Tuesday, 12 January 2016

Japan in November (No.5): an evening with Blakiston's fish owls

adult make Blakiston's fish owl prepares for supper
18.11.15  (evening)
One, if not the, highlight of a birding trip to Hokkaido is without doubt a close encounter with the world's largest owl (though there is a bit of debate about this, see wikipedia). Anyway, it is a huge, rare and thoroughly other-worldly bird, that would definitely look fully at home in Hogwarts.  To see this owl you really need to stay overnight in accommodation set up for observing and photographing them.  There is a great place to stay on the outskirts of Rausu called Washi yo Nado.  The accommodation is basic but the food is very nice and prepared for you during your owl viewing session - consequently it is hard not to let the freshly cooked fish and other delicacies get cold when the owls are showing well.

Fishing technique (not too tricky):

grab (put up with damp feathers)
step onto the shore
prepare to swallow
The owls are attracted with such regularity because a very natural-looking pond has been created in the river and is stocked up at dusk every evening.  The birds are also used to the floodlighting that is set up to make photography relatively easy.

We were fortunate that a researcher was also visiting the site on the evening of our stay and explained that there were three birds visiting this spot every evening.  There is an adult male, a one year old bird and a juvenile raised this year.  Sadly the female of the resident pair had died while raising the chick, the male had continued to successfully fledge the young bird, but was now in search of a new mate. 
I think this is the juvenile - ring DD
I think this is the one year old bird - gold ring with WW in white
adult male - yellow and blue rings
The adult male is top of the pecking order and arrives first, takes what he wants and heads off.  The one year bird arrives next a makes a few catches, and on this occasion the juvenile bird arrives before it leaves.  They show a bit of aggression and we get to see their ear tufts raised in anger!  But most of the time they seem to get along.  The juvenile stays on quite a bit later, and eventually flies off.  Time to finish off our supper.

A wonderful evening that will live long in the memory.

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