Summer Neighborhood Nature Observations

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Yesterday, Nadia and I came across this large Japanese Rat Snake (Elaphe climacophoraon our morning run in Kita Senri park. The more than 1 meter-long snake was slithering across the pavement on the big hill. As soon as I stopped and took out my iPhone, it stopped, turned towards me momentarily and quickly retreated back into the grass whence it came. It was our first time seeing a snake in the park. The Rat Snake is not poisonous and preys upon rodents, frogs, lizards, etc. It is a good climber and so sometimes gets into nests of birds. It kills its victims through strangulation.

cicada sound

The soundtrack for the Japanese summer is provided by cicadas. It is amazing how loud and ubiquitous they can be. The sounds get louder under trees or in green areas. I took this video from a tree on our street.

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My daughter Ocean found this Indian Fritillary (Argyreus hyperbius) catepillar in our garden. They are quite common in Japan and can be seen during the spring, summer and fall.

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Birding in the Minoh Quasi National Park

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I got a better photo of the elusive Narcissus Flycatcher on my bike ride yesterday. Taking Robert Frost’s advice and riding the path less traveled, I spotted this male flycatcher in the underbrush on a narrow road between villages on the steep slopes of the Minoh Quasi National Park. It appears to be coming into its full breeding plumage and the distinctive brilliant orange throat patch. Both times I’ve encountered this species, it has been in thick forest.

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Japanese Grey Thrush

I could not get a clear photo of this Japanese Grey Thrush (Turdus cardis). Part of the problem was my glasses were fogged and I was on my bicycle. This was the first time seeing this species, so I included the photo here. It has an interesting distribution, summer breeding in Japan and central China. I wonder why it is not found in Korea, Taiwan or other areas similar to Japan?

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I hope to get out quite a bit more this summer and share my nature observations.

Nature Observations from Naoshima

I recently spent three days on the island of Naoshima, one of the thousands of islands in the Seto Inland Sea. Naoshima is only 3 miles square (14 kilometers square) and a 20-minute ferry ride from the mainland city of Tamano. I was not impressed with the variety of birds, most of the same birds I see in my neighborhood. We did find many beautiful insects however and they are featured in this blog post.

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Japanese Luna Moth at the Benesse House Museum 

My daughter spotted this Actias artemis (luna moth) on one of the pieces of modern art in the Benesse House Museum. Actias genus moths are known luna moths and this species which is found in Japan, Korea and China is very similar to the North American Luna Moth. As you can see in the photo, they are named “luna” or moon moths because of the moon-like shapes on the wings. To me it looks like an elephant with the long tail acting as the trunk. In the adult stage, they only live a few days/weeks. With the damaged wing, it looks to be on its way to dying.

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I finally captured a photo of the Pied Skimmer (Pseudothemis zonata). I see them all the time around ponds throughout the city in the summer. They are found all over Asia,

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On a walking trail on an undeveloped part of the island, there were hundreds of spiderwebs I kept walking through. I stopeed to take this photo of the Cucumber Green Spider (Araniella cucurbitina). 

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On Gotanji swimming beach there were many moon jellyfish (Araniella cucurbitina) washed up on the beach. In the harbor I noticed thousands of them as our ferry was leaving for the mainland. The four circles are gonads. It is difficult to identify the different species of Araniella and we’ve seen them on Awaji Island.

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Sea Roach (Ligia exotica)

On the rocks near the sea I saw hundreds of these “cockroach-like invertebrates. They turned out to be sea roaches, an isopod that is common around wharfs and rocks near the ocean around the world.

Of course I couldn’t let a nature blog post go by without a bird photo. This Japanese White-eye surprised me on the trail and posed momentarily for this photo. It is native to Japan and was a common cage bird species here.

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Minoh Japan Nature

I have my camera working and with summer almost here, more time to get out into nature and appreciate the flora and fauna of Japan! I took a few photos on my bike ride on Saturday up into the forested hills of the Minoh Quasi-National Park.

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I love mushrooms and while stalking the melodious call of an unknown bird, I stumbled upon this bright orange specimen. It looks like a member of Laetiporous genus, the famous “chicken-of-the-woods” in North America. Laetiporous are non-gilled and as this specimen was found, grow in rotting wood. The bright orange threw me off because it is usually associated with something poisonous or bad-tasting as a warning to predators. I am not sure if this is correctly identified, but if I see it again I’ll take home some samples and try to identify it closer. They are known as “chicken-of-the-woods” because they are supposed to taste like chicken.

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View of the hills from a trail leading up the mountain

For the first time in a while, I saw many deer in the park. I rode up a little-used trail and they were making noise in the brush often. I spotted three sika deer (Cervus nippon)  crossing a trail below me from a lookout point. In much of their range in Asia they have been hunted to extinction, but they are thriving and are actually a nuisance in Japan because of overabundance. Deer survive in civilized places because citizens leave them alone and preserve habitat for them. They bring memories of my childhood in Michigan.

