Dalian – Day Eight

Another quiet day.  The showers didn’t materialise and the wind persisted in being a moderate to strong South-South-Easterly.  After taxi driver number 3 dropped us at the point, we enjoyed a trickle of early migration involving at least 9 Black-naped Orioles, 7 White-throated Needletails and 9 Forest Wagtails (our first of this trip).  But after that, it quietened down considerably and, by 9.30am, the skies were quiet.  We tried the woods and trails but these were equally dead with even fewer birds than yesterday – there really has been a major clearout in the last few days.

The highlight has to be the White-throated Needletails (again!).  After two hanging around high over the lighthouse at 5am, a group of 5 bombed past at head height at 0905am allowing excellent views of the rarely seen upperside of these beasts.  I rattled off a few images in the few seconds they were on view before they powered past the lighthouse and out to sea.  Whoosh!

Tomorrow is our final day at Laotieshan and we have high hopes.  The forecast is for the wind to switch to northerly overnight with light rain and drizzle from 3am through to 10am.  That might not sound like the recipe for a pleasant morning on a clifftop but, for a birder on the Chinese coast in May, that forecast could mean a stack of migrants on the peninsula.  The forecasters, so far, have not covered themselves in glory so we are not holding our collective breath but, if they are right, we could be in for a treat.  It would certainly be a nice way to end what has been a very memorable and fun trip.

Edit: a quick count up of the species seen so far shows that the total is on 149 species with a day to go! 

This immature male Amur Falcon was one of the highlights of an otherwise disappointing day.
Immature male Amur Falcon. Note the reddish 'trousers' and the grey feathers beginning to emerge on the breast.
One of 7 White-throated Needletails today. This image shows the less often seen upperparts, including the distinctive pale oval on the back and the greenish sheen to the inner wing.

Species List (in chronological order, not including Tree Sparrow or Common Magpie):

Ashy Minivet (3)

White-throated Needletail (7) – 2 at 0500 and 5 at 0905.

Chinese Grosbeak (16)

Spotted Dove (1)

Forest Wagtail (9)

Oriental Greenfinch (9)

White-cheeked Starling (5)

Barn Swallow (70)

Red-rumped Swallow (25)

Olive-backed Pipit (7)

Crested Myna (5)

Great Tit (6)

Black-naped Oriole (9)

Tristram’s Bunting (1)

Asian Brown Flycatcher (4)

Common Pheasant (5)

Pallas’s Warbler (1)

Amur Falcon (4)

Daurian Starling (6)

Peregrine (1)

Chinese Hill Warbler (2)

Fork-tailed Swift (9)

Black-tailed Gull (heavy passage east with 236 counted between 1345-1355 and 393 between 1505-1515)

Chinese Bulbul (2)

Egret sp (2) – too distant to be sure of identification but probably Chinese

Blue Rock Thrush (1)

Chinese Pond Heron (2)

Oriental Honey Buzzard (2) – one in off the sea at 0805 and one soaring at 1100

Large pipit sp (2) – possibly Blyth’s

Radde’s Warbler (1)

Hobby (2)

Two-barred Greenish Warbler (1)

Black-browed Reed Warbler (1)

Eastern Crowned Warbler (1)

Vinous-throated Parrotbill (6)

Grey-streaked Flycatcher (1)

Pale-legged Leaf Warbler (1)

Yellow-browed Warbler (2)

Dark-sided Flycatcher (1)

White Wagtail (1) – ssp leucopsis

Common Rosefinch (1) – immature male singing

Dusky Warbler (1)

Streaked Shearwater (10) – all between 1345-1400.  In the evening, Jesper reported a passage rate of 900 per hour (!)

Gulling

Gulls… They say that, as a birder, you either love them or hate them. Well, I am definitely in the ‘love’ category, even though I find the large white-headed gull complex an identification challenge.

Living in Beijing, a very dry and land-locked metropolis, sightings of any gulls near to home are few and far between. So the opportunity to visit Choshi, just east of Tokyo, was too good to miss.

