See Right Through You

Hi blog.

This will be another fairly short post, but the third post this month, which puts it ahead of the curve.

This one is almost the reverse of a “stumbled upon” moment, and happened at the primary school (or, “elementary school” as my employers think it should be called…)

I was having my well-deserved lunch break and the only other person in the staffroom at the time was the school nurse.

Suddenly she asked me, “What’s that insect?”

Sure enough, a decent sized insect was flying near the ceiling. At first I thought a dragonfly had gotten in through an open window, but then it changed direction and I could make out its profile. Not bad, identifying a flying insect at around 4m.

The only problem was that I couldn’t remember the name of insect. Which, given that it is in fact my favourite moth, was not really acceptable.

What was acceptable, however, was finding that not only did the staffroom have an insect net, but that someone had attached some dowel to the handle, making it long enough for me to catch the moth and nearby was a case I could put it in. There was no way I was going to let this one go unphotographed.

Sorry about the quality of these pictures, but trying to photograph a jumpy subject through acrylic is not easy.

The moth in question is Cephonodes hylas the coffee bee hawkmoth, pellucid hawk moth or coffee clearwing. The Japanese name, which I have now committed to memory, is osugashiba (大透翅) – literally “large clear wing”. (In defence, the name is typically written in katakana オオスガシバ, which makes it harder to memorize.)

With a wingspan of around 30 mm, it is not a particularly large moth, although it does have quite a wide body. The back is mostly yellow-greenish with a reddish stripe around the middle of the abdomen, the lower abdomen more of a yellow colour and black tips at the base of the abdomen. What makes this moth special are its transparent, scaleless wings.

You can see how clear the wings are.

These moths are capable of graceful flight, and can be seen hovering around flowers, whose nectar they drink with their long (2 cm or so) straw-like proboscis. I have tried to photograph them in the act of feeding and discovered they can fly quickly as well as gracefully – which is why I have not blogged about them until now.

That yellow patch is why so many people think this is a hornet.

It is not maybe not surprising that a lot of people mistake the moths in flight for hornets. Almost none of the other teachers who saw the captive moth recognised it, none of them knew the name, and several were concerned that it would drop poisonous dust. (There are a handful of moths whose scales cause allergic reactions, and this has become so misunderstood that most Japanese people think all moths drop poisonous dust.)

These moths lay their eggs on gardenia plants, where the larvae remain in pupal stage over winter and appear as adults in summer.

A slow motion video of a moth feeding. Thank you, Wikipedia.

I released the moth later in the afternoon and hope that it will mate and leave offspring for next year.

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When the River Runs Low

Hi, blog.

School is back, and although Sports Day and the interschool sporting competitions have both been cancelled due to Covid19 concerns (after the Olympics went ahead…), a tighter version of the English speech contest – which directly involves me – will go ahead. Not to mention that some of the English teachers have been throwing a lot of extra work my way.

Summer ended on a whimper, with storms hitting us on the afternoon of August 31st and the rain not ceasing until the 6th, and even then we had intermittent patches of significant rain. More significantly, nighttime temperatures have been cool, even requiring a quilt to avoid feeling cold.

Between the weather and me going to work earlier and leaving for home later, I was wondering if I would get even one post out this month.

Then two things happened. The second was the unexpected very short post I put up yesterday. The first was this article which showed up on my newsfeed.

The Japan Times has been tightening up on free viewing of newer news items, so I have copied the whole article here.

Hot, dry summer in Hokkaido likely behind death of dozens of rare fish

Sep. 6th, 2021

Asahikawa, Hokkaido – Dozens of Japanese huchen, an endangered fish in the salmon family, have been found dead in rivers this summer in the northern Hokkaido region of Soya.

Experts say the fish, dubbed the “phantom fish” for its scarcity, probably died because of a deficiency of oxygen in the water, as the hot summer caused high water temperatures and not enough rain.

Dead Japanese huchen found in the Sarufutsu River system in Hokkaido | COURTESY OF MITSUKI KURODA / VIA KYODO
Dead Japanese huchen found in the Sarufutsu River system in Hokkaido | COURTESY OF MITSUKI KURODA / VIA KYODO

A local conservation group has called on fishermen to avoid fishing for them until water levels return to normal.

Mitsuru Kawahara, 51, a member of the conservation group for Japanese huchen, has found about 40 of them dead along the Sarufutsu River system since the beginning of August.

