This tour runs much as the Japan in Winter trip, with Jun Matsui as driver guide and cultural interpreter, and Phil as guide and general facilitator, using the 10-seater Grand Cabin Van which fits us all in quite well. The summer itinerary includes both the Izu and Ryukyu Islands, at a nice time of year there and good for butterflies too, and this year we went to Ishigaki as well as Amami and Okinawa, which proved an interesting diversion. It was a late spring, so some northern migrants were not yet back, but Hokkaido was looking lovely in the spring greenery, a far cry from winter starkness, and the Ochiishi boat trip was a great success, albeit as always, cold and damp on the way back!
This was our second iteration of the tour and first since the pandemic. It ran smoothly and we did very well, narrowly avoiding typhoon Mawar which hit not long after the tour finished. The weather was pretty good throughout, neither too hot nor too wet, and Hokkaido was very nice indeed.
We began around Tokyo, going out to a site for the rare Marsh Grassbird, which was a lifer for Phil, with Ochre-rumped (Japanese Reed) Bunting as a bonus, and an excellent trip to Funabashi which got us some very nice shorebirds including the scarce osculans race of Eurasian Oystercatcher, Great Knot, Terek Sandpiper, Siberian (Lesser) Sand Plover and Sanderling. Heading up to Mt Fuji, we tried at a site where White-bellied Green Pigeons come to drink seawater but were just too late due to the Tokyo traffic. Mt Fuji had quite a bit of snow remaining, but we got good looks at Japanese Leaf Warbler, Gray-bellied Bullfinch, Japanese Accentor and Red-flanked Bluetail, with Japanese Thrush being very uncooperative this year and not showing well. A dusk foray gave great looks at Gray Nightjar and a neat bonus of Raccoon Dog on the way back. The lower altitude forests gave the gorgeous Narcissus and Blue & White Flycatcher, a very wary Asian Stubtail and Chestnut-cheeked Starling but we dipped on Japanese Yellow Bunting.
Next came the overnight boat trip to Miyakejima in the Izu Islands, where it was overcast and very threatening but did not turn into rain until we had sailed again on the return. Izu Thrush, Izu Leaf Warbler and Izu Robin showed well, and Styan's (Pleske's) Grasshopper Warbler was great, whilst the rare Japanese Wood Pigeon was also seen nicely. Owston's Tit was once again hard, but we got it eventually, and a nice bonus was good numbers of Streaked Shearwaters both from the island and from the boat cabins on the way back.
The Ryukyu Islands (Nansei Shoto) were next, starting on Amami where we saw Owston's Woodpecker drumming on a metal pole(!), Ruddy Kingfisher calling well and Whistling Green Pigeon with its atmospheric and beautiful flute-like song on the first afternoon. That night we had our first attempt at seeing Ryukyu Scops Owl, which was calling close by but stayed hidden, however Amami Woodcock showed well and almost got stepped on in the dark later when we were after the owl; it clattered up suddenly and the wings brushed my head! Amami Black Rabbit was another excellent find, doing much better thanks to the mongoose busters eradication program. No sign on either island of the Ryukyu Giant Rat or Ryukyu Spiny Rat, both of great interest but elusive, and there are some rare frogs to try for as well. The only snake we saw was a himei-habu curled up in a tree root on Amami.
Next day we managed to get Lidth's Jay, which was being rather furtive, no doubt breeding, and tried various areas for Amami Thrush without success, though Ryukyu Minivet showed well as did Ryukyu (Amami) Robin and briefly Japanese Paradise-Flycatcher. A nocturnal trip that evening only had one taker, but boy did we do well, with spotlit Lidth's Jay, Ruddy Kingfisher and best of all, Amami Thrush, found as we failed again to see several nearby Ryukyu Scops Owls. The evening ended with the score of close, but unseen, Ryukyu Scops Owl 4, Birders 0, but another Amami Woodcock right by the main road junction was pleasing.
Okinawa was next and proved excellent, with great looks at Okinawa Rail, the rare Okinawa Woodpecker, Okinawa Robin, Ryukyu Scops Owl (finally), Japanese (Pryer's) Scops Owl, Northern Boobook and Japanese Paradise Flycatcher. Paddyfields at Kin near Naha proved rewarding, with Little Ringed Plover, a late migrant Broad-billed Sandpiper, and the rare Black Drongo, both being bonus J-ticks for Phil, and the first Light-vented Bulbuls of the tour.
Ishigaki was next on the tour, with a brief stop at a small island called Yoron on the flight over. Ishigaki is a popular island for beaches and fishing and looked quite prosperous. We visited some paddyfields once we'd checked into our high-tech hotel, which used passcodes for everything and had no receptionists at all, but was comfortable, and best of all had a washing machine and dryer in each room. The rice fields gave Cinnamon Bittern, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, White-breasted Waterhen and Oriental Pratincole. We headed up to a Hillside Observatory viewpoint, then went to a nearby park, finding a very obliging Crested (Iriomote or Ryukyu) Serpent Eagle sat atop a light pole. This caused a bit of a traffic jam as various folks stopped to see what we were looking at, and it was the only one we saw. The park had Ruddy Kingfisher but the hoped for Iriomote and Ishigaki (Japanese) tits were not in evidence. I was well impressed by the local race osai of what is supposed to be Large-billed Crow but looks and sounds quite different, and is as distinct as any of the Australian corvid species; one in the bank for sure. Ryukyu Flycatcher finally showed as well, with several fine males, one that had eluded us thus far.
