Great egret (ダイサギ) at Oyamakawa in Omifuji, Yasu City

Great Egret Fishing in Oyamakawa

On February 2, 2016, I spotted this great egret fishing in Oyamakawa (大山川) at Omifuji, Yasu City. It was shaking its legs and staring into the water. Apparently, the vibrations drive small fish out where the egret can catch them. I began to take photos, but I switched to video in order to record this way of fishing. While I was recording, the bird stumbled. Usually egrets are more graceful.

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Great egret (ダイサギ)

This egret is one of very few that have remained in this area in winter. I’m looking forward to March, when more egrets and herons appear in rivers and nearby fields here in Shiga, Japan.

Production notes:

Video and still photos were taken with an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk. II and a 40-150 f2.8 PRO lens with a 1.4x teleconverter. I used continuous autofocus with tracking. Sometimes the camera lost the bird and had to refocus the lens.

Music: “Sneaky Snitch” (2:16) by Kevin MacLeod (http://incompetech.com/)
Music and the video are licensed under Creative Commons Attribution (CC-By) 3.0 License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/)

Still photos were edited with digiKam (http://digikam.org) and video was edited with OpenShot (http://openshot.org/) on a Fedora (GNU/Linux) workstation (http://getfedora.org/).

Ground golf course in Deba, Ritto City

Yasugawa Riverside Ground Golf and Traffic

(Listen to the recording on SoundCloud.)

A well-maintained leisure space runs along the left bank of Yasugawa (野洲川) for about four kilometers in Ritto City and Moriyama City. It begins as a narrow space a few hundred meters upstream from the Japan Route 8 bridge, Yasugawa Ohashi (野洲川大橋) and ends near a dam in Moriyama City.

Ground golf course in Deba, Ritto City

Ground golf course in Deba, Ritto City

Many years ago this narrow space overgrown with wild vegetation. Then it became a golf putting course. A large open space just upstream became a ground gold course a few years ago, and last year the putting course was also converted to ground golf. Many older people play ground golf, and every day quite a few people of all ages walk, run, or cycle along the path between the ground gold course and the riverbank.

The riverbed near the camera position in the photo below used to be dry most of the year. There was a bamboo woods, and vegetation covered a large open space. After the government bulldozed the bamboo trees a few years ago, the river changed its course and ran along the embankment for about 250 meters. A large area of topsoil and vegetation was lost. Fortunately, a few trees and bushes remain.

Yasugawa riverbank, Yasugawa Ohashi, and Hira mountain range seen from Deba, Ritto City

Yasugawa riverbank, Yasugawa Ohashi, and Hira mountain range seen from Deba, Ritto City

Quite a few species of birds come to these bushes and trees. While I was there on January 31st, I saw several birds, along with several dusky thrushes and a couple of wagtails.

Meadow bunting (Emberiza cioides cioide, ホオジロ) male in Deba, Ritto City

Meadow bunting (Emberiza cioides cioide, ホオジロ) male in Deba, Ritto City

I think this is a long-tail rosefinch. I could see a long tail in a video that I recorded; however, I am not certain. This was only the second time I’d seen a rosefinch, and this one never came out from the vegetation while I was watching.

Long-tailed Rosefinch (Carpodacus roseus, ベニマシコ) [?] in Deba, Ritto City

Long-tailed Rosefinch (Carpodacus roseus, ベニマシコ) [?] in Deba, Ritto City

I’ve seen this daurian redstart female many time this winter. Usually she darts around on low branches in thick vegetation, but recently she has been spending more time in the open along the riverbed. When I walk through this area, I often pause and wait for her to appear.

Daurian redstart female (Phoenicurus auroreus, ジョウビタキ) along the path near the ground golf course in Deba, Ritto City

Daurian redstart female (Phoenicurus auroreus, ジョウビタキ) along the path near the ground golf course in Deba, Ritto City

As we can hear in the recording, Sunday traffic is pretty noisy. This is not a quiet place, but at least it has not been covered in concrete. Local communities have developed riverside spaces for recreation, and they have tried to preserve natural habitats along the riverbed. In the 35 years that I’ve lived here, I think local people have been doing a pretty job of balancing the needs of humans and wildlife.

Taiko practice in Moriyama near Yasugawa along Shinkansen tracks

Taiko Practice

Listen to the recording on SoundCloud (5:48).

A taiko group often practices in Moriyama on Saturdays. Sometimes they sound like a professional group, but January 23, 2016, was a practice day for children. This recording is the end of one nonstop session that lasted about 15 minutes.

Taiko practice in Moriyama near Yasugawa along Shinkansen tracks

Taiko practice in Moriyama near Yasugawa along Shinkansen tracks

Taiko practice in Moriyama near Yasugawa along Shinkansen tracks

Taiko practice in Moriyama near Yasugawa along Shinkansen tracks

They practice very close to the Shikansen high-speed train tracks. In the recording we can hear trains pass at about 1:50, 3:12, and 5:20.