The place smelled of dead fish, some of which had been eaten by animals, and those that were still alive were hanging by a thread, he said.

“(The fish that were alive) were barely floating. Some of them were so weak they were bumping into rocks in the water,” said Kawahara, adding it was the first time he has seen something like this in the 15 years he has worked to protect the species.

“It was shocking, as if I had witnessed the effects of climate change with my own eyes,” he said.

In July, the Meteorological Agency’s Sarufutsu observatory posted an average temperature of 18.9 degrees Celsius, the highest since it started taking records in 1979. The amount of rainfall for the month was 8.5 millimeters, the second-lowest amount ever.

Dead Japanese huchen were also found in the Teshio River system in the town of Toyotomi in northern Hokkaido.

According to Mitsuki Kuroda, 25, a researcher at Hokkaido University who was doing research into the fish in August, many of the fish had their mouths open and whitened fins, a typical sign of oxygen deficiency.

The fish probably died after the rising water temperature caused their metabolism to increase, which meant they needed more oxygen, Kuroda pointed out. A shortage of rain meant that the oxygen level in the water was low, causing them to die, he said.

But because Kuroda has not been able to work out how many fish have died so far, he is not sure how it will affect the ecological system.

“It’s important to continue monitoring the species, including checking the number of spawned eggs, to see if they have declined during the breeding season,” said Kuroda.

Article ends.

For those of you unfamiliar with aquaria, some fish require low water temperatures to thrive. (16℃ is a recommended temperature for keeping many of Japan’s mountain stream fish.) Higher water temperatures contain less oxygen and larger fish may die from this. But it doesn’t stop there. When fish die, they start to decay very quickly, producing ammonia, which is poisonous to fish in high concentrations. Water systems contain bacteria which feed on ammonia, but require oxygen. Essentially, dead fish further deplete water systems of oxygen and the cycle can quickly spiral out of control.

Not really following the weather in Hokkaido, I was initially surprised when I first read the article, especially as the news here had been focusing on the record rainfalls in western Japan and seemingly endless rainy days here.

I don’t recall having seen a Japanese huchen (Parahucho perryi), also known as Sakhalin taimen or stringfish (obviously a direct translation of one of its Japanese names), but I am aware of their existence, mostly due to Seibuen Amusement Park using its large swimming pool as a fishing pool in winter and advertising that they have a rare 1m long Japanese huchen in among all the trout. Actually, I may have seen one at an aquarium in Yamanashi, but my memory is foggy.

A Japanese huchen in the Yama Aquarium, Hokkaido. Photo taken from Wikipedia.

The Japanese huchen has a number of names, the most popular being ito (with a long o sound) (伊富, 伊富魚, 伊当, or 𩹷), but others include ito (with a short o sound), ido, obirame and chirai. These last two are of Ainu origin.

These fish are related to salmon, but only some ever leave fresh water lakes and rivers for the sea. Also, they can spawn several times during their life, which is estimated at around fourteen years.

Native to Hokkaido and the surrounding islands as well as the extreme east of the Russian mainland, and formerly found as far south as parts of Aomori and Akita, these rank among Japan’s largest freshwater fish. (If an unconfirmed capture of a specimen of 2.1 metres in 1937 is to be believed, then they rank as THE largest freshwater fish in Japan…)

Unfortunately, sightings and captures of wild fish have decreased over time, mostly due to the usual reasons*. Japan’s Environment Ministry rates them as endangered, while the IUCN classes them as critically endangered.

*The usual reasons: overfishing, habitat destruction, pollution, climate change, and other human-induced effects.

Naturally, large specimens of these rare fish are the dream of recreational fishermen. In fact, a friend has a DVD collection of old cartoons of Fisherman Sanpei, a boy crazy about fishing, and I happened to be in his car when the episode involving Japanese huchen was playing.

Sanpei lands a 1 metre class huchen.

While most fish caught by recreational fishermen are released, the huchen is said to be excellent eating. While there is a small fisheries and aquaculture industry in Hokkaido and Aomori, only about 2000 fish are shipped annually. Because they are sensitive to warm temperatures, most fish are eaten locally.

In the wild, smaller Japanese huchen eat mostly insects, worms and small crustaceans, but larger ones tend to prey on other fish, which makes them disliked by salmon hatcheries. They have also been reported to feed on frogs, waterfowl chicks, and rats. Ainu legends tell of monstrous individuals over four metres long swallowing deer, bears or humans whole.