We explored up on Mt Omoto next day, seeing Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Ruddy Kingfisher, Ryukyu Minivet and lots of Warbling White-eye, plus Stimpson's Skink, and lizard called Diploderma polygonatum ssp. ishikagiense, plus a rescue of a rare Ryukyu Yellow-margined Box Turtle from a drain. There were also some spectacular swallowtails of several species, and a huge black and white butterfly known as a Paper Kite at the park area we went to later. This park did also give the very distinctive nigriloris race of Japanese Tit, another split in waiting.
Finally it was time for wonderful Hokkaido, where birding at a park near Kushiro gave us Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, Eurasian Treecreeper and Eurasian Nuthatch, the white-headed nominate race of Long-tailed Tit, and best of all, a male Black Woodpecker calling and feeding on rotten logs on the ground, and giving great views. Red-crowned Crane showed well en route, and Notsuke Peninsula was not the bleak wasteland it is in winter, with flowers this time and some of the migrants back, including the hoped for Siberian Rubythroat, and our first White-tailed Eagles of the trip. We spent the night at the minshuku where Blakiston's Fish Owl comes to feed from a fish-stocked pond in the stream outside, and we were lucky as this night the male came in at 2020, with a pair calling for over an hour just behind the minshuku, and two birds at 0200 next morning for those who peeked out then. One of the great birds, just so huge.
Next morning Shiretoko Pass was fog shrouded so we abandoned that and headed down to Ochiishi for the 2-hour boat trip round two nearby islands, in good conditions though with a rain shower on the way back. Alcids were terrific; we had 6 species, including multiple Spectacled Guillemot, a single of the black plumaged Pigeon (Kurile) Guillemot, many Rhinoceros Auklet, Thick-billed and Common Murre and Two Ancient Murrelet; the supporting cast included Arctic and Pomarine Jaeger, Short-tailed Shearwater and several Laysan Albatross, plus fantastic views of Sea Otters. This year we were slightly too early for both Middendorf’s and Sakhalin Grasshopper Warblers; it was a late spring, and we dipped on Latham’s Snipe at a site we were given, though Masked Bunting was a nice find.
This basically concluded our very enjoyable and successful second iteration of the Field Guides spring trip to Japan. My thanks to the group for good company, enthusiasm and good spotting, and to Ruth at Field Guides and Sue and Rowan at Sicklebill Safaris who handled the logistics. Particular thanks to my local co-leader Jun Matsui, who handled much of the driving and knew some great spots for the special birds, also for his cultural expertise and patience with this group of barbarians. We learned a lot about food and meals too, a very instructive experience.
We are looking forward to 2024, (and may offer an option for a trip to the Bonin Islands if anyone is interested) as Jun and I are planning a visit.
Topaz June 2023
Day 1 Mon May 15 Nikko Hotel area 0630-0715/ Ukishima Marsh 0930-1030/ Funabashi Sambanze Bay 1430-1530. Overcast with some light rain. O/n Nikko Narita
Day 2 Tues May 16 Oiso Beach 1030-1115; Bird Forest Lake Sacko 1430-1530. Good weather. O/n Kawaguchi Lake Yamanaka.
Day 3 Wed May 17 Mt Fuji Okuniwa Loop/ Lake Kawaguchi Forest Reserve. Pm Two trails near Lake Gutenba up to trail head car park at dusk. Good weather, quite hot. O/n Kawaguchi
Day 4 Thurs May 18 Gutenba area 0830-1030/ Yashidaguchi Trail then to Tokyo. Hot and sunny. Bags at hotel then to Ferry Terminal for 2230 departure for Miyakejima.
Day 5 Fri May 19 0500 arrive Miyakejima/ Akakokko Reserve 0545-0700/ Cape Izu/ Akakokko Reserve and Lake Tairo. Overcast and quite windy, heavy rain as we departed at 1330. Tokyo 1930.
Day 6 Sat May 20 To Haneda for 1100 to Amami 1400 on. Amami Nature Forest 1530-1730 / Amami Gunto NP 1930-2130 . Overcast. O/n Amami
Day 7 Sun May 21 Amami Nature Forest 0745-1100 / pm Amami Gunto NP Mt Yuwan Trail 1600-1730. Owling Amami NF area 1930-2130, O/n Amami
Day 8 Mon May 22 D 0800 for Naze Airport/ Yoron transit/ Naze on Okinawa/ Yanbaru Ada Gardens area and o/n.
Day 9 Tues May 23 0530 Ada Gardens area/ Benoki Dam/ pm to Cape Hedo 1530-1730. Spotlighting 1930-2100. O/n Ada Gardens.
Day 10 Wed May 24 Benoki Dam till 1100/ Hiju Waterfalls/ Kin paddyfields 1500-1600 o/n Naha.
Day 11 Thurs May 25 D Okinawa 0950- Ishigaki 1100 Rice paddies at Hiratabaru / Mt Banno and observatory till 1600. Overcast. O/n Ishigaki
Day 12 Fri May 26 Mt Omoto 0715-1100 and 1200-1300, again 1600-1700 / Hiratabaru paddyfields 1730-1800. O/n Ishigaki
Day 13 Sat May 27 Mt Omoto 0700-0800/ then JAK 972 flight to Haneda and JAL 545 to Kushiro arr. 1940. O/n Kushiro.
Day 14 Sun May 28 Beppo Park Kushiro till 1030 / Notsuke 1400-1530/ Rausu Harbor 1700-1730 then o/n Washi-no- Yado. Fine weather all day.
