Nature near and Far

July 20, 2021

This week, we have been having thunderstorms almost everyday. Plus it has been so hot and humid and usually cloudy. I had been waiting for clear skies and no moon to try out using a star tracker.

Last Friday night the skies were clear with little or no wind and no moon. I took the opportunity to drive to a favorite location where skies are relatively free from light pollution. The darker the better, in order to photograph deep sky objects, in this case, the Andromeda Galaxy.

All the important steps went according to plan: Polar aligning for accurate tracking, focusing, and finding the target. I turned on the tracker, and it did it’s job beautifully, which is moving with the rotation of the Earth to prevent star trailing, allowing you open the shutter longer to catch more light. I was extremely pleased!

I was really looking forward to getting home to see how they looked on the big monitor. When I started downloading, they downloaded way too fast because I had forgotten to reset to raw format after using jpeg earlier! Boy, did I feel foolish and disappointed. Well, what can I say…%!”?#! I decided to share the image anyway, as it IS my first deep sky object. Can’t wait to get back out there and try again.

A short timelapse of a storm off in the distance. On this night, clouds rolled in after I had returned for a second try at the Andromeda Galaxy, so I did this instead, as I waited to see if the clouds would go away, but they never did. Nature near a far.


Early Summer Sunset

June 22, 2021 The rainy season is on it’s last legs here in Fukuoka. I haven’t been going out all that often. When I have, the weather took a turn for the worse. One night trip to Yamaga, west of Aso national park to photograph the Milky Way was a bust, as the fog rolled in and remained through the night. Just last Sunday, I drove to the top of Kusenbu mountain to try a cloud/sunset time lapse. I thought the high clouds might catch some color as the sun sank below the the horizon, and for fifteen minutes or so they did.

That same day, I was at Yamagami Dam early for a walk around the lake. A lone, adolescent Common Kingfisher perched for a few minutes quite near me. He tried to catch a minnow four times, but came up empty every attempt. He just needs more practice I guess. A Brown-eared Bulbul chased him off just to be mean.

I am happy to say that I received my long awaited star tracker in the mail today. It will enable me to capture sharper night sky images, as well as deep sky objects; galaxies, nebulae, and globular clusters for example.

My Halcyon Days

May 8, 2021 My search for the elusive Ruddy Kingfisher, or Aka Shoubin in Japanese, has been going on for some years now. They migrate north, from the Philippines to their breeding grounds in Japan and Korea among other countries every year, arriving around the beginning of May. One area they are known to return to in Japan is The Miike Wild Bird Sanctuary in Kirishima Kinkowan National Park. I was there two years ago, ( May, 2019 blog post) when I was able to record a pair of Ruddy Kingfishers calling to each other. However, I did not make a sighting of these shy birds.

The following year, ( May, 2020 blog post) I was surprised to hear it’s beautiful call at Yasukogen, which is only a 30 minute drive from my home in Dazaifu. Again, I was only able to record it’s call without ever getting a good look at it, let alone capturing it’s photo.

Needless to say, I was looking forward to returning to Miike Lake in the hopes of seeing and photographing this phantom of the forest. Over the years, it has taken on a kind of mystical quality for me. My ‘Holy Grail’ of birds so to speak.

I reserved a site at the same campground I stayed at two years ago, but ended up going one day earlier without a reservation due to a sudden change in the weather forecast. Without a reservation for that night, I drove straight to the Wild Bird Sanctuary, planning to sleep in the car if I was unable to get a campsite, but it turned out to be no problem at all.

I set off on the same trail I used previously, but this time I went deeper into the old growth forest. The trees were huge, often with ferns and mosses growing upon their large trunks and boughs. The beautiful songs of many different species of birds such as the Eurasian Wren, Narcissus Flycatcher, Blue and White Flycatcher, various Warblers, and Woodpeckers, created a constant symphony of sound.