In addition to playing a part in Ainu creation mythology – certain lakes were said to be formed when a god speared one of the afore-mentioned monsters and damming up the rivers, and several place names come from the Ainu names for the fish – the Ainu people both ate the fish and used their tough skin on clothing and footwear. Apparently, such footwear affords excellent anti-slip properties on snow and ice as well as being waterproof.

The Ainu god/folk-hero Kannakamuy takes on the monster Ciray in a Japanese retelling of an Ainu legend.

I hope that the Japanese huchen populations can recover from this mass-death. I also hope that more people become aware of the fish and its importance in Ainu culture.

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Eye of the Spider

Hi blog.

Just a very quick and actually unexpected post (at a time when I am actually working on another post.)

You may remember last year when I posted about ant-mimicking spiders.

Well, I have another photo for your viewing pleasure. This was a chance encounter when I was in a hurry to get to work. But their was no way I was going to let this photo opportunity pass me by.

No photo description available.
An ant-mimicking spider, suspended by a thread, with a moth.

Keep your eyes open!

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The Bear Facts of Migration

Hi blog.

I’m currently on holiday – which actually means not being at school and not needing to think about work very often.

The (expletive deleted) Olympics are officially over, but that means probably at least two weeks of media circus as they interview EVERY Japanese medalist, their coaches, teammates, former teammates from high school, parents, fourth grade teachers, the person who installed their TV antenna… (And that’s before the Paralympics even start.)

Just thought – why can’t they run both events cocurrently?

Anyway, I wasn’t sure if I would get any posts out this month. With my general apathy right now, on and off typhoons, family commitments and work stuff toward the end of the holidays, the chances seemed remote. Then I opened a link on a group I follow on social media, a mostly light-hearted group that posts mostly old illustrations of dinosaurs (tail dragging, upright iguanadons, tyranosauruses with the wrong number of digits, aquatic sauropods, etc.)


There was nothing in the title to even hint that it would be related to this blog.

Article at Live Science:

Scientists extract ancient DNA from 32,000-year-old bear skull

By Nicoletta Lanese – Staff Writer 

DNA extracted from a 32,500-year-old bear skull hints that ice age brown bears migrated to Honshu, Japan’s largest island and lived near present-day Tokyo before eventually dying out.

Today, Japan’s only brown bears (Ursus arctos) live in Hokkaido, the northernmost island in the Japanese archipelago. Evidence suggests that the ancestors of these bears migrated to the island from Sakhalin, an island just north of Hokkaido that is now part of present-day Russia. The bears likely lumbered over a land bridge that connected Sakhalin and Hokkaido at various points in the Pleistocene, a time period that lasted from 2.6 million to about 11,700 years ago.

Although brown bears no longer traipse around Tokyo, their fossils — dated between 340,000 and 20,000 years old —have been discovered in several locations on Honshu Island, researchers noted in a new report, published Tuesday (Aug. 3) in the journal Royal Society Open Science. That raises the questions of when and how the Honshu bears first got to the island, but unfortunately, there’s little fossil evidence of the beasts’ migration.

“The number of brown bear fossils excavated from the Pleistocene in Japan is scarce, with less than ten incomplete specimens,” lead author Takahiro Segawa, a senior assistant professor at the University of Yamanashi’s Center for Life Science Research in Japan, told Live Science in an email. 

But one unique specimen, excavated from a cave in the Gunma Prefecture, northwest of the Greater Tokyo area, includes the skull of a bear, complete with right and left petrosals — dense portions of the temporal bones that surround the inner ear. 

The dense structure of petrosals helps shield ancient DNA from degradation, so these bone fragments retain more DNA than other fossilized bones, according to a 2015 report in the journal PLOS One. Knowing this, the research team collected a tiny amount of powdered petrosal from the brown bear skull and brought it to their lab for DNA analysis.

The samples were roughly 32,700 to 32,200 years old, the team determined. The team then compared recovered genetic sequences from the petrosals with 95 near-complete genomes from other brown bears, including all those available from the nearby Hokkaido lineages. 

Based on this analysis, they concluded that the Honshu bear belonged to a “previously unknown lineage” that split off from its sister lineage, the so-called Southern Hokkaido brown bear clade, about 160,000 years ago. The authors theorize that the bears crossed the Tsugaru strait, which separates Hokkaido and Honshu, sometime around that split. 

