Japan – Birding on Kyushu

Our next birding stop was the larger island of Kyushu, where we stayed a couple of nights near the Mi-ike Forest Reserve, another gorgeous place filled with trails winding through mossy woods. Our target birds here were the Asian stubtail warbler and the fairy pitta, a hard-to-find species the locals refer to as the “eight color bird” for its rainbow plumage. Happily, we found them both, along with an assortment of other really nice ones like the spectacular ruddy kingfisher and the Japanese paradise flycatcher, which has a tail more than twice the length of its body. One bird we had searched for in vain on Honshu — the copper pheasant — also occurs on Kyushu so of course we had to continue our quest for that here.

Stuck van on Kyushu

Nearing dusk, our guide Pete turned down a soft dirt road that dead-ended at the bottom of a hill and promptly got the van stuck. No amount of pushing by the group as Pete gunned the engine (or rather, the men pushed; I took cover in the bushes to avoid having a flying rock put my eye out) managed to get us up the hill. After spinning the wheels into the ground up to the axles and burning most of the tread off the tires, he finally gave up and walked three miles down the paved road to seek help as we waited by the van.

An hour later he returned with some friendly hotel workers who towed us out with a 4WD after dark. At least he was nice to them, and we promised to come to their hotel the next night to drink sake with them. Exhausted and starving, we returned to our minshuku where the staff was worried about our late arrival but nonetheless had set out a colorful array of dishes for us, this time with individual hot pots that we used to cook our own sukiyaki.

Having successfully found most of what we came for, we decided to hire a small boat the next day to take us out to the tiny uninhabited island of Biro-jima to look for the obscure little Syan’s grasshopper warbler, which we found in abundance. In the afternoon we came across an excellent river mudflat chock full of shorebirds, many of which were new for Dennis and me.

Birders toasting the hotel rescuers in Kyushu

Later we picked up some sweets and a bottle of shochu to take as a thank-you gift for the hotel workers who had come to our rescue the night before. We shared several rounds before bidding them arigato and sayonara. We later found out that shochu was not high-end sake but rather a grain distillate mostly drunk by blue-collar laborers, but of course the ever-diplomatic and gracious locals showed no disappointment at our downscale taste in hooch.

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