Saturday, December 11, 2010

Friday Field Notes--Egrets and Herons

Kosagi...Little Egret (Egretta Garzetta)

I have been watching birds all my life--it's not so much a hobby as an unconscious habit.  According to my mother, I toddled around at two years of age saying "slate-colored junco!" (the first bird whose name, apparently, I knew).  A great many of my childhood memories involve birds.  Watching the birds in the feeder out the kitchen window.  The baby screech owl (we named him Oopik) we nursed to health and taught to fly.  The loon and  her baby who swam next to our canoe in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota.  The Great Blue Heron and the Belted Kingfisher at the lake we went to every summer.  A new bird in the feeder meant grabbing the bird book out of the blue desk in the kitchen--tick!

So when I came to Japan and saw Little Egrets in every river I crossed--heaven!  Indiana gets the Snowy Egret and Great Blue Heron, but you doesn't often see either unless you're on vacation near a lake or marshy wetland area.  Japan, however, is replete with the shallow rivers these birds love, and they seem to be coexisting relatively well with humans in the urbanized rivers of Yokohama and Tokyo.  My Lucky Bird I called him, because I felt lucky just to see him--even if I saw him every day (I don't cross rivers or ride alongside  without checking:-)).  I found out later that storks are Ko  no Tori (Bird of Luck) in Japanese, babies and all--you know--but I still call the Egrets my Lucky Bird privately. 

I never tire of watching them plucking their way down river--elegant white feathers ruffed by the breeze, goofy yellow feet lifted clear of the water.

Aosagi (Ardea cinerea) the Grey Heron (female?)
Less often the Grey Heron comes for a visit.  For some reason he seldom comes as far down as our branch of the river--he generally hangs out in the main branch of the river near the station, though I don't see him every time I go that way.

Last month I got lucky--walking along the river (*with* charged up camera), not one, but two lovely Grey Herons (not the Great Blue, even though his name in Japanese is "Blue Heron"--different species, very confusing).

They stood majestically in amongst the reeds for me while I took their portraits, long necks folded down into graceful double curves.

...understated black feet, no goofy yellow galoshes...

And then there were these two hooligans, hanging out on the steps of town hall... cussin' and smokin'...


And this morning?  On my way to the station, I glanced over...twelve Little Egrets and a Grey Heron.  Twelve times lucky-- and a noisy flock of aerodynamic seagulls who don't usually come this far inland from Yokohama Bay...

I managed not to fall off my bike.   And I even remembered to switch over to video:-))  At :45 he nearly catches a fish, but...a ra ra...drops it... (no tripod--please excuse the shakiness:-((

As I watched, an older gentleman walking by noticed me looking intently at something in the river and stepped over to see--he asked  me if there were usually that many egrets in the river.  I told him there weren't generally, and that the Grey Heron was also down there, as well as a flock of gulls.  He was surprised, I think, when he noticed he wasn't talking to a Japanese woman--he didn't ask where I was from, but seemed pleased, somehow, that a foreigner was taking note of the Beautiful Birds of Japan....

The first two birds in the video below are a male and female, I think, because one was chasing the other in that "Hey, bay-beee" sort of way (caught the end of that just at the beginning).  Little Egret also shoos a gull away from his fishin' spot, and Grey Heron comes grandly swooping in at the end (more shakiness--sorry!  arm was getting tired...really need to get a tripod...).

I realize that not everyone will find this as exciting as I do, but maybe with the next pictures and video I will make some converts...

Earlier in the week, I popped out for a walk while waiting for a video to upload.  I walked past the park, toward the rice paddy and the Crawdad Pond...

...and stopped to have a look at a rotting fence post.

 That's what knotholes and branches look like on the inside--wooden spikes twisting inward like an instrument of the Spanish Inquisition...

...the cosmos are nearly done...

...most of them beginning to form hips, seed pods--I'll watch to see what they do before winter, since I've never paid attention to that process.

 Picking my way toward the pond, I saw somebody in it--the first glance said "Kosagi", the second glance said, "No!"

