Nutria at Yasugawa in Deba, Ritto City, Shiga Prefecture, Japan

Nutria at Yasugawa

On February 10, 2015, I was getting ready to leave Yasugawa in mid-afternoon when a nutria came very close and stopped to eat.

In the summer of 2013 I saw a nutria in the wild for the first time along the north bank of Yasugawa, the river that flows near my neighbor on its way to Lake Biwa.

Recently I’ve seen a nutria several times in the same place along the southwest bank. It lives under a clump of bushes that overhang the river near the golf putting course in Deba, Ritto City, Shiga Prefecture (滋賀県栗東市出庭11).

Nutria are an invasive species in Japan. They have been spreading throughout western Japan since around the end of World War II. Apparently, they are becoming quite a nuisance as they eat farmers’ crops. The Lake Biwa Museum website has a section on invasive (“alien”) species, 外来生物 (gairaiseibutsu) in Japanese. The section include an English page about Nutria. The information there is a bit general and outdated. If you read Japanese, see ヌートリア.

Some prefectures and municipalities in Western Japan are concerned about invasive species and protecting native plants and animals in the natural environment. For example, Shiga Prefecture has a website (in Japanese), 滋賀県 – 自然環境保全課.

Nutria diving into water to the left.

Nutria at Yasugawa in Deba, Ritto City, Shiga Prefecture, Japan

The End

Blue river with snow on both shallow banks, small mountain in the background.

New Year Snow 2015

Scenes of a riverbank and nearby fields January 2-5, 2015. Soundtrack from “Relaxing Music” by Sławomir Królik, chafer on SoundCloud ( Hear the full version embedded below.

The first two nights of the New Year, 2015, we had heavy snowfall in Ritto City, Shiga Prefecture, Japan. Nearby fields and the Yasugawa riverbank were covered with nearly 30cm of snow, the most we have seen in more than 30 years. Each day it was warm and sunny and nearly silent, with few cars and trains running slowly. January 2nd and 3rd were the quietest days that I have experienced here in Ritto City.

Birds were quite active. Pigeons, wagtails, starlings, and sparrows were feeding wherever vegetation appeared through the snow. Black kites were soaring, and cormorants, egrets, herons, and a kingfisher were catching fish as usual.

There were only a few signs of other wildlife. I saw the tracks of a fox and and a weasel, but, other than small birds and a little egret in a field, the only other tracks were made by a few humans and dogs. In the deep snow on the riverbed below Yasugawa Ohashi, the Japan Route 8 bridge, the only tracks I saw were mine.

Production notes

Photos and video clips were taken with an Olympus OM-D E-M5 camera and a Tamron C001 14-150mm zoom lens.

Postproduction was done on a Lenovo ThinkStation S20 running the CentOS 7 operating system. Software included:

  • Audacity (audio editing)
  • digiKam (photo management and editing)
  • FFmpeg (video file processing, driven with shell scripts)
  • GNU Emacs (text and shell script editing)
  • OpenShot (video editing)

Relaxing Music by Sławomir Królik (chafer)

Audio-Technica BP4025 mic and Tascam DR-70D recorder at a window at night

New Year 2015 Temple Bells and Fireworks

Since there was a light rain this New Year’s Eve, I recorded from my house by placing a stereo microphone in a window facing North toward the nearest Buddhist temple. Nearby houses reflect sounds, so the sense of space may seem distorted in the recording.

The view north from my house in Ritto City

The view north from my house in Ritto City

This was my first time to use a new audio recorder, a DR-70D. This recorder is designed for DSLR video recording, so it works well on a tripod, with or without a camera, and it offers a variety of input and output options.

I bought this recorder rather than its 2-track sibling (DR-60DMkII) because it can record four tracks at the same time, and it has a dual recording mode, which creates two stereo files from one stereo source. I fed the stereo output from an Audio-Technica BP4025 microphone to tracks 1 and 2 and used tracks 3 and 4 for a second stereo file recorded simultaneously at a lower level (in this case -12dB). I expected loud fireworks at midnight, so I kept the input levels somewhat low (mic sense high, input level knobs at about 10 o’clock); however, I had no way to know how loud the fireworks would be. Fortunately, I did not need the second file because the highest level was -2.2dB. If I had set the input levels slightly higher, I would have needed the second file.

