Saturday, 26 April 2003

CAMEROON 2003: Korup, Kupe and Mt Cameroon (12-26 April)

Introduction: Nick Preston and I wanted to see a picathartes and the most feasible destination to do so, without going on an expensive tour, seemed to be Korup National Park in Cameroon where a nest/roost site could be visited. Barry Stiddolph and Ian Mills were keen too and we started planning a trip over Easter. We decided to restrict ourselves to two main areas, Korup and Mt Kupe, reluctantly deciding that fitting in the Bamenda Highlands was a bit ambitious in the time we had. Nick contacted Wildsounds who used CamTours to provide introductory letters for visa applications, sorted out our transport arrangements and arranged a top birding guide (Kennedy) for Korup. Nick got wind that Dave Pitman would be in Cameroon with a small group at the same time as us and we decided to team up for our two weeks in the south. We benefited from a few economies of scale with vehicle hire and guides although we saved more by sorting out accommodation when we arrived at it rather than booking it beforehand. Being at the end of the ‘birding season’, as was necessary due to the timing of Easter and the School holidays, we had no difficulty staying where we wanted. With Dave were Rob Hunt, Ken Hardy and Mick Thomas. All but Rob went out a week before us to visit northern Cameroon and were to join us after we had arrived at Korup. Rob was another teacher and came out with us. This blog gives a rough impression of the trip but with hardly any photos (and none of birds) and notebook entries that are little more than daily speecies lists it is based on more sketchy memories than usual.

12 April. Nick, Barry, Ian, Rob and I flew from Heathrow to Douala via Paris. We were met by our driver, loaded into a minibus and taken to Buea, near Mount Cameroon a little over two hours drive away. We arrived at the Presidential Flat Hotel, somewhat above the town centre, as the light was fading. We had seen very few birds on the journey, 3 Striped Kingfishers and 3 Grey Parrots being the best I managed.

13 April. After an early look around the hotel gardens and breakfast we drove to Mundembe where we birded around the Iyaz Hotel. Shining Blue Kingfisher, a surprisingly smart Cassins’ Flycatcher and Chattering Cisticola were new for me and we also saw 4 Palm Nut Vultures, 80 Little Bee-eaters, 25 Grey Parrots, 3 Harrier-hawks and 250 Yellow-billed Kites. There was a certain amount of preparation to be done for our four-night visit to Rengo Rock Camp in Korup. To be honest more needed doing than we had anticipated - after all we were not the first group to be taken to stay there and we had assumed our guide would know how much food would be needed and what was available there, leaving us to decide how much of our gear we would need and what could be left in storage at the hotel. Barry quickly stepped into the breech and took command of sorting much of it out, our experience buying supplies for the Lake Habbema trek 10 years earlier proving invaluable.

14 April. With our guide and support crew we were driven to the edge of Korup National Park. The road ended by a wide river which formed the park’s eastern boundary. We birded around the river without seeing too much, 2 Rock Pratincoles on boulders in the river and an African Pygmy Kingfisher in a palm plantation being best. We crossed the river on a high suspension bridge and once in the park were immediately into superb primary forest. It was an 8 km walk to Rengo Rock where we would be staying for four nights. Very tall trees with a high canopy let in little light making photography impossible and birding very difficult although we came across an ant swarm with an attendant Fire-crested Alethe and taped out a singing Forest Robin. We also glimpsed some hornbills and saw 6 Great Blue Turacos and Red-bellied Paradise Flycatcher. Rengo Rock camp comprised a few huts in a small clearing and we set up mosquito nets on the veranda of one of them. There were few birds visiting the clearing and towards the end of the day, with a feeling of increasing anxiety and expectation we walked to Picathartes Knoll, about 2 km away on increasingly indistinct trails. Once there we sat quietly concealed among the boulders in sight of the nesting cliff. Several old nests were visible but none were occupied although they were used to roost in. As the light started to go first one then two Red-headed Picathartes appeared giving excellent views as they jumped around on the boulders and visited the cliff face. A superb species and an ambition realised, we floated back to camp as the light faded.

