Observatory in early September. I have uploaded a number of posts on my ringing and UK birding activities throughout the year.

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In November I went on an excellent three-week trip to central Peru. The scenery on almost every day was outstanding ….

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…. as was the birding, with much wanted gems such as the flightless Junin Grebe (my last grebe) ….

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…. and the enigmatic Diademed Sandpiper-plover, a rare inhabitant of high altitude bogs, which took a lot of stomping around at a breath-taking 4500m to find. This was by far the most productive trip of the year for both species and lifers and I accumulated some 57 new birds and bringing my life list (with the help of a few armchair ticks) to 8122. I am still editing the many photos from this tour but hope to upload some to the blog in a week or so.

DCINY presents UK composer Howard Goodall’s Eternal Light: A Requiem led by Maestro Jonathan Griffith. Solo singers: Sarah Joy Miller - soprano, Scott Joiner - tenor, Steven Fddy - Baritone

Whilst I was in Peru Margaret had the opportunity to travel to New York with members of her choir to join a massed choir of over 200 singing Howard Goodall’s composition ‘Eternal Light’. There is more on her adventure in a blog post uploaded on 4th December.

leonard-cohen

2016 has become infamous as the year when many much loved celebrities passed away. Whilst not unexpected, he was 82 and in poor health, the death of singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen saddened me the most. A fan since I first heard ‘The Sisters of Mercy’ back in 1968 I have all of his CDs and love his deep, poignant and moving lyrics. I am pleased to have had the privilege of seeing him in concert three times, once when I was a student and twice in recent years. I bought his 14th and final studio album ‘You Want It Darker’ just days before his death on 7th November.

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We have only been to a few music events this year, a fantastic gig by the Afro Celt Sound System and a visit to the opera to see Don Giovanni. I even missed both of Margaret’s UK choral concerts, one by being in Russia, the other through ill health. However, although not a musical event, a trip to the BIC to see the funniest man in the world, Billy Connolly in late November, was a hilarious night out.

IMG_4946 Caspian Stonechat

Although UK birding has taken a bit of a back seat with a large amount of time being devoted to ringing and the subsequent paper work, but I have mamaged to see a number of great species this year. In the spring my friend Roger and I twitched a ‘Caspian’ Stonechat in Hampshire. Although currently considered a race of Siberian Stonechat this white-rumped form from the southern borders of the Caspian Sea could well warrant specific status.

Great Spotted Cuckoo1 Chris Minvalla

Although I have seen two in the UK before, this beautiful Great Spotted Cuckoo at Portland was a much appreciated addition to my Dorset List. Other local goodies in May included Red-footed Falcon, Glossy Ibis, Black-winged Stilt and Honey Buzzard. Photo by my friend Chris Minvalla.

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In recent years I have shied away from long distance twitches due to the effort and cost involved and because I am often familiar with the species concerned from birding abroad. However in mid October, as the remarkable influx of Siberian and Central Asian goodies continued I was tempted back to Spurn once more. This Isabelline Wheatear in a muddy field by the coast (here with a head stained from the dark soil) was reason enough for the long journey ….

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…. but the real prize was this superb Siberian Accentor just a few hundred yards away in the grounds of the gas terminal. This species had never been seen in the UK before 2016 but this autumn there were 12, with close to 300 found in western Europe. As far as my UK birding is concerned this was ‘bird of the year’. Photo by Chris Minvalla.

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There was another Siberian mega to twitch before the year was out. Just north of where my brother lives in Derbyshire a Dusky Thrush was found in early December. With only a dozen UK records (and most of those from antiquity) this was a much wanted UK tick. I was prevented from going for a Dusky Thrush in Kent a few years ago by earlier commitment, so a trip to the Derbyshire Peak District became essential. I needn’t have fretted as it was still these when I visited my brother over the Christmas period and we went to see it again. Photo by my friend Roger Howell.

Another mega-rare thrush, a Blue Rock Thrush was seen towards the end of the year on my way home from Derbyshire (giving me 4 new birds for my British List in 2016 and bringing it to 493 by the BOU list). I will upload photos of this plus an account of our activities over Christmas and New Year will be in the next post.

Happy New Year to all readers of this blog.