As I neared a group of benches at the top of a small hill, I heard the call of a Ruddy Kingfisher, soon followed by the answering call of another. I sat on a bench and waited. A few minutes later, the call repeated right behind me up in a tree, along with the repeated sound of a beak stabbing upon wood. Could it be making a nest hole? Soon after, as I slowly turned, the other kingfisher appeared, but both of them were obscured by some leafy branches, and I could only see an occasional flash of red through the leaves. Trying not to frighten them away, I slowly stood and walked twenty meters back down the way I had come, until I found a clearing through the branches and leaves with an unobstructed view. It was then I was able to confirm a nest excavation in progress about 15 meters up the trunk of a dead pine tree. They took turns clinging briefly to the hole as they chipped with their long, chisel-like red beaks. They returned to the same branch over and over, sometimes flicking away chips of wood they came away with. I covered myself and my camera with camo cloth, photographing and videotaping for some three hours or so, in very good light at times, as the shadows moved with the sun. For me, it doesn’t get any better than this. I mean, I was in the right place, at the right time, and the nest tree was right next to the trail, (park rule is you are not to leave the trails). The Latin name for the Ruddy Kingfisher is Halcyon Coromanda. ‘Halcyon’ comes from the Greek word for Kingfisher. According to Greek legend, Halcyon, or Alcyone and her husband were turned into Kingfishers by the Gods. They built their floating nest on the sea, and the wind god, Aeolus, (Halcyon’s father) would calm the waves while she sat on the nest. Thus, Halcyon Days has come to mean a time in the past when times were especially happy and successful. Fittingly, the Ruddy Kingfisher has provided me with my Halcyon Days.

The Hill of Oshitoishi

April 24, 2021 The Hill of Oshitoishi lies about 20 kilometers north of Mt. Aso. I discovered it on Google Earth while searching for a place to photograph the Milky Way. It has relatively dark skies (Bortle class 3), and is free from trees on top, providing a beautiful and unobstructed 360 degree view of the surrounding area . It is a power spot, with a group of mysterious rock formations.

I was surprised to see a few camps set up near the parking area, as camping facilities were not mentioned on their website. I ended up taking occasional naps in the somewhat uncomfortable car. It proved to be windy all night long on top of the hill, so the time lapse was too shaky and I had to delete it. Some stills turned out okay. I also saw a fireball, but it was out of frame. A beautiful place, and I will return with a tent the next time.

The next post will be of my continuing search for the elusive Ruddy Kingfisher, as I return to the Miike Wild Bird Forest in Miyazaki prefecture. Wish me luck!

Happy Spring

April 3, 2021

This is the month of growing and greening, especially the weeds in my yard! But I have to say that the birds do love them for their tiny seeds and shoots, so I don’t complain that much.

A few species of birds have already raised and fledged young, such as the Long-tailed Tit (Enaga), but most are are either in the courting or nest building phase.

The past few weeks, I have been spending some time at a small pond, walking around a lake, and through the fields.

I found one of my favorites, the Common Kingfisher at the pond, along with the first Bullfrog of the year. He, (the Kingfisher) was a good fisherman, and managed to catch something about 50% of the time.

Around the lake, I came across the cheerful Daurian Redstart (Jobitaki) and some Yellow-throated Buntings (Miyama Houjiro).

In the fields, the loud call of the gorgeous male Common Pheasant (Kiji) can be heard, making it easier to find them, but they can quickly disappear into the undergrowth if you approach too closely.

Day by day, different birds are arriving from their wintering grounds. The cheery Skylark and Swallows have arrived, bringing with them their uplifting melodies that always cheer the heart. Something we all can appreciate in these trying times. Ah, happy spring!

A Doe and Two Yearlings

March 16, 2021  Yesterday morning, I drove to Yasukogen and arrived just before daybreak. This area has a growing population of Sika Deer, and I was hoping to photograph them. They are quite wary, with excellent eyesight, hearing, and smell. Luckily there was no wind, and I had a line of trees to hide behind as I approached an open area where I knew they liked to forage. Peeking through the branches, I saw a lone female about 100 meters away, and she was unaware of my presence. Soon she disappeared behind a small hillock. I was surprised when she emerged on the other side with twins.  Sika deer twins are rare.  These were yearlings  who were born the previous year. They are much bigger than fawns, and have lost most of their spots.