And in fact, fossil evidence suggests that other large mammals, including Naumann’s elephants (Palaeoloxodon naumanni) and the giant deer (Sinomegaceros yabei), crossed from Hokkaido and Honshu a few thousand years later, around 140,000 years ago, during a glacial period when sea levels were low, according to a 2005 report in the journal Paleoceanography and Paleoclimatology. Brown bears may have taken advantage of the same shallow waters to reach Honshu, the authors suggested. 

The oldest brown bear fossil ever found in Honshu is estimated to be 340,000 years old, the authors noted. That fossil was uncovered in a limestone quarry at the northernmost point of Honshu, and the specimen predates both the Honshu bear skull and the Southern Hokkaido clade. This suggests that different lineages of brown bear ventured to Honshu at different times — once more than 340,000 years ago, and then again during the late Pleistocene. 

Whenever they reached the island, “for reasons unknown, the bears were extirpated by the end of the late Pleistocene in Honshu,” along with the Naumann’s elephants, giant deer and other large mammals, like bison (Bison priscus), the authors wrote in the study. The exact timing and reason for these animals’ disappearance remains shrouded in mystery. 

Originally published on Live Science. 

I was then able to find the original research published in English at Royal Society Publishing.

This is very in-depth but worth looking at just for the photos and diagrams, plus the current theories on bear migration to Honshu.

The lower skull is that of a brown bear found in Iwanai, Hokkaido, the top one consists of the rear section and lower jaw found in Ueno, Gunma and a canine from Chichibu, Saitama. This picture was not included in the English language publication.

Enjoy your summer!

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The Cloud Grabber, or There and Back Again

Hi blog.

The height of summer is upon us, with daytime temperatures exceeding 35℃ becoming the new normal.

The last few days of school were a mixture of rush and slack, with things I needed done but with the help of other people – and the things I needed help with were not high on their list of priorities.

Suddenly I recieved two invitations for the first three days of the four day weekend that announced the start of the summer holidays (Yay!) and the start of the Olympics (Boo! Hiss!)

Workmate Joe asked me if I would help referee a karate competition he was holding for his club. I haven’t trained in karate for six years, and I studied a very different ryuha from the one Joe teaches, but it sounded like fun.

Seeing kids in competition was a bit of an eye opener, not to mention the difference in kata. I enjoyed the experience and was both disappointed at how much skill and knowledge I had lost and surprised at how much I had retained after those six years.

The one more relevent to this blog’s usual content was an invitation from Goat to join him and Y on an overnight trip up Mt. Kumotori – Kumotoriyama, (雲取山), literally “the cloud grabber”.

It would be a drive to the Mitsumine Shrine car park, hike to Mt. Kumotori and return the next day.

I had done Mt. Kumotori three times previously, all of them in winter and the first time was my first real hike with Goat. I had toyed with the idea of a summer hike, so this was right up my alley.

I obtained permission, got some gear together, and set off.

I’m a hopless over-packer. Everything I bring seems to take up more space than what everyone else brings. Plus I get paranoid about water. I had visions of the hike taking eight hours or more in intense heat and it took quite a bit of resolve to prevent me from bringing more than twice as much water as I actually needed…

A 5;30 pickup at a location just over 5 km from home (“Good warm-up” says Goat) and we were on our way.

The hike towards Mt. Kumotori is at a respectable 1200 metres, and I did climb Mt. Mitsumine once, although that was well over two decades ago, back when a cable car serviced tourists but I decided the climb would be more interesting…

Here we were at 1200 metres, with the next peak some 300 metres up.

Anyway, the route to Mt. Kumotori is just under 10 km. The summit of Kumotori itself is 2017 metres above sea level and marks the intersection of Tokyo Metropolis and Saitama and Yamanashi Prefectures. Mt. Kumotori is the highest mountain in Tokyo, the 5th highest in Saitama, and a fairly insignificant numbe in Yamanashi – some two dozen or so higher peaks are to be found in that prefecture.

The hike takes one through both needle and broadleaf forests, plus through sedimentary and igneous rock formations. Much of this was once seabed, and occasionally fossils are found in the area.

An unusual fungus at the base of a tree.
The ruins of an old charcoal burner’s hut.
A bit more detail.
Mountains in the distance and clouds slowly rolling in.
For some reason, there are relief images of Prince and Princess Chichibu at Kirimogamine.

We were actually quite lucky as far as the weather went – the morning brought a breeze that kept the evaporation up and the hike more comfortable. Clouds started rolling in around noon, and we heard the sound of thunder just before the halfway point.