Shinkansen going away from the camera across Yasugawa in Moriyama

Shinkansen going away from the camera across Yasugawa in Moriyama

We can also hear some kids shouting in the background. They were playing baseball and soccer nearby on the other side of the Shinkansen tracks.


(See map on Web).

This park extends upriver (southeast) to Yasugawa Sports Park in Ritto City. Even on a gloomy day it’s a nice place to take a walk.

Yasugawa riverbank and path in Moriyama. Trees are in Deba, Ritto City

Yasugawa riverbank and path in Moriyama. Trees are in Deba, Ritto City

Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni, ビンズイ) in Yasugawa Sports Park woods, Deba, Ritto City

Pipits in the Woods

Olive-backed pipits

About year ago, at the beginning of 2015, I learned the name of some greenish birds I’d been seeing each winter for several decades: olive-backed pipits, ビンズイ (binzui) in Japanese. Each winter they come to the woods in Yasugawa Sports Park near my home.

Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni, ビンズイ)

Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni, ビンズイ)

Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni, ビンズイ)

Olive-backed Pipit (Anthus hodgsoni, ビンズイ)

Woods in Yasugawa Sports Park

As you can see on the map if you zoom out, this is a noisy location, with nearby car and truck traffic, the Shinkansen and JR Biwako line trains, quite a lot of light industry, and a cement plant with a rock crusher than runs on weekdays.

Considering all the sources of noise, it’s quite peaceful in the woods. A few people walk here and have picnics when it gets warmers, but most people use the busy path that runs along the Yasugawa riverbank. Usually the birds have the woods to themselves.

Mikamiyama from woods in Ritto City

Mikamiyama from woods in Ritto City

Mikamiyama from woods in Ritto City

Other small birds should appear soon. I’m looking forward to seeing greenfinches, tree sparrows, and maybe even tits and woodpeckers if I’m very lucky.

Japanese black kite (トビ) at upper pond on the left bank of Yasugawa near the baseball ground in Deba, Ritto City

Bird Photos on New Year’s Day

On New Year’s Day, 2016, I didn’t get outdoors until after 11:30, so I stayed near home along Yasugawa. The weather forecast said it would be cloudy, but the sky was blue. I was lucky to see several species of birds in the middle of the day.

Long-billed Plover (イカルチドリ)

I don’t see plovers often in winter. This one was alone on the riverbank in Moriyama just upstream from the parking lot near the basketball court.

Long-billed Plover (イカルチドリ)

Meadow bunting (ホオジロ) male

Meadow buntings are common now, but I always enjoy the challenge of trying to photograph one of these tiny birds. Often they perch on high branches, but this one was close to eye level and not too far away.

Meadow bunting (ホオジロ) male

White wagtail (ハクセキレイ)

White wagtails are not as common as Japanese wagtails. It’s always a pleasure to see them, especially on short grass in good light.

White wagtail (ハクセキレイ)

White wagtail (ハクセキレイ)

Japanese black kites (トビ)

A Japanese black kite was eating a fish when a crow came along and drove the kite away. As the crow was eating the fish, the kite flew over to the river and landed near another kite that was perched on a brush pile. After a few minutes both kites returned to the fish, and the crow fled as the kites swooped in. Then one kite stood and watched the other kite eat the fish. After a while both kites left and began to soar together.

I’ve seen crows steal fish from kites quite a few times, but usually the kites are alone. They give up after a few feeble attempts to compete with several crows. I’ve never seen a kite go away and the return with another kite. That was amazing! Crows often bully kites and steal their prey, so it was great to see the kites fight back and win.

Japanese black kite (トビ)

Japanese black kites (トビ) with dead fish

Daurian redstart (ジョウビタキ) female

This shy little bird was in trees along the Ritto City Ground Golf course in Deba. I saw her in the morning as I was preparing my camera and then again in the afternoon on my way home. This could be the same bird that I saw one in the same location last winter. Last year it took a long time to identify her species, but this time I recognized her instantly. Males often perch on signs and other open places, but I’ve seen females only in trees and bushes, nearly always in shade.

Daurian redstart female

Daurian redstart female (ジョウビタキ)

Daurian redstart female (ジョウビタキ)

Daurian redstart female (ジョウビタキ)

Daurian redstart female (ジョウビタキ)

On New Year’s Day I was pleasantly surprised to see all of these beautiful birds, especially to see kites cooperate to drive away a crow. No matter how many times I visit the same locations, I never know what to expect. Sometimes I don’t see much, but there is always a pretty good chance that an interesting creature will appear, and sometimes dramatic scenes unfold as I watch.

In any case, I’m getting off a good start in 2016. I know a lot more about birds and wildlife photography than I knew a year ago. I’ve been learning where to find birds, how to spot them more quickly, and how to get into position to take better photos. I hope to continue to learn in 2016 and the years that follow.