All photographs in this article are © Brian Casatelli
Japanese White Eye
On our way back to the US form Thailand we stopped in Tokyo for a few days to visit friends and managed to squeeze in a little bird-watching. Weather conditions could hardly have been more different from Thailand; by day temperatures in Tokyo were never higher than 8º C and at night between 0-3º C. In other words it was freezing!
Our first birding visit was a morning spent at the Meiji Shrine on 3rd January which can be easily reached by public transport. This was the last of the public holidays for the New Year and we were prepared for it being quite crowded. It was even more crowded than that! Because of the crowds, the entrances into the forest were roped off by the police who did a good job with the crowd control. There probably were other places to go in the park, but leaving the train station we found ourselves in the middle of the procession to the shrine and just went with the flow.
We saw a number of nice birds. I noticed right away that the birds were the most approachable I have ever come across (with the exception of Azure-winged Magpie which I encountered the next day). They came right up to the path unconcerned with the thousands of people marching towards the shrine right next to them. We saw Eastern Great Tit, hawfinch, the lovely Japanese white-eye (that turned out to be quite common and easy to see), oriental turtle dove, Japanese pygmy woodpecker, Brown-eared bulbul, Carrion and Large-billed crows, and what I think was a Varied Tit.
We wound up walking right past the shrine. It was not the 'grand' building we were expecting but was located in what we thought was the entrance to the shrine. We only realized we had passed it when we realized we were walking down the exit path. That was ok, we were ready to move on to Ueno Park to see what waterfowl were there.
The pond in the park is located next to the zoo and was quite nice. There we saw Black-headed, Slaty-backed, Black-tailed and one as of yet unidentified gull. We also saw Tufted duck, northern pintail, northern shoveler, common coot, little grebe, eurasion wigeon, common pochard, the two crow species, brown-eared bulbul, eurasion tree sparrow, and good old rock dove.
Later in the day, we saw white wagtail on the grounds outside the Imperial Palace which we weren't able to enter because of the holiday.
Tuesday 4th January we squeezed in a last scheduled, morning of birding. We went to Kasai Rinkai Koen. Koen means park. It's at the top end of Tokyo bay across from Tokyo Disneyland. There is a park area and then a coast that offers a nice variety of birds to be seen. The list here included the usual suspects plus oriental greenfinch, azure-winged magpie, white-cheeked starling, spot-billed duck, great cormorant, kentish plover, common sandpiper, one unidentified "peep", greater scaup, little egret, dusky thrush, black-necked grebe, northern goshawk.
That was it for the scheduled birding, but there were some incidentals in the following days. In our jaunt to Kyoto, we saw Mallard and Grey Heron on the grounds of the Golden Temple. In Kamakura, we saw Black-eared Kite, which I am not sure is a separate species or subspecies of Black-kite. Finally on the last day before our flight home to New York, my friends father took me to a park along the coast in Yokohama. After a long freezing wait because we got there too early, we had half an hour of daylight before we had to leave and I saw one more species, and lifer: Eurasian teal.
Eastern Spot-billed Duck
People seemed mindful of conservation everywhere we went. People turned off their engines when stopped at a traffic light. Buses turned off theirs when stopped at a bus stop also.Over all the trip to Japan was great. We had a wonderful mix of local flavor, big city, train rides, great food, birding, and overall great experience. But if you decide to go, do bring some cash. It is incredibly expensive and non-Japanese credit cards don't always work. I was able to check off 15 lifers in the short trip, so I think it was a success. More information about birding in Japan in English is available here.
Note: Brian Casatelli is a New York based birder/photographer who recently visited Thailand and we shared a very enjoyable day's birding at Bueng Boraphet. He sent me some photos of his stopover in Tokyo and I am very happy to be able to publish them here. I'll happily consider any offerings for this blog in the spirit of putting birding information into the public domain.