Day 15 Mon May 29 Shiretoko Pass fog/ Nakashibetsu salmon farm area/ Ochiishi boat trip 1230-1445 rain on way back. O/n Nemuro
Day 16 Tues May 30 Nemuro to Kushiro then flight to Haneda and Express Bus to Narita for flights home.
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
MUTE SWAN (Cygnus olor) [I]
EURASIAN WIGEON (Mareca penelope)
69 late migrants still at Notsuke.
EASTERN SPOT-BILLED DUCK (Anas zonorhyncha)
Small numbers at wetland sites on Hokkaido and 3 at the grassbird marsh.
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)
One at the Grassbird marsh on day one was the only record.
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta)
A couple of late migrants at Notsuke.
TUFTED DUCK (Aythya fuligula)
Small flocks of 10 at Notsuke and Ochiishi.
GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)
11 at Funabashi and 40 at Odaito viewpoint.
HARLEQUIN DUCK (Histrionicus histrionicus)
A fine drake and 2 females still at Rausu, quite late in the season.
RING-NECKED PHEASANT (Phasianus colchicus) [I]
Two males in a field on Ishigaki were unexpected and a J-tick for Phil; they are introduced very locally in Japan.
GREEN PHEASANT (Phasianus versicolor versicolor) [E]
A fine male out at the Ukishima marsh area was a lucky pick-up. Then another male near Lake Yamanaka which gave good views from the vehicle.
INDIAN PEAFOWL (Pavo cristatus) [*]
Another unexpected introduction from Ishigaki, heard at Mt Banno and Mt Omoto and another J-tick for Phil.
CHINESE BAMBOO-PARTRIDGE (Bambusicola thoracicus) [I*]
Heard on Miyakejima but did not come in.
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
A few in the urban centers.
JAPANESE WOOD-PIGEON (Columba janthina janthina) [E]
Calling at the Miyake Nature Center and one eventually seen perched up there, also one seen in flight distantly at Cape Izu. A rare bird and good to see.
ORIENTAL TURTLE-DOVE (Streptopelia orientalis orientalis)
The default dove, seen most days. The Ryukyu birds are darker and belong to another race, stimpsoni.
ASIAN EMERALD DOVE (Chalcophaps indica)
Calling on Mt Omoto, Ishigaki and seen a couple of times in the road, they barely reach Japanese territory, and this was a J-tick for Phil.
WHISTLING GREEN-PIGEON (RYUKYU) (Treron formosae permagnus) [E]
Seen very well on Amami and heard calling beautifully; it really does sound like a Japanese flute, cut posted on Cornell and xenocanto. A single at Mt Banno on Ishigaki and heard each day there. Quite a scarce species overall, and will likely be split from the Taiwan birds to become Ryukyu Green Pigeon, as already done by IOC and BirdLife.
LESSER CUCKOO (Cuculus poliocephalus)
One called in nicely on Mt Fuji, and another was heard.
COMMON CUCKOO (Cuculus canorus) [*]
Heard at Mt Fuji and on Hokkaido, but none came in.
ORIENTAL CUCKOO (Cuculus optatus) [*]
Heard on Hokkaido, but unresponsive.
GRAY NIGHTJAR (Caprimulgus jotaka)
Calling well on Mt Fuji at dusk and came in very nicely.
WHITE-THROATED NEEDLETAIL (Hirundapus caudacutus)
A single over Amami Nature Forest, a late migrant.
PACIFIC SWIFT (Apus pacificus)
8 on Miyakejima looked like they were migrating, and we saw 3 at Ochiishi harbor.
HOUSE SWIFT (Apus nipalensis)
Just one over a fish farm near Mt Fuji.
OKINAWA RAIL (Gallirallus okinawae)
Great looks at one by the Ada Gardens Hotel early one morning, and another as we went to Cape Hedo; video on Cornell and Smugmug. Heard quite often but they are breeding and more secretive at the moment. The mongoose busters program has been very effective in helping numbers recover, but it is still only found really around Yanbaru NP.
EURASIAN MOORHEN (Gallinula chloropus)
One on Amami and a pair with a juv. on Ishigaki.
EURASIAN COOT (Fulica atra)
Three on Lake Yamanaka were unexpected and are presumably late migrants.
WHITE-BREASTED WATERHEN (Amaurornis phoenicurus leucomelana)
Some folks saw one briefly on Amami, and we had nice views at the paddyfields on Ishigaki.
RED-CROWNED CRANE (Grus japonensis)
A small family group were by the road near Nakashibetsu, and we glimpsed a couple more as we were en route to Kushiro from Nemuro ion the last day. A great bird and still a rare species overall.
BLACK-WINGED STILT (Himantopus himantopus)
2 at Kin Paddyfields, and 6 at Ishigaki paddies next day, with 2 there on 26 May.
EURASIAN OYSTERCATCHER (FAR EASTERN) (Haematopus ostralegus osculans)
41 at Funabashi; this is a rare taxon and a potential split, as it is both isolated and genetically distinct it seems.
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)
30 at Funabashi Sambanze Bay.
LESSER SAND-PLOVER (SIBERIAN) (Charadrius mongolus mongolus)
Two at Funabashi Sambanze Bay, now split by IOC and BirdLife as Siberian Sandplover.
GREATER SAND-PLOVER (Charadrius leschenaultii)
Two at Funabashi Sambanze Bay.
WHIMBREL (SIBERIAN) (Numenius phaeopus variegatus)
A single at Funabashi Sambanze Bay, and one at Oiso Beach next day.
BAR-TAILED GODWIT (SIBERIAN) (Limosa lapponica baueri)
40 at Funabashi Sambanze Bay.
