Songsters of Spring

April 18, 2022 

    Over the years, bird watchers and bird  photographers learn to identify many birds by their songs and calls. When I hear a song or call I have never heard before, I will try to locate the bird if possible in the hopes of seeing a new bird. Here are some of the birds I have photographed this month. Their songs are often quite beautiful, and sometimes startling. The recordings are all taken from the site, Bird Research Sound Collection of Japan.

https://www.bird-research.jp/1_shiryo/koe-e.html

 

Brambling Call (Dominique Guillerme)

Chinese Bamboo Partridge (Zhou Zhe)

Japanese Tit (M. Ueta)

Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker (M. Ueta)

Warbling white-eye (M. Ueta)

Narcissus Flycatcher (M. Ueta)

Long-tailed Tit (K. Kajimoto)

Red-billed Leiothrix (K. Kajimoto)

 

A Night on the Grasslands of Aso Volcano

April 16, 2022    In the beginning of April, I started planning a trip to a magical area within the beautiful Aso-Kuju National Park.  Called Kusasenri ga hama, these grasslands, (rather rare in Japan) are situated within a one kilometer wide crater just east of the main caldera of Mt. Aso. Sweeping vistas are visible in all directions. Horses graze these grasslands, and they provided me some company all through the night while I went about composing and shooting the stars and the Milky Way. 

 

 The main idea was to try and capture some panorama shots, along with a vertical shot of the main core of the Milky Way as it slowly emerged above Mt. Eboshi a few hours before sunrise. I suppose they turned out okay, all things considered. I was also lucky to capture a meteor in one of the frames.

  Speaking of meteors, I am looking forward to the Lyrid meteor shower which will peak on the 22nd of this month. Lets hope for clear skies!

       

Harbingers of Spring

March 12, 2022 

    I sure am glad that spring has finally arrived. Today, I saw and heard the first Meadowlark, and a few days ago, the first butterfly of the year. 

   One of the earliest harbingers of spring is the nest building of the tiny Long-tailed tit/Onaga. They start building their nests in the middle of February, thus allowing them to raise and fledge their chicks before snakes emerge from hibernation. Snakes are a major predator of nestlings for many species of birds.

   The exterior of their nests are constructed of moss and spider silk. This allows the nest to stretch as the chicks grow in size.  Up to 15 eggs are laid! The interior is lined with feathers to keep the brood warm in March. As many as 1500 feathers may be used! I managed to photograph a Long-tailed tit pulling spider silk from a spider egg sack. If you look closely, you can see the spiderlings, which are a source of food in the winter months for the Long-tailed tit.

Below are a few other species of birds that have arrived recently. The Eurasian Green-winged teal/Kogamo, is a common species. They are able to fly close to 100kph in level flight.    The Pale Thrush/Shirohara is perched on a round leaf holly tree, kuroganemochi in our front yard. A flock of about 100  will continue eating the thousands of red berries  during the nest week until the the large tree is stripped bare of all it’s berries.     The Daurian Redstart/Jobitaki, is a favorite bird of mine because they are so dapper and willing to pose in their fine suit of feathers. Both the Daurian Redstart and the Pale Thrush overwinter here in Kyushu.     The Japanese White eye/Meijiro is the only bird in this group that is nonmigratory.  Their omnivorous diet enables them to remain year round.   The final image is not a bird, but it does “migrate” in a sense. The Orion Nebula is mostly visible in the evening sky during winter in the northern hemisphere.

If you ever feel overwhelmed by work or school, or depressed by viruses or war, remember that nature is always there for you to help ease your mind. Love and peace to you all.

Night of the Quadrantids

January 11, 2022  The first post of the New Year is about a meteor shower, the Quadrantids. They may not be as popular as the Perseids or the Geminids, but they can produce meteors that are just as stunning, and at times more prolific. The peak lasts only a few hours, and it occurs in January, are the two main reasons it remains less popular. The IMO (International Meteor Organization) was predicting them to peak in Japan around 5:30 am on the 4th. As clear skies were predicted for that night in most parts of Kyushu, I decided to go to a place just east of Aso Kuju National Park, with Bortle class 2 to 3 skies. I arrived there at sunset, and set up the camera right away. It continued taking pictures through the night, until early dawn. When you watch the time lapse created from the photos, you may notice a slight brightening in the upper left side of the frame. This was caused by the Zodiacal Light. (The zodiacal light is a faint, diffuse, and roughly triangular white glow that is visible in the night sky and appears to extend from the Sun’s direction and along the zodiac, straddling the ecliptic. Sunlight scattered by interplanetary dust causes this phenomenon.) Taken at Mt. Ogi observation deck at an elevation of 830 meters, it proved to be a rather cold night, with the temperature going down to -4 degrees, so I was very thankful to have Little Betsy (my faithful car) there to keep me warm.

