Grey heron in shallow water, walking to left, left foot forward above water.

Grey Heron in December

On a gloomy afternoon in mid-December I walked to the river with my camera. I was shocked to see how much the water level had fallen in only two days.

The sky was so dark with clouds that at first I failed to see a grey heron standing on the opposite side of the river. When it moved, I saw it and mounted my camera and a long lens on a tripod.

The heron walked around a little and the flew about 200 meters upstream.

I didn’t expect to get any wildlife photos on such a dark day. Fortunately, that grey heron blessed me with its presence and reminded me that ideal light conditions are far less important than simply being outdoors with a camera.

Location: Yasugawa upstream from Japan Route 8 on Google Maps

Kingfisher at Yasugawa. Dec. 7, 2014

Waiting for a kingfisher

When I walk to Yasugawa, a 15-minute stroll from my house, I often carry an old telephoto lens with my camera, hoping to photograph birds or small animals. Sometimes I get a few nice shots, but often I see creatures only briefly, without time to raise my camera, let alone focus the long lens. Often pheasants fly out right at my feet, cross the river, and disappear into the bushes on the other side. Sometimes I see birds that I don’t recognize, and once a small weasel emerged from bushes along the river, saw me, and quickly vanished.

Several times I’ve seen a kingfisher near the ground golf and putting courses at the upstream end of the riverside path that runs down into Moriyama. Usually the bird is far away or flying over the middle of the river, but a couple of weeks ago I saw it perched nearby. I managed to get one photo before it flew across the river.

A few days later I saw the kingfisher on the other side again, very close to where it had flown before.

I could see that it was hunting and catching fish, so I decided to try to get more photos by waiting nearby. I set up my tripod under a tree, attached a long lens to my camera, and waited.

I was rewarded a couple of times as the kingfisher perched nearby.

The bird seemed to be hunting downstream from my location, so the next day I changed my position, this time standing out in the open.

Good fortune! The kingfisher came over to my side of the river.

I waanted to catch the bird fishing, hopefully with a photo of it emerging from the water holding a fish. I had set up my tripod with a fluid (movie) head and even practiced panning to where I assumed the bird would hover and then dive. But no joy that day. The bird just sat around, scanned the sky, and finally flew away.

So far the kingfisher has not cooperated. I haven’t seen it since December 8th, but probably I’ll set up the tripod and wait again the next time I go to the river.

Northern shoveler in December, 2014

Northern Shovelers

On December 13,  2014, I photographed a pair of northern shovelers at Yasugawa near the putting course in Ritto City. They came close as I remained still while I sat under a tree.

I found the name of the species in a book at the Ritto City Public Library (website in Japanese). For quick lookup I find books with photos much quicker than the Web. Our local public library has quite a few books on nature and wildlife in Japan, as well as local geography and history. As my Japanese reading skills improve, I’ll be spending more time at the library.

Note on Twitter embeds: Recently I have been going outdoors nearly every free day. When I get home, I process the photos and upload a few to Twitter. Uploading is easy, and my students and others can see my photos immediately. I’ll post more embedded tweets her on Shiga River soon.

Kubota ARH430 harvesting soybeans in Hattori-cho,Moriyama City, Shiga Prefecture, Japan. on November 24, 2014.

Soybean Harvest


On November 24, 2014, I went cycling along Yasugawa in Moriyama. I took my camera and a new zoom lens I had just bought. I had hoped to find some wildlife along the river, but I saw onlya few Japanese black kites soaring high overhead.

Just below the bridge, Hattori-Ohashi, I saw farmers harvesting soybeans. I parked my bike against a little shed for monitoring water levels along the river, grabbed my camera, and shot video clips as I braced myself against the wall of the shed. The harvester is a Kubota ARH430 (in Japanese).

I appreciate farm equipment because I grew up on an apple orchard and began to operate machinery at an early age. I suppose now an 8-year-old tractor driver would be a violation of child labor laws or an insurance risk, but in the mid-1950s it was normal.

The movie was edited with FFmpeg and the OpenShot Video Editor on a Lenovo ThinkStation S20 computer running CentOS Linux.

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 (www.kai-engel.com). Soundtrack License: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). Many thanks to Kai Engel!