Rare Bird Report

by D. W. McWhirter
  1. Species: Pterodroma [pycrofti] longirostris (Stejneger's [Pycroft's] Petrel) Hime Shirohara Mizunzgidori.
    Location: between Okinawa I. and Tokashiki I., Okinawa Pref., Japan.
    Date: 27 March 1987.
    Time: less than 5 minutes, around 1130.
    Light: sun above and behind the observer.
    Distance: 120 - 400 m.
    Equipment: 10x binocular.

    Behavior notes: One was seen flying north from the ferry crossing between Okinawa and Tokashiki. It flew low to the water, then higher up as the ferry approached. It alternated quick, shorebird-like wing beats with swooping "shears" (soaring or gliding). The wings seemed straighter when the bird was shearing. The wings were carried forward, bent at the wrist. The petrel seemed to try and avoid the ferry.

    Identification notes: The bird was clearly a Pterodroma type petrel in size and shape, although there were no other birds to compare it with at the time. It appeared gray above and pure white below. There were no black marks into the underwing although the edges appeared narrowly black. There were no noticeable gray areas extending towards the chest from the neck and back. The top of the head, the nape, the upper back, and a portion of the forewing near the body were pale to medium gray. There was no darker cap, although the area around the eye was darker gray. The forehead was paler than the top of the head, but did not look white. The rump and upper tail were a slightly darker gray. The rest of the wings and the lower back looked dark gray or blackish, but not black. The secondaries at some angles looked lighter. The bill was dark; leg color not noted.

    Similar species: The Pterodroma group is difficult. I studied the color photographs of Pterodroma petrels available in Japanese books and relied on information in Seabirds by Peter Harrison and Field Guide to the Birds of North America by the National Geographic Society.

    Other observers: none. Previous experience with the species: none.

    Transcribed from field notes taken later in the day.

  2. Species: Athya affinis.(Lesser Scaup) Ko-suzugamo.
    Location: Kin Dam, Kin-cho, Okinawa I., Japan.
    Date: 14 December 1983.
    Time: 30 minutes at 1100.
    Light: sunny, overhead at my back, excellent.
    Distance: 30 - 250m.
    Equipment: eyes, 10x binocular, 16x spotting scope.

    Behavior notes: one male in breeding (alternate) plumage swam slowly by me. Field marks seen: 1) purplish color to head. 2) head shape similar to A. collaris, peaked at rear of crown, definitely not flat and rounded, very distinct, even at a distance. 3) eye yellow-gold. 4) back vermiculations (small lines) black and bold. 5) some gray vermiculations on sides, otherwise white. 6) bill blue-gray with a small, narrow (5-7mm?) black nail at tip. 7) wing stripe - white in secondaries to primaries, none in the primaries (seen when wings flapped while sitting).

    Similar species: A. marila has a rounded head crown, no peak. It has a wider nail on the tip of the bill. It is whiter on the sides and back. The white wing stripe extends well into the primaries. Several experienced observers, Hiroshi Ikenaga and Mark Brazil, told me of a hybrid A. ferina x A. fuligula that resembled A. affinis. I imagine head shape and nail tip were different. [In 1995, the Michigan Bird Record Committee studied Athya hybrids. An A. ferina x A. fuligula hybrid usually has a short tuft, a little longer than the crest on A. affinis. The hybrid often has an orangish eye. The hybrid always has a distinctly different bill color pattern, usually, the whole tip of the bill, including the nail, is black. These differences are shown in Birds of Europe by Lars Jonsson.]

    Other observers: none, but on 17 December 1983, a group of us saw a nice male A. marila. Previous experience with the species: I had seen many thousands of Greater Scaup and Lesser Scaup in the U.S.A., most of them not as well as this.

    Transcribed from notes taken immediately after the observation.

  3. Species: Pluvialis dominicus. (American Golden Plover) Amerika-munaguro.
    Location: Kijoka, Ohgimi-son, Teruma, Gusgikawa-shi and Namizato, Kin-cho, Okinawa Island, Japan.
    Date: 6 September 1986, 4 December 1986, 1 March 1987.
    Time: various.
    Light: various.
    Distance: various.
    Equipment: 10x binocular, 16 - 32x spotting scope.

    Identification notes: One bird at Kijoka, one bird at Teruma, two birds at Namizato. All were foraging in paddies in the company of Pacific Golden Plover. These birds were all in basic (winter) or juvenile plumage. The birds had a white supercilium, white at the base of the bill and throat. This was seen on all the birds. The crown, hind neck, nape, and upper breast were gray with some brown tints, as were the breast and flanks. The dark back feathers were edged with a mixture of white and gold. One of the birds at Namizato, probably a juvenile, had more brown on the breast and more gold edged feathers on the back. The extension of the primaries beyond the tail was nearly the same as the length of the bill. These more detailed features were seen on the birds at Teruma and Namizato.

