Friday, November 25, 2011

Shorebird Videos

Still remember the Whimbrels from this post and the Kentish Plover and juvenile Grey-tailed Tattler from this post? Now they're back again in video format. I don't have the same video editing program that I used while I was in Thailand, which was the Cyberlink Power Director. It's a great program but like other great programs, it's not free. I didn't want to buy it again, so I just didn't do any more editing until I found that YouTube has quite a nice video editing function. All the contrast, brightness and stabilising were done by the YouTube video editor. It's very easy and the result looks satisfying. Now I don't have to bother looking for any other video editing software. Don't forget to select 1080p for full HD viewing!

Whimbrel (Numenius phaeopus variegatus)

Kentish Plover (Charadrius alexandrinus nihonensis)
This one was shot handheld but the stabiliser in YouTube video editor did a great job.

Juvenile Grey-tailed Tattler (Tringa brevipes)

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

House Swift

These are old photos taken during summer of this year just before I dropped my 3 month old 550D into the mud. There's a small nesting colony of House Swifts (Apus nipalensis) near my part-time job restaurant in Hamawaki (浜脇). There were roughly about 5-7 pairs. They built nests made of dry grass, sticks and other birds' feathers. I personally think it's interesting how these birds collect that much amount of feathers. They don't use their own feathers, but seem to collect them from the muddy river banks nearby. I secretly observed the birds when there was no customer in the restaurant and there was nothing else for me to do. Sometimes I brought my camera with me and took some times taking photos of the swifts after work.

However, it was not easy at all to photograph these birds even at the nests. Because the nest is like a football attached to the ceiling with hollow inside. When the bird arrives at its nest, it mostly just enter through a tiny hole and disappear into the nest. The only time when I could get the whole body of the birds was when they perch at the entrance. Sometimes they spend a long period of time perching there to rest, especially in a rainy day, but normally they don't perch there for too long, so I could only get a few shots with full body. Below set of photos were actually taken by my friend's 5D Mark II. The equipment was great but the birds were not cooperative at all. That day, all of them just kept staying inside their nests.

House Swift (Apus nipalensis)
Just look at the variety of feathers the birds have collected. Isn't it interesting?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

No Bird, No Bird

I haven't been out birding for more than a week now. Most of the time I became busy with some other things else and when I finally had the time to go out, the weather sucked. Last time I went out birding was on November 3. I went to Sekinoe and it was strangely quiet. Normally, the lotus fields would be filled with flocks of Common Teals and Daurian Redstarts, but I didn't see any of the former and only a couple of the latter. There were just 1 Little Egret and a pair of Japanese Wagtails walking around skittishly in the field. I didn't have any motivation to go back again since then. Until yesterday, the weather was extremely fine and I finally made up my mind to explore new places in Oita. I planned to visit the Ueno Cemetery Park (上野西山公園) near the southern exit of Oita Station. This morning I woke up and saw that the clouds were back again, covering most part of the sky, blocking nice sunlight which is crucial for photography. I was a little bit upset but decided to go anyway because I won't have much free time next week as well. As I arrived at the park, it was very dark and quiet. Not a single bird, except the crows, came into sight. I thought I'd have to go back without getting anything, but then I heard a noisy flock of Brown-eared Bulbuls screaming insanely in the bamboo forest nearby. I assumed that they might be mobbing some sort of raptor, so I followed the voice into the bamboo. Then a large bird silently soared out from a dense bamboo shrub and softly perched on a bare branch about 15m away from me without a sound. It turned around and faced me and the camera. I was excited to see that it's a Ural Owl (Strix uralensis fuscescens).