This port, situated on the edge of the vast Pacific Ocean, is home to hundreds of fishing boats and I saw huge catches of yellow-fin tuna, mackerel, sardines and some larger species, including what looked like swordfish. The sheer quantity of fish, and its associated waste and by-catch, means that there is plenty of food for gulls and, during winter, they are attracted here in their thousands. The most common gull by far is the Black-tailed Gull, an east Asian endemic, closely followed by Vega (a Herring Gull lookalike) and Black-headed Gulls (ssp sibiricus). Among these are reasonable numbers of Slaty-backed Gulls with a few Glaucous-winged, Glaucous, Common (ssp kamtschatschensis) and the odd Mongolian Gull (Larus cachinnans mongolicus) mixed in. During my visit I also saw a Ring-billed Gull (the first Japanese record of this American species was as recent as 2002).

Access is easy and free – I had no problem at all walking around with binoculars and a camera and the great thing for photography is that you are generally looking north from the harbour towards the water, meaning that the winter sun is mostly with you.

If you are interested in gulls, this is as close to heaven as it gets. However, Choshi is not just about gulls – many more sought after species can be seen well here. The local Black Kites (ssp lineatus or ‘Black-eared Kite’) also enjoy the bounty provided by the fishing boats and there are good numbers of Temminck’s and Pelagic Cormorants plus Black-necked and Slavonian Grebes just offshore. A single Harlequin Duck near the lighthouse at Cape Inubo was a nice addition to my visit and Dusky Thrushes were common in suitable habitat. Around Cape Inubo there were also Blue Rock Thrushes, Japanese White-eyes, Bull-headed Shrikes and a single Brown Thrush.

I will follow this general post with some detailed posts about specific species but, in the meantime, I am posting a selection of images to give you a feel for the place.

Getting there: Choshi is within easy reach from Tokyo and Narita airport and a day-trip from either is very doable. Catch any train from Narita Airport to Narita and change for the hourly local service to Choshi, which takes around 90 minutes (cost cGBP10). The staff at the airport are incredibly helpful and will point you in the right direction and give you advice on purchasing a ticket. Once at Choshi, it is a 5-10 mins walk to the north to reach the river Tome, from where you can walk east along the whole length of the harbour for 3-4 km (the whole stretch is good for gulls). Further along the coast to the south-east lies a famous lighthouse at Cap Inubo. It would probably take 2-3 hours to walk to this point from the station, so a taxi is a good option if you want to explore this area (but beware, taxis in Japan are expensive – it cost me almost GBP 20 pounds for the 10-minute journey from Choshi town centre to the lighthouse). I found only one hotel in Choshi where the staff spoke any english – the Choshi Plaza (half way from the station to the river on the right hand side) – which, at GBP50 per night, is reasonable value in Japan.

Best areas: there are boats all along the harbour wall running from just east of the Tome bridge to the sea, with three fish markets interspersed. The best area for viewing gulls depends on the activity in the harbour and which boats are offloading their catch but, about half-way along, there are a couple of good areas of sea wall parallel to the road which are good places to scan – hundreds of gulls rest here and there are good numbers all day.

A sardine boat returning to Choshi port after a night on the seas

Fishermen warming themselves around a fire at Choshi port

Yellow-fin Tuna on sale, most of which will be destined for Tokyo sushi

A fresh catch of sardines, Choshi

Adult Black-tailed Gull, Choshi, Japan

Adult Vega Gull, Choshi, Japan

Slaty-backed Gull, Choshi, Japan.

Adult Glaucous-winged Gull

First winter Glaucous Gull, Choshi, Japan. Note the dark-tipped pale bill

Black-headed Gull ssp sibiricus

Common Gull ssp kamtschatschensis

Black-eared Kites are common scavengers around the port

Dusky Thrushes are common at Choshi in suitable habitat

Pelagic Cormorants are fairly common at Choshi

Hundreds of Temminck's and Great Cormorants can be seen along the sea wall at Choshi. This one is a Great.

Black-necked Grebes are common winter visitors to Choshi