Deer track. Deer frequent this area and I had seem them on all my previous trips.
The hut at Shiraiwa. Goat had stayed here back in 2006 on a night it had gotten too cold to camp out. Now it is just a ruin, with the walls fallen in…
… and occupied by a deer.
This deer has actually taken up residence in the hut!

Actually, the sky became quite dark, and the latest weather updates showed a 90% chance of rain for Chichibu. Of course, Chichibu is the largest city in Saitama in terms of area, so a 90% chance of rain in part of the city could mean no rain in another.

We arrived at the Kumotori hut around 3:00, paid our 500 yen apiece for camping space, and went to find space for our respective camps – Goat and Y in a tent, me in my bivvy bag (hoping that it wouldn’t rain…)

My half-star accommodation.

In a moment of absurd humour, another hiker was looking at the area around where I had set up. He was some cosplayer wearing a reproduction Japanese Imperial Army uniform – Goat and I dubbed him “Fanboy” from that moment. Anyway, Fanboy saw me and decided that somewhere further away was a much better camping site.

We had a few spots of rain before the weather lightened up again and the rain symbols disappeared from my phone. As sunset approached, the temperature became much cooler and everyone in the area put on warmer gear. I hadn’t anticipated such a temperature drop but put on my rain gear, which I was certain would be warm enough to get me through the night.

It wasn’t

My twenty-something year old Therm-a-Rest® is fine if you lie on your back; if you move onto your side, too much pressure forms around the hip and you will find yourself feeling any gravel underneath. As a result, I didn’t sleep very comfortably. After dozing off some time after 6, I found myself awake and shivering. I assumed it was a bit before dawn and checked the time on my phone. 11:55. And the rest of the night was a cycle of:

Go back to sleep

Wake up half and hour later, shivering.


I was relieved when Goat and Y came to check on me because that meant coffee and movement. While they got picks of the rising sun, I got my coffee on. It’s true what they say, you know – who brews wins.

Who Brews Wins.
Early morning above the clouds.
A shot of Goat and Y getting their own shots.

We decided to leave our gear where it was and head for the summit with nothing more than cameras. Travelling light was bliss.

The summit marker, from the Tokyo side.
Looking south into Yamanashi.
Yes, that was Mt. Fuji you could see in the previous photo.
A guite to the peaks that can be seen from the summit of Mt. Kumotori.

After our walk around the summit was the return to camp, breakfast, pack-up and return trip. Which was considerably easier than the climb.

Goodbye, Kumotori Hut. This place is really classy, has room for 400 visitors and sells beer. I stayed here on my three winter hikes and it was well worth it.
The area around Mt. Kumotori is known as “the moss kingdom” for good reason.

Many thanks to Goat for inviting me and Y for driving.

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Off the Rail

Hi blog.

After what seemed to be endless rain with just a couple of sunny patches in between, the rainy season has officially ended in the Kanto region and the heat is on. With high humidity, even 30℃ can seem ridiculously hot.

I have been very tired recently, partly due to my eyesight essentially collapsing and needing reading glasses – which also cause trouble since they don’t allow me to focus on things more than 60 cm away; partly due to the humidity which doesn’t make for a good night’s sleep; and partly because of unreasonable expectations from work. At least the summer holidays start this week.

This article showed up on my newsfeed and I thought it would be worth sharing. I first read about this bird in an English test about 15 or 16 years ago. I was surprised just how recently it was known to science since I can’t imagine it going unnoticed for centuries in Okinawa.

From The Japan Times

How the Okinawa rail was discovered 40 years ago | The Japan Times

How the Okinawa rail was discovered 40 years ago

  • Jul 12, 2021

When a flightless bird was caught on June 28, 1981, researchers who had set the trap were delighted to find it held just what they had been looking for.

Named the Okinawa rail, the bird was described as a new species in a paper published later that year.

Four decades later, researchers involved have looked back on the excitement of the time, still vividly recalling the emotions they felt when the bird was captured.

“When I saw the bird in the trap, I felt a sense of relief and accomplishment,” said Kiyoaki Ozaki, deputy director of the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology in Chiba Prefecture, who conducted the research back in 1981. “I was surprised it was living so close to human settlements but had never been identified.

“Even after 40 years, there are still many unknown aspects of its habits, and further research is needed.”

