Interesting seabird records from a visit to Japan (February 2009)

I have just returned from a birding trip to Japan, and this note records some of the more interesting seabirds.

In Kyushu, the southernmost of the large islands, seawatching at Michi-No-Eki, close to Akune, produced four species of gull but these were eclipsed by a couple of Streaked Shearwaters and then, best of all, the first of some ten Japanese Murrelets (which all seemed to be in pairs). A few were seen on the sea but most of these tiny flying golf-balls went hurtling by. The scientific name S. wumizusume is Japanese for ‘ocean sparrow’, most appropriate.

At the Kumagawa River mouth, a drive of a couple of hours north along the coast from Izumi we had at least ten Saunders’s Gulls, in various plumages ranging from adult winter, first winter and some showing varying amounts of black on the heads (coming into summer breeding plumage). It is important to be at this site as the tide turns, from high tide on its way out, as this species is a specialist feeder, looking for crabs on the exposed mud. These dainty gulls are a cracking bird, and one of limited range, only a few winter in Japan. Another gull, L. tamyrensis, was here also (now part of Heuglin’s?)


                         Saunders's Gull

At the northern-most island of Hokkaido we tried seawatching along the eastern coast at Odeito. Glaucous-winged and Glaucous Gulls together, plus many seaduck species. At a stop along the Notsuke Peninsular we found ten Spectacled Guillemots close together, both Black and Stejneger's Scoters plus Pelagic Cormorants.

Close to Rausu on the Shiretoko Peninsular, northeast Hokkaido, we checked a number of small harbours for gulls and ducks, seeing Glaucous-winged amongst the numerous Glaucous, Kamchatka Gull, and that lovely duck, the Harlequin, which was common here, often in small flocks. Close to our lodge we took a short walk along the coastline where Red-necked Grebe, Common Guillemot, both Black-throated and Pacific Divers were close inshore and a lone Ancient Murrelet.

At another part of the coastline the sea held more Spectacled Guillemots and occasionally the heads of Largha Seals popped up above the surface.

We took a fast boat from Rausu to the pack ice to the north, mainly to see the Steller’s and White-tailed Eagles that gather here. A few birds were seen, even with the boat at speed, including some Brunnich's Guillemots and a couple more Ancient Murrelets but no sign of any auklets. Blows from two whales off to starboard had the boat detouring; these were Baird’s Beaked Whales. A further group, some six animals logging, were most probably this species also. 

Possibly the highlight of this trip was to be at a harbour near Rausu, ten o’clock at night with the temperature about -9°C, to see two enormous Blakiston’s Fish-Owls sitting on an icicle-covered boat, staring at the water for fish movement – can we now call these seabirds then??


Steller's Sea-Eagle                           Adult White-tailed Eagle