RUDDY TURNSTONE (Arenaria interpres morinella)
15 at Funabashi Sambanze Bay.
GREAT KNOT (Calidris tenuirostris)
A single coming into summer dress at Funabashi Sambanze Bay.
BROAD-BILLED SANDPIPER (Calidris falcinellus)
A single late migrant at Kin paddyfields May 24, initially thought to be a Dunlin but better views and photos revealed it to be this scarce migrant, a J-tick for Phil.
SHARP-TAILED SANDPIPER (Calidris acuminata)
Two at the paddyfields on Ishigaki on both visits.
RED-NECKED STINT (Calidris ruficollis)
25 at Funabashi Sambanze Bay.
SANDERLING (Calidris alba)
3 at Funabashi Sambanze Bay.
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
150 at Funabashi Sambanze Bay.
AMAMI WOODCOCK (Scolopax mira) [E]
Lovely views of one the first night out on Amami; in fact later I almost trod on it as I stepped back in the dark whilst looking for a nearby Ryukyu Scops Owl, and if flew up with a clatter of wings, brushing my head! Also another nice one on the second night out, right by the turn off for Amami Nature Forest. Another species benefiting from the mongoose eradication program.
TEREK SANDPIPER (Xenus cinereus)
A single at Funabashi Sambanze Bay.
GRAY-TAILED TATTLER (Tringa brevipes)
7 at Funabashi Sambanze Bay.
COMMON GREENSHANK (Tringa nebularia)
4 at the Ishigaki paddyfields May 25 and 7 there next day.
ORIENTAL PRATINCOLE (Glareola maldivarum)
A single at the paddyfields on Ishigaki May 26.
POMARINE JAEGER (Stercorarius pomarinus)
One off Ochiishi on the boat trip.
PARASITIC JAEGER (Stercorarius parasiticus)
One off Ochiishi on the boat trip, Jun's photo clearly showed the pointed central rectrices.
COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge)
One off Ochiishi on the boat trip.
THICK-BILLED MURRE (Uria lomvia)
One off Ochiishi on the boat trip, Jun's photo showed the gape line and black plumage.
PIGEON GUILLEMOT (SNOWI) (Cepphus columba snowi)
One in the full black summer plumage from the boat trip; very different to Pigeon Guillemot and worthy of a split as Kurile or Snow's Guillemot.
SPECTACLED GUILLEMOT (Cepphus carbo)
Lovely views of about 30 of this striking bird off Ochiishi, in full black summer plumage too, with the big pale eye patch.
ANCIENT MURRELET (Synthliboramphus antiquus)
Two off Ochiishi on the boat trip.
RHINOCEROS AUKLET (Cerorhinca monocerata)
About a dozen seen nicely off Ochiishi on the boat trip, though sadly no Tufted Puffin again this year.
BLACK-HEADED GULL (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
About 40 at Sambanze Bay.
BLACK-TAILED GULL (Larus crassirostris)
A good trip for them, seen at Funabashi, Oiso Beach and at several sites on Hokkaido.
SLATY-BACKED GULL (Larus schistisagus)
The default common dark-backed gull from Hokkaido.
GLAUCOUS GULL (Larus hyperboreus)
2 at Ochiishi Harbor, quite late to be still here.
LITTLE TERN (Sternula albifrons sinensis)
12 at Funabashi Sambanze Bay.
BLACK-NAPED TERN (Sterna sumatrana)
5 on Okinawa near Kunigami.
COMMON TERN (LONGIPENNIS) (Sterna hirundo longipennis)
A single at Funabashi Sambanze Bay.
LAYSAN ALBATROSS (Phoebastria immutabilis)
Seen well off Ochiishi, maybe up to 3 birds or perhaps just a single individual moving about.
STREAKED SHEARWATER (Calonectris leucomelas)
Well over 1000 birds on the Miyakejima trip, many seen from the island at Cape Izu and the port and then common on the return in the Oshima Triangle.
SHORT-TAILED SHEARWATER (Ardenna tenuirostris)
Just a single on the Ochiishi boat trip.
RED-FACED CORMORANT (Urile urile)
Jun's photos show some on the rock stack with the nesting cormorants on the Ochiishi boat trip, but we identified none at the time.
PELAGIC CORMORANT (Urile pelagicus)
About 60 on the Ochiishi boat trip.
GREAT CORMORANT (EURASIAN) (Phalacrocorax carbo hanedae)
The default Tokyo area cormorant, with a nesting colony visible from the motorway.
JAPANESE CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax capillatus) [E]
One at Oiso Beach, then about 40 at Ochiishi, this is the big cormorant of rocky coastlines.
GRAY HERON (Ardea cinerea)
A few around the Tokyo area, and small numbers on Hokkaido, with a single on Ishigaki our only Ryukyu record.
GREAT EGRET (AUSTRALASIAN) (Ardea alba modesta)
3 day records with 3 at Ukishima the most, with a single on Amami.
INTERMEDIATE EGRET (INTERMEDIATE) (Ardea intermedia intermedia)
Small numbers from all 3 Ryukyu islands.
LITTLE EGRET (WESTERN) (Egretta garzetta garzetta)
Also small numbers from all 3 Ryukyu islands, and one at Funabashi.
CATTLE EGRET (EASTERN) (Bubulcus ibis coromandus)
5 day records of small numbers from the Ryukyus. This is the eastern taxon which is split by both IOC and BirdLife; it has a distinctive orangey-headed breeding dress.