looking across to the National Park
Nick crossing the bridge
some of our crew heading into the forest
what it was all about, Red-headed Picathartes
15-17 April. We had three full days birding in Korup but never had the chance to revisit Picathartes Knoll. Dave, Ken and Mick arrived and had first crack at picathartes but it was very wet the first evening and none came in. They tried successfully the next evening and we were all set to return on our last evening when, on the way to the knoll we met a group of Rockjumper leaders on a very successful recce trip. We rather reluctantly left them to it as it would have been a squash for us all to remain concealed and the birds might not then have come in. Some of the time at Korup we were birding together but when we became familiar with the trails we did so more often on our own. This was generally fine but at one point the trail diverted around a fallen tree and associated tangle. The route was clear heading out but easily missed on the return. Most of us became slightly disoriented at least once at this point but it was more serious for Ken who didn’t return one evening. When it was clear Ken wasn't delayed a search party of guide and porters went out to find him. We were told not to join in for fear of us becoming lost too. We waited anxiously and they eventually found him two hours later. He had missed the trail and by the time he realized was unable to find his way back. Rather than becoming more lost he found a boulder to sit on and waited and listened, calling every few minutes. Quite a relief when he finally heard the searchers. Birding was excellent at times but there were long periods of inactivity and daily species lists were low (40 being my best). Highlights for me were Rufous-sided Broadbill (a male displaying above the trail for 30 minutes), Bare-cheeked Trogon, Blue-throated Roller and a superb White-spotted Flufftail I enticed into view by recording its song and playing it back, earlier attempts with a recording from the West African CD set having been of no interest - it sounded different even to me. I also saw White-thighed, Yellow-casqued and Black-casqued Hornbills, Red-billed Dwarf Hornbill, Palm-nut Vulture, Sabine’s Spinetail, Rufous Flycatcher-Thrush, Fraser’s Forest Flycatcher, Pale-breasted Illadopsis, Crested Malimbe and Chestnut-breasted and White-breasted Negrofinches. Some of the others saw a Chocolate-backed Kingfisher but sadly it eluded me.
the river at Korup
Rengo Rock
18 April. We were up before dawn hoping for an owl around the clearing but only heard a distant and unresponsive African Wood Owl. While it was still dark an amazingly loud call started nearby and the Rockjumper crew belted off towards it, having identified it as a Nkulengu Rail. It was still almost pitch black but they detected a slight movement low in a nearby tree and immediately spotlighted it. I’m not sure if I was more impressed with the bird of their skill in locating it, but they had more than repaid our giving up repeat picathartes views the previous evening. On the walk out we encountered a better ant-swarm seeing 8 Fire-crested and a Brown-chested Alethe, White-tailed Ant-Thrush and Lesser and Red-tailed Bristlebills but getting bitten a few times in the process. We also saw Western Nicator, 3 Forest Robins, Blackcap Illadopsis and Grey Longbill. At the river we saw 5 Rock Pratincoles, 100+ Grey Parrots, Giant Kingfisher, more hornbills, White-throated Blue Swallow and Black, Cassin’s and Sabine’s Spinetails. We were met at the river and taken back to the Iyaz Hotel in Mundemba seeing Blue Cuckoo-Shrike nearby.

19 April. Mainly a travel day, we were driven from Mundemba to Nyasoso where we were to stay for 5 nights in the Nyasoso Guesthouse. Birds seen on the journey and during several stops included Cassin’s Hawk Eagle, Great Blue Turaco, White-throated Bee-eater, Long-legged Pipit, Yellow-browed Camaroptera, Bate’s Paradise Flycatcher and, as we were driving up to Nyasoso with the light beginning to go, a Long-tailed Hawk flew across the road.

