July 7th, 2019 We are in the middle of the rainy season here in Japan. It can be cloudy and rainy everyday, sometimes for weeks. For an outdoor amateur photographer, it can be frustrating at times. So when last weekend had clear skies, I jumped in the car and headed to Hoshinomura, in the mood to photograph the Milky Way. Here, it is called Amanogawa, or River of Heaven. I set up my gear on the side of a very small country road, which looked out over a big valley with mountains in the distance. It was quite humid, and the dew point was quite high, (the temperature at which dew forms on surfaces colder than the air temperature). This means I had to apply heat pads (kairo) to the lens to prevent it from fogging up. I then sat in a camping chair and watched the heavens while the camera did it’s job. The following time lapse is the end result.
I recently acquired a lens I had been wanting to get for a long time. I got it used through a local camera store. It is the Canon EF 400mm f/5.6L USM prime. A telephoto lens ideally suited to photographing birds, especially in flight. I only had one day of sunny weather, so I took the opportunity to try the lens out on the swift-moving Common Kingfisher. The photo was taken using a tripod as the kingfisher was rising from the water about 30 meters from my position. I really like this lens, and am looking forward to becoming familiar with it. The other birds are the Siberian Meadow Bunting, (Houjiro), and the Narcissus Flycatcher, (Kibitaki).
June 24, 2019 It is nearing the middle of summer, and the rainy season is late in coming here in Kyushu, Japan. Water levels are getting low in all the local dams and rivers systems, exacerbated this time of year by the planting of the rice fields, which need lots of water to flood the fields. Wading birds are finding it a bit easier to procure a meal as their prey such as fish and crustaceans have less water to hide in and escape to.
The following video shows a Grey Heron (Aosagi) capturing, killing, and devouring a very big bullfrog (ushigaeru). It is a bit graphic, so viewer discretion is advised.
I also include a video of a Great Egret (Daisagi) and a Little Egret (Kosagi) searching for prey. the Little Egret shuffles it’s bright yellow feet which flushes prey from the vegetation and river bottom. The Great Egret’s dark legs, in contrast, are difficult for prey to see as it wades around.
Please click on any image for a larger view.
Full flaps landing.
Toss and swallow!
Spot-Billed Duck, Karugamo
The strawberry moon appeared low in the horizon a few days ago, as I was driving home. Also during a total lunar eclipse, the moon can appear red because of the Earth’s atmosphere, but in a different way. A strawberry moon takes on it’s beautiful red color because we are viewing it through the dust and pollution of the lower atmosphere. On the other hand, the reddish color during a total lunar eclipse, (called a blood moon) is caused by the color of the sunsets around the edge of the Earth projected onto the surface of the moon as the sun’s rays pass through the atmosphere. If there were no atmosphere, the moon would appear black. Amazing!
Thanks for visiting, and be sure to get out there and spend some time with Mother Nature.
June 3rd, 2019 I have been going out almost everyday this last week. The end of May, I returned to a favorite pond of mine for the first time this year. There, I noticed a Common Kingfisher diving into the water from a post over and over, but never coming up with a fish. I thought that was strange, as Common Kingfishers are pretty successful at catching their prey, unless they are juveniles, but this was a mature male.
Now you see me….
now you don’t!
I returned the next morning, and took a slow motion video of him repeatedly diving into the pond. With the slow motion, you are able to see that he was actually wetting his feathers and returning to the post to preen. You are also able to see exactly how he goes about this. Before entering the water, he opens his beak, just as they do when trying to catch a fish. In this case though, I think it’s the kingfisher’s way of helping to create more resistance as their head enters the water. The dive is shallower than normal, allowing them to reverse direction and spring from the water very quickly, saving time and energy. Just after breaking the water’s surface, the kingfisher does a curious and quite playful-looking maneuver of bouncing on the surface, creating a springboard effect that helps propel them up and out of the water. At natural speed, it is impossible to see this. He then flies to the top of the post and begins to preen, which is also quite interesting to observe at a slower speed.
Just a short walk along a path from this pond, is another larger pond where a family of Little Grebes live. The male and female both help in raising their five young chicks, called grebettes, or dabchicks by some. I took a morning, and spent it with them, albeit from a blind. Both parents carry their young on their backs when they feel threatened, and to help keep them warm.
Click on pictures for an enlarged view.
Mother grebe with grebettes
Yesterday was overcast with an occasional shower. A good day to photograph waterfalls, and this time I chose a popular and beautiful one named Nabegataki Falls. I wanted to arrive their just before opening at 9:00 am to avoid the crowds. Even so, the parking lot filled up quite quickly. I was able to get some shots without people for the first 15 minutes, but not after. It is a beautiful falls with a path leading behind the cascade into a hollowed out cave where you can get a unique perspective. Formed by the pyroclastic flows from the great caldera of Mt. Aso 90,000 years ago, it is quite an awesome place. (link attached below)
A sign warning of the poisonous Japanese mamushi, (pit viper) was posted on the fence at the entrance. I have seen these well camoulflaged snakes on occasion, but they are difficult to spot unless they are on rocks or paths.
Click on pictures for an enlarged view.
Thanks for visiting, and until the next post, get out there and spend some time with Mother Nature if you have the chance.
May 19th, 2019 This is another time lapse taken up on Kusenbu mountain, in Saga prefecture, Japan. As the gibbous moon (99% full) was setting in the west, the sun was rising in the east. Two cameras were recording simultaneously.
I found the music on the Internet Archive. Called ‘I Move On (Sintel’s Song)’, it is part of the soundtrack of the short animated film ‘Sintel’.
Each new day is a precious gift from the Sun. Give thanks to Sol and the Earth, and thanks for visiting.
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.