What Is That … Oriental Bird?

Waddells

We visited Japan and South Korea in April, before the late start to cottage season.  In addition to enjoying the exotic cultures, food, and history, elements of the adventure reminded us of cottaging at Three Mile Bay, White Lake.  As we have mentioned in previous articles on southern Africa, Iceland, and Iberia, we are fascinated by the truly exotic species we have encountered, and those that remind us of what we see near our cottage.   In this article we focus on just a few of the birds we enjoyed photographing while in Japan and South Korea.

The barn swallow is common throughout Japan and South Korea.  It is similar to the barn swallows we occasionally see near the cottage with its long, forked-tail, dark back and rufous forehead and neck.   The Japanese barn swallow can grow to 17 centimeters in length.  Distinctive features of the Japanese barn swallow are the black border below its rufous throat and its white breast.

The brown-eared bulbul is a medium-sized bird which grows to 28 centimeters in length.  It is only found in Japan and southern Korea.  At first glance we guessed this might be a light coloured European starling. On closer examination we noted it had a longer tail than starlings and a distinctive chestnut ear patch.  We always heard the bulbul before we saw it.

The falcated teal, a member of the marsh duck family, is found throughout southern Japan.  These birds can grow up to 48 centimeters in length.  Males have an iridescent head with a broad glossy dark green band, somewhat reminiscent of male mallard ducks.  One truly distinguishing feature of the male falcated teal is the long curving tertiary feathers that droop over the bird’s tail.

The great tit is a small woodland bird that is common throughout Japan and South Korea.  It feeds on insects, seeds, nuts and berries, growing to 14 centimeters in length.  These birds reminded us of the black-capped chickadees that are so common around our cottage.  The great tit has a grey coloured back, white cheeks and black cap just like our chickadees, but has the distinguishing feature of a black line down the center of its white breast.

The grey heron is the largest member of the heron family in Japan, measuring up to 93 centimeters in length with a 160-centimeter wingspan.  It is very similar in both size and colouring to the great blue herons we have at White Lake, so much so that the first time we spotted one we thought it was a great blue heron vacationing in Japan.  On closer examination, we noted the grey heron’s black crest and the black stripes on its fore-neck are more pronounced than in our cottage great blue herons.

The jungle crow is a large, all black bird similar to the American crow we see commonly around the cottage.  Jungle crows, which can grow to 57 centimeters in length, are common throughout Japan and south Korea.  Two features that distinguish the jungle crow from its North American relative are its much thicker bill and its protruding forehead.

The tree sparrow is the most common bird throughout Japan and South Korea.  This small member of the finch family can grow to a length of 14 centimeters.  The general appearance of this sparrow is very similar to sparrows we have around White Lake; however, the tree sparrow has a distinctive white cheek with a black spot.

In addition to these almost familiar bird species, we also had an opportunity to travel across and photograph the Kintaikyo bridge which is located near Hiroshima in Japan.  This is a 193 meter-long five arch pedestrian bridge that was designed and first built in 1673!  It seemed familiar since it has five arches just like the Pakenham stone bridge, which we cross when we travel to the cottage; however, the Kintaikyo bridge is built from wood.

Our most recent travels took us 13 time zones away from our cottage, over half way around the world.  We saw new, exotic sights but we also saw some that seemed familiar to those we see around the cottage.  We are reminded this big world is also very small!

We relied on the excellent, illustrated, English book A Field Guide to the Birds of Japan prepared by the Wild Bird Society of Japan as well as David Allen Sibley’s The Sibley Field Guide to Birds of Eastern North America to research this article.