    Similar species: The Black-bellied Plover (P. squatarola) is larger, paler in these plumages, and has a proportionately larger bill. It was also rare in paddies on Okinawa. The Pacific Golden Plover in these plumages is suffused with golden yellow on the head and neck. This is variable. Some dull colored birds do not look so golden, but they do not look white either. They also seem more brown than gray. Juvenile birds are washed with golden yellow across the breast. The wing extension beyond the tail is slight, clearly less than a bill length, if at all. It is said that the feet of Pacific Golden Plover extend beyond the tail in flight and the feet of American Golden Plover do not. I did not note this.

    Other observers: none. Previous experience: I had seen many thousands of Pacific Golden Plover in Japan and hundreds of American Golden Plover in the United States and Canada.

    Further notes: Lesser Golden Plover (P. dominica) was separated into two species, Pacific Golden Plover (P. fulva) and American Golden Plover (P. dominica) in the 39th Supplement to the AOU Checklist (Auk 1993, 110: 675-682). European authorities had separated the species earlier. Pacific Golden Plover is the common large plover in Japan. The scientific name of American Golden Plover was changed slightly to P. dominicus in the 40th Supplement to the AOU Checklist (Auk 1995, July).

    These books show the differences between the two species: Shorebirds, by Hayman, Marchant, and Prater (1986); Field Guide to the Birds of North America by theNational Geographic Society - 2nd Edition (1987); Birds of Europe by Jonsson (1992); Shorebirds of the Pacific Northwest by Paulson (1993).

  4. Species: Calidris minutilla. (Least Sandpiper) Amerika-hibari-shigi.
    Location: Namizato, Kin-cho, Okinawa Island, Japan.
    Date: 12 April 1984.
    Time: about 0930 to 1010.
    Light: overcast.
    Distance: 25 - 45m.
    Equipment: 10x binocular, 16 - 32x spotting scope.

    Behavior notes: This bird mostly sat on a small dike in the center of the paddies closest to the dam on the south side of the river. It preened its wing and breast feathers a bit. It foraged for maybe 7-9 minutes in shallow water using quick pecks and probes. When I tried to approach it more closely, it flew and I could not find it again.

    Identification notes: The bird was in winter or basic plumage. It had no feathers in its plumage with reddish or chestnut color. The overall color of the upper parts was a brownish gray. It had a poorly defined white eyebrow which continued over the bill and went narrowly behind the eye. The eyeline and ear coverts were dark. The chin and upper throat was white, as were most of its under parts. There was a brownish gray band across the chest. The bill was dark, blackish at the tip, a little lighter toward the base. There was a slight droop at the tip. The eye was dark. The legs were pale, a yellowish color. The dark feathers on the head and chest had narrow blackish shaft streaks, as did the nape, back, scapular and covert feathers. From the shaft streaks, the feathers became gradually paler to the edge, which was pale gray. The shaft streaks of some of the median coverts and tertials were not easy to see. Those feathers looked plain gray, getting paler toward the edge. The primaries looked dark. When the bird foraged, it looked slightly smaller and shorter than the nearby Long-toed Stints (C. subminuta). When its head was held erect (not often), the neck was shorter than than the stints. The toes were not seen well. When the bird flew, it gave a loud, high-pitched call like "creep - creeeep". The call rose in pitch.

    Similar species: Although yellow-legged Calidris species often looked dark-legged, the reverse is not usually true (Sometimes, low sun from the side can make dark legs look pale at some angles.). If dark-legged stints are eliminated, then this species must be compared to Long-toed Stint and Temminck's Stint (C. temminckii). There were 5 Long-toed Stint in this paddy and 6 Temminck's Stint. There were 9 more Temminck's Stint in another paddy. All of the Long-toed Stint had more brown color. Four were much brighter and going into breeding or alternate plumage. One was still in adult winter or basic plumage. This bird was more brown on the head and back. The area above the bill did not seem white on any of them. The major plumage difference was the pattern of color on the back, scapular, and covert feathers. These had large dark centers with distinct broad gray edges. This pattern was also seen on the tertials. The dark shaft streaks on the crown, nape, and breast were indistinct compared to the Least. The feather patterns of the Long-toeds going into breeding plumage was similar, but the edges of the feathers were reddish. Two birds still had some winter feathers in the scapulars and coverts and they looked like the bird in winter plumage. Their bills seemed proportionally shorter and straighter. Their carriage was erect and they had longer necks and legs. Their calls were softer, lower, more like "prrrt". The Temminck's Stints were much grayer. The gray extended over the head, throat, and breast to give a hooded appearance. Two birds had more extensive, whiter throats. Temminck's Stints also had black shaft streaks on the nape, back, scapular, and coverts, but they did not seem as extensive or distinct as the Least. The crown and breast feathers had indistinct shaft streaks. Their call was a distinctive "trill" which I find hard to describe, but is very different from Least or Long-toed.

