Japan is no doubt one of the best holiday destinations in Asia at the present time and an offer from a childhood buddy to stay at his abode should I want to visit the Land of the Rising Sun was too good of an offer to turn down. I have known William since our pre-school days as he lived just a few houses from my parents’ place. His work takes him all over the world and for the time being, he will be based in Japan. His company provided him with a nice and cosy little place in the suburbs of Shibuya just outside Tokyo centre and this was to be our home for the next week or so. It came with a garden and that provided me with my first taste of birding in Japan on my first morning in this foreign land.
William is not a bird person. He is into superbikes – Harley Davidsons to be more precise. I do share a some of his passion for these amazing machines. Riding a motorcycle is probably the closest you will ever get to flying without leaving the ground and I can certainly relate to that sense of freedom.
Japan is all about saving space and his designated car park will take a little getting used to…
It was a serene neighbourhood as well. Not that much traffic and people. Rows of Cherry Blossom Trees along certain spots add even more colours and beauty to the surroundings. These exquisite and delicate flowers are one of the reasons behind our visit to Japan at this time of the year and my better half was in floral heaven. She, like most members of the fairer sex, adore flowers and she was not to be disappointed in this trip.
As this was not a pure birding trip, it was crucial for me to find a local patch for which I can bird a couple of hours after the break of dawn and be back in time for breakfast and the usual sight seeing itinerary for the day. Lucky for me, next to our “home” was a shrine with a small wooded park called the Shibuya Hikawa Shrine. I found that most shrines and temples in Japan to be very well kept and “green” and it was no different with this one.
I visited this shrine almost every dawn and managed to obtain a reasonably good list at the end of my visit to Japan. My first lifer for the trip caught my immediate attention with its loud shrieking calls. It took a little effort to locate and identify it. I would learn later it is one of the commonest of Japan’s wooded habitat birds. The Brown-eared Bulbul is the only bulbul I recorded for the entire duration of my time in Japan. A stark difference from birding back home where half a dozen species on a single trip is nothing out of the ordinary. This bulbul might be common but good photographic opportunities are not easily obtainable. Apart from being slightly skittish, it has a preference for dense foliage. But the loud call, which is embedded into my memory by the end of my Japan trip, is heard almost everyday.
This is probably the cleanest shot I managed to obtain...
I hail from Penang where I see crows on a daily basis. Imagine the irony when I found it is not any different in Tokyo. But here they have the Jungle Crows (a recent split from the Large-billed Crow) and their enormous size and deep calls certainly make their presence felt far more than the House Crows back home.
Another species that reminded me of home was the Eurasian Tree Sparrow. Here, it is also a common commensal of man. I did not travel thousands of kilometres to photograph Eurasian Tree Sparrows but one foraging on some Cherry Blossoms is certainly a sight I will never get to enjoy back home in the tropics.
When I first encountered the White-cheeked Starling, I almost mistook it for a Common Myna. It was about the right size and the same shade of brown on the upperparts. It even behaved like the myna foraging on a patch of grass next to the road. That is until it turned around and I nearly tripped over the curb in my efforts to obtain better images. The features on the head and throat region were quite distinct and not much was required to ascertain its identification.
One of the most attractive garden birds in Japan is the Great Tit. Colourful, cute and charming, it was a pure delight to observe this little bird. It occasionally forages down at eye level and that is the best time to capture all the elements that make the Great Tit one of the most exciting garden birds in Japan for me.
I did not expect to find any rarities here at this suburban park. But a strange bird with strong markings hopping on the ground certainly roused my excitement. From its jizz, I guess it was some kind of a thrush and upon further scrutiny, turned out to be a Dusky Thrush. I do not know its exact status in Japan but I did not expect to find a thrush in this type of a habitat. I guess it is not that common as I only encountered it here on one occasion.
However, that one encounter was so memorable. The thrush performed well and was as obliging as any garden bird could be. It practically ignore my presence and all my efforts to reduce the distance between us. The Dusky Thrush was undoubtedly the best bird at this overseas local patch of mine.
A second thrush species was also present here at this modest locality. The Pale Thrush was seen the following day after my encounter with the Dusky Thrush. In fact, I thought it was the Dusky Thrush initially as it foraged at the very same spot. However, the absence of any distinct markings made me realise that I was looking at my second thrush lifer species. I was grateful it did not take place in the same morning because I was not sure if I could handle the excitement and adrenalin rush. Anyway, the Pale Thrush was a much shyer species and it made me work very hard to obtain shots without any motion blur or obstructed views.
There is a playground next to the shrine that is utilised not by children but pet dogs. A handful of dog owners and their pets will be waiting for the gates of the playground to be opened every morning. Initially, they probably wondered what this bald stranger was doing stalking about the bushes at the break of dawn. Anyway, we got along just fine and the dogs are usually very well behaved. One particular dog that caught my attention was this handsome Pit Bull.
Shibuya has another side to it and this is the side it is famous for. About 1 kilometre away lies the world renowned Shibuya Crossing where at certain times of the day will have hundreds of pedestrians trotting across the crossroad. And it is quite a spectacle. That part of Shibuya has numerous dining, shopping, entertainment and leisure outlets at your disposal. Whatever you need, you can find it there. A very different environment from where we were staying and we got to experience the best of both worlds during our stay with William.