   Sika are also called ‘whistling deer’  because they have a very loud, whistle-like alarm call.  I was surprised again when, as I took the first photo, her head shot up, looking in my direction. I didn’t move a muscle, even though only my lens was pointed through the branches of the cedar I was concealed behind. For some minutes, she stood frozen, looking in my direction for any movement as the yearlings continued eating. When she finally started nibbling on some wild blackberry leaves, I took another shot, and again she stared right at my position. For some reason, (perhaps my scent or a slight movement on my part)  she suddenly whistled the alarm, and in a flash, they were gone. 

   Sika deer populations are increasing dramatically in many  areas of Japan, and are posing a problem for farmers and gardeners. The have no predators, as the Japanese wolf went extinct over 100 years ago,(though some believe it still survives in Chichibu Tama Kai national park), hunters are decreasing in Japan, and forest lands are being cleared, creating more grazing areas for the deer.  The bird photo is of a Bush Warbler, called the Uguisu here in Japan. 




Harbingers of Spring

February 16, 2021 One of the harbingers of spring in Japan are the blooming of the plum blossoms. If the weather is fine, the plum trees typically start blooming around the middle of January, and usually reach full bloom (mankai) from the middle of February.

Two species of birds that enjoy sipping nectar from the blossoms are the Japanese white-eye (Meijiro), and the Brown-eared bulbul (Hiyodori). Important pollinators of the plum tree, as most insect pollinators are not active yet.

These images were taken at Tenpai Lake.

The nimble Japanese white-eye often feeds upside down.

The Brown-eared bulbul also can feed inverted, but is not nearly as nimble as the White-eye, as the following video shows.

Common Shelduck & Black-faced Spoonbills

February 9, 2021 Last Sunday morning, I went to Wajiro estuary in Hakata Bay. I was lucky to see some Oystercatchers (Miya kodori). A rather rare transient in this area. Common Shelducks (Tsukushigamo) were also there. Like their name suggests, they are common. They forage in shallow water by upending and head-dipping, but mostly by moving their bills back and forth through the water (scything), or by dabbling and digging on mudflats. I observed a few of them feeding in a style I have never seen before. They were stamping their feet rapidly, apparently to bring up prey to the surface of the mud. Other ducks do this on land to cause earthworms to come out of the ground. Perhaps it mimics the vibration of the rising tides, to bring up the small mollusks and other invertebrates that feed in shallow water.

As it was rather cloudy, I rode the bike back to where I had parked the car (no parking around Wajiro) at Tataragawa, about 7 kilometers away. When I arrived, the sun had started coming out from behind the clouds. I noticed the same small group of Black-faced Spoonbills I had photographed the weekend before (previous post) and took a short video.

They afternoon of the same day. Some images taken at Homan river near my home. A Pale Thrush (Shirohara), Common Kingfisher (Kawasemi), and Rufous Turle Dove (Kijibato) taken during the golden hour.

Thanks for visiting! Be safe everyone.

Hakata Bay Tidal Flats

February 2, 2021 There are at least eight important coastal areas along the Ariaki Sea in Fukuoka prefecture that provide shelter and food to many animal, plant, and bird species. Hakata Bay also has estuaries and tidal flats that are equally important. These tidal flats (higata) are important stopovers for resting and feeding for many bird species during migration, and are also wintering grounds for some.

One such bird is the Black-faced Spoonbill (Kurotsura-Herasagi). Over the past ten years, I have noticed an increase in their numbers at Tataragawa Estuary, which is also one of their wintering grounds. Recently I learned through the WBSJ (Wild Bird Society of Japan) that the nationally protected Wajiro Tidal Flats area six kilometers to the east, has been extended to encompass Tataragawa Estuary.

These areas are vital to the preservation of many species. Unfortunately, these refuges are not permanently protected. Rather, their protection status is extended by the national government for ten year stretches. It is a constant battle for organizations, such as WBSJ, the Audubon Society, and the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) to watch over and preserve these delicate habitats.

Thank you for visiting my site, and may the wind always be under your wings!

P.S. Check out post of April, 2019 for a close up view of the black-faced Spoonbill.

Link to Wajiro Tidal Flats

Fukuoka City HAKATA Minato Gallery-Wajiro Tidal Flat

birds & some etc.