    Other notes: At the time of the observation, I did not have very good information about winter plumages of these species and I had not paid too much attention to some of the details. It was fortunate to have all three species in the same paddy at the same time. I thought the size, shape, and call-note were distinctive. Later, I was able to study the detailed plumage information in Shorebirds, An Identification Guide by Hayman, Marchant, and Prater (1986) and it corroborated my notes. The plates in Birds of Europe by Jonsson (1992) show the winter plumage differences clearly. Jonsson also published a earlier article on stint identification which I studied.

    Other observers: none. Previous experience: At this time, I had seen all the Calidris species except one and was familiar with the three yellow-legged stints. I had seen thousands of Least Sandpipers in the United States and Canada and hundreds of Long-toed and Temminck's stints in Japan.

    Transcribed from notes taken in the field at the time of observation and just after.

  5. Species: Collocalia brevirostris. (Himalayan Swiftlet) Himaraya Ana-tsubame.
    Location: Tokashiki I., Okinawa Pref., Japan.
    Date: 30 September 1986.
    Time: total of 15- 20 minutes from 1445 - 1530.
    Light: sun from above.
    Distance: 30m - 400m.
    Equipment: 10x binocular.

    Behavior notes: Foraged throughout observation, usually high, but just over the houses one time. It chased Barn Swallows (Hirundo rustica) twice. Wing-beats very quick and "swift-like", glides were long and erratic with quick banks and twists. When gliding, wings held down and slightly back-swept. No calls were heard.

    Identification notes: Basically an all brown swift with no white. Small. The brown was very dark, more pale beneath, throat lightest. Color was not Black-brown or Blue-black. Undertail coverts lighter than the tail feathers. Rump a little lighter than back or tail. Flight feathers beneath looked lighter than underwing coverts, but this was due to sun coming through. Shorter, more slender than juvenile Barn Swallow. Estimated 11-12cm. Long, slim tail, notch in tip visible at all angles. Notch maybe 10-15% of tail length. Tail maybe 60-70% length of body. Tail hardly ever spread, tail narrower than Pacific Swallows nearby. Wings long and slender, narrow at body.

    Species identification based on classification and information in A Field Guide to the Birds of South-East Asia by King and Dickinson. Coloration and pattern very similar to illustration in Philippine Birds by duPont.

    Similar species: Maybe a House Swift (Apus affinis) with no white, but such a bird would look larger, more bulky, wings wider at body, notch in tail more shallow. Also, the flight would be a little different. The difference in body proportions is clear in illustration on page 204 of King and Dickinson.

    Other observers: Carol Speegle. Previous experience: Carol had seen Collocalia swiftlets in the Philippines. I had seen 2 - 4 species of Collocalia swiftlets in the Philippines and Papua New Guinea. We had also seen the other three species of swift occuring in Japan.

    Transcribed from field notes taken immediately after the observation.

  6. Species: Anthus trivialis. (Tree Pipit) Yoroppa Binzui.
    Location: Nishizaki, Itoman-shi on Okinawa I., Okinawa Pref., Japan.
    Date: 25 April 1987.
    Time: 2 - 3 minutes, around 0900.
    Light: partly sunny, sun behind cloud at the time.
    Distance: 30 - 40m, then flying away. 120 - 400 m.
    Equipment: 10x binoculars and a 25x spotting scope.

    Behavior notes: This bird flushed from a ditch and sat on the top of the cement ditch side in plain view for over two minutes, then it flew of into some nearby fields and joined a flock of pipits. When the bird flew it gave a call like "dzeep".

    Identification notes: This bird was clearly a pipit. My first impression of colors was brown, white, and black. The crown, ear patch, nape, and wing coverts were a medium to light brown, not olive-brown. The upper tail appeared darker brown with lighter edges. The primaries and secondaries were dark with light edges. The coverts were pale edged. The eyebrow, a crescent behind the ear patch, the throat and the rest of underparts were white. There was no yellowish in the eyebrow. There was a little buff above the eye and a light wash on the side of the breast. The crown, nape, back, chest, sides, and flanks had numerous, neatly defined, black streaks. The vent and undertail coverts were unstreaked. There was a dark line through the eye and the fore and rear edge of the ear patch were bordered with black, the rear edge a little more irregular. There was not white spot at the top of the rear edge of the ear patch. The bill was medium dark, lighter at the base. The eye was dark. The legs were flesh colored.