20 April. Our first day based at the Nyasoso guesthouse was mostly spent on Max’s Trail which ascended Mount Kupe quite steeply in places. It passed through some productive patches of forest and was an excellent introduction to the area's montane species. I saw 17 new species including a superb male Grey-headed Broadbill, female Bar-tailed Trogon, 3 Yellow-billed Turacos, 3 Black Bee-eaters, African Piculet, 3 Forest Swallows, 2 Bocage’s Akalats, White-tailed Warbler, Black-winged Oriole and 4 Little Olivebacks. Of Mount Kupe Bush-Shrike there was not a sniff but Bakossi, where we were going the next day, was a better site.
Max's Trail, Mt Kupe
21 April. To visit Bakossi one had to obtain permission from the village headman. This was arranged in advance but still involved some hanging around and then a moderately short ‘ritual’ where he was presented with a bottle of whiskey and some money. There might have been more to it than this but if so it passed me by. With permission duly obtained we walked across some fields and up onto a forested ridge. I saw 8 White-throated Mountain Babblers, White-bellied Robin-Chat, male Bar-tailed Trogon, 2 Black-capped Woodland Warblers and on the walk back a very nice male African Broadbill. Eleven new birds made it a good day but we had not found the hoped for Mount Kupe Bush-Shrike which we were told most previous groups visiting this year had seen.

22 April. We spent all morning on the nature trail at Mount Kupe although my thoughts kept wandering back to Bakossi. It was generally rather quiet with little seen that we had not already encountered during the trip, making me wish more that we had gone straight back there. At one stage I left the others to retrace my steps back to the road while they continued to meet the vehicle and then picked me up on the way back. I was pleased to wander back on my own, being in a straggling group of 8 wasn't entirely to my liking, although I didn’t see anything different and missed Tit-Hylia in the process. Later we visited the farm bush on the lower slopes of Mount Kupe. Although I saw more species than any other day of the trip (over 70) it was perhaps our most disappointing day. Other than 4 Black Bee-eaters, 2 Chestnut Wattle-eyes and a Red-necked Buzzard little was seen that was memorable.

23 April.  A return to Bakossi where we heard a Mount Kupe Bush-Shrike call once. We hurried to the area it had called from but heard nothing further and could not find it. Disappointing. We were told that Cameroon had been a very popular birding destination this year with over a dozen groups having been to Bakossi. We rather feared that the birds had become tape shy although maybe being a bit later in the season they had settled down and were not defending territories from intruders?. We had no better luck with Crossley’s Ground Thrush which we hoped might be singing, a possible contender flushed up from the path the closest I came. Despite this it was a good day with male Bar-tailed Trogon, Green-breasted Bush-Shrike, Black-shouldered Puffback, White-bellied Robin-Chat, White-throated Mountain-Babbler and Red-faced Crimsonwing although all were blown away by an absolutely superb male Yellow-bellied Wattle-eye. Nick had seen a couple and was raving about them but I had only had poor views until now and rather dismissed his enthusiasm. Seeing one really well I could fully understand how good it was, right up there with the broadbills vying for second place behind picathartes in the bird of the trip stakes

view from Bakossi
24 April.  A morning at farm bush before leaving Nyasoso to drive to Buea where we had spent our first night. We finally found a Bristle-nosed amongst the Naked-faced Barbets but neither species had much to recommend them. We also saw African Piculet, Yellow-billed Turaco, Yellow-throated Tinkerbird and Black-capped Apalis. We spent the evening discussing the best option to access Mount Cameroon the following day.

