Great egrets (ダイサギ) below Yasugawa Ohashi

Egrets in Summer

Yasugawa (野洲川), Shinkansen, Hira mountain range

View from Yasugawa Ohashi (野洲川大橋)

In late July and August 2016 I spent many hours on Yasugawa Ohashi (野洲川大橋), a bridge that crosses Yasugawa between Ritto City and Yasu City in Shiga Prefecture, Japan (map).

From the sidewalk the view downstream provided a good change to observe large birds, especially great egrets (ダイサギ) as they stood around and sometimes flew, fished, and fought. With my camera I tried to record some of the behavior of these beautiful white birds. Photos presented here are from my photostream on Flickr.

Challenges

Waiting for action

Photographing these beautiful white birds presented several challenges. The first challenge was boredom. Most of the time they stood without moving, often several hundred meters away. Even at a distance, sometimes they caught my attention, especially when they moved in pairs.

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

Exposure compensation

The second challenge was exposure of these great white birds against a background that changed as they moved. I had to discard many photos before I learned to underexpose -0.3 to -1.7 EV, depending on the background.

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Exposure was most critical with backlit egrets flying in late afternoon light.

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)

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

Action

The third challenge was capturing action. Timing was critical, of course, but I also tried to keep action in the frame while adjusting the zoom lens and holding the camera level. Most difficult and most interesting were conflicts over territory.

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

A few times I wished that I’d shot video instead of still photos, especially this combat scene.

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

Great egrets (ダイサギ)

Birds catching fish

When I began to take photos from the bridge, I was hoping to see birds catching fish. Sometimes I had to wait a long time, but a few scenes were worth the wait. For example, once a cormorant was after a small fish, but a great egret ran over and snatched it.

Great cormorant (カワウ) and great egret (ダイサギ)

Great cormorant (カワウ) and great egret (ダイサギ)

Great cormorant (カワウ) and great egret (ダイサギ)

Great cormorant (カワウ) and great egret (ダイサギ)

Sometimes egrets seem to dance as they chase fish.

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Sometimes their diving is pretty intense.

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)

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Sometimes they use their wings to maintain balance.

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Sometimes they toss fish in the air to swallow them head-first.

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)

Late afternoon colors

Just before sunset, the colors became very warm.

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Great egret (ダイサギ)

 

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Sharing the view

Many people passed on bicycles and on foot. Now and then someone would stop to chat, and sometimes people stopped just to share the view from the bridge.

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Great egret (ダイサギ)

Location

Technical notes

Photos were shot as JPEG with an Olympus OM-D E-M5 II camera and an Olympus 40-150mm F2.8 PRO lens. Sometimes I used the Olympus 1.4x teleconverter, and sometimes I used 2x magnification.

Saving only JPEG enabled me to shoot very long bursts at 5 frames per second. Without such long bursts I could not have captured territorial disputes or some fishing scenes. In the future this kind of photography might be done by saving stills from high-resolution video recordings.

I processed the photos with DigiKam on a Fedora Linux workstation and uploaded them to my photostream on Flickr.

 

Concrete picnic table and stools in a wooded park

Hatonomori Park in Summer

Hatonomori Park in Moriyama City (守山市の鳩の森公園) is a wooded public park with a few concrete picnic tables, a play area for children, and a small stream on two sides. The park covers 1.86 hectares.

On some weekday mornings local people, mostly seniors, gather to play ground golf. On hot summer days the sounds of ground golf compete with the buzzing of cicadas, murmers of turtle doves, and traffic on a nearby street.

This recording was made in Hatonomori Park, Moriyama City, Shiga Prefecture, Japan at about 10 a.m. on August 1, 2016. Recording was done with a Sony PCM-M10 recorder. Hear the same recording while seeing the map location on radio aporee maps.

Sony PCM-M10 recorder

Hatonomori Park (鳩の森公園)

Hatonomori Park (鳩の森公園)

Hatonomori Park (鳩の森公園)

Hatonomori Park is full of cicadas in summer. Other flying creatures, such as butterflies and birds, hide when people are active in the park, but cicadas keep singing.

Cicada (セミ)

Cicada (セミ)

After the ground golf players leave the park, wild creatures reappear. The park has many beetles and other insects, including several species of butterflies.

Hestina persimilis japonica (ゴマダラチョウ) butterfly

Old World swallowtail butterfly (アゲハ)

Old World swallowtail butterfly (アゲハ)

Old World swallowtail butterfly (アゲハ)

We can see many species of birds in the park, and sometimes we can hear them. One of the nicest sounds in the park is the murmer of oriental turtle doves.

Oriental turtle-doves (キジバト)

Oriental turtle-doves (キジバト)

Two ponds hold carp and other fish. Ducks swim in the ponds and a small stream in winter and spring. In the summer egrets and herons sometimes appear. One grey heron sometimes perches on the foot bridge over the lower pond.

Grey heron (アオサギ)

Grey heron (アオサギ)

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that several species of small birds remain in the park in summer.

Long-tailed tit (エナガ)

Long-tailed tit (エナガ)

Japanese tit (シジュウカラ)

Japanese pygmy woodpecker (コゲラ)

Kingfisher (川蝉, カワセミ)

I often see two brown-eared bulbuls. Recently I discovered that they catch and eat cicadas. When they eat, they first bite off the wings. As they eat, they toss the insect. Finally, an only empty shell remains.

Brown-eared bulbul (ヒヨドリ)

Brown-eared bulbul (ヒヨドリ)

Brown-eared bulbul (ヒヨドリ)

Last winter a bird photographer told me about Hatonomori Park, which is about 25 minutes from my home by bicycle. It’s a nice ride, mostly along the Yasugawa riverbank, and the park is a peaceful place to watch birds.

Hatonomori Park (鳩の森公園)

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

Swallows Nesting in Ritto City

Barn swallows (ツバメ, 燕) repairing an old nest that was last used in 2014. Morning sunlight strongly backlit the scene, so I used small LED lights to bring out the colors of the birds. Some people are surprised that barn swallows have such beautiful blue heads.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

My timing was lucky. The birds had been visiting the nest for nearly a week, but they did all of their repair work on a sunny Saturday morning (April 9, 2016) when I was home. When it was used in 2014, the construction was very smooth, but this time the outer surface near the top is pretty rough.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

All scenes were shot handheld in a stairwell with an Olympus MD-D EM-5 Mk. II camera and a 40-150mm f2.8 Pro lens. I did not use any special video settings. I simply pressed the video record button instead of the shutter button. The birds were at the nest only for short periods, so continuous video would have been very difficult without a tripod. I was able to capture a few scenes by starting to record as one of the birds swooped into the car port. In this kind of situation it is easier to shoot still photographs. I shot in bursts at 5 frames per second.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

Barn swallows (Hirundo rustica gutturalis, 燕, ツバメ) are repairing a nest in my car port, Takano, Ritto City. The nest was last used in 2014.

Music credit

“Winter Chimes” by Kevin MacLeod (incompetech.com). Licensed under Creative Commons: By Attribution 3.0 License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/).

Production notes

Post-processing was done with digiKam for still photographs and OpenShot for video. I adjusted the length of the movie by a few seconds in order to match the music.

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.