    Similar species: All of the species of pipits are similar in size and appearance. This combination of colors, pattern of colors, and call note separate it from other species of pipit known to occur in Japan.

    Other observers: Joe Gentile, saw the main field marks.

    Previous experience with the species: I had seen many Water Pipit (A. spinoletta), Red-throated Pipit (A. cervinus), and Olive Tree Pipit (A. hodgsoni) under a variety of conditions on Okinawa. I had also seen American Pipit (A. rubescens) on Okinawa and Pechora Pipit (A. gustavi) on Tokashiki Island and in the Philippines. Joe was familiar with Water, Red-throated, and Olive Tree pipit. Later in 1987, I spent some time at the University of Michigan Museum of Zoo logy studying the skins of pipits, confirming these field marks. In particular, I made notes on back color. In my notes above, I refer to the back color as brown. Illustrations of this species mostly show an olive-brown color. However, some of the specimens were brown on the back with only a little olive tint. I could get no clear idea if this was age related, seasonal, or regional. None of the Tree Pipits were as olive as the Olive Tree Pipit.

    Other notes: This was an odd day at Itoman. This area is good for vagrants. This day there were two larks there. From the calls, one was probably a Bimaculated Lark (Melanocorypha bimaculata) and the other maybe a Short-toed Lark (Calandrella cinerea). There was a Yellow Wagtail (Motacilla flava) of the subspecies simillima. There was a flock of pipits including one Indian Tree Pipit (A. hodgsoni), in an unusual habitat for this species, and four Richard's Pipits (A. novaeseelandiae). One of the latter which I saw well was pale tan above with no streaks on the breast!

    Transcribed from field notes taken immediately after the observation.

  7. Species: Turdus iliacus. (Redwing) Wakiaka-tsugumi.
    Location: Namizato, Kin-cho, Okinawa I., Okinawa Pref., Japan.
    Date: 23 November 1983.
    Time: total of 20 minutes, probably around 0930.
    Light: overcast.
    Distance: 30 - 70m.
    Equipment: 10x binocular, 16x spotting scope.

    Field notes: Written just after observation, before looking at field guides. [ ] added later in the day for clarification, after looking at field guides. "One seen flying with a Dusky [Thrush] - glimpsed bright rufous underwing - couldn't remember if Dusky has that - so pursued. Both landed in a dead tree. One was T. naumanni [eunomus] - strongly marked, rufous on wings, heavy black below - eye and throat very creamy. Other resembled T. naumanni [eunomus] "dark" phase, but no rufous visible in [upper] wing. Got back and partial side views [for] 15 minutes at 70m in scope. Looked smaller than other [thrush], bill slighter [and] a little more pale. Legs about same color [as Dusky Thrush]. Back, wings, tail concolorous [same color] - a dark brown - no smudges. Black mustache streak, wider at base, more defined [than Dusky Thrush]. [Wide, distinct] eyebrow, malar streak, [throat] white. Dropped to ground when I wasn't looking. Drove around and after 15 minutes it flew back up to tree - again - no rufous on dorsal portion of the wing, extensive rufous beneath. When it shifted on perch, saw some rufous on on flank - but not noticeable when just sitting. [White underparts with] black in oblong streaks - [streaks] not continuous - met in center of breast - all down sides - not smudges, not spots. Five minutes at 30m with binocs. No calls heard. When flew off, rufous underwings brighter than Dusky [Thrush]."

    Other notes: It bothered me that I could not see more rufous on the side when the bird was sitting. However, two birders from Great Britain, Mark Brazil and David Waugh, with lots of experience with this species later told me this was often true and that field guides tend to exaggerate this trait. In 1987, I took my notes on Okinawan birds to the University of Michigan Museum of Zoology and looked at museum specimens. The specimens for this species matched this description, as did my notes for similar species.

    Similar species: The female T. cardis is somewhat similar, but has spots beneath and has no eyebrow. T. n. naumanni and T. n. eunomus are easily distinguished, but intergrades between the two subspecies can be very similar to T. iliacus. During the winter of 1983-84, I saw three intergrades. Two had a distinct rusty color beneath and rusty on the dorsal surface of the wing. The third looked very similar to T.iliacus, but it had some rufous on the base of the tail at the sides, a slight rufous wash on the dorsal surface of the wing, a grayish back with some darker smudges on the scapulars, and the black mustache streak was not very wide or distinct. The plates in Birds of Europe by Lars Jonsson show these differences.