25 April.  We left our hotel before dawn, drove up Mount Cameroon as far as possible past the prison – it still looked a long way away to the tree-line - and started walking uphill as it was getting light. The trail was fairly easy to follow, just rather steep in places, and we made steady progress, stopping frequently to look at birds or take a rest. Mount Cameroon is over 13,000 feet high and reaching the summit is usually regarded as a three day round trip for most visitors. We only had a day on the mountain but only really needed to go as high as was necessary to find Mount Cameroon Speirops although in the event we made it to just above the tree line. It was a tiring day but generally enjoyable, especially coming down! We had to go almost to the tree-line for good views of the Speirops which were excellent (I saw 8). I also saw 4 Cameroon Olive Pigeons, 6 Mountain Saw-wings, 12 Mountain Robinchats, an Evergreen Forest Warbler, 8 African Hill Babblers (looking very much like an Asian equivalent), 10 bright Yellow-breasted Boubous, 10+ Little Olivebacks, 4 Oriole Finches and, when we were almost back at the vehicle, 2 Red-chested Flufftails calling from long damp grass that were eventually enticed into view.

lower slopes of Mt Cameroon

near the tree line
26 April.  Our final day and we left Douala early to drive east to the Sanaga River. Here we quickly found 30 brilliant Grey Pratincoles, our main target. Nine Hartlaub’s Duck on roadside pools were better than expected and we also saw African Finfoot, White-fronted Plover, 2 White-crowned Lapwings, 10 African Skimmers, 30 White-throated Bee-eaters, Giant Kingfisher, 10 Piping Hornbills, 1000 Preuss’s Cliff Swallows, Red-headed Quelea and Slender-billed and Orange Weavers. It soon started to heat up making it easier to drag ourselves away to returned to the airport and fly home. I had seen the birds I had most wanted to - Red-headed Picathartes, two new Broadbills and two new Trogons - making it a successful trip but it had been hard work and, with the exception of Bakossi and Mount Cameroon, bird densities had been low. The travel arrangements made by Wildwings worked well and the company, and in particular Nick, Barry and Ian, was great.

[blogged September 2016]

Sunday, 26 January 2003

JAPAN 2003: Kyushu (21-26 January)

This is the third and final post covering a winter trip to Japan with John Cooper, John King and Dave Sargeant. We had started in Hokkaido, visited Okinawa and Amami-Oshima and were now flying to Kagoshima in southern Kyushu.

Tuesday 21 January (continued). We arrived in Kagoshima early afternoon and went to pick up our rental car. Here we encountered problems. Sarus had pre-paid Hertz for us before we left and had been assured that there would not be a drop-off charge for taking the car to Osaka (unlike Avis who we had originally been going to use). Our pre-payment was not recognised and they were insistent that there was a hefty drop-off charge. An hour of arguing and phone calls to Head Office in Tokyo failed to resolve the situation and with daylight ticking away we really had no option but to pay the rental locally and take it up when we returned home. After almost six months we recovered most of the money paid but were left very unimpressed with Hertz. If we had known at the outset there would be a drop-of charge we would either have booked with Avis, with whom we had no issues at all, or flown back to Osaka from Kagoshima. Once we had the car we drove for an hour or so to Mi-ike where we spent the rest of the day birding the grassy edges of the lake and a few of the tracks and forest trails. We soon found some superb Yellow-throated Buntings, I saw 12 including 4 males living up to their alternate name of Elegant Bunting. There were about 500 duck on the lake but mostly Spot-billed, Mallard, Wigeon and Pintail. The woods were quiet with a Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, 2 Varied Tits and in the more open areas 4 Daurian Redstarts, 7 Red-flanked Bluetails and 12 Pale Thrushes. At dusk we drove to the Kirishima Castle Hotel where a full-blown Japanese meal was served in one of our rooms. It was quite an experience but not an entirely un-agreeable one.
southern Kyushu
over Kagoshima

