A cold walk in a bleak spot

Harlequin Duck

Today we were in the Onuma area. At Sawara we took a walk on the grasslands: a cold bleak place with no birds except a few crows, kites and gulls. The location is famous for Gyyfalcons and other raptors as well as winter buntings. But not today.

A nearby port had a few ducks including half a dozen Harlequins. Also around were Red-necked, Great Crested and Black-necked Grebes, Pelagic Cormorant but not much else.

At Onuma all 5 species of woodpecker were present as well as Smew, Whooper Swan, Eurasian Siskin, Dusky Thrush and Eurasian Treecreeper.

Asian Rosy Finch

Asian Rosy Finch

Another quiet Sunday with no photos worth showing. This Asian Rosy Finch was in Sawara 2 years ago when there was a big flock of them in the area. No such luck today.

Birds around Onuma/Sawara were Great Egret, Black and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Brent Goose, Smew, Harlequin Duck, Black Scoter, Great-crested Grebe, White-tailed Eagle and Jay. There were some flocks of passerines around at least: Dusky Thrush in various places and Grey Starling/Oriental Greenfinch in Sawara.

Long-tailed Duck

Long-tailed Duck

Very very cold today (a high of minus 10) and no birds of interest around near my apartment so here is another old pic.

Long-tailed Ducks are winter visitors to SW Hokkaido but not particularly common. I’ve only seen one so far this winter and it was way offshore. Around this time they do turn up in some of the local ports. Oshamanbe is the most reliable place to see them but the above drake was in Sawara a couple of years ago.

Sleety Monday

Harlequin Duck

Really rotten weather today: sleet, rain and snow. I was with an old birding friwnd and we went to all the local spots over the weekend. A shame I was labouring under a nasty cold which combined with the aforementioned weather kind of scuppered any chances for nice photos. These Harlequin Ducks were taken in a brief 10 minute window when all precipitation stopped.

Harlequin Duck

Birds seen at the weekend included 8 species of gull with large numbers of Black-legged Kittiwakes heading south off the Pacific coast, the usual raptors including both species of eagle at Esan, Mountain Hawk Eagle, Peregrine, Brent Goose, Black Woopecker and Smew.

Long time no see

4 years ago this immature Gyrfalcon spent the winter at Sawara. Sawara is a well-known place for this species. Ar the turn of the century a pair spent about 10 winters there and then nothing was seen of this magnificent bird until late 2013.


Another individual did appear at the same location a couple of years ago but it only stayed very briefly and was only seen by one person (who at least managed to get a photo). They periodically turn up all over Hokkaido but as they favour bleak snowy windwept underwatched coasts many probably get overlooked.


The odd coloration, tame behaviour and damaged tail feathers/wingtips led me to wonder if it was a hybrid /escapee. After much discussion with a falconer’s group on facebook I’m happy to call it a wild bird: the coloration can occur in the wild, tameness can be explained by lack of contact with humans and the damaged feathers can be explained by its struggles with prey on coarse sand or even concrete. Plus many falconers said a bird like this would be sporting rings and also be too valuable to let escape plus there are very few Gyrs or Gyr hybrids kept in Japan (apparently they don’t like humidity and often get sick). Breeders also said they didn’t believe it was a hybrid either.

Anyway……………………….surely it’s time for another to show up and ideally I’d like to find one myslelf. A pure white one would be nice.

Harlequin BIF

Harlequin Duck

A Harlequin Duck in flight this sfternoon from a bitterly cold Pacific coast……………

I was showing Philip, an American birder living in Tokyo, the eagles in Yakumo. Unfortunately the weather up there was absolutely vile. Whiteout conditions and we even got stuck in the snow in an uncleared car park…………….and the only way we could dig the car out was with our tripod and monopod.

A few interesting birds about though including Great-crested Grebe, Black Woodpecker and the eagles of course, even if we could barely see them in the blizzards.

3 Beach Buntings

Snow Bunting

It’s the season to look for small birds on cold bleak snowy windswept beaches. 3 species of Bunting occur in this habitat: Snow, Pine and Lapland Buntings.

Lapland Bunting

Sawara is a good place for them (all thse photos are from there) but they can and do occur anywhere along the coast; there are lots of possible places for them to feed and I’m sure they often get overlooked.

Pine Bunting

Hopefully there’ll be some around soon. Lots of snow this last week in Hakodate but almost no small birds………………..