Back down to earth …

Sunny Victoria, Australia.

Quite a change from Hokkaido but home in time to head to Terrick Terrick National Park to lend a helping hand in some fauna monitoring.

The Terricks are in the northwest of Victoria, 225 km from Melbourne, 60 km north of Bendigo. Some granite outcrops had got in the way of agricultural development so some forest had survived. This was the core of a state park and it preserves some very nice, revegetating Calitris woodland. North of that there is some marginal grazing country that had been lightly stocked and never cropped. It is the principle refuge of Victoria’s remaining Plains Wanderers, cute little birds whose closest relatives are the seed snipes of South America. Some of this country has been added to the park with a view to managing it for the benefit of our cute but endangered little birds. And somewhere along the journey the enlarged park became a National Park.

The management plan for the grassland seemed an excellent one, I am sure the Plains Wanderers would have been thrilled with it. Sadly Parks Victoria have done a woeful job of sticking to it. Still, the Wanderers are hanging on, just.

Finding them is a night-time task. They are not nocturnal but their eyes show up well in a spotlight and they tend to run rather than fly, they can be caught with a hand net, banded and released. Volunteering has its rewards …

Plains Wanderer
Plains Wanderer

And on a warm night the grassland can turn up other delights …

Fat tailed Dunnart
Fat tailed Dunnart
Eastern Scaly foot
Eastern Scaly foot

And whilst some are a handful of cute don’t try it with this one, it might result in being very unwell …

Curl Snake
Curl Snake

and most people would prefer not to handle this one either …

P1090620

but they are cute in their own way, the little blue dots are the eye reflections of some of its babies that are riding on its back.

Nature, naturally …

What’s wrong with this guy? All the way to Japan interested primarily in the wildlife. Well I’m not the only one. Nature rated third in this survey at Japan-guides.

Survey

I am nearly done with my account of the trip. It was a great trip, one to remind you of why you travel at all. We tend to imagine that the whole world runs on the same rails that we do, or would do if they had a choice. The reality is quite different, there are many people, indeed whole societies, out there who have a totally self-confident and utterly different outlook on life.

Owl …

Owls have acquired symbolic meaning at different places and at different times. In the west we tend to think of the wise old owl and that was true for the ancient Greeks as well. The owl was the companion of Athena, goddess of wisdom and also associated with wealth. But they don’t always give folk the same impression, back in the dark ages they were associated with witches, black magic and evil doings.

The Japanese for owl is fukuro 梟. Other kanji can be combined to render the same syllables. One way is 福来郎 which means luck will come. Another way is 不苦労 which means no suffering. So, by a play on words, the owl offers good fortune and protection. It is a popular lucky charm in Japan.

About a dozen species of owl have been found in Japan. In a short visit you obviously aren’t going to find too many. The easiest seems to be this one …

Ural Owl
Ural Owl

They tend to roost at the entrance of a sizable tree hollow. Suitable hollows are fairly uncommon. Some roosts are well-known and reliable, the bus stops seemingly in the middle of nowhere and a well trodden path leads off through the snow to a roped off viewing spot.

The Ural Owl is found throughout Japan and through a large area of the adjacent Asian mainland.

The ultimate owl, though, is Blakiston’s Fish Owl. On the one hand this is rare and endangered on the other hand it is large and spectacular, a heady mix, enough to make any twitcher twitch. They are only found north of Blakiston’s line (what a tragedy it would have been if Blakiston’s owl didn’t care two hoots about Blakiston’s line). Their stronghold is in east Hokkaido where they are found in steep-sided , forested valleys adjacent to the coast.

As rare as they are my chances of seeing one were excellent because my guide was none other than Mark Brazil. He is on intimate terms with some pairs having carried large and heavy nest boxes up suitably steep and forested valleys to make up for a shortage of natural hollows. He has earned his knowledge the hard way and handsomely repaid the birds in the process.

So it was off to the coast at twilight.

P1080505

We staked out a spot where the stream ran from a valley under a road bridge and into the sea and waited for dark.

Even before it was pitch black we could hear the low double note call of the male. Initially it was given every few minutes and went unanswered. Then it was answered. The response was a single note, even deeper than the male’s, you could feel it as much as hear it. From then on it was as though it was a single bird calling. The technical term is antiphonal duetting. It sent a tingle down the spine (technical term frisson).

After a while I became aware that, well away from the lights, a bird had landed silently on the bow of a small boat. The binoculars gathered just enough light to turn the tingle into a twitch but could do nothing to satisfy the camera. Continued study through the gloom revealed another bird, how long it had been there was anybody’s guess. Then two more sitting on nearby boats. The whole family had come down to the sea to fish for their supper. The male, the female and two large youngsters.

One did fly closer and into the outer reaches of the lighting on the dock … but I won’t bore you with the photo because two nights later one flew and landed under the outside lighting of a streamside building. What are the chances?

Blakiston's Fish Owl
Blakiston’s Fish Owl

A Mammal or Two …

Hokkaido has quite a list of mammals, it still has Brown Bears for example. These are formidable creatures closely related to the Grizzly. They may reach more than two meters tall, weigh about 300 kg and can run at a speed of 50 kph. They mostly eat shoots and salmon but are not averse to the occasional hiker. It does nothing for your comfort to know that, not only can they outrun you, they can out swim and out climb you as well. According to a Japan Times article the government started keeping records in 1962, between then and 2008 there were 86 attacks 33 of which were fatal. The article has some amusing suggestions for people venturing into bear country. They hibernate from mid-December to late March. So no photos this trip, here’s a Long-clawed Shrew to make up for it …

 

Long-clawed Shrew
Long-clawed Shrew

Blakiston’s line divides the Brown Bear, found only in Hokkaido,  from the Asiatic Black Bear of Honshu and Shikoku. The Long-clawed Shrew is also found only to the north of the line.

For more on bears in Japan, including the story of the Sankabetsu Brown Bear Incident of 1915 go <HERE>. The Long-clawed Shrew standing on its hind legs would barely make 10 cm, it weighs up to 20 g moves quite slowly and has never been involved in attacks on humans.

A few other mammals were kind enough to pose. This Sable, once again only found north of Blakiston’s line, had its den under the deck of one of the hotels I stayed at.

Sable
Sable

It is a Mustelid along with weasels, badgers and otters. It is happiest eating squirrels, smaller rodents, birds and fish but will also eat berries, vegetation and pine nuts when the going gets tough. This one mostly ate bread.

The next couple of species have no regard for Blakiston. They do not toe the line.

Sika Doe
Sika Doe
Sika Stag
Sika Stag
Red Fox
Red Fox