OSPREY (HALIAETUS) (Pandion haliaetus haliaetus)
Singles at Funabashi and Kin Rice paddies.
CRESTED SERPENT-EAGLE (RYUKYU) (Spilornis cheela perplexus)
On Ishigaki, where it sat on a light pole for a great view.
BLACK KITE (BLACK-EARED) (Milvus migrans lineatus)
Widespread in small numbers on Honshu, then a few on Hokkaido. A possible split, but the intergrade zone seems rather extensive.
WHITE-TAILED EAGLE (Haliaeetus albicilla)
Lovely views from Notsuke and Rausu, including white tailed adults; we saw 13 birds on this day and 6 next day.
EASTERN BUZZARD (Buteo japonicus japonicus)
Just one bird from Notsuke on Hokkaido, oddly scarce this trip.
JAPANESE SCOPS-OWL (Otus semitorques pryeri)
Jun and I saw a scops owl in the road near Ada Gardens on our owling foray, and on going back to check, Jun found a lovely orange-eyed specimen sat low down in forest near the road. A good find, no vocals heard, and a possible split as Pryer's Scops Owl too.
RYUKYU SCOPS-OWL (Otus elegans elegans)
This one led us a dance on Amami, calling very close at two sites on the first owling foray, and then 3 more close individuals which also stayed out of sight the next night, when we heard maybe 10 birds! Happily we were redeemed on Okinawa, with good views of this yellow-eyed species calling and responding at the Ada Garden Hotel at Yanbaru.
BLAKISTON'S FISH-OWL (Ketupa blakistoni)
Just wonderful, a huge male came in at 8.20 pm to the little pond at Washi no Yado, and stayed hunting and eating fish for some 20 minutes. The mate was calling a double deep hoot, I got a nice recording of the pair duetting behind the lodge later, which is on the Cornell website and xenocanto. A tremendous huge owl, and very rare indeed, with >200 on Hokkaido.
NORTHERN BOOBOOK (Ninox japonica japonica)
Our owling foray on Okinawa got 3 species, with this one responding well and showing nicely in the Yanbaru area.
COMMON KINGFISHER (Alcedo atthis)
One was seen by some on day 4 in the Mt Fuji area.
RUDDY KINGFISHER (Halcyon coromanda)
Vocals at Amami Nature Forest and gave brief looks, then some of us had one roosting during an owling foray next day, Much better daytime views on Ishigaki where seen nicely at Mt Omoto.
JAPANESE PYGMY WOODPECKER (Yungipicus kizuki)
Surprisingly few this trip, seen at Mt Fuji and then on Miyakejima, with 2 at Benoki Dam on Okinawa.
OKINAWA WOODPECKER (Dendrocopos noguchii) [E]
Very good looks of a pair up at Benoki Dam, where the male was drumming well. It is one of the rarest of all woodpeckers, with the population no more than 380 birds on current estimates, and maybe somewhat less.
WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER (AMAMI) (Dendrocopos leucotos owstoni) [E]
Seen very well at Amami Nature Forest, where one was drumming on a metal pole on our first visit, and we had 4 there next day. Split by many as Owston's Woodpecker or Amami Woodpecker as it is very distinct.
GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER (JAPONICUS) (Dendrocopos major japonicus)
One at Lake Kawaguchi Forest, and one at Benno Park near Kushiro.
BLACK WOODPECKER (Dryocopus martius)
A terrific find at Benno Park near Kushiro, where a male was vocal and showed very nicely feeding on the ground, with a female briefly nearby. A J-tick for Phil and long overdue.
RYUKYU MINIVET (Pericrocotus tegimae) [E]
Nice looks at Amami Nature Forest, Benoki Dam and on Ishigaki.
BLACK DRONGO (Dicrurus macrocercus)
A rare visitor to Japan and the subject of a twitch by some local birders at Kin Paddyfields, a J-tick for Phil. Jun saw a second bird too.
JAPANESE PARADISE-FLYCATCHER (Terpsiphone atrocaudata illex)
A shy bird, but seen on Amami and then very well near Benoki Dam, where it was quite vocal.
BULL-HEADED SHRIKE (Lanius bucephalus)
Just one on the first day at Ukishima marsh.
EURASIAN JAY (BRANDT'S) (Garrulus glandarius brandtii)
One flew across the road as we were nearing Ochiishi. This is a dark-headed dark-eyed bird that is long overdue to be split.
EURASIAN JAY (JAPANESE) (Garrulus glandarius japonicus)
We saw this in the Mt Fuji area, a pale-eyed taxon that will no doubt be a split in due course.
LIDTH'S JAY (Garrulus lidthi) [E]
These were tough this trip; we had them briefly at Amami Forest Park and then again at the Mt Yuwan trail, but very unobliging and looking like they were nesting. Then we had two singles roosting on wires during our second owling foray. Endemic to Amami, and a very beautiful bird.
AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE (JAPANESE) (Cyanopica cyanus japonica)
Just a flyby glimpse on the first day as we came out of Tokyo.
CARRION CROW (EASTERN) (Corvus corone orientalis)
Quite common on Honshu and round Tokyo, with a few on Hokkaido.
LARGE-BILLED CROW (LARGE-BILLED) (Corvus macrorhynchos japonensis)
The common mainland crow; the large bill and high-domed forehead are distinctive, as are the calls.
LARGE-BILLED CROW (LARGE-BILLED) (Corvus macrorhynchos connectens)
I again noted how distinctive these Ryukyu birds are from the mainland ones- smaller, shorter winged, longer tailed, smaller bill, much less domed forehead and quite different calls. It seems obvious this is another species; if the 5 Australian lookalike corvids are split, then this one is equally as distinct as any of them. The whole complex really needs to be properly evaluated with up to date methods.