Before it was named the Okinawa rail, the flightless bird was known as yamadui (mountain bird) and agachi (flustered fellow) among local residents in the local dialect. Those who caught the bird now highlight the need to protect its natural environment in the northern part of Okinawa’s main island.

The discovery of a new species of bird, the Okinawa rail, took place 40 years ago in June. It remains an endangered species. | THE OKINAWA TIMES
The discovery of a new species of bird, the Okinawa rail, took place 40 years ago in June. It remains an endangered species. | THE OKINAWA TIMES

“I often saw the birds in the mountains; I didn’t realize that it was a new species,” Morio Oshiro, 84, a forestry worker in Kunigami village, said with a laugh.

In the early 1970s, Tetsuo Tomori, 88, who conducted wildlife research as a biology teacher at Nago High School at the time, received a report that there was a Japanese pheasant in the mountains of Kunigami.

As Tomori continued his research, he learned of the existence of the yamadui, and visualized what it looked like. A few years later, he saw the bird in the village with his own eyes, running in front of him.

In 1975, researchers at the Yamashina Institute for Ornithology, which was conducting annual surveys of migratory birds in Okinawa, also heard rumors of the bird. Ozaki recalled that he was skeptical at first, wondering if it really existed in a place like Okinawa, which was not uncharted land.

However, during a survey conducted over a few days in 1980, he confirmed the existence of an unknown species of rail at Mount Yonaha in Kunigami. Ozaki immediately drew sketches of the bird and, in 1981, embarked on a long-term survey to capture it.

The base camp for the survey team was a shed on the farm of Koji Onishi, 70, in Kunigami. The team set traps and checked them every few hours. Ten days later on the morning of June 28, a young bird the team had been chasing was finally caught in a trap he had set halfway up a mountain.

Shortly before that, Tomori had obtained the carcass of another Okinawa rail from an acquaintance.

“I still remember the excitement I felt when I opened the package wrapped in newspaper,” he recalled. “I was convinced that it was definitely a new species.”

Tomori stuffed the carcass and offered it to the institute so that it could be used in an announcement of the new species.

One week after they captured the young Okinawa rail, researchers also succeeded in capturing an adult bird. Ozaki and the other team members brought the adult bird to the Okuma Elementary School gymnasium to see if it could fly. The bird ran quickly for about 10 minutes, but never once tried to get airborne.

After that, the research team went to Onishi’s shed to come up with a name for the bird. Over glasses of awamori liquor, some suggested, “How about ‘Okinawa fumiru‘ because it looks like a fumiru (the local name for waterhen)?”

But Onishi suggested that they add “yambaru,” which refers to the northern area of Okinawa thick with mountains and forests, to the name. Yambaru kuina is the Japanese word for the Okinawa rail.

“I couldn’t really sense the importance of the moment when I captured it. But now it’s a bird of the world,” he said with a smile.

“The number of Okinawa rails has decreased significantly due to mongooses and cats,” Ozaki stressed. “Conservation measures have been taken and their numbers are now recovering, but they are still in danger of extinction. Protecting the earthworms and snails that feed them, as well as the entire forest ecosystem, will help protect the Okinawa rail, a symbol of biodiversity.”

This section features topics and issues from Okinawa covered by The Okinawa Times, a major newspaper in the prefecture. The original article was published June 28.

Article ends.

The Okinawa rail is still on the critical list in Okinawa; threats include being killed by cars, predetation by dogs and cats and the introduced mongoose, and loss of habitat.

If I ever get the chance to go to Okinawa, I should like to see these birds in their native habitat.

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Dances with Dragonflies

A place to work and grow

A place to work and grow 

Heart shaped hedges

Japanese gardens

INXS, Johnson’s Aeroplane

Hi blog.

Not a lot to report on the wildlife front here. As it turns out, the Bureau of Meteorology announced the official start of the rainy season on June 14th.

The weather has been erratic and unstable. Rain forecast to fall all day might stop by 7:30 in the morning, or thunderstorms may suddenly form on otherwise clear days. Forget trying to tell me what the weather will be like tomorrow if you can’t tell me what it will be like in five minutes!

This will be (another) short post.

I really needed to get out following a stressful week at work, but circumstaces were only really going to allow for a couple of hours. Time to take another stroll down the river to Kokukoen.

The walk there was uneventful, with no new encounters. I decided to take a stroll through the Japanese garden, not really expecting anything, when I was surprised by a bright blue dragonfly perched on a hydrangea leaf.

