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Kyushu Gulling and Sailing: Part IV of our Winter Trip to Japan, January 2024


Kyushu had never really been in my consciousness - not as a birder, not as a modest student of Japanese culture, not as a traveler. Prior to this trip, I likely could not have named one city on the island with confidence. I thus had no idea what to expect. Our guide Phil was not encouraging at first, painting a picture of a lot of gray skies, rain, and wind. Fortunately those negatives did not predominate; Phil and Jun agreed that this was one of the most pleasant Kyushu visits they had ever had, weather-wise. For me, personally, I fell in love with this smaller island and its many habitats. It has everything - shorebirds, gulls, pelagics, the magic crane fields, forests, lakes - and mild temperatures. I will want to return.


There is a more sombre side to this desire. Kyushu is the island that has Nagasaki on it, and Hiroshima is nearby in southern Honshu. Something about being this close to the actual location where people were attacked with the worst weapon ever created, where people were incinerated, or died horribly of radiation sickness later, where entire cities were wiped out - and by the government of the nation of which I am a citizen - it just put my mind into a reflective cast. Because of my habit of watching our arrival on the airplane in-seat map, I got to see this writ large (Nagasaki is roughly above the "e" in "Fukue" on this map. Looking at the present-day density of population on the island - visible on landing in Fukuoka - the idea of visiting such mass devastation hit me quite hard.


On approach to Fukuoka.

Fukuoka won the three-letter code contest, I guess!

The Fukuoka airport is right in town, so on landing I was able to get cityscapes equivalent to a San Diego landing!


The birding recommenced as soon as we got the new van, and headed south, towards a world-class shorebird spot. But first, we pulled into the Kinryu Westbound rest stop for lunch. Here my eyes were drawn to the open green space around here - and the surfeit of lichens on trees and rocks. So I picked up something quick and easy to eat, and headed back outside. There was a pond, too, with a good number of standard ducks. The lichens were fabulous.


Now this is a proper rest stop! Cladonia sp. (Pixie Cup lichen) Eurasian Green-winged Teal


Now we were enroute to Higatayoka Park, a wonderland of birds with one avian superstar - the rare Saunder's Gull. We likely saw a considerable percentage of the world's population of this sweet gull here. The area had been set up for perfect shorebird viewing conditions - there was a tower, and, closer to the mudflats, a raised viewing area that functioned similar to a bird blind.


Top row - Saunder's Gull, Saunder's Gull in flight, Eurasian Curlew

Middle row - Eurasian Spoonbill, cartoon with eager words from a Spoonbill, Common Shelduck with Dunlin

Bottom row - Eurasian Spoonbill, Jun, the Higatayoka Park Tower


On January 19, we were headed to Kadogawa and the first of our mini-pelagics. We began the morning walking a fine road along the Tomi Peninsula - but alas, passerines did not cooperate. But perhaps there was a reason why the passerines did not cooperate - our final bird on this road was a lightening fast streak of an accipiter, the Japanese Sparrowhawk!


the views from this peninsula were a foretaste of our pelagic in the harbor!





(above) an impressive Leaf-miner on a large leaf.






The pelagic embarkation point was close by, and we were off for another rarity highlight - the Japanese Murrelet. It was still early in the season for them, but the boat crew had knowledge of three of them being in the area. We circled around Kadogawa Harbor for awhile, before getting distant and then closer and closer looks. What a sweet bird! It is compared to Ancient Murrelet, but I think it is much more distinctively designed than that bird. The fish were jumping, too!


Top row - our happy group; jumping fish; Japanese Murrelet couple

Middle row - Osprey, Peggy and Donna onboard,Japanese Murrelet

Bottom row - Slaty-backed Gull, our vessel, dedicated Peggy watching the birds


The boat crew and company were so happy to have us. They gave us a welcoming bag that included a small pamphlet about the Murrelet and other mementos. It was a heart-warming - and successful - morning.


The afternoon was less eventful, with some weather-related issues and a long drive to reach the next site - Arisaka. We did add Russet Sparrow (another cousin to House Sparrow and Eurasian Tree Sparrow), but you can perceive the light conditions from the quality of my photo. It was time to relax, slowly, at the Hotel Wing!






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