Birding in the Minoh Quasi National Park


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.


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?


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.


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.


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,


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). 


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.


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.


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.



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.


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.


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.


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



Birding in the DC Suburbs

35964256756_c2ae7ed02d_cThe Northern Cardinal (Cardinalis cardinalisis one of my favorite birds. We were fortunate to have a pair nesting in the yard of our friend’s house we were staying with in Kings Park, Virginia, one of the suburbs of the Washington DC metropolitan area. Being a good father, the male was often around the nest and I photographed this proud dad in the morning. It is the state bird for seven states and two American sports teams. The striking red color gets everyone excited about birding, including my family. The females are not as colorful but have the nice crest and red accents. They range from southern Ontario to Mexico and from Texas, east, only absent from the Rockies and Pacific Northwest.


The American Goldfinch (Spinus tristis) is also a striking bird. This male was feeding on a thistle-like bush in my friend’s garden, near the nesting cardinals. The Goldfinch is found in every US state and the southern Canadian provinces. It is the state bird of three states and with the male’s bright yellow spring plumage, I can see why. They are the strictest vegetarian bird in the world, exclusively relying on seeds and fruits for its diet. Like the Northern Cardinal, they are a common backyard bird.

The Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation does a good job of preserving ribbons of land on sides of creeks and rivers. There was a long trail of woods following a creak in the neighborhood. On my morning bike ride following my wife running, we spotted a fox, which you can see through the bushes, although my camera focused on the leaves in front of it. The fox spotted us coming at it while on the trail and after stopping for a short time to check us out, deftly it went into the bush and crossed the creek to evade us. Our friend warned us to not leave the gate open in order to protect her chickens…  This Washington Post article confirms their presence in DC.



Can you spot the fox behind the bush? 


On my next trip to the Washington, I hope to explore a bit of the Chesapeake Bay and some of the coastal environment.

Appalachian Nature



An American White Water Lily in the rain. 


During breaks in my studies, I explored the state parks of the Poconos. The Poconos are one of the distinct geographical and cultural regions in the huge Appalachian mountain chain. The Poconos are located just north of the Lehigh Valley, where I am studying. The Appalachians were once as high as the Rockies, but being much older, they have eroded through time. They are still beautiful and formed quite a barrier for early American settlers to cross into the rest of the country. The Poconos are full of resorts and it is a popular tourist destination because of its proximity to the big population centers in New York and New Jersey. I am staying in the highest borough in Pennsylvania, Freeland, and although being close to Bethlehem, it has a very different feel.



An Eastern Phoebe (Sayornis phoebe) waits for us to leave Lake Francis parking lot. 


On a rainy Friday morning, I took the kids on a hike in the Nescopeck State Park. The state started buying properties in 1971 and today it is a nice little natural area, which in time will become even wilder. Without the state preserving land, the entire region would be private homes, as people have the desire to live in the country, surrounded by trees in 1-acre plots. In my opinion, I think people should live in towns, near one another so more land can be conserved as forest.


Wild Turkeys have been reintroduced to the park. 

No blog post on the northern Appalachian region would be complete without a photo of the Rosebay Rhododendron (Rhododendron maximum). It is the dominant plant of the central Appalachians. It forms a dense understory, inhibiting other plants from growing. Rosebay maintains its foliage year-round. It is a fascinating subject of study because scientists are unsure if it is retreating or spreading due to human interference. Due to less precipitation, it is dying out in elevated areas, but due to the lack of indigenous burning, it seems to be spreading into areas that it never colonized. When there is a lack of large trees, it forms a thick mass, and early settlers called them “Laurel Hells” or “Laurel Slicks” because it was so hard to go through. They are also known as the mountain laurel, but this is also the name of a similar species.


We also spotted lots of Red-spotted Newts (Notophthalmus viridescens) on the trails. Only adults were found on this trip. A couple of years ago we found the “red eft” juvenile stage specimens as well.


Getting to know the Appalachian region is stimulating in my a desire to hike the famous Appalachian trail someday…

Eastern Towhee


In a jet-lagged stupor after a 16-hour flight, I went for a walk on some ATV trails near the town of Freeland, Pennsylvania this morning. This large sparrow, an Eastern Towhee (Pipilo erythrophthalmus), caught my attention. It took me awhile, but I managed to get a couple of photos through the bushes. The Towhee was in its preferred habitat, a disturbed, successional growth area. They are found all throughout eastern North America, from Quebec to Florida.

I didn’t hear the two-part call which it gets its name, but I did record the one-note call in the video below.

Eastern Towhee

It was a nice start to my nature observations in America this summer.


Gray Wagtail

34581081333_596d10a921_cOn my bike ride Saturday in the Minoh National Park I spotted a group of Grey Wagtails (Motacilla cinerea). It was a picture perfect day, literally, and from my bike, I photographed the bird on the telephone wire above the road. The gray wagtails are found in Europe and Asia with distinct populations.

The Asia subspecies, race robusta, breeds in Korea and Japan and winters in South East Asia. They nest near running water and have a diet of insects. They are called gray because of the color of the wings and back, despite the strong yellow on the belly. There are two species of similar birds called yellow wagtails (east and west) which have yellow on the throat.

This is the first time I’ve spotted the gray wagtail, both in the Europe and Japan and I am pleased to add it to my life list.