Tag Archives: Yasugawa

Yasugawa Riverside Park

Just before noon on January 7, 2017, I made a field recording in a large park along Yasugawa in Shiga Prefecture, Japan (野洲川立入河川公園). The recording was made with a small Sony PCM-M10 digital recorder mounted on a tripod near the lower end of the park. I chose this location in order to reduce traffic and train noises from bridges upstream, as well as the rumble of water at a dam downstream. I pointed the microphones southeast toward Mikamiyama.

We can hear the rumble of a nearby dam, traffic, crows, and kids playing in the distance. These sounds are overwhelmed by a recorded public address message broadcast from speakers on a small building on the embankment above the park. The recorded message asks people to obey park rules: no golf, RC cars or aircraft, fireworks, unleashed dogs, fires, littering, or other activities that may disturb people. The same loud recorded message dominates the sonic environment of the park once every hour.

Yasugawa Riverside Park (野洲川立入河川公園), lower end just upstream from the dam in Moriyama, looking with the microphones southeast toward Mikamiyama

Yasugawa Riverside Park (野洲川立入河川公園), lower end just upstream from the dam in Moriyama, looking with the microphones southeast toward Mikamiyama

Yasugawa Riverside Park (野洲川立入河川公園), lower end just upstream from the dam in Moriyama

Yasugawa Riverside Park (野洲川立入河川公園), lower end just upstream from the dam in Moriyama

Yasugawa Riverside Park (野洲川立入河川公園), lower end just upstream from the dam in Moriyama

Yasugawa Riverside Park (野洲川立入河川公園), lower end just upstream from the dam in Moriyama

I often visit this park to look for birds. Egrets, herons, cormorants, and ducks can be found in the river both above and below the dam, and many small birds live in the vegetation along the riverbank.

Yasugawa Riverside Park (野洲川立入河川公園), lower end just upstream from the dam in Moriyama, looking downstream to the north

Yasugawa Riverside Park (野洲川立入河川公園), lower end just upstream from the dam in Moriyama, looking downstream to the north

On January 7th, as I was recording, I walked upstream and saw a few birds.

Daurian redstart male (Phoenicurus auroreus,  ジョウビタキ) along Yasugawa upstream from the dam in Moriyama

Daurian redstart male (Phoenicurus auroreus, ジョウビタキ) along Yasugawa upstream from the dam in Moriyama

Dusky thrush (ツグミ) along Yasugawa upstream from the dam in Moriyama

Dusky thrush (ツグミ) along Yasugawa upstream from the dam in Moriyama

Oriental Greenfinch (Chloris sinica, カワラヒワ, 河原鶸) along Yasugawa upstream from the dam in Moriyama

Oriental Greenfinch (Chloris sinica, カワラヒワ, 河原鶸) along Yasugawa upstream from the dam in Moriyama

Activity in this park varies a lot, depending on the season, the weather, and the day of the week. But whatever they are doing, everyone in the park hears the same loud recorded message once every hour.

Coots – オオバン

On December 29, 2016, several coots (オオバン) were feeding on moss at the base of a flood control dam on Yasugawa about five kilometers upstream from Lake Biwa. Here in Shiga Prefecture, Japan, I often see coots in still water and slow streams, but I’ve never seen them eating so actively. I happened to be carrying a tripod, so I made a short video.

The pool and nearby running water below the dam make this an interesting location. In late spring and summer many people gather to fish there. Cormorants, egrets, and herons hunt nearby, and Japanese kites circle overhead, sometimes swooping down to pluck fish from the river.

Music

“Running Water” by Jason Shaw at AudionatiX (http://audionautix.com/). License: Creative Commons Attribution (CC-By) 3.0.

Technical notes

Hardware

I shot the opening and closing scenes with an Olympus OM-D EM-5 camera and two lenses: Olympus 17mm f1.8 and Panasonic/Leica 25mm f1.4. For medium, closeup, and extreme closeup shots I used an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mark II camera and a Panasonic 100-400mm zoom lens.

I used the camera’s optical teleconverter for extreme closeups. At 800mm (400mm x 2) with a micro four-thirds system the 35mm equivalent focal length is 1600mm, which requires a steady tripod. I used a Manfrotto 055XPRO4 tripod and an MVH502AH fluid head. That seems like a lot of tripod for a micro four-thirds system, but it’s great for long lenses. The four-section model is easy to carry. I attach it to my Lowepro Flipside Sport 20L AW, a small backpack that holds two cameras, several lenses, a small audio recorder, etc. Recently I’ve been concentrating on still photography with a handheld camera, so I rarely use a tripod. This experience with the coots reminded me that I should carry a tripod more often.

Video post-processing software

I process media on a Lenovo ThinkStation S20 that runs Fedora GNU/Linux. For this video I first extracted clips from the raw files with FFmpeg. I wrote a shell script to automate processing by reading a data file that specifies how to make each clip.

Video editing was done with Pitivi version 0.97.1. Pitivi has become quite useful and much more stable than the editor I had been using; however, I had to experiment with rendering to get decent output. I used MP4 (x264enc) with a fixed bitrate of 8192K (default is 2048K), and I turned the speed/quality setting OFF (default is medium). Using a good fixed bitrate worked, but I’m not sure why or if my solution is best. Hopefully, future versions of Pitivi will make it easier to produce high-quality output.

Before uploading to YouTube I transcoded the video to Web-optimized M4V with HandBrake. The only trouble I had was that I could not change the title, which was derived from from the filename, and I was not able to edit metadata. (Perhaps it was due to my lack of knowledge.) Before uploading I edited the title and other metadata with the VideoLAN VLC media player.

Yasugawa and Mikamiyama from  the fish ladder along the dam in Moriyama

Yasugawa and Mikamiyama from the fish ladder along the dam in Moriyama

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.

 

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.

Great egret standing in still water near bushes, holding a large fish by the head in its beak.

Video: Great Egret with Big Fish

The other day I had just locked my camera on a tripod and set it up for video recording when I saw a great egret hunting nearby. It soon caught a fish, probably a black bass.

The egret took its time eating the fish, but even then it could not swallow it completely. It stood with its head high and its neck stretched for about 12 minutes, and then it managed to dislodge the fish from its throat. Then the bird picked up the fish again and swallowed it. Apparently the fish went down smoothly. After a few minutes the egret began to hunt again.

This video was recorded with an Olympus OM-D E-M5 Mk. II camera and an old OM-System Zuiko Auto-T (manual) 300mm lens with an Olympus OM Adapter MF-2. The lens aperture was f/8, and the camera settings were HD 1080p, 60fps, shutter 1/125 sec, ISO 200 or 250, White Balance Sunny, and Highlights -2. Since the egret spent a long time just standing, I started and stopped recording several times. Post-processing was minimal. I trimmed six (of seven) files with FFmpeg and then assembled clips with titles in OpenShot on a Lenovo ThinkStation 20 running Fedora Workstation, a GNU/Linux operating system.

The audio track may seem pretty boring. That’s intentional. I thought about adding music, as I do with most of my nature videos, but I decided to leave the audio as it was recorded. I wanted to show this event, a bird eating a fish, without trying to manipulate viewers’ emotions with background music. I tried to remain silent as I recorded, but some breathing and vocalizing can be heard along with sounds of traffic, the Shinkansen train, and people playing soccer at Yasugawa Sports Park. Frankly, the sound isn’t very good, but at least it’s authentic.