May 5th, 2019 I had two main reasons for visiting Kirishima National Park. One was to see and/or hear the Ruddy Kingfisher (akashoubin) at Miike Lake, and the other was to climb Karakunidake and take a night sky time lapse. The park is about a three-hour drive south by national highway (and 4,000 yen) or six hours by regular roads, and I opted for the latter. I had reserved a place for my tent at Ebino Plateau Camp Village for two nights.
The staff were friendly and informative, and the facilities were quite good. Each tent site had a raised platform, but I opted for the ground. As it was Golden Week, I expected the camp grounds to be crowded, but happily, that was not the case. Japanese campers for the most part, are not a rowdy bunch, and it was quite peaceful, with maybe an occasional dog bark or the laughter of children. At nine o’clock it became quiet and all facility lights were turned off except for the toilets and washing area.
I got up early and drove thirty minutes to Miike Lake, arriving there an hour before sunup as the Ruddy Kingfisher usually begins calling in the predawn hours. Miike Wild Bird Forest trail encircles the lake and is within one of the four designated wild bird sanctuaries of Japan. With the beam of my flashlight leading the way, I started into the forest. The trail was well marked, with an occasional wooden sign describing one of the 170 or so birds recorded within the sanctuary. The path was covered in gravel, which I thought a bit strange because it is pretty much impossible to walk without making that crunchy gravel sound, (you are not permitted to stray from the trail). As I ventured deeper into the forest, I heard the sounds of animals foraging, and caught sight of some deer (shika), a racoon dog (tanuki), and once the shining eyes of a giant flying squirrel (musasabi) in the beam of my flashlight. And then I heard the mysterious and beautiful call of the Ruddy Kingfisher off in the distance! In my opinion, up there with the Common Loon (hashiguroabi) and Whippoorwill (ホイップアーウィルヨタカ) in it’s haunting beauty. As I continued forward, the forest started to brighten and come alive with the sound of birdsong. From all about me, an orchestra made up of birds was playing a gorgeous symphony. Among the huge trees and especially from up in the canopy high above, the songs came raining down. After some time, with the light having come up, I sat on a bench and set up the camera and microphone. Suddenly a Ruddy Kingfisher called out quite close to me, and was soon answered by another farther away.
That day near Miike Lake, the Ruddy Kingfisher seemed to be just out of sight, and I was not able to leave the path to approach on a direct line. Though a bit frustrating, it is better for the flora and fauna of the refuge to have such a rule.
The next day, I set off for the trailhead to Mt. Karakunidake, about 400 meters from my campsite.
Karakunidake is 1700 meters high, and the northwest trailhead begins at an elevation of 1200 meters. It is a relatively easy climb, and people of all ages hike to the top. This area is often cloudy or rainy, but today was fine. Based on the weather forecast the night was to remain clear. Important for a night sky time lapse, which was part of my plan. I had packed plenty of warm clothing because the temperature would be approaching zero in the middle of the night. I started up with about two hours of daylight left. Enough time to reach the top, set up my equipment, and put on warmer clothes.
This Coal Tit (hi-gara) was foraging near the trail at an elevation of 1300 meters or so. (A new species for me!) There are about 15 species in the Tit family world wide, the familiar Black-capped Chickadee back in the states among them.
I continued on my way up and as I got higher, views started to open up as the trees gave way to scrub and bush. Here is Onami Pond to the southwest.
When I arrived at the summit, it was deserted, except for a few crows. Just after the sun had set, I was surprised to see a monk dressed in white approach the edge of the crater where he pressed his hands together and prayed. After a few minutes he went back the way he had come, walking in the twilight with no light among the jagged rocks. I made an offering of stacked stones to the Kami (entity) of Karakunidake.
After the sun sank below the horizon, I ate my dinner in the twilight. Sometimes bats would buzz past my head, targeting in on the moths attracted to my headlight I would turn on at times. I started the camera, but after about an hour, a wind started to grow stronger from the northeast, bringing with it a hazy mist. I decided to head back down as the camera was beginning to shake from the wind. This is the footage I had taken up to that time.
I finally arrived back at my tent around 1:00 am, crawled into the sleeping bag, and was out like a light. The next morning, I woke up to the call of a Ruddy Kingfisher! I quickly dressed, and headed to the stream that ran past the campgrounds. After searching along it for an hour without any sight or sound of the phantom, I just sat and let the rising sun warm my body.
An interesting side note to my time here in Kirishima National Park. Before I crawled into my tent, I went to the car to change my shoes and clothes, but I couldn’t find the key. I searched in my waist pouch where I usually keep it, but it wasn’t there. I took everything out of the backpack and searched through it too, but the key was not there either. I looked everywhere for the key a number of times quite thoroughly, but it was nowhere to be found. I decided to think about what to do tomorrow with a fresh mind.
Rewind back to the rising sun warming my body. I stood up and decided to call JAF, the Japanese version of the AAA (American Automobile Association) in the USA to come and rescue me. Tow my car or bring me a copy of the car key somehow. I reached into my waist pouch to take out my mobile phone, and pulled out the keys. I think I woke up a few campers with a loud, “NO WAY!!” You and I are thinking; OK, somehow I missed a small compartment in the waist pouch. But.. another part of me is thinking about that small stack of stones I left up on the top of Karakuni.
( Please click on images below for a larger view.)
Miike Wild Bird Forest
Sunset from Karakunidake
Roped trail route
No hiking within a 1 kilometer radius
Sunset on Karakunidake
Lookout over the crater of Mt. Karakuni
Ebino Plateau camp village
Miike Wild Birds Forest