The sonic environment in Japan often covers a huge dynamic range, with relatively quiet scenes punctuated by extremely loud sounds of thunder, fireworks, drums, street vendors, noisy cars and motorcycles, etc. For example, you can search my posts for fireworks.

We cannot fully reproduce the great dynamic range or the visceral experience of hearing thunder or large taiko drums, but in this extreme sonic environment dual recording capability greatly eases the anxiety of field recording.

Kingfisher on a branch at Yasugawa in Ritto City, Japan

Kingfisher Movie

This movie includes video clips and still photographs of a kingfisher at Yasugawa in Shiga Prefecture, Japan. All scenes show the same bird photographed in Deba, Ritto City, December 21-30, 2014. (Actually, the bird may be hunting in Yasu City since it’s on the north bank of the river.) Nearly every day I walked to the river and spent at least two hours waiting for the kingfisher to appear. Now and then I searched for the bird along my side of river, but most of the time I sat quietly.

Until this month I could not have imagined spending several hours a day trying to photograph one little bird, mostly sitting quietly and waiting. As you know if you follow me on Twitter (, I experienced much more than I had anticipated, including hours of watching wagtails, Eurasian wigeons, and black kites, and even an encounter with a nutria.

I grew up on an apple orchard along the Okanogan River in North Central Washington State (USA). For half a century I’ve known that sitting quietly and vigilantly near a river can bring great rewards, but it’s easy to forget such childhood lessons as concerns of the human world desensitize us to our natural environment. I can see that clearly among the people who walk along the riverbank. Every day at least a dozen people take walks there every afternoon, some with dogs and some for their health. Nearly all of those without dogs appear to look straight ahead as they walk.

As I was leaving the riverbank on December 29th, a neighbor lady asked as she approached, “Did you catch any fish?” I said, “No, I’ve been watching a kingfisher.” She’d thought I was fishing because I’d been sitting quietly next to the river, and she was surprised to hear that a kingfisher lived nearby. I tried to show her the bird, which was then a little orange spot on the other side the river. She said, “Oh, sorry, I don’t have my glasses,” as she hurried away.

The beautiful music soundtrack, “Romantic Music – A Magic Morning” was composed and performed by Lionel Schmitt ( The music seemed to be such a perfect match that I adjusted the video track to match the duration of the piece (2:08). Thank you, Lionel, for sharing your creative work! Lionel Schmitt’s music and the movie are both released under Creative Commons Attribution (CC-By) licenses.

Great white egrets in Yasugawa

Great White Egrets

On 22 December 2014 I spent the afternoon at Yasugawa near my home. A chilly southwest wind and a clear sky made the winter light very nice.

At first there was no activity besides a few crows and a kingfisher that flew along the river and disappeared in some bushes along the bank. For over an hour I saw only some sparrows and wagtails, a couple of Eurasian wigeons, and a Northern shoveler.

I was thinking about leaving when I saw some great white egrets (Egretta alba) about 150 meters upstream. As I was focusing my lens, the birds flew away. Then I saw five of them circling overhead. I remained motionless, and four of them landed in the river right in front of me.

As one of the egrets walked toward me, it nearly filled the frame of my viewfinder as it turned and faced south.

Two stood closely together, also facing south for a while.

As the sky became overcast, they flew over to the Yasu side of the river, where some cormorants and herons were standing. One stayed behind for a few minutes and finally flew to join the other birds.

When I left my house, I was determined to make video recordings of the kingfisher that I’d photographed the day before (Kingfisher in Flight). I saw the kingfisher briefly, but it did not go to its its hunting spot.

The great white herons were a wonderful surprise. The few that remain in this area usually stay very close to the riverbank, too far away to photograph. Once again nature has blessed me and rewarded patient vigilance with great and unexpected beauty.