Saturday, November 26, 2005

From the Field: Birding Tokyo and the Tama River

Well, surprisingly, I woke up before the alarm this morning and got out of bed at about 7:30. I am more tired but less sore than I was yesterday, if that makes any sense.

My goal was to bird the Tama River today, and I must say: Mission accomplished.
I ended up with about 25 species, although it seemed like more than that at the time!

I wanted to get out of central Tokyo, so I followed the directions to the Tama River site described on page 163 of Jane Washburn Robinson's A Birder's Guide to Japan, which was published in 1987. I hopped onto the Keio Line (like the big department store, not the KeiyoLine) at the Shinjuku Station and took the "Special Express" train to the Seisekisakuragaoka Station. (I think "Seisekisakuragaoka" is more than one word, but Washburn wrote it as one word, and frankly, I don't really care.) The "Special Express" cost about three bucks each way and got me there in about 25 minutees. The "Semi Special Express" is much slower, making as many as two more stops that the "Special Express," so save the extra five minutes for birding and take the Special Express. (The Local does make quite a few more stops.) It is amazing how many suited Japanese businessmen were on the 8:20 am train on a Saturday morning...the train was standing-room only. I think that Japan's national past-time is not baseball but is actually sleeping. I looked around the train car today and every single person sitting down was fast asleep. Yesterday I saw a guy fall asleep while he was standing up, and when we stopped at the next station, he tipped right over and knocked another sleeping guy over -- Japanese Human Dominoes!

The location I birded today is not the same spot on the Tama River that is mentioned in some of the other reports floating around on the Internet. Same river, different spot. The train crosses the river just before it pulls into the station, but it is not obvious how to get to the river when you exit the station. As long as you know the orientation of the train tracks to the river, you'll be ok. The tracks run perpendicular to the river, so if you come straight out of the station and do a 180 degree turn as soon as you get out of the station, the tracks will be on your right. There are a bunch of stores and restaurants here, just keep the tracks on your right and begin walking towards the river. Eventually you will hit some fences when you're almost at the river and you'll have to go to the left; don't panic, you can cut through one of the fenced parking lots to the river levee, or keep walking a bit more and you can cut over on an official path.

You can walk along the levee path or along the rocky edge of the river. I would focus on the river itself. Washburn suggests walking downriver, which is what I did. However, the area just a bit upriver, towards the "fancy" bridge, was loaded with White-backed Wagtails, so walk upriver a bit before you head downriver. Flocks of Great Cormorants were streaming downriver as I began my walk. I also spotted a few sharp Japanese Wagtails. They were mostly on the rocks in the river bed, but at least one was hanging out with the other wagtails on the grass lawns in the park-like area just upriver from where I started. Just downriver from the railroad bridge I spotted a Common Sandpiper (wagging its tail just like our Spotted Sandpiper) and a Little Ringed Plover.

Washburn suggests walking downriver under the first two bridges (ie the train bridge and then an auto bridge) until you get to a tributary of the river. This is a much longer walk than it seems, and sometimes I felt like I was walking more than birding. However, there were birds scattered about the whole length of the walk. When you reach the tributary, turn around and head back. Washburn says the area where the tributary branches off is a great spot, and in fact there is a bird hide there and I ran into a bunch of local birders, so the spot must hold some pretty decent birds. It was just like a birding group in the States...a bunch of middle-aged to older men who stood around talking to their expensive optics, every once in a while everyone would look at something, when that excitement subsided they resumed their discussion. Some of the locals were even wearing white gloves, so this was some *classy* birding.

(Blogger spellcheck just tanked the rest of this post, so here is my shortened re-write. Pain in the ass.)

Just before the tributary, I spotted my first Bull-headed Shrike. Right across from the hide was a pair of noisy Azure-winged Magpies. Also in that area (on the main river) were Little Grebes, Great, Intermediate, and Little Egrets, and Grey Herons. I also spotted a few Carrion Crows. I did miss one of my most-wanted birds, Common Kingfisher, even though the damn sign says they're present all year round!

The last bird of the day was also a new one for me. On the way back into town, I decided to check out the tall high-tension electric wires, since in the States starlings love those really big towers. Sure enough, there were a couple of Grey Starlings hanging out on and around the tower. Another new bird , even if it is a starling.

The only ducks were on the far side of the river and were inaccessible to me, but I could identify at least a few as Eurasian Wigeon.

On the way back to my hotel I said hello to Japan's patron saint of Christmas, Father Sanders.

Apologies for the typos, but it has been a long day, maybe I'll fix them manually later. Might do a bit more birding tomorrow. Stay tuned.

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