Bringer of Good Fortune

November 20, 2021 Last Sunday, as I was driving to Oita Prefecture to to do some night sky photography, I stopped at a red light. I glanced out the window to my left, and standing on the side of a fallow rice field, were a pair of tall , white and black birds. They were standing about forty meters or so from the road. Thinking they were a couple of rare Japanese Cranes, (which I have never seen!), I quickly pulled over to the side of the road after the light turned green. As they did not seem too concerned about my car, I slowly opened the door and stepped out to look at them. It was then that I realized they were actually a pair of Oriental Storks, or Kounotori in Japanese. I really found it quite hard to believe, as they are even rarer than the Japanese Crane. I set up the camera, and I was able to get some photos of them. Later, I was able to learn more about them. The last breeding pair in Japan was way back in 1959, when they were considered ‘extinct’ in the wild here. Small populations still existed in China and Russia, and it was from Russia, that six Oriental Storks were given to Japan. The city of Toyooka, in Hyogo prefecture adopted them. Their breeding program is slowly making headway, and they have managed to reintroduce them back into the wild. At last count, around 200 Japanese Storks reside in Japan, and or migrate through. This pair had colored leg bandings that enable researchers to identify them without having to capture them.

Storks are considered bringers of good fortune in some cultures, while in others, they bring life, and babies!

More information on the Oriental Stork.

Conservation Tales: The Oriental White Stork in Japan

Last but not least. The time lapse created from the photos taken on November 14th. Of the over 2000 exposures taken that night from all four directions, only one had a pretty good meteor. Judging from it’s direction of travel, I would guess it to be an Andromedid.
https://youtu.be/MGKCUqp21E8

Dusk on Mt. Kuju

November 6, 2021

A 360 degree panorama on the top of a hill at the foot of Mt. Kuju. It was a beautiful sunset that evening, and I stayed through the night to photograph the Pleiades, or Subaru in Japanese, along with a time lapse of the stars rising in the east over Mt. Kuju. I was hoping to capture a few meteors, but only one was caught on the edge of a frame. I saw one beautiful fireball with a persistent train! All in all, it was a memorable night for me.

Below is the location on Google Maps.

平野台高原展望所, Manganji, Minamioguni, Kumamoto

Autumn Images

October 10, 2021

These past few weeks, have been largely very nice weather for being outdoors. I took the opportunity to head to a nearby lake to observe some of the birds that reside there.

They are becoming more active as they begin preparation for migration. They are starting to gather and forage together, putting on weight for the long flights they will be undertaking to reach their southern resting grounds. The species in the photographs, don’t travel all that far, if at all. The Common Kingfisher for instance, remains year round as long as the the streams and lakes don’t freeze over.

The Pleiades from Kuju Mountain

I also went to Kujusan for the dark skies in order to photograph the Pleiades. Called Subaru here in Japan, they are easy to spot in the sky with the unaided eye, and a good target for an amateur astro photographer like me.

The Pleiades or The Seven Sister
The following video was taken on Kusenbu Mountain. Over 1200 frames were taken in the hopes of capturing a Draconid meteor. Despite seeing over 10 during the night, none were captured in a single frame. It was still a beautiful night!

 

 

Thanks for checking out my site. You all take care, Tom

Two mornings

September 26, 2021 A short time lapse of two sunrises taken from an observation tower on top of Kusenbu mountain. Dawn is the best time of the day for me. No two are ever alike, and they are quite invigorating.

Thank you for visiting, and love the precious Earth.

The Orion Nebula

September 20, 2021

The Constellation Orion is now visible in the night skies from around 11:40 until sunrise. In the coming months, it will rise earlier and higher into the skies.

Within the constellation, lies the Orion Nebula, which is just visible to the naked eye as a pale smudge under dark skies with no moon. I decided to go to Mt. Kuju, which has pretty dark skies, but I turned around and headed back for Hoshinomura when I saw the Kuju Mountain area blanketed in clouds.

On this night the nearly full moon set rather late, so I had about 80 minutes of dark skies before the sunlight creeping over the eastern horizon would begin causing the nebula to fade away.

As it turned out, clouds started rolling in from the northwest after 20 minutes, so I was only able to get 6 usable frames of the Orion Nebula. I was hoping for around 40 light frames to provide better detail in the editing, but I was somewhat happy with the final result, since I am such a novice when it comes to astrophotography.

Thank you for visiting, and stay safe everyone!

A Morning Stroll

 

August 21, 2021    It seems Japan is going through another rainy season with very heavy torrential rains, for one week straight last week. Like the monsoon season in India!  I haven’t had the chance to get out all that much because of it, but last Sunday the weather was partly sunny in the morning, so I took a walk around Yamagami Lake. Not that much bird activity, so I just focused on some flowers blooming after the heavy rains, and the small rill that ran along the road that had turned into a torrent.

 

 

I also went to Hado Cape in Saga prefecture a few nights ago to photograph the Andromeda galaxy again. It has pretty dark skies (Bortle class 4) but I had to deal with light from the waxing moon. When it finally set, clouds had rolled in, but not before I took some light frames, along with calibration frames. This time in raw format! It came out a little better than the first time, but I must try again with no moon next month. 

Andromeda Galaxy

Finally, a little friend.(❁´◡`❁)

A little friend

https://goo.gl/maps/LVG4dwZnwTxwPme96