the room I shared with JK at the Kirishima Castle Hotel
the evening meal, there were even a few dishes I could manage
an inscrutable JFC, me and DES (photo JK)
a sprightly JK, me and DES (photo JFC)
Wednesday 22 January. We returned to Mi-ike where it was cold and dull. A thorough scan of the lake revealed 5 Baikal Teal including 3 males. We then walked around the lake, a 3 km circuit that was a bit of a scramble in places, seeing 18 Japanese Grosbeaks and somewhat unexpectedly finding a Japanese Accentor although there are winter records for Kyushu. We tried various forest trails hoping to find Copper Pheasant without success and signs showing Fairy Pitta, a scarce summer visitor, were very gripping. The forest was as dead as it had been the previous afternoon although during the course of the day I saw Wryneck, 2 Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers, Ryukyu Minivet, 6 Red-flanked Bluetails, 11 Daurian Redstarts, a Dusky and 20 pale Thrushes, 6 Varied Tits, Hawfinch and 20 Yellow-throated, 42 Black-faced and 5 Meadow Buntings. We couldn’t find grey Bunting and only DS saw White-backed Woodpecker (looking more like they do in Europe). We drove to Izumi making one or two speculative and unproductive roadside stops on the way before arriving at the Izumi Wing Hotel in darkness. We checked in and found some food in a nearby 7/11.

drake Baikal Teal (photo JFC)

male Daurian Redstart (photo JFC)
Thursday 23 January. We were up at first light, de-iced the car and drove to the crane sanctuary at Arasaki. It had not opened but we were able to access the roof and find limited shelter from the icy wind to scope the thousands of cranes in the fields beyond. As soon as it opened we went down to find out whether there were any stragglers amongst thousands of Hooded and White-naped Cranes. A sightings board appeared to indicate another three species of crane were present but as it was all in kanji we were left wondering which. There were 2-3 individuals of two, presumably Common and Sandhill, and a single other, presumably Siberian or Demoiselle. We had hoped for both. I had seen Siberian at Bharatpur more than 20 years earlier but not Demoiselle. JFC had seen Demoiselle in Israel but missed Siberian by less than a day at Bharatpur and it was his bad luck that continued – the wintering bird of previous years had not returned. Fortunately for me we soon found the Demoiselle Crane and then spent most of the morning watching the thousands of cranes. According to the board there were 7307 Hooded and 3134 White-naped and as well as the Demoiselle we saw a Sandhill, 2 or 3 Common and a Common x Hooded hybrid. Seeing and hearing 10,000+ cranes was truly amazing. We bumped into Barry Reed at the crane centre, he was with a rather chaotic Focus on Nature trip and had seen a wintering Scaly-sided Merganser on a dam in Honshu. Very gripping but unfortunately it was nowhere near anywhere we would be going. We left the crane sanctuary to bird more generally around Arasaki seeing 3 Black-faced Spoonbills (no possible doubt with these) by the seawall, the Sat-Nav showing us to actually be in the sea at this point. Two Long-billed Plovers and a Crested Kingfisher were along a gravel banked river and Buff-bellied Pipits, Japanese Sky Larks and Daurian Jackdaws in fields although all five of the latter were dark morph birds and so a bit of a disappointment. We flushed a male Green Pheasant from the edge of a ditch and had a brief view of a Water Rail but failed to find Chinese Penduline Tit, not helped by the strong winds. We also saw a superb fly-past White’s and 50 Dusky Thrushes. We encountered a young Japanese birder who spoke some English and gave us directions to a small flock of Japanese Waxwings he had seen the previous day a couple of hours drive to the north. We also met Arman Hill, of Focus on Nature Tours, and swapped Black–faced Spoonbill and Chinese Penduline Tit sightings. We returned to the hotel after dark before trying a noodle shop we had seen the previous evening.
thousands of cranes at Arasaki from the observation tower
grain is put out each morning creating quite a scrum

the larger paler more elegant cranes are White-naped, the smaller darker ones Hooded

