Great white egret landing at a small river penninsula.

Herons and Egrets – October 2014

This movie is an attempt to show some activities of herons and egrets as seen at Yasugawa in Deba, Ritto City, Shiga Prefecture, Japan, in October, 2014. The clips in the movie were extracted from many hours of video that includes other birds, especially black kites, cormorants, wagtails, and many crows. Other creatures, not caught by the camera, include kingfishers, pheasants, pigeons, and a beautiful little weasel that emerges from the bushes now and then.

The location is a noisy place, with the Tokaido Shinkansen roaring past every few minutes, traffic on Japan Route 8, people walking past along the riverbank path, and baseball games on Sundays. Sometimes the crows in nearby trees dominated the soundscape. The map below shows the location. Most scenes were shot from the path we can see along the left side the riverbank, halfway between the Shinkansen tracks and Japan Route 8.

Video was shot with an Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera. For all wildlife scenes I used old (c1986) Olympus OM-System Zuiko MC Auto-T (manual) 200mm and 300mm lenses. Shooting required great patience while I waited and then quick decision-making as birds suddenly appeared. Sometimes I waited for over an hour for a burst of activity that lasted a few minutes.

This was my first attempt to add a music soundtrack to a wildlife movie. I wanted to suggest a calm pastoral environment but also convey the epic drama of hunting and killing by these beautiful creatures. I think we humans tend to focus on their elegant beauty as they glide and land. We may downplay the fact that such magnificent birds are hunters. They prefer certain locations but explore other places, watch the water, stalk their prey, sometimes stumble, and often miss when they strike. As we can see in the movie, they do not give up easily. Every day they face a life-or-death struggle to survive, and they thrive because they are relentless killers.

Music is from the album “Calls and Echoes” by Kai Engel ( Soundtrack License: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). Many thanks to Kai Engel!

Shinkansen train, with motion a little blurred, entering a bridge from the right. Blue mountains under a cloudy sky are in the background.

Shinkansen at Yasugawa

Just before Typhoon 19 came to Kansai, I shot a short video clip of the Kyoto-bound Shinkansen as it entered the bridge over Yasugawa near my home in Ritto City.

This Fall I plan to shoot more video with my still camera, an Olympus OM-D E-M5. I have several old Olympus OM System manual lenses, which seem to work very well for video. For this clip I used a 300mm/f4 OM System Zuiko Auto T lens that I bought in 1986 for my OM-2 film camera. On a micro 4/3 camera like the E-M5 the crop factor makes it equivalent to a 600mm lens on a 35mm film or full-frame digital camera.

An additional motivation is to learn to edit video with software on Linux operating systems such as CentOS. This clip was edited with OpenShot. I have an old Apple MacBook with professional video editing software, but I want to be able to all of my media work with free/libre and open-source software (FLOSS).

Japanese black kite hitting a high-voltage power line in Deba, Ritto City, Japan

Black Kites and Power Lines

High-voltage power lines span Yasugawa along the Shinkansen (Bullet Train) tracks. Japanese black kites perch in trees on both banks along this section of the river, and often we can see them soaring overhead. Often they fly along the power lines. On October 12, 2014, I happened to be shooting video when a black kite hit a power line and fell. Fortunately, the kite recovered and continued to soar.

Later a crow was chasing a black kite. The kite flew up to and parallel with the same high-voltage power lines. It seemed to be using the wires, sometimes even brushing them or rolling around them.

I don’t know if that behavior is a defensive tactic or a form of play, but it seems that high-voltage power lines are both hazards and objects of interest to black kites. Power lines, pylons, and other tall human-built structures are part of the habitat in which birds live. In order to minimize harm in the future, we must document their interactions with our artifacts. Such knowledge can help us plan with more consideration for our non-human neighbors.

Two pheasants on the north bank of Yasugawa, cropped image.

A Brace of Pheasants

On August 30th I was taking some photos at Yasugawa near my home when two pheasants flew out from the bushes on my side of the river, just below where I was standing. My camera and long lens were aimed and focused far down the river, so the pheasants crossed the river before I could react.

I’ve had similar experiences quite a few times. It’s very rare to see two together, and usually they quickly disappear into thick vegetation across the river. I often hear pheasants along the river, especially in Spring, and sometimes they suddenly fly out from nearby as I walk through patches of weeds. Every time I’m startled and delighted to know they are alive and well. For years I had hoped that one day I’d be able to photograph one.

This time, to my great astonishment, they briefly stood in the sand on the opposite bank. I had just enough time to focus my manual lens and take one photo before they disappeared in high grass. Neither of these two showed the colorful plumage we can see on male pheasants, but I’m grateful that I had a chance to see them.

Two pheasants on the north bank of Yasugawa

Two pheasants on the north bank of Yasugawa

Duck at Yasugawa

Birds at Yasugawa

This morning several species of birds were active at Yasugawa in Ritto City near the sports park between the Shinkansen tracks and Japan Route 8 (map). All of these photos were taken with a micro four-thirds camera and a 27-year-old 300mm manual focus lens. Focusing on moving birds is a real challenge with this lens, but it gives me a good excuse to stand along the river and watch wildlife.