    Other observers: none. Previous experience with the species: none; numerous T. naumanni seen here.


  8. Species: Prinia subflava [inornata] (Tawny-flanked Prinia) Mami-hauchiwadori.
    Location: Tokashiki I., Okinawa Pref., Japan.
    Date: 18 March 1986.
    Time: less than 5 minutes, around 1300.
    Light: overcast.
    Distance: 5 - 10m.
    Equipment: 10x and 8x binoculars.

    Behavior notes: The bird was active near the tree tops in an area on a hillside near paddies. The trees were pine trees about 3-5m tall. Tall grass was growing in open areas between the trees. It was active, but did not flit it's wings. No calls were heard.

    Identification notes: Overall the bird looked similar to a Phylloscopus warbler in size and build except the tail appeared very long and "loose" looking. The tail was about 1.25 times as long as the body. The central tail feathers were maybe 1.5 times longer than the outermost ones. The tail feathers did not seem to have paler tips. The bird was gray-brown above with maybe a little more rust color on the upper tail coverts, the upper side of the tail feathers, and perhaps the primaries. The underside of the bird was pale whitish. A whitish, obscure eyeline extended from above the eye to the bill, with a short, obscure dark line behind the eye. The bill appeared dark; eye and leg color were not noted.

    Similar species: Brown Prinia (P. polychroa) also occurs on Taiwan. Its back and crown appear vaguely streaked and it is larger and bulkier. Other Prinias in China are different in size and/or color. Phylloscopus warblers and Japanese Bush Warbler (Cettia diphone) have similar color patterns, but have much shorter tails and different behavior. We saw one Inornate Warbler (Phylloscopus inornatus) in the vicinity and heard two more. Japanese Bush Warbler (Cettia diphone) were common in the area.

    Other observers: Tsutomu Nakasone. Previous experience with the species: I had seen this species and Brown Prinia before on Taiwan. We were both familiar with Phylloscopus warblers and Japanese Bush Warbler.

    Transcribed from notes taken on the day of the observation.


  9. Species: Passerculus sandwichensis. (Savannah Sparrow) Kusachi-himedori.
    Location: Kin, Kin-cho, Okinawa I., Japan.
    Date: 3 December 1985.
    Time: about 5 minutes around 1700.
    Light: overcast.
    Distance: 8 -12m.
    Equipment: 10x binoculars.

    Behavior notes: One bird in cane with several Black-faced Buntings (Emberiza spodocephala). Flew up and perched near top of cane. As I sat in the car, I had good views of bird from the side from the middle forward. Later, it turned slightly toward me. Had good views of breast and crown while it moved on the perch. No calls were noted. I noted that the overall head shape and attitude reminded me of a Song Sparrow (Melospiza melodia).

    Field notes: The bill was pinkish with a darker tip, top of culmen a little darker. Crown a light olive brown with little visible streaking. Sides of crown and over the bill a dark or blackish brown. The eyebrow, to the bill, and the area around the ear patch (auricular) looked white. The lores and the auricular were dark brown although the center of the auricular was lighter brown. The dark brown along the top and bottom edge of the auricular patch was wider than the thin dark brown edge at the rear of the patch. The mustache streak was blackish. It nearly touched the bill and got wider toward the breast where it merged with the breast streaks. The throat was white. The nape had no distinct coloration, the crown area merged into a typical brown and black streaked bunting back. The wing pattern was not noted well. A note says "buff at shoulder?". There were crisp, black or dark brown streaks on the side of the breast and across it. The streaks were not particularly narrow, but had well defined edges. Not smudges. The streaks extended down the side as far as I could see. There was a "spot" in the center of the breast. I had seen a number of Black-faced Buntings in the area and also two Siberian Meadow Bunting (E. cioides), my first on Okinawa.

    Similar species: I studied as many books as I could find on buntings in Eastern Eurasia. Unfortunately, I did not spend time at studying museum specimens. This bird is very similar to a female Yellow-browed Bunting (E. chrysophrys). I do not know for sure the immature plumages of this species. It seems E. chrysophrys has a darker bill, would show some yellow in the forward part of the eyebrow, and has narrower streaks on the breast. I do not know the foraging habits and habitat of Yellow-browed Bunting.

    Other observers: none. Previous experience with the species: I had seen many Savannah Sparrows in the U.S.A., maybe 5 different subspecies. I had never seen one with an all white eyebrow. I had not seen Yellow-browed Bunting.

    Transcribed from a drawing and notes taken immediately after the sighting.

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    Last modified: April 25, 1997.
    Fer-Jan de Vries,