lots of Pintail and Wigeon were taking advantage of the grain too

views from inside the centre rather than on the roof were more at eye-level

Hooded Cranes

White-naped Cranes

Demoiselle with mainly Hooded Cranes, the pale back and black neck made it stand out well (just below centre)
a much better image of the Demoiselle Crane showing what an elegant bird it is (photo JFC)
Friday 24 January. We left the hotel soon after first light to try for Chinese Penduline Tit at Arman Hill’s site. The wind had dropped marginally and we found a flock of about 10 feeding unobtrusively in the reedbed. With an early success we drove to the Yatsushiro estuary to look for Saunder’s Gull but the tide was high, no mud exposed and no gulls in sight. We continued on to look for Japanese Waxwings. We found several berry bushes in the area we had been told of but they were all full of squabbling Brown-eared Bulbuls and after a couple of hours of searching without success for the waxwings we gave up. We wondered if the bulbuls might have chased them off. Not seeing them was the biggest disappointment of the trip, particularly as our hopes had been raised. We returned to Yatsushiro where the tide was just dropping and soon found 7 Saunder’s Gulls although all appeared to be second-winters. DES found an adult Great Black-headed Gull and, based on his experience in the Middle East, a potential adult tamyrinsis Heuglin’s Gull. During the day we saw 3 Daurian Jackdaws including a pale morph bird, several large flocks of Brambling totalling over 1500, 2000+ Hooded and 500+ White-naped Cranes, 6 Daurian Redstarts, 60 Dusky and 12 Pale Thrushes and 25 Black-faced, 6 Meadow and 6 Chestnut-eared Buntings. Of Rustic Bunting, which used to be a common winter visitor, there was sadly no sign at all. We returned to the hotel and again visited the noodle shop.
houses in Kyushu
manicured trees were very popular

Saturday 25 January. Our final full day during which we had to drive 800 km to Osaka in southern Honshu. We thought it would take 10-12 hours but were keen to fit in some birding on the way. The Scaly-sided Merganser Barry reed had seen was too far north but a detour to Kadogawa to look for Japanese Murrelet seemed feasible. We left Izumi at 06:00 and arrived at 10:30 having seen a Brown Dipper on the way. We had some difficulty interpreting the sketch map we had from a trip report but after a couple of false starts found our way onto a headland north of the harbour. Here we quickly found two Japanese Murrelets feeding out in the bay. Initially they were rather distant but fortunately it was sheltered and the sea calm. Over the next couple of hours we had better views, eventually seeing seven. Leaving Kadogawa early in the afternoon we saw a small group of Red-billed Leiothrixes by the road. They were listed in the Birds of Japan as an escape but the number and location, a patch of woodland seemingly remote from the nearest town, might suggest a newly established feral population? The long drive back to Osaka was pretty awful and more than ever we wished we’d decided to fly. It was particularly slow along the Kyushu coast and although the roads did improve when we crossed over to Honshu it was still a long way.  

Sunday 26 January. We finally made it back to Osaka by 01:00. DES had booked the night in the Kansai Airport Hotel although the rest of us had decided to wait and see as we were not sure when we would arrive. In the event the Sussex contingent opted to sleep in the car for what remained of the night but we were decidedly worried when DS came out in the morning to tell us the cost of the car park was more expensive than the room rate! Fortunately his resident’s swipe card let us out and we returned the car to what we thought was the airport rental office. It wasn’t but directions were soon programmed into the Sat-Nav to take us there. Having to pay for the airport bus from the car rental office was a final insult. Final morning birds were Blue Rock Thrush and White-cheeked Starling while JK also saw a Varied Tit.  

It had been a very enjoyable trip to somewhere I had long wanted to visit and John Cooper, John King and Dave Sargeant were excellent travelling companions. Having flu or something similarly nasty on Hokkaido somewhat marred the early part of the trip for me, JK putting up with sharing a room with someone coughing half the night without protest. JFC did some epic driving and DES controlled the Sat-Nav admirably. We saw nearly all of the birds we’d particularly hoped to, the main exception being Japanese Waxwing which was always going to be a bit of a long shot, while the views had by the three of us fortunate enough to see Blakiston’s Fish Owl were decidedly poor. The arrangements made by Sarus worked out very well allowing us to maximize our time although with the benefit of hindsight we would have flown back to Osaka saving a very long and tedious drive and the hassle we had with the final car hire. 

