Sunday, 18 March 2018

Whale-watching in Amami

During the winter, humpback whales travel from the north to stay in the sea around the Amami area and most of them are mums who come here to give birth or who have very young calves. It is not impossible to see them from land but if anyone who would like to have a closer look at them, taking one of the whale-watching boat trips is the best way.

A storm was expected in the afternoon so we took a boat in the morning. It was quite choppy even then.

A while after we left the harbour, the very first one was spotted!
Goodness me! It was HUGE!!
I know it sounds silly but even only the bits which were on the surface of the water looked enormous!

It was actually a mother and a calf.


The boat staff told me that there were 2 adults and 1 young one, and that they thought that one adult is the mum and the other is a male, which has been following her expecting to become her mate as the calf looked large enough to wean soon.

Anyway, during the 3-hour boat trip, we were able to see the whales very closely for 2 hours or so. It was very exciting but at the same time it was an occasion to make me think about the eco-tourism.

The boat staff were all nice, but there was no explanation whatsoever about the reasons why the whales winter here or the ecology or anything. I am curious and interested in that kind of thing so I asked questions, then they gave me answers personally and kindly. I wished they had done it to everyone on board so that people have an opportunity to learn something new.

That is all from our Amami trip in March 2018✋

Saturday, 17 March 2018

Amami Oshima 3

Amami is a larger island than many people imagine and has a variety of landscapes which sustain a wide range of creatures.

paddy fields

vegetable patches and a papaya tree

primary forest - jungle!

rock pools

secondary forest

the sea before a storm

Mangrove forests, estuaries, cliffs, sugar cane fields, the strait between Amami and the Kakeroma Island, beaches are also in and around the island and each of the habitat has interesting and unique creatures in it.  

a male Falcated Duck (Yoshigamoヨシガモ) in the paddy fields

a lone Richard's Pipit (Mamijirotahibariマミジロタヒバリ) on grass in one of the many little fishing ports

a Marsh Sandpiper (Koaoashishigiコアオアシシギ)
Pacific Golden Plovers (Munaguroムナグロ)

Coots (Oobanオオバン) and ducks
Coots and Pacific Golden Plovers

It felt a bit strange to see Teals (Kogamoコガモ), Spotbilled Ducks (Karugamoカルガモ) and Shovelers (Hashibirogamoハシビロガモ) foraging together with Coots and waders on the rockpools.
We also saw a couple of Ospreys (Misagoミサゴ) at the same spot.

When we were looking for Barred Buttonquail (Mifuuzuraミフウズラ) in the sugarcane fields, we were lucky to see a male Elegant Bunting (Miyamahojiroミヤマホオジロ) but no luck for the buttonquail.

Friday, 16 March 2018

Amami Oshima 2

There were some of our target birds on the island and one of them was the Lidth's Jay (Rurikakesuルリカケス).

They were really beautiful with purple, brown, blue-ish feathers and a white beak.
We heard them call in many places and saw them flying over the roads we were driving on but it was hard to take a close-up photo.

And the other target bird was the Ryukyu Robin (Akahigeアカヒゲ).

The Ryukyu Robin sings tuneful songs like the Eurasian Robin and now is the best time to hear them as it is their breeding season. We happened to see one singing on the door of the visitor centre in a reserve. We had a great view of him singing but he was so close to us that the camera could not focus on him! Argh!

In the same forest reserve where we saw the robins, we spotted mixed flocks.
Great tit (Shijukaraシジュウカラ)
 Japanese White-eye(Mejiroメジロ)
 Varied Tit(Yamagaraヤマガラ)
 Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker (Kogeraコゲラ)
All of the four are Amami/Ryukyu subspecies. They look slightly different from the ones we usually see in Chiba but the differences are subtle and you'd need better pics.

Mr Nagae, our guide, told us that small birds move around in mixed flocks all through the year in Amami, which is very interesting.

Thick-billed Crow (Hashibutogarasuハシブトガラス)
Brown-eared Bulbul (Hiyodoriヒヨドリ)
The crow and the bulbul are also subspecies. Thick-billed crows in Amami are smaller and the bulbuls have a darker coloured back than the ones on the mainland.

Thursday, 15 March 2018

Amami Oshima Night Tour

We went on a nature-watching night tour, on which we (or rather I) was expecting to see the endemic Amami Black Rabbit (Amami-no-kuro-usagiアマミノクロウサギ).

We were able to see half a dozen or so of them within an hour. Some sat and froze, some ran for life, some just kept nibbling grass... different characters from each other:)

They were separated from their continental cousins a long time ago and have stayed in quite a primitive form - short hind legs, short ears, small eyes and bulky body.

The rabbits are under threat from mongoose, which were released deliberately by humans to control the venomous snakes, and also from feral dogs and cats. The conservationists and local council have been trying to keep the numbers of those predetors down and the rabbits are doing better than they used to.

Other creatures we saw on the night tour:
Amami Thrush (Ootoratsugumiオオトラツグミ) - endemic to the Amami archipelago

 sorry to disturb you...

Amami Ishikawa's Frog (Amami-Ishikawa-gaeruアマミイシカワガエル)
Ryukyu Tip-nosed Frog (Hanasaki-gaeruハナサキガエル)
Okinawa Pitviper(Himehabuヒメハブ)

We saw several Amami Woodcocks (Amamiyamashigiアマミヤマシギ) being flushed by our car but could not see them so well but one, which stood on the fence by the road. No picture of it, unfortunately, though. We also heard Elegant Scops-owls (Ryukyu-konohazukuリュウキュウコノハズク) calling.

It was a very interesting tour and we were well informed and feel well educated:)

Wednesday, 14 March 2018

Amami Oshima 1

We had chosen Amami Oshima as our holiday destination in March and we are glad to have done so.

Amami Oshima is

situated about 800 miles southwest from Tokyo, kind of halfway between the southern-most tip of Kyushu and Okinawa, it is extraordinarily rich in nature.

Our first encounter on the island was the Blue Rock Thrush (Isohiyodoriイソヒヨドリ).


Common Sandpiper (Isoshigiイソシギ)

The Amami White-backed Woodpecker (Ooakageraオオアカゲラ) was far up the hill...

The Amami White-backed Woodpecker is still considered as a subspecies of the White-backed Woodpecker but could be seperated from it eventually.

We wished to see them once more but no luck...

Grey-faced Buzzard (Sashibaサシバ)
They were seen absolutely everywhere, perching on the telegraph poles, electric wires, trees and sometimes on the ground after they'd caught something. We were told that the buzzard is a winter bird in Amami and that it would disappear in a month or so till next autumn.

We saw only a few Kestrels (Chogemboチョウゲンボウ) during our stay.

There must be enough insects, reptiles, mice and other small living creatures to sustain so many birds of prey and other birds on the island:)

We had an experienced, enthusiastic guide, Mr Nagae, from Amami-shizen-gakko (Amami Nature School) for a day. He is an Amami boy born and bred and has a wide range of interests and knowledge - nature, cultural heritages, food, fishing ... basically anything on the island. If anyone has a plan to visit Amami Ohshima, we'd recommend him as your guide! You'll definitely have fun!