Saturday, February 6

Balcony birding

Most days were cold and grey,
Work-related trips out of the country are a dilemma for me birding-wise.  I always hope that, despite a packed schedule, I would have a chance for even just a bit of birding. My latest trip to Nara in Japan was no different.

I spent 8 full days on campus, but my schedule offered little time to go birding, having lab rotations scheduled the entire day.  I did have the weekend free, but since it was my first time in Japan, I opted to see the sights and experience the culture, rather than do a birding trip.  I also had a hard time dealing with the temperature, it was my first winter and the region just happened to experience a cold snap a couple of days after I arrived!

But, I did get a bit of birding done, and a few lifers: from my balcony!  I could have taken short morning walks around campus, but with my official workday beginning at 930am, and with temperatures too cold (-3 degrees Celsius was too cold for me to even think of leaving my warm room) for my tropical temperament, the best I could do was watch birds from the small terrace outside my room. It spanned the view from east to west across campus, and I was on the 4th floor, high enough to espy even birds perched on top of the buildings.

The dorm buildings to the east.

School buildings in directly in front.

And the sunset and more buildings (plus a tennis court) on the west,

Thanks to my Japanese birder friend from the Wild Bird Society of Japan, Asuka-san for giving  me a small Japan field guide last year.  It was very useful, and beautifully illustrated by Taniguchi-san (whom I met during the Philippine Birdfest last December in Balanga), I was able to identify all the birds I saw, even if the field guide was in Japanese! (At least I hope I did!)
My handy pocket field guide from the WBSJ!

Easily the most common and most visible birds were the Brown-eared Bulbuls. They pretty much owned the entire frontage of the guesthouse, chasing away most other birds. They kept careful watch over a tree laden with blue fruit, enjoying their feast every morning.  Their loud calls could be heard on campus all day.

Brown-eared Bulbul

The second most common would be the Jungle Crow.  I would hear them cawing as crows would, but it was only later that I was able to identify which species was common in Japan.

Jungle Crow

The first bird I actually noticed on campus was not a lifer for me.  White Wagtails were quite common, walking on the grassy fields and on the roads and paths. There were often two or even three of them together bouncing their behinds actively.  I tried hard to remember Richard's lessons of subspecies from the Laoag wagtails, but failed to identify them on the spot.

White wagtails

Another familiar bird was a male Blue Rock Thrush I would see everyday. It was quite handsome and not shy at all.  It was one of the birds the Brown-eared Bulbuls would tolerate having around for long periods of time.

Blue Rock Thrush

Also around every morning, but often quite a distance away were a few Dusky Thrushes. They were very handsome birds, not as noisy or active as the bulbuls, and often perched on the branches for long periods of time or foraging on the ground.

Dusky Thrush

Very common were several big, fat Rock Doves, on the ground or perched on top of the buildings or outside windows.

Feral Rock Doves

I was pleasantly surprised to spot a juvenile Japanese Grosbeak twice during my stay.  Again it was perched quite a distance away, but it showed itself well the first time, staying out in the open on bare branches.

Japanese Grosbeak

Japanese White-eyes would twitter a familiar sound as they moved about in the foliage and transferred from tree to tree.

Japanese White-eye

I had also spotted  a Japanese Tit one afternoon, but I wasn't able to take a photo of it.

And of course the Eurasian Tree Sparrows were  also daily visitors, not as common as back home though. And quite fluffed up all the time so they appeared much more... rotund... than usual.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow

Every now and then, a small flock of White-cheeked Starlings would attempt to intrude on bulbul territory, but they would quickly be chased away.

White-cheeked Starling

So those were my regular visitors I could enjoy every morning on my balcony.  I did see other birds on campus, my favorite being a female Daurian Redstart just outside our building.  Too bad I didn't have my camera with me!  It was sooo cute!  I knew right off it was some kind of flycatcher and the white wing patch helped me with the ID.

ID'ing the Daurian Redstart

Another lifer was a Meadow Bunting, which I saw while walking behind the dorm buildings to a nearby convenience store.  I would have never been able to identify it if i didn't have my pocket point-and-shoot with me.  Not a great photo, but it served its purpose.

Meadow Bunting

The 10 days passed quite quickly, of course the days began to warm to a comfortable 6 -7 degrees towards the end of my stay.  I'm quite sure there were other birds I caught a glimpse of which I was unable to identify or even observe closely, and I wish I had more chances to go birding. Glad to have gotten a few lifers though on this work trip, even if it was just from my balcony!

My balcony's the top floor middle one.

(I do hope I got all the IDs correctly!  I would welcome corrections from more experienced birders!)

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