Tuesday, 21 January 2003

JAPAN 2003: Okinawa and Amami (17-21 January)

This is the second of two posts covering a two week winter trip to Japan with John Cooper, John King and Dave Sargeant. We had arrive din Japan, caught an overnight ferry to Hokkaido and were now flying south to Okinawa ...

Friday 17 January (continued). We landed at Naha, Okinawa after a three hours flight from Chitose. About 2250 km from almost the north of Japan to a few islands short of the south. We made straight for Avis where it took a while to find a car with working GPS that also accommodated our bags. We headed through town to the expressway passing an estuary with a few waders and what appeared to be a Black-faced Spoonbill. An optimistic call perhaps and frustratingly there was nowhere to stop to be sure. We headed north for 2.5 hours arriving at Fungawa Dam just before dusk. On the journey we saw several Grey-faced Buzzards and Ospreys, 8 Pale Thrushes and a male Daurian Redstart. Neither the hoped for Okinawa Rail nor any owls were calling around the dam and soon after dark we headed back to the west coast to find the Okuma Resort Hotel where we were staying. It looked rather posh although we never saw it in daylight and so was unnecessarily so although it was well located for the area we wanted to go birding. We ate in the hotel at the ‘western’/Chinese buffet. It wasn’t overly special but I managed to find something.

Saturday 18 January. We were up early and were back at the Fungawa Dam at 06:00. We heard an Okinawa Rail call nearby seemingly from a moderately isolated tree beside the road but it did not call again and we were unable to locate it with spotlights. Very frustrating. At first light (07:00) we started down the ‘US Marine track’ at km 8.6. At dawn a woodcock flew over, presumably Eurasian but Amami was a possibility. I then saw a smallish owl which briefly landed in a tree appearing short-tailed. I assumed it was a Scops but I’m not sure it was that small? Much more satisfactory were Ryukyu Robins and we saw several hopping around the edges of the track. They were one of my main targets for the trip and absolutely superb. We spent three hours on the US Marine track hoping an Okinawa Rail would cross our path but one didn’t. We had no luck with Okinawa Woodpecker either and decided to return to the Fungawa Dam but the area was now disturbed by noisy construction work. We tried another track at km 7.6 (the ‘woodpecker road’) which went through decent looking forest for about 1km before entering a more open area where we turned around. It was very quiet and we were almost back at the car when we saw a pair of Okinawa Woodpeckers in nearby trees although they were not easy to see well. We revisited the US Marine track as it had looked promising for the rail. We spent the rest of the day there, walking quietly and sitting watching sections of the track but all to no avail. We were out until well after dark but nothing was calling and we reluctantly returned to our hotel and another buffet. It had been a good day despite no rail. I had seen Japanese Sparrowhawk, 2 Japanese Wood Pigeons, 3 Ryukyu Green Pigeons, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, 2 Ryukyu Minivets, 8 superb Ryukyu Robins, 4 Red-flanked Bluetails, 4 Japanese Bush Warblers and 10 Varied Tits and was definitely starting to feel better.

