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.)
April 27th, 2019 If the Common Kingfisher,(Kawasemi) is the jewel of the river, then the Narcissus Flycatcher, (Kibitaki) is the jewel of the forest. It’s name is derived from the Narcissus flower, and not the mythological Greek hunter who fell in love with his reflection.
The male, even in his brilliant spring plumage, is more often heard than seen. I often hear them from the end of April through May singing in the woods. Their lilting melody, in three or four variations, drifts into wood-side fields and clearings from out of the shady forest. If you sit quietly, you may see him fly out of the woods in search of flying insects.
Once their territory has been established, they generally sing constantly for around five to ten minutes, sometimes longer. Then there is an intermission for some minutes before returning to their singing. I followed the song of this male to an area in his territory he seemed to favor. He approached within range of the camera lens after an hour or so.
Last year, along the road that circles Yamagami Dam Lake, I counted five males that had established territories. This year there are three so far, and I expect more will come soon. The females should begin arriving in the first few weeks of May. These birds, smaller than a House Sparrow,(Suzume) brighten the Spring with their beautiful song and colors.
The Chinese Bamboo Partridge, (Kojyukei) and a Great Tit, (Shijugara) were also spotted as I walked along the road around Yamagami Dam.
Chinese Bamboo Partridge, Kojyukei
Great Tit, Shijugara
Narcissus Flycatcher, Kibitaki
Narcissus Flycatcher, Kibitaki
Update on Kingfisher nest site: I went back to check on the Common Kingfisher Nest site from the last post, and it appears they have abandoned the burrow. They are still in the area, so perhaps they have established a new nest somewhere.
April 14, 2019 The season of new life and growth has arrived! Many creatures great and small are busy raising their young and making homes. The Common Kingfisher (kawasemi) is no exception, and have excavated burrows or reused burrows from last year. Around now, the female has laid her clutch, and the pair are taking turns incubating the eggs.
A few weeks ago, I was walking along the Homan River near my home when I saw something small and blue drop out of a hole in the opposite bank. It was a male Common Kingfisher, and he was in the process of creating a burrow. I had been hoping for some time to have a chance to film a pair of kingfishers at their nest site. I was able to set up a hide (blind) about six meters from the nest in some bushes and trees. The following pictures and video were taken from this blind over the past few weeks.
(click on images below for a larger view)
A footnote: After writing this, Dredging of the river upstream from the nest site began. The river had turned a muddy brown. I saw a newly-posted sign that said it would continue until July. Dammit, this can’t be happening I thought. Why can’t we just leave the rivers be?
An hour before the sunset yesterday evening, I was in the blind to see if the female would return to take the males place on the nest,(only the female incubates at night). I waited until night fell, but did not see any birds leave or enter the burrow. I did hear their calling as they streaked by a few times though, so I am hoping they haven’t abandoned the nest. They are a persistent and tough species, and are known for raising 2 or 3 broods in one year, so I haven’t given up hope yet. I will keep you posted.
April 8, 2019 I went to a favorite estuary of mine last week, and was very happy to see Black-faced Spoonbills, (kurotsura-herasagi) there. On this day, there were three. I suspect more will be flying through soon. Along with the Spoonbills, the ever-present Gray Heron, (aosagi) was there, and a new bird for me; the Intermediate Egret, or Plumed Egret, (chuu sagi) in breeding plumage. Very elegant, with his long plumes and newly grown feathers which he was busily preening.
A Common Sandpiper, (isoshigi) perched in front of my blind for a brief respite from foraging. Some Great Cormorants, also in full breeding plumage were roosting alongside the Spoonbills. They spread their wings of burnished bronze to dry their feathers after diving for fish.
I may return to see if more Spoonbills are migrating through in the near future. I once saw a flock of seventeen there! They are an endangered species. One reason is due to development which is slowly destroying their feeding/resting areas along their migration routes. I hope they do not go the way of the Japanese Crested Ibis, (toki) which is now extinct in the wild in Japan. (see attachment just below)
March 24, 2019 When I arrived at the top of Kusenbu mountain last Thursday at around 5:00 a.m., the cloud ceiling, (bottom of the cloud cover) was 1000 meters or so. As the camera recorded the coming of dawn, the ceiling gradually lowered until it enveloped me and the top of Kusenbu. It was cold and rather blustery, so I took a nap in the car for an hour while the camera clicked away. I returned to the tower just before sunrise, but I only got a short glimpse of the sun. At the 13 second mark, there is also a brief glimpse of Venus as she peeks through the scudding clouds. In the time lapse, you can observe a three-hour span in about 90 seconds.