Beautiful, isn’t it? I can’t believe I almost missed this view.
Too bad I couldn’t get a shot of the dragonfly.

It turns out the dragonfly in question was a white skimmer (Orthetrum albistylum), or more specifically, the male of the species. The Japanese name is the shiokaratombo (塩辛蜻蛉) which is derived from the white scales on the underside of the male, which are said to look like salt crystals.

The female is ofthen a straw colour instead, and is often called mugiwaratombo (麦藁蜻蛉), literally “straw dragonfly”. I was able to capture a few seconds of one laying her eggs in the pond.

There was one other species of dragonfly in significant numbers, but that was even harder to photograph. Pseudothemis zonata (I was unable to find a common name in English) is a black and dragonfly with a white section of abdomen. Its local name is koshiakitombo (腰空蜻蛉), literally “empty waist dragonfly”, so named because of that white patch.

These could be seen flitting around the pond’s edge but never staying still long enough for me to get a photo.

The waterfall in the garden.
Cue Jaws music….
This white carp had no qualms about getting up close and persoal. Too bad the dragonflies weren’t as cooperative.
The garden is also home to this gorgeous lilly.

A walk around most of the park was largely unfulfilling, with the possible exception of some brightly coloured fungus on a log bench.

Gorgeous colour scheme, eh?

On the homeward trip I encountered my favourite dragonfly, err, dameselfly, the Calopteryx atrata, which I hope to properly photograph one day.

No photo description available.
Calopteryx atrata taken last year. Not a great photo by any stretch of the imagination, but it should give yu some idea why I like them so much.

I also saw one of the softshell turtles and a resident kingfisher. But the only thing I could photograph was an ordinary mallard duck.

Upside down.
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Return of the Turtles (and Requiem)

Hi blog.

Despite my claim in my last post that it seemed that the rainy season had started ridiculously early this year, we have had several days without significant rain and the temperatures have topped out near the 30 degree mark.

You may remember last year I encountered some Chinese softshell turtles in the nearby river. Well, I was able to see them again.

Not the best of pictures (heavly zoomed and cropped from a mobile phone camera) but you can tell that it is a softshell turtle.
There is absolutely no doubt that this is a softshell turtle. I was surprised to see it in such shallow water.

I was quite chuffed at getting photos that proved conclusively they were in fact softshell turtles, as some people had dissmissed my previous claims of these turtles living in that river system as mistaken identity.

This was even more surprising. I hadn’t anticipated spotting one partially out of the water. I wondered if it was coming out to lay eggs.

Unfortunately, it seems that the large individual that had rested on the shore was not long for this world. I spotted it again in the same spot the following morning and that afternoon, and again the next day, with no signs of movement. Also, flies had begun to swarm.

The other two turtles I am aware of also seemed to sense something was wrong and lingered in the vicinity.

Two other softshell turtles seem to know that something is amiss here.

I confess to feeling very disappointed at the larger turtle’s demise, especially since I suspect it was a female and therefore vital to the continuation of the turtles’ existance in the river system. I sincerely hope that there is at least one breeding pair in my area.

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Scaredy Crow

Hi blog.

The rainy season has officially started in western Japan, three weeks earlier than usual, and we are experiencing rainy season-ish weather here even if the Bureau of Meteorology hasn’t announced it yet.

Cloudy days, on and off rain all day and high humidity are the norm. As well as cycling to work wearing rubber boots – which looks really goofy – lest it buckets down during the commute.

This is another “stubbled upon” or “managed to get close enough to film” posts, this time featuring a carrion crow.

I often pass within a few metres of crows, usually jungle crows, on my bike but they are wary and will quickly increase the distance between us if I stop. So corvid photography is almost always out of the question.

I encountered this particular crow in an empty field (it was scavenging for food, either the remains of vegetables that had been plowed back into the soil or the invertebrates that feed on the same.

It wasn’t going to let me get a shot with anything less than maximum zoom, and wasn’t going to hold still long enough for a photo. Thank goodness for video.

Anyway, watch and enjoy.

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The Fortress and the Waterfall

Hi blog.

Here I am during Golden Week, mostly stuck at home. While no State of Emergency has been declared for Saitama, I am being more cautious than the national government, who plan to end the State of Emergency in time for the president of the International Olympic Committee’s visit. Coincidence? I think not!