Dai Sagi (Egretta alba)  Great Egret

A yellow-orange beak and black feet--not the Little Egret!  He was unafraid--crossing the water on the post bridge that the kids use, he moved obliquely toward me (don't move! don't move!). 

...a loooong neck...

...and big black feet--clearly not the Little Egret that I usually see, whose body is roughly 60cm long.  The Great Egret is about 90cm, and probably double that if you count his neck.

He was very photogenic, and seemed rather to like having his picture taken...

More than the Little Egret, the Great Egret's feathers ruff out on the top of his head and down his neck.  Clearly bigger than Kosagi,
and just a hair smaller than the Grey Heron (whose body length is an impressive 93cm).  The pamphlet I got from Maioka Park had a photo of all three white egrets--the Little, the Intermediate, and the Great.  This is the first time he's stopped by our pond for a visit.  At least, it's the first time I've ever seen him.

I'm trying not to be too tedious--I know you don't need to see all fifty-seven photos I took of him (he turned this way and that, modeling his splendid head and neck for me...:-))

...neck doubled down, ruffed outer feathers touched by the sun... avian arabesque, a graceful pose on one leg...

And there was enough charge on the video to catch him catching a preying mantis to eat:

*Deep sigh of contentment* --Tick!

Mata asobou, ne!


  1. look at those tiny little egrets! They're so cute! We have egrets and herons all over the place because of our lakes, but not little ones like those

  2. Great post, Amy! I could watch those videos over and over for ages. I remember seeing Grey Herons as a child, when we lived in Devon (the dog used to hate that part of the walk — she'd be put back on the lead and made to lie down quietly while we watched the herons). Sadly, there don't seem to be any around here, although every quarter-mile or so along the river and canal seems to have its family of swans, so I can't complain too much.

    BTW I think I saw my badger again last night. Twas a bit warmer, so perhaps she's braved it to stock up a bit. There's no black & white dogs around here, and it was way too big for a cat, so I'm 75% certain. I'm loathe to try taking a photo in case the flash scares it off for good.

  3. @Falen--oh, of course! Lucky--you get *everything* in Minnesota! One of my best bird memories is from the Boundary Waters--I was 7, we went camping (pup tents, canoe, and trail food for a sis was 4... my mother was nuts...;-)) Out on the lake in the canoe, a loon and her baby swam right up beside us, dove down, and the mother came up with her baby on her back. Wish I had a photo of that! (other than the one in my head...)

    Daz--I can stand and watch egrets for hours:-)) So you get the Grey Herons? Same as here again, just like the Kingfisher--England and Japan must be the two extremes of the Eurasian range. I, of course, grew up with all different species (similar, but differently adapted, assuming most birds come across Siberia to Canada then down). Indiana gets the Great Blue Heron, which is what I thought the Grey Heron was, but they're slightly different (have developed different adaptive signatures:)).
    You got the Badger again? Iii naaaa.... (perhaps if we built a large wooden badger...), although as I understand it, the monk at the temple where I get the center keys says they get Tanuki (Japanese racoon dog--just stick Tanuki into google image search). I guess because the temple backs right into the mountain...

  4. Great post! I love all those pictures. Those birds are adorable!

  5. Thanks! If you come to Japan to study, you'll be way ahead of where I was when I came, knowing bird names and everything:-))

  6. I'm planning on doing the studyabroad program when I go to college. But for that to happen I have to be a language student. Japanese has been geting harder and harder lately, but on the bright side in November during the Showa festival I was able to name 15 kanji characters in both English and Japanese and won the game! They gave me a bag of candy--they only made few because they weren't expecting anyone to win. I felt so happy that I actually knew all the words because I guessed on half of them. I only stuggled on figuring out hito but then I squinted at it and realized it kind of looked like a person. Sort of...Haha ;)

  7. I'm not really a bird watcher, but these were incredible, Amy! ;)

  8. @Ezmirelda--it gets harder for a while, then you kind of break through and it gets easier:-)) Gambare, ne! Hito *does* look a little like a small running person--just don't mix it up with hairu (go in);-))

    @Alice--thanks! Come winter it's birds and tree branches mostly to look at(unless you get snow and icicles--we never do here :-((