LARGE-BILLED CROW (LARGE-BILLED) (Corvus macrorhynchos osai)
I was surprised at how distinctive the Ishigaki birds are from the Ryukyu ones, being smaller, shorter winged, longer tailed, much smaller bill, far less domed forehead and quite different calls. It seems obvious this is yet another species, if the 5 Australian lookalike corvids are split then this one is equally as distinct as any of them. The whole complex really needs to be properly evaluated.
COAL TIT (CONTINENTAL) (Periparus ater insularis)
A few from Mt Fuji, mostly in conifers, then nice looks on Hokkaido.
VARIED TIT (Sittiparus varius varius)
Seen around Mt Fuji and near Kushiro.
VARIED TIT (Sittiparus varius amamii)
We saw a couple on Amami, much paler than mainland birds and with a pale breast gorget.
OWSTON'S TIT (Sittiparus owstoni) [E]
We finally got good views of one by the Nature Centre. It looks larger, heavier billed and much darker below than the mainland and Ryukyu Varied Tits from which it is split. Clearly uncommon too, a shame we missed the Iriomote species of this group on Ishigaki despite much effort.
MARSH TIT (Poecile palustris hensoni)
Seen on Hokkaido at Kushiro Forest Park.
WILLOW TIT (WILLOW) (Poecile montanus restrictus)
Just two on Mt Fuji.
JAPANESE TIT (Parus minor)
Fairly common on Honshu and Hokkaido, also both subspecies seen on the Ryukyus and a very distinctive one on Ishigaki.
JAPANESE TIT (ISHIGAKI) (Parus minor nigriloris)
This is a very distinctive taxon, with dark gray flanks, extensive black below and small white cheeks. It was one I was anxious to see on Ishigaki as it is a potential split as Ishigaki Tit, as done by BirdLife and Mark Brazil in his Japan Field Guide. We saw a pair just once at Mt Banno Park, I was very surprised at how unobtrusive they were.
EURASIAN SKYLARK (FAR EASTERN) (Alauda arvensis japonica)
2 at Ukishima marsh, and few singing and displaying at Notsuke. Another potential split.
ZITTING CISTICOLA (FAR EASTERN) (Cisticola juncidis brunniceps)
Nice views at Ukishima then daily on Okinawa and Ishigaki. This taxon has double zitting notes and some single musical notes preceding. The whole complex is long overdue for splitting as several taxa are quite distinct.
ORIENTAL REED WARBLER (Acrocephalus orientalis)
Nice views at Ukishima marsh.
MARSH GRASSBIRD (Helopsaltes pryeri)
This rare bird eventually showed well at Ukishima marsh; it was a lifer for Phil too.
PLESKE'S GRASSHOPPER WARBLER (Helopsaltes pleskei)
This was great on Miyakejima, where despite strong winds one was singing atop a small bush and stayed for scope views. Two others were calling nearby. It is an obscure and little known bird that only nests on small offshore Japanese islands where it is a summer visitor.
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
Small numbers around Tokyo and Mt Fuji and a couple on Miyakejima.
PACIFIC SWALLOW (PACIFIC) (Hirundo tahitica namiyei)
Small numbers on the Ryukyus; a small swallow with dingy underparts.
ASIAN HOUSE-MARTIN (Delichon dasypus)
Brief views at a road tunnel near Rausu were the only ones.
LIGHT-VENTED BULBUL (Pycnonotus sinensis)
First at Kin paddies near Naha, then on Ishigaki.
BROWN-EARED BULBUL (Hypsipetes amaurotis amaurotis)
Very common and noisy throughout the mainland except on Hokkaido, where we saw just 2 this trip.
BROWN-EARED BULBUL (Hypsipetes amaurotis pryeri)
Common and noisy on the Ryukyus, this race has a distinctive reddish chest and a slightly less shrill voice than the mainland birds.
EASTERN CROWNED WARBLER (Phylloscopus coronatus)
Seen well at Lake Kawaguchi FR, and again near Kushiro and Nakashibetsu.
IJIMA'S LEAF WARBLER (Phylloscopus ijimae) [E]
Great views and calling well at Miyake Nature Centre. An Izu Islands endemic, and a summer visitor here. The pale orange lower mandible was quite striking.
SAKHALIN LEAF WARBLER (Phylloscopus borealoides)
Singing well, but the very devil to see at Kushiro Forest Park, though persistence paid off and we eventually got it to show well. Another was heard here too, they may have just arrived.
JAPANESE LEAF WARBLER (Phylloscopus xanthodryas)
Seen nicely and calling well on Mt Fuji.
ASIAN STUBTAIL (Urosphena squameiceps)
One calling at Lake Kawaguchi FR, so high-pitched and quiet it was hard for most of us to hear. It did respond and came in briefly, but did not permit good views.
JAPANESE BUSH WARBLER (NORTHERN) (Horornis diphone cantans)
Often heard calling, and seen well at Mt Fuji and at Yanbaru.
LONG-TAILED TIT (CAUDATUS) (Aegithalos caudatus caudatus)
Seen once at Kushiro Forest Park, this taxon has a white head and is suddenly something of a marketing icon on Hokkaido!
LONG-TAILED TIT (EUROPAEUS GROUP) (Aegithalos caudatus trivirgatus)
Seen a couple of times at Mt Fuji, this taxon has a dark eyeline.