About this time two years ago I attended the Takinojo Festival, but since that has been cancelled (twice now) due to the pandemic, I thought now would be a good time to write up about the castle in question. A visit to a largely deserted ruin achieves both getting out of the house and maintaining social distance.

The area the castle (or probably more accurately, fortress) occupied had been populated for centuries before its construction, as the excavation of graves – from under the rise the ruins stand upon – dating from the 7th century attests.

A sign on the castle grounds detailing the graves found in the slope under the castle ruins.

As a military base, Takinojo may have had its origins as far back as Minamoto no Yoritomo and his fiefs, but we are almost certain that the “castle” was built by the Oishi clan, who fell into the servitude of the Later Hojo. (Some sources claim that it was built by Ota Dokan, who was the architect of Kawagoe Castle) It served as a sub-castle for Takiyama Castle and later Hachioji Castle (both located in modern Hachioji) and as a rallying point for Hojo forces on some of their expeditions.

An aerial photo of the castle area. The blue point in the lower left is one of the two wells while the red point in the top right is the waterfall.
A survey map of the castle. The light blue-green areas are dry moats and the brown parts represent walls or embankments. The light blue 井 mark at the bottom is the same well in the above photo and the point at the top right is the waterfall.
A (not very good) photo of the official mock up of the main castle grounds on an orientation close to the map above.

The structure was built on high ground overlooking the Yanase River to the east (itself a minor but significant barrier) with a sudden steep rise that would have made a direct attack from the east very difficult. A system of dry moats – still in existence today – plus walls and various obstacles and fortifications would have provided extra protection. Several watchtowers commanded a view of the surrounding area. At least two wells were in the grounds, plus water could be obtained from a small waterfall from which the castle gets its name. The waterfall has since dried up, only flowing after rain.

The “waterfall”.
A heavily weathered sign greets visitors approaching from the west.
One of the dry moats around the secondary grounds.
The sign marks a double moat.
A stone marker on the site of one of several lookout towers, this one located between the double moats..
One can imagine how much view could be gained from a tower. The photo doesn’t really capture the depth and sense of slope.
The same view in reverse.
A sign marking the site of the “chi-no-deru matsu”, a black pine that allegedly secreted blood-red sap. Legend says that the tree had absorbed the blood of warriors who had died in battle. The tree died and was removed in 1972. Apparently there have been several attempts to plant pine trees on the same location, none of which have succeeded.
A statue stands to the right of a marker showing the location of another lookout tower. I normally have a fondness for roadside statues, but I don’t like historical sites being coopeted by shrines. There are several statues within the castle grounds, but they post-date the castle’s destruction.
The Kiri-fuki well site. This is the same one I pointed out in the maps above. This well is on a much lower level of the grounds.
The south entrance to the shrine and the main castle keep ruins.
It wouldn’t be a shrine without a steep set of stairs. I included this because it does give some idea of the slope that attackers would have had to overcome – under musket and arrow fire.
A view from the main keep area. Much of the ground between the river and the rise is now a park.
A view slightly left of the one above. One can imagine the level of visibility from a raised tower and if the trees and bamboo were cut.
The obligatory marker for the main keep.
The obligatory informative sign for the main keep. I suppose I should be grateful – I remember visiting the sites of similar fortresses where there was nothing except a sign, and often with less information.
The Shiroyama Shrine building. There are several tiny shrines on the castle grounds.
The “Meoto kashi”, literally “husband and wife oaks”.
Behind the Shiroyama Shrine a sign marks the site of a gate. It is believed that a bridge crossed the moat at this point.
The site of the gate to the main keep from the third keep. The bridge would have been just behind here.
Sign marking the third keep. Its other name, Channomikuruwa, is said to have arisen from Hojo Ujiteru enjoying tea with his retainers here.
The site of the main well, in the third keep.

Much of the original grounds are now roads, parkland or private property. I actually spotted a lookout tower marker in the garden of a house in the area.

Before I publish this post, I need to pay a visit to a certain public hall and get photos of a model of the castle to give you a better idea how it would have looked.

Part of the model of the castle grounds. The Kiri-fuki well is on the left, with the chi-no-deru matsu almost directly above it. The waterfall is just off the right.
An approach from the south. You get some idea just how hard it would be to assault the castle from the east.
From east-northeast. That is the waterfall on the right.

The castle fell in 1590 when Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s forces pushed east and the Hojos were toppled. It was burned to the ground and never rebuilt.

It was worth a stroll around the grounds.

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