Ural Owl (Strix uralensis fuscescens)
Oriental Bush-Warbler (Cettia diphone cantans)
The owl stayed on the same perch for about 1-2 minutes before flying off over my head disappearing into the bamboo leaves. The flock of noisy bulbuls continued to follow the owl relentlessly. I was left standing among the bamboo shoots checking the photos and smiling by myself. My earlier encounter of the owl was just noticing a big object silhouetting swiftly through the night sky at Beppu Park. Even though it seems to be quite common and I've seen photos taken by Furuso-san at Rakutenchi entrance before, the bird proves to be really difficult to find. It seems to be easier in Hokkaido though, assuming from the many great shots taken by Stu. Here in Kyushu where leaves are dense year round, the common owl can become quite rare. The subspecies found in Kyushu is also different from the one in Hokkaido. In Kyushu (as well as southern Honshu) we have the subspecies S.u.fuscescens that seems to be a little more brownish than the subspecies S.u.japonica of Hokkaido. After the owl and bulbuls have already gone, I fired a few shots of the 2 Oriental Bush-Warblers (Cettia diphone cantans) that were hanging nearby, and I didn't press the shutter release button since then. The park seems to be a perfect setting for birding in spring. It must be a really good place for flycatchers, warblers and stuff but it's just not today. I returned home much earlier than I thought, but at least it wasn't a complete waste of time.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Autumn Passage

Every autumn, there are large flocks of starlings gathering around my place in Kyomachi. This year was no exception. Most of them are the abundant White-cheeked Starlings (Sturnus cineraceus) with some smaller and more colourful Chestnut-cheeked Starlings (Sturnus philippensis). Last year I also found a few Red-billed Starlings (Sturnus sericeus) mixing in the flocks as well. This year, due to the bad weather and timing, I couldn't go out and check the flocks until the second week of October, which is considerably late for Red-billed and Chestnut-cheeked Starlings. So, as a result, I could only find a few Chestnut-cheekeds, no Red-billed, and lots and lots of White-cheeked Starlings.
Migrating flock of White-cheeked Starlings (Sturnus cineraceus)

The birds normally start gathering around 5:30pm. Flocks of about 10 birds usually come flying in from the west and perch together on the wires above the river near my dorm. After they can gather up to around 50 birds, they begin to fly down to the river and bathe. As it gets darker, more and more birds join the flock until there are several hundreds birds. It's quite a spectacular phenomenon and attracts a lot of attention from the locals. Sometimes in a negative way too. When these birds gather together in a large number on the electrical wires, their droppings drop like rain. It's become really challenging for the pedestrians to walk across the road without getting the birds' poops on their heads. However, all of them will fly out to the tall Beppu Tower as it gets almost completely dark and roost there all through the night.
Male Chestnut-cheeked Starling (Sturnus philippensis)
Immature male Chestnut-cheeked Starling (Sturnus philippensis)

White-cheeked Starlings (Sturnus cineraceus)
Note the amount of white on their head

Can you spot the Chestnut-cheeked Starling in these photos?

Female Chestnut-cheeked Starling (Sturnus philippensis)
Juvenile White-cheeked Starling (Sturnus cineraceus)

Friday, November 4, 2011

Blue Rock Thrush

Yesterday, Russell wrote about a Slightly Silent Autumn in his blog, and I was surprised because the same thing is also happening here in Beppu. It's not that we always have such a lively autumn, but at least it has always been much livelier. The weather is also much different from the last one. It is much warmer than the same time last year. I can still wear the same clothes I wore in summer during the day and fully open my window at night without getting a cold. I was surprised looking at photos of myself taken around the same time last year wearing 2 or 3 layers of clothes. Coincidentally, I'm now reading a book called The End Of Nature by Bill McKibben. It mainly discusses about global warming and it is not pleasing at all to witness such a dramatic change in birds and weather around here, especially after having read the book with such title. The change feels almost tangible.

Female Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius philippensis)

I visited Rokushou-en on October 17, and it was one of those quiet, not so productive visits. There were only few birds along the shore, 3 Great Cormorants, 1 Common Sandpiper and a pair of Blue Rock Thrushes. That's all. At least, the rock thrushes were quite obliging enough, especially the female that came to pick up insects on the bench close to where I was sitting. The male bird was more skittish and wouldn't let me get too close. Even though it was in its non-breeding plumage, it still looked fine with its blue and chestnut plumage. The black, white and grey scales of the non-breeding plumage make it look a bit more rockier. Though the Blue Rock Thrush is quite common elsewhere, I find that I have few photos of this species. In fact, I've only photographed it properly once during the summer of 2010 when a family was found near Furuichi. Photos of the family can be seen here. I have to say that the male is quite attractive in its breeding plumage.

Non-breeding male Blue Rock Thrush (Monticola solitarius philippensis)