WARBLING WHITE-EYE (Zosterops japonicus)
Common and widespread; the group has been split 4 ways and this becomes Warbling White-eye in place of Japanese White-eye.
RED-BILLED LEIOTHRIX (Leiothrix lutea) [I*]
Heard at Narita on the early morning walk, it seems to be spreading fast.
GOLDCREST (ASIAN) (Regulus regulus japonensis)
A nice view on the trail high up on Mt Fuji.
EURASIAN NUTHATCH (WHITE-BELLIED) (Sitta europaea asiatica)
Good looks at Kushiro Forest Park, this is a white-bellied taxon.
EURASIAN NUTHATCH (BUFF-BELLIED) (Sitta europaea roseilia)
One from the Bird Forest at Lake Saiko, a buff-bellied taxon.
EURASIAN TREECREEPER (Certhia familiaris)
One at Kushiro Forest Park; this bird is always very hard to get on these tours despite so much suitable habitat.
EURASIAN WREN (EURASIAN) (Troglodytes troglodytes fumigatus)
The local race is very dark overall; we saw them at Lake Kawaguchi FR and at Kushiro Forest Park.
BROWN DIPPER (Cinclus pallasii)
One from the stream at Washi-no Yado.
CHESTNUT-CHEEKED STARLING (Agropsar philippensis)
Good looks at Kawaguchi FR and at Kushiro Forest Park.
WHITE-CHEEKED STARLING (Spodiopsar cineraceus)
Seen at Funabashi and Oiso Beach next day, but not subsequently.
AMAMI THRUSH (Zoothera major)
We tried hard for this on Amami in daylight without success, but our owling foray luckily got us a roosting bird as we were searching for a nearby Ryukyu Scops Owl. Finally split by Clements at last, it is a rare, large and long-billed species with a distinct song, endemic to Amami.
JAPANESE THRUSH (Turdus cardis)
Frustrating at Gutenba on Mt. Fuji where we could hear them but only got flyovers this trip.
BROWN-HEADED THRUSH (Turdus chrysolaus chrysolaus)
Same story, basically heard and glimpsed on Mt. Fuji.
IZU THRUSH (Turdus celaenops) [E]
Shy and elusive, but we got fine views at Miyake Nature Centre of this Izu Islands endemic thrush. The Nature Centre is named Akakokko, the local name for this species.
ASIAN BROWN FLYCATCHER (Muscicapa dauurica)
One at Kawaguchi Forest, and another at Kushiro Forest Park, surprisingly scarce.
BLUE-AND-WHITE FLYCATCHER (Cyanoptila cyanomelana intermedia)
Great looks at a pair at Kawaguchi FR, the male was sunbathing in the track.
IZU ROBIN (Larvivora tanensis)
Calling well and seen very nicely at Miyake Nature Centre; a most distinctive taxon that Mark Brazil splits in his Japan Field Guide, as do BirdLife, and I think they are right.
RYUKYU ROBIN (Larvivora komadori)
Great views on Amami, this one has white flanks and behaves rather differently to the far more confiding Okinawa birds.
OKINAWA ROBIN (Larvivora namiyei)
Seen nicely with good views of a fine black throated male with extensive black flanks, as well as a rusty backed female.
SIBERIAN RUBYTHROAT (Calliope calliope)
2 fabulous singing males at Notsuke, lovely to see so well.
RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL (Tarsiger cyanurus)
Nice looks at a male on Mt Fuji bathing at the birdbath.
NARCISSUS FLYCATCHER (Ficedula narcissina)
This beautiful bird showed very well at Kawaguchi and Gutenba on Mt. Fuji.
RYUKYU FLYCATCHER (Ficedula owstoni) [E]
This proved impossible to find on Amami and Okinawa, but came good on Ishigaki with lovely looks at a male on two occasions, at Mt. Banno and Mt. Omoto. We also heard three at the latter site on the last morning.
BLUE ROCK-THRUSH (PHILIPPENSIS) (Monticola solitarius philippensis)
The first was at Oiso Beach, then on Miyakejima. Very common on the Ryukyus, where they are a suburban bird, one was singing well by our hotel. Another BirdLife split, as Eastern Blue Rock Thrush; you know it makes sense!
AMUR STONECHAT (Saxicola stejnegeri)
Some nice views from Notsuke, this taxon has various names including Siberian, Eastern and Stejneger's Stonechat. The whole Stonechat complex is in flux and the various components not yet sorted out.
JAPANESE ACCENTOR (Prunella rubida) [E]
A good find high on Mt Fuji, it's a rather scarce and elusive Japanese endemic.
EURASIAN TREE SPARROW (Passer montanus)
Small numbers were widespread in the lowlands throughout.
GRAY WAGTAIL (Motacilla cinerea) [*]
Heard at two sites on Mt Fuji near streams there.
WHITE WAGTAIL (BLACK-BACKED) (Motacilla alba lugens)
Small numbers around Tokyo and on Hokkaido, and heard at Kin paddies on Okinawa.
OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT (Anthus hodgsoni)
Two birds at forest sites on Mt Fuji.
JAPANESE GROSBEAK (Eophona personata)
One was seen briefly on Mt Fuji by some.
LONG-TAILED ROSEFINCH (Carpodacus sibiricus)
3 birds near Nakashibetsu, always a pleasure to find this one.
EURASIAN BULLFINCH (BAIKAL) (Pyrrhula pyrrhula griseiventris)
Great views of this gray-bellied taxon at the bird bath on Mt Fuji, and heard at Kushiro. Another BirdLife split.
