Monday, 31 May 2010

Golden Eagle.

Golden Eagle.

Above is a photo taken yesterday of a Japanese Golden Eagle in Niigata. I wish I was a kilometre closer but I'm happy to get this record shot. (I think it's identifiable?) I had heard they existed in a particular area five years ago and I've looked for them there once or twice a year without luck. This one appeared over a mountain ridge just twenty minutes after we arrived, circled upwards and floated away out of sight. We waited for another six hours without any further luck. 

I've heard mixed reports on the status of Golden Eagles in Japan. Birders have told me that there are only about three hundred pairs nationally but a bird guide regards them as being "uncommon residents". What ever the case, they are not too common. (May be three or four pairs in Niigata). In Niigata, they are well away from human activity tending to be in near inaccessible mountain terrain.
Such a raptor head as myself, I'm always watching out for such subjects and have only had  a few distant sightings beforehand: One many years ago in Tochigi Prefecture, one about three years in western Niigata (the only other distant pic of one in the rain)  and another close, fleeting encounter in northern Niigata about four years ago.

(Curious about the Japanese name, Inu Washi, "Dog Eagle").

Thought it was worth posting as it may be another few years before I get yet another distant glimpse. 

Friday, 21 May 2010


It happened back in the 1970s. A late afternoon summer storm was building up towards us (up the mountain range) to the east. I was playing in a field near my home and as always was waiting to the last minute of danger before fleeing to safety. Thunder groaned and lightening flashed and crackled as golden sunlight beaming brilliantly from the flat horizon behind me collided with the surrounding trees and houses; highlighting everything against the dark greens, greys and purples of the stewing storm. Wind gusts struck my back and pushed over my shoulders as the growing giant began sucking air inwards. It was almost time to run when a “Little Falcon”, (Australian Hobby) appeared, low at first, then circling upwards towards the clouds. (I had seen them before being chased by Pied Currawongs; zigzagging swiftly around the trees at shoulder height). I stopped and watched as it went higher and eastwards towards the clouds. It looked too small and dainty to survive out in the middle of such a dangerous sky. The sky was so dark but the tiny bird remained visible as it glinted in the sunlight.

Watch or run? It was hundreds of metres up and I wanted to see if it vanished into the storm, but without warning the falcon suddenly dropped. Head first and incredibly fast! Like a shooting star. I was yet to breathe when it disappeared behind houses and trees, still moving straight down. I thought it must have crashed and I almost lifted my foot forward as it reappeared briefly to the right, skimming over roof-tops and out of sight. I bolted home.

(Above): Another stoop. An Australian Hobby in a vertical dive (stoop) at the St Kilda Botanical Gardens, (Melbourne) in a late afternoon of January 1991. I know it's abstract and lacking detail but I was very excited to get this photograph. I was using a Pentax K-1000 with Sigma 70-250mm 5.6f zoom lens. The camera was all manual so I didn't really have time to focus and I only had time for one shot. At 1/1000th of a second, (The fastest shutter speed.) The subject was gone by the time I wound the film on. It is slide film scanned back in 2002 and hasn't been edited apart from size reduction, hence dust spots etc.

Unfortunately, I haven’t always been ready with the camera. After spending a long day looking for birds to photograph at the Bunya Mountains National Park, Queensland, (again in the early 90s), I was at a lookout and heard a long “phhhfffffffffffffffffffffffttttu, fffffffffffffffttttu, kwkff, kwkff” somewhere overhead. Chills went up my spine and I looked around expecting to see a plane crashing near me but I couldn’t see anything. Seconds later and I realised a flock of Wonga Pigeons had just passed by me and I then saw a Peregrine Falcon struggling to carry one right over me. I’d been carrying a heavy camera all day and stood gaping without using it when it counted.

On another occasion I was again fortunate to witness another stoop but it was on a rainy day and the light was colourless and dull. Again at the Bunya Mountains NP (August 2007), I was lucky enough to see a Peregrine appear and swiftly circle a few times and then break into a dive. I was ready with the camera this time and the photos posted below show it gradually flattening its wings and folding them to its side. (Some photos have been brightened and all are cropped to some extent). It started its dive at about a 45 degree angle but by the time a passed me it was much steeper. The amazing thing was that it came almost towards me and passed over my left shoulder. The photos don’t look as if it was travelling steeply bcecause it was in line with the lens. (The camera was pointing steeply up). By the time it passed me its wings were completely closed and it looked very ‘bullet-shaped’. It disappeared behind a house and some trees.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

The Golden Narcissus.

Narcissus Flycatcher

Golden_Week has come and gone for another year. The ceaseless winter all but passed spring by and we suddenly enjoyed weather typical for late spring and early summer. I enjoyed a variety of things including just three birding occassions. 1. On Saturday, May 1, we went to Nagaoka and Kasabori Dam. 2. We went to Aizu, Fukushima Prefecture, and for the final "golden" day, Thursday May 6th, I went to Junsai-ike and chased  Narcissus Flycatchers. Here in reverse order, are photos from those days...

Thursday May 6th, Junsai-ike.

There were at least two Narcissus Flycatchers with subtle differences. One had richer, darker throat colours and another one appeared to have more of a flat yellow surrounding it's chest, and throat. I found it tricky to get satisfying exposures. (Shadows and bright spots splashed around a contrasty subject in itself. I think if I exposed the face and head of the flycatchers I overexposed their bodies, flattening out their colours too much.)

Blossoms have dropped and been replaced by young leaves.

Monday May 3rd, Fukushima Prefecture...

Looking up at the Aizuwakamatsu castle of Fukushima.

A view from the top of the castle.

The wall crossing the canal around the castle.

After visiting the castle we went to a small but beautiful park in the town and I found nesting Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers. I enjoyed trying to photograph them among the cherry blossoms.

Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker

Saturday May 1st, Kasabori Dam, Niigata Prefecture...

View across Kasabori Dam from the dam wall.

Looking back behind the wall. Hmmn. Let's go and look in those cherry trees...

Japanese White-eye

..Oh no! It's doing a number 2. I wouldn't like to be standing under it.

...And a Brown-eared Bulbul with a bee to finish with.

It was so nice to have some fine days that were also holidays!