In the coming weeks, I will be going out more often in the hopes of capturing photos of birds returning or migrating through the Fukuoka area. I plan on going to Yamagami Dam around the beginning of April in the hopes of photographing and recording the song of the beautiful Narcissus Flycatcher, (kibitaki). A favorite bird of mine. I took the video below about three years ago at Hase Dam near Hisayama. I want to do better this year with a different camera and microphone.
These are two sunrise time lapses recorded within two days of each other on top of Kusenbu mountain. It is always amazing how each sunset or sunrise unfolds and surprises me with it’s own uniqueness, making my day special. I hope your day is special too! Thanks for visiting.
Sakuradaki waterfall, (cherry blossom falls) is about an 80 minute drive from my home in Dazaifu by the national highway. It is located in Amagase, Oita prefecture. If you take the train, it is about a 5 minute walk from JR Amagase station. The waterfall gets it’s name from the profusion of cherry blossoms along the path to the falls.
It had been raining through the night, and when I arrived at the parking area, it was still raining slightly with no wind. A good time to photograph the falls, as the low light allows slower shutter speeds, enabling one to obtain softer water effects without any filters.
There was not a soul in sight when I arrived at the falls, except one cute,(depending on your point of view) little snail. He seemed to be enjoying the wet weather, and posed patiently for the camera. I think I may return at the end of March to see the cherry blossoms. Thanks for checking out the site.
Click on the photos above for an enlarged view of the falls and snail.
Tenzan Mt. is located in Saga prefecture. At over 1000 meters, it has a commanding view in all directions, as there are no trees on top to impede the view. The trail from the parking lot to the top is well maintained and a relatively easy climb of about 30 to 45 minutes. I arrived at the top at around 4:30 pm. Plenty of time to set up the camera for the time lapse, and then wander around the top with the FZ-200 bridge camera to photograph the setting sun.
About 90 minutes later, as the horizon rose up to meet the Sun, it became windier and the temperature began to drop. Watching the gorgeous color changes as the day turned to night was my reward for the slight discomfort. If only the camera lens could capture those colors as well as the human eye. Thanks for visiting this site and feel free to leave a comment.
Please click on the photographs below for a larger view.
February 8th, 2019 The Japanese White-Eye is one of my favorite birds here in Japan. Also known as the Warbling White-Eye, for it’s beautiful voice, it is a very common native species here in Japan. This time of year, when the plum blossoms are blooming, you can often find these colorful birds among the flowers. They sip the nectar and eat the insects they find among the petals and twigs. This double duty of pollination and pest control is very beneficial to the plum trees and other flowering trees and bushes they forage upon, such as cherry trees and camellias, for example.
These particular photos were taken at Kanzeonji Temple; a great place for viewing flowers and watching birds. The Meijiro, (Japanese for White-Eye) were not shy at all this day, and little by little came closer to me. It was thrilling to view them within an arm’s length on occasion. When they are that close to you, you can hear a very soft twittering coming from them. I wonder if it is for letting other White-Eyes know exactly where they are, or could it be they are thanking the tree for the delicious nectar? Thank you for visiting my site, and have a great Spring.
I spent some time on Google Maps deciding on where to take a time lapse of the moon set. I decided to check out Mt. Tateishi, in Itoshima, on the eastern coast of Kyushu. I wanted to do some reconnaissance there the day before. The reason being to find the correct location to photograph the setting moon, and also to become familiar with the trail. This would make it easier to set up my gear and also be safer on the following night. And besides, I wanted to enjoy the hike and the views in the daylight.
Here are a few photos from the day hike and a link to information on Mt. Tateishi.
The following day, I returned in the early morning hours to capture beautiful Luna at about 99% full. She was so bright that I was able to walk the trail without the headlamp on. Breath-taking views were around every curve in the trail, and I must say, I felt as if I was in a dream.
I recommend turning off the lights when you watch the video below, and set to HD 1080p if your computer or cellphone has it.
Some of the stills from that night, taken with a Panasonic FZ200 bridge camera. The Canon 80D was busy taking the time lapse. I chose not to do any post processing with the time lapse photos this time. Just a little brightening on a few of the frames.
I enjoyed this time with Mt. Tateishi and the serene ocean and incredible moon. I hope you enjoyed this little taste of what I experienced. Get out of your house and be one with nature as often as you can. Thank you for visiting my site!