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Sika Deer are one of the few species that maintain their spots into adulthood.

On my way back home, I rode through the rice paddies that dot my town of Minoh. A Grey-headed Lapwing (Vanellus cinereus) was loudly screeching and flying in circles over me. Lapwings are loud, but this one was probably protecting a nest somewhere near.

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Grey-headed lapwing

Finally, I took a short video of two Eastern Spot-billed Ducks (Anas zonorhynchafeeding in the same rice paddy. They are members of a sub-family called “dabbling ducks”. Dabbling ducks feed on vegetable matter on the surface or flipping over from the surface. The rice fields hold a surprising amount of wildlife. I guess where there is water, there is life. In the video below, you can hear the lapwing in the background.

Spot-billed ducks feeding in rice field

 

 

Firefly Moth – Spring Is Ending!

After a long, cold winter I am enjoying the hints of heat and humidity that come with a Japanese summer. I would rather be uncomfortably hot than uncomfortably cold. Sweating is a nuisance, but the cold weather is painful at times.

I took a break from my nature website this school year. My camera broke and it was a busy year. Recently I repaired the camera and am back to noticing the natural world around me. Today I saw this beautiful firefly moth (Pidorus atratus) at school. It was fluttering around the bicycles outside of the cafeteria. It is often seen in the daytime and gets its name from the small bright red head with black body, which to some people, resembles a firefly.

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A firefly moth against the wall of the school. 

 

Last month I spotted this (Neptis pryeri) on the way to school. We have a tranquil walking path between houses in our neighborhood and residents have planted flower gardens along both sides. It is a rich environment for nectar, hence, lots of butterflies.

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Neptis pryeri (Sailor Butterfly) 

Common Hedge Blue – A sign of global warming?

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On my bike ride in the Meiji no Mori Minoh Quasi-National Park, the forested hills overlooking our town earlier this week, I stopped to take some photographs of the newly planted rice seedlings in a paddy. While I was jumping across an irrigation canal to get to the edge of the paddy, I spotted a bright blue butterfly. I managed to take a photo of the Common Hedge Blue (Celastrina puspa). They are commonly found in tropical countries and with global warming, they are expanding their distribution northwards. The excerpt below comes from The Asahi Shimbun Until the late 1950s, they were only found in the southern Japan, near Kagoshima, the southern part of the island of Kyushu. They lay eggs on azaleas, a common hedge and garden flower, and have moved north as more are planted. I hope to get a photo of the bright blue top side sometime.

In some instances, humans have a hand in directly transporting creatures northward from their original habitats.

In July 2008, Masaya Yago, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Tokyo’s University Museum, attempted to capture insects with a net by a pond on the university’s Hongo campus in central Tokyo.

He ended up with a common hedge blue, a butterfly that is normally found much farther south. It turned out to be the first confirmed recording of that insect in the Kanto region. The butterfly takes its Japanese name, Yakushima Rurishijimi, after a World Heritage island in southwestern Japan.

The common hedge blue could only be found in areas from Kagoshima Prefecture and further south or the southern tip of the Kii Peninsula until 1958. But it gradually began to expand its horizons northward.

Once the insect reached Suzuka, Mie Prefecture, famed as a production center for azalea bushes, the larva and butterfly eggs attached to the azalea likely reached the University of Tokyo campus as the plants were transported for sale throughout Japan.

While no confirmation has yet been made of the common hedge blue setting up permanent residence in the Tokyo area, the possibility cannot be discounted as global warming takes hold.

The situation is more dire for wildlife that normally thrives in colder climates.

With average temperatures on the rise, a move north or to the mountains is the only way for many species to survive. But because Japan is an island nation, there are limits to northerly travel.

According to one estimate, at least 22 species of butterfly, or 10 percent of the total in Japan, could become extinct over the next century.

Spring Flowers in Osaka

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Ground Orchids in my garden

Late April/early May is one of my favorite times in Japan. The weather is absolutely perfect for this brief time. Besides the sunny blue skies and cool breezes, flowers are in bloom all over the city. In my garden hedge around my home, Ground Orchids (Bletilla striata) have come out again during Golden Week. They are an unusual orchid in that they are terrestrial and are hardy. They are also known as the Chinese or Hyacinth Orchid. They are rare in the wild, although they are native to Japan, Korea and China.

 

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Royal Azalea on the edge of the bamboo forest trail behind the school

The Royal Azaleas (Rhododendron schlippenbachii) in bloom in the forested hills of Minoh, like the one above. In Japanese they are known as Tsutsuji. The cultivated version of azaleas forms many of the hedges in parks and along roadways in Osaka.

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