ORIENTAL GREENFINCH (Chloris sinica)
Small numbers starting at Funabashi Sambanze Bay, 2 on Miyakejima and a couple of day records from Hokkaido.
MEADOW BUNTING (Emberiza cioides)
Seen at Ukishima Marsh, then twice on Mt Fuji, with 3 on Miyakejima, a striking bird.
OCHRE-RUMPED BUNTING (Emberiza yessoensis)
Great looks at Ukishima Marsh, this is a rare and very localized species, also called Japanese Reed Bunting.
REED BUNTING (Emberiza schoeniclus)
4 on Notsuke were the only sighting.
MASKED BUNTING (Emberiza personata)
A late pick up at Nakashibetsu, now split from Black-faced Bunting.
RYUKYU RABBIT (Pentalagus furnessi) [E]
Lovely views on Amami of this rare mammal, benefiting from the mongoose control program.
NORWAY (BROWN) RAT (Rattus norvegicus)
Seen at night as we went up Mt Yuwan road, quite pale brown with pale ear edges; I had hoped it was the Ryukyu Spiny Rat but seemingly not.
HOUSE MOUSE (Mus musculus)
Common along the road on Mt Yuwan as we were looking for Amami Rabbit, but oddly none seen on the Nature Center Road next night.
RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)
Nice looks at a couple in heavy moult on Notsuke.
RACCOON DOG (Nyctereutes procyonoides)
One rather blonde pelage animal with a rudimentary mask as were coming down the lower slopes of Mt Fuji one night, it seemed unconcerned and may have been an old animal.
SEA OTTER (Enhydra lutris)
Wonderful views of a female and pup with another adult nearby on the Ochiishi boat trip, and some saw 5 others distantly near the island.
WILD BOAR (Sus scrofa riukiuanus)
Just one briefly in the road one night on Okinawa.
SIKA DEER (Cervus nippon)
Just a few on Hokkaido, much less obvious here in summer, though the herd wading in the shallow sea off Notsuke was a nice sight.
Favorite bird sightings were much as expected- Blakiston's Fish Owl of course, Siberian Rubythroat, Amami Woodcock, Okinawa Rail, Black Woodpecker and Izu Thrush, whilst Rhinoceros Auklet also figured.
Ryukyu Flying-fox Pteropus dasymallus Seen at dusk by the Ada Garden Hotel, then a female with a young one at Hiju Waterfall. Classified as Vulnerable and clearly not at all common.
Butterflies & moths
The warmer climes of the Ryukyus had a good variety of butterflies. I have erred on the side of caution and mainly identified from photographs where feasible, though it was hard with the swallowtails which never seem to alight. Some Japanese butterfly guys via i-Naturalist were very helpful as I posted most photos there, and these are some firm identifications:
Parnassius citrinarius - One of the Parnassians, seen at Mt Fuji
Atrophaneura alcinous: Chinese Windmill- the long-tailed large red-bodied black with yellow sub-apical dots swallowtail of Okinawa.
Parantica sita: Chestnut Tiger- the large black, orange and white checkered species from Amami
Papilio helenus: Red Helen- Common on Okinawa, another widespread species
Papilio memnon: Great Mormon-Amami
Papilio protenor: Spangle Swallowtail- Amami
Graphium sarpedon: Blue Triangle- common on Honshu and the Ryukyus, a very widespread species
Idea leuconoe: Paper Kite- The incredible huge black and white butterfly at Mt Banno on Ishigaki
Parantica aglea: Glassy Tiger- Ishigaki
Appias paulina: Common Albatross - Miyakejima
Aythyma selenophora: Staff Sergeant- Ishigaki
Vanessa cardui:- the Painted Lady at Kushiro Forest.
Argyreus hyperbius: Indian Fritillary - the striking orange, black and white butterfly at Benoki was a female of this widespread species
Hebomoaia glaucippe: Great Orange-tip -the large orange-tip on Amami
Anthocaris scolymus: Yellow-tip- Ukishima marsh
Mycalesis madjicosa: Ryukyu Hime Janome- on Ishigaki
Ypthima masakii: Ishigaki
Chilades pandava: Plains Cupid or Cycad Blue- the pale blue from Cape Hedo
Udaspes folus: Grass Demon- Ishigaki
Kaniska canace: Blue Admiral- Ishigaki
Also a large moth of the Ailanthus Silkmoth group, Samia cynthia, in the toilet stall at Miyakejima and kindly albeit prematurely released by Chuck
Hime-habu: Ovophis okinavensis. The pit-viper seen in the tree buttress at Amami Nature Center. Toxic and greatly feared, also used in medicinal products and sake of all things!
Stimpson's Skink: Plestiodon stimpsonii. Mt Omoto, the blue-tailed skink there.
Diploderma polygonatum: Okinawa Tree Lizard. -the greenish long-tailed one at the Amami Nature Centre viewpoint
Diploderma polygonatum ssp. ishigakiense. The larger of the skinks at Mt Omoto, one of the toothed-skink group albeit with no common name, but presumably Ishigaki Tree Lizard.
Ryukyu Yellow-margined Box-Turtle: Cuora flavomarginata evelynae. Rescued from a drain on Mt Omoto, an Endangered species.
Ryukyu Kajika Frog or Japanese stream frog: Buergeria japonica- this was the one by the Ada Garden Hotel
The endemic cycad that was common on N. Okinawa is Cycas revoluta. The purple flowered primrose on Hokkaido is Japanese Primrose, Primula japonica.
Totals for the tour: 168 bird taxa and 8 mammal taxa