Friday, November 25, 2005

From the Field: Birding Tokyo at the Meiji Jingu Shrine

Well, everyone told me I was crazy to try to "do" Tokyo in a long weekend, but I've done it. I haven't even spent a full day here yet, but I have seen more than I can ever describe. I paid for it, though: every part of my body aches, especially my feet. I usually walk 2-3 miles every day back in Chicago, in all kinds of weather, but I just killed myself today...The walking, the subway steps, I am completely exhausted, but it was all worth it. Let's start with the birding.

I began the day at perhaps the most well-known birthing spot in central Tokyo, the Meiji Shrine. The Shrine, one of the most revered spots in all of Japan, is conveniently located near Snoopy Town. (I did not make that up. Remember, this is Japan.) I took the JR Yamanote line to Harajuku station, when you leave the station, if you're facing Snoopy Town, turn right and then right. It's pretty easy to find, there aren't many open space in Japan, so if you see a whole bunch of trees, that's probably the nearest park.

Most of the reports on the Meiji Shrine as a birding spot have been spot-on. (The Shrine and gardens are also pretty neat as a general tourist attraction.) Most of the reports say to bird the Meiji Jingu Inner Garden as soon as it opens. Today the Inner Garden opened at 9:00 am sharp. The birding was decent--there were, as others have noted, Jungle Crows all over, and the Brown-eared Bulbuls were making quite a racket, although I never managed to see them very well.

I purposely got a late start, but still arrived before 9:00, so I birded outside the Inner Garden for a bit. (Some reports call this the Outer Garden, but I think that technically the Outer Garden is in a totally different location.) I also saw Rufous Turtle Doves and a Great Tit. In a little clearing near the bathrooms near the Inner Garden entrance that is closest to the Shrine itself I also spotted a Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker. Four new ticks and I'm not even in the Inner Garden yet! (Note: I was unable to obtain any of the Japanese field guides prior to my trip, so I ended up using the excellent "A Field Guide to the Birds of Korea," which is a Peterson-style guide that has range maps that include Japan.)

The entrance fee for the Inner Garden was 500 yen, I think. Once inside the garden I headed directly towards the pond and the Iris Garden, hoping for Mandarin Duck. No Mandarins, but *bingo* a pair of Spot-billed Ducks!!! Now, I know those aren't unusual birds in this part of the world, but I have really wanted to see them, ever since someone in the Chicago area reported a Spot-billed Duck when I was tending to the Chicago RBA. Turned out to be a Mallard that was missing part of its bill, but I got a nice tour of a northwest Indiana sewage plant, there's more to that story but I'll save it for another day.

The only other bird I saw in the Inner Garden was a stunner: Red-flanked Bluetail. Kinda like a cross between a Swainson's Thrush and a Bluebird. The bird, a female or immature male (wish I woulda seen an adult male) was perched on a sign on the path that goes right between the lake and the Iris Garden, just when you cross over between those two areas. I saw a few more Great Tits and there were a couple of skulkers that I could not id, but that was it for the Inner Garden. I decided to try the pond near the Treasure House for Mandarin Duck, and I was rewarded with about a dozen birds spread out along the far shore. More Spot-billed Ducks, too, along with a few Mallard. What a killer bird the Mandarin is, similar to our Wood Duck.

The best little spot I found was a bit to the (left/west?) of the Treasure House area. There is a nice wooded area near a large garbage bin, some sheds, and a bunch of junk. Typical birding spot, but there was a nice mixed flock that contained Varied Tits, Great Tits, Japanese White-eye, and Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker. There were also a bunch of Tree Sparrows hanging around. Here is a crappy picture of a Varied Tit:

I may head back to Meiji Jingu on Monday. This site is pretty accessible if you find yourself anywhere in the center of Tokyo. The birding was a bit slow, but still enjoyable, I stopped between 10:30 and 11:00. As the other reports have noted, the area can get pretty crowded. Lots of schoolkids in their matching hats.

I only saw one bird in the Inner Garden that I didn't see elsewhere, but that one bird was a stunner, the Bluetail. However, I would still recommend that you visitors bird the Inner Garden. The habitat is pretty much the same inside and outside of the garden; some people say that the smaller number of people who pay to go inside the Inner Garden makes the birding there better. That is probably true, but the best part about the Inner Garden is that it has nice paths going through the woods, where outside the Inner Garden you have to walk on wide roads (that often are crowded with people.) My advice to a visiting birder would be to get to the Shrine area as early as you can and bird the Treasure House pond to get the Mandarin Ducks, maybe try the area by the garbage bin and sheds, then bird the paths near some of the bathrooms near the Inner Garden. Go into the Inner Garden when it opens, spend an hour or two there, and you'll have a nice morning of birding.

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