female Ryukyu Robin (JFC's digitised slide)
Varied Tit (JFC's digitised slide)
Sunday 19 January. We left the Okuma Resort Hotel at around 05:00 and were back in Naha by 07:00. We spent a couple of hours looking for Saunder’s Gull and Black-faced Spoonbill on the local estuary but without success. A local birder told that both were in the area but couldn’t suggest where might be best to look. We suspected that the tide was wrong and the best we managed were 8 Long-toed Stints, a Grey-tailed Tatler, 5 Avocets, 2 Band-tailed Gulls and 2 Blue Rock Thrushes. We returned to the airport, dropped off the car and caught the 11:30 flight to Amami-oshima.  We arrived on time and were met by the owner of the Caretta House Hotel where we would be staying. They also arranged our car which unfortunately had no Sat-Nav although we were provided with a map, in Japanese. The Amami Natural Forest, on a range of hills near to where we were staying, was recommended to us as a good place to find birds and we headed straight there, seeing 3 Lidth’s Jays from the approach road. A good recommendation which became even better when walking the trails around the centre produced the distinctive endemic races of White-backed Woodpecker and Ryukyu Robin and a superb Asian Stubtail. Despite cold and windy weather we also saw Japanese Wood Pigeon, Ryukyu Green Pigeon, 30 Pale and 3 Dusky Thrushes, 2 Daurian Redstarts, 2 Varied Tits and 3 Black-faced Buntings. We returned to the hotel by 18:00 where we were ‘treated’ to a cook-your-own meal consisting of a pile of raw stuff and a hot-plate. None of us were overly impressed although we felt the hotel had been well meaning. It was just a clash of cultures beyond me and I ate a few raw vegetables. After our meal we returned to the Amami Natural Forest and tried for owls but heard nothing. Perhaps it was not surprising as the weather had not improved.

looking down from the Amami Natural Forest

Ryukyu Robin information board. fortunately we had seen one as it was one of my main targets for the trip
Monday 20 January. We left the hotel at 05:30 to drive to the Supa-rindo track and the Kinsakabaru Virgin Forest, the main birding site on Amami. A combination of the directions in Mark Brazil’s bird finding guide and signs to the virgin forest got us there although at times we started to wonder if we were going the right way. The site guide wasn’t very specific about distances and we were surprised that the journey took an hour and a half and we arrived just as it was getting light. We had seen or heard no owls, or anything. Not even an Amami Black Rabbit. Soon after dawn a woodcock flew over but I missed it. We spent all day walking, sometimes splitting into pairs to cover more ground, and driving forested tracks but it was very quiet despite the forest looking superb. We saw nothing we hadn’t already encountered on the trip and I recorded just 17 species. Not a great return for 14 hours birding. I saw 4 Grey-facedd Buzzards, Ryukyu Green Pigeon, 2 Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers, 2 Ryukyu Minivets, 4 Red-flanked Bluetails, 110 Pale Thrushes, 2 Asian Stubtails, 8 Japanese Bush Warbler, Yellow-browed Warbler, 6 Varied Tits and Black-faced Bunting and heard a Lidth’s Jay. We were hoping to find the endemic Amami Thrush, although if we had it might have been difficult to identify and eliminate a wintering White’s. Disappointed, the day was probably the low point of the trip, we returned to the Caretta House by 20:00 and had a better more western style meal.

Kinsakabaru Virgin Forest
Lidth's Jay, we only heard one in the Kinsakabaru Virgin Forest
Tuesday 21 January. Our final morning on Amami and we decided after the disappointment of the Kinsakabaru Virgin Forest to return to the Amami Native Forest at first light. It was much closer to where we were staying and also nearer to the airport from where we would depart at noon. We had excellent views of 3 Ryukyu Robins and 4 Lidth’s Jay and also saw Japanese Sparrowhawk, 5 Japanese Wood Pigeons, Ryukyu Green Pigeon, owstoni White-backed Woodpecker, 5 Dusky and 25 Pale Thrushes and 2 Red-flanked Bluetails. The robins, two males and a female, were feeding in a ditch at the edge of the car park. We left at 09:00 and stopped briefly at a pond at the bottom of the hill where we saw a flock of about 35 Bramblings. We found a Richard’;s Pipit on the coast and a Brown Booby offshore, our first trip birds for a couple of days. We dropped off the car at the airport and caught the 12:00 flight to Kagoshima on Kyushu. It was on time.

male Ryukyu Robin (JFC's digitised slide)
a very bright Dusky Thrush on Amami (JFC's digitised slide)