Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Boreal Birds and Poutine

A quick run North to add some "Boreal" Species to the Year-List

I'm at my best as a birder when I plan, and at my worst when I don't.  So this weekend, being very much unplanned, produced some very mixed results bird-wise.

With no real plans for the Easter weekend I debated a number of different options before deciding, essentially at the last minute to "Head North" for Boreal birds.  Sounded like a good idea at the time, so with little research, not a peep at the weather forecast, and no fixed itinerary, I booked a hotel in Lake Placid, jumped in the car at 5am on Friday and headed up to the Adirondack Mountains.

For New Yorkers, to get all the State's resident birds, inevitably means a trip (or 8 trips on my big year in 2012) to the Adirondacks for so called "Boreal Birds".  What do we mean by that?

True Boreal species that breed in the pockets of Boreal habitat (essentially high altitude spruce / tamarack bogs) in the Adirondacks.

1. Black-backed Woodpecker
2. American Three-toed Woodpecker
3. Boreal Chickadee
4. Spruce Grouse
5. Gray Jay

And then there are some other Northerly breeders that come down to the coast irregularly.

1. Red Crossbill
2. White-winged Crossbill
3. Pine Grosbeak
4. Evening Grosbeak
5. Common Redpoll (and Hoary Redpoll for now I suppose pending the inevitable lumping)
6. Pine Siskin
7. Northern Shrike
8. Bohemian Waxwing

Some of these species come down to the coast quite frequently (think Pine Siskins), some much less regularly (I've seen one Bohemian Waxwing and two Evening Grosbeaks on Long Island ever), and of course some never come down (try reporting a Spruce Grouse in West Islip and see what response you get from the local eBird reviewer).

Friday, March 25 - Adirondack Mountains

Planning matters!  And so, with no planning, I rather predictably bombed today.   Sabbattis Bog produced a Ruffed Grouse (a year bird), some Golden-crowned Kinglets, and a few Pine Siskins, but no Boreal Birds.  Losing faith I jumped over to Bloomingdales Bog - a "gimme" site for Gray Jay - and saw .... no Boreal Birds.   And then it started to snow ... which turned to hail ... and I decided I didn't like birding any more ....

So I drove to an area with cell reception, cancelled the hotel in Lake Placid, made a hotel reservation in Montreal, messaged a bunch of friends to say I was heading there, and drove North towards the Canadian border.  Four hours after I'd been standing in freezing hail in a damp New York forest, I was in a nice warm French restaurant eating amazing Canadian food, drinking good French wine, and hanging out with good friends.  Plan B turned out to be a good choice.

Foie Gras Poutine at Au Pied do Cochon, Martin Picard's shrine to decadence
Saturday, March 26 - Quebec

Mont Tremblant National Park, Quebec 

So, despite the great French food the night before, I still had no plan, and no Boreal birds.  I didn't want to cross the border again so soon, so actually decided to head further North and drove up to Mt. Tremblant National Park, about two hours North of Montreal.  It's one helluva pretty place and I once saw some Pine Grosbeaks there so I figured I was bound to just randomly bump into Boreal birds, even without any research.

As compared to Friday, Saturday was at least a beautiful day, and even if I'd seen no birds, the trip would have been a really neat drive through great scenery.  There were also actually birds .... finches .... tens of thousands of finches.  The roadsides were full of feeding/gritting Pine Siskins and Common Redpolls and everywhere I drove, I flushed them by the hundred.  While this was pretty cool at first, it soon became quite troubling .... I'f I drove too quickly I risked hitting and killing them (not the smartest things and they often flushed in front of the car as I got close) but if I drove too slowly I just pushed a bow-wave for small finches in front of me down the road.

Common Redpoll
Common Redpoll and Pine Siskin
In addition to the two finches mentioned there were also a fair number of Purple Finches and a single Evening Grosbeak.  At one point I though I heard some White-winged Crossbills too, but I never heard them a second time to let that record go.  It was a pretty day, lots of birds, few species, and good scenery.  All good stuff, but soon enough I headed back to the more human-centered pleasures of Montreal .... did I mention how amazing the food is in Montreal?

Sunday, March 27 - Adirondack Mountains

Well after two bad birding days, but a lot of good food and wine, I was hoping my luck would change ... and it did!  Back to the Adirondacks where on Friday I could do no right, and today ... I could do no wrong.  Birding is a funny, sometimes cruel, but always interesting hobby.

To begin with, the weather was a lot better - sunny, warmer, and (important for Boreal birding, so much of which is done by ear) windless.  And secondly, for some reason, birds practical threw themselves at me all morning ... not that I'm complaining.

I had limited time so I really intended only to spend time at Sabattis Bog before making the long drive back to the City for Easter Dinner.  I set the destination in the navigation system on the Range Rover and sat back, passively letting it make all the decisions, until I realized that I was passing through the village of Bloomingdale.  So taking control back from the computer I decided to make a quick stop at Bloomingdales Bog where I'd skunked on Friday and ended up spending some quality time with a very cute Gray Jay (Year Bird, and a real "Boreal").

Gray Jay at Bloomingdale Bog

Then on to Sabattis Bog where I quickly found another Gray Jay and then watched as a small red car pulled up and a woman got out, closely followed by said Jay, to put out some food at an improvised bird feeding area.  The woman was of course Joan Collins, Adirondack bird guide and all around encyclopedia of all things avian in the mountains, coming to put out raisins for her Gray Jay friends and suet for a very tame, and quite pushy Red-breasted Nuthatch.

Gray Jay - Sabattis Bog
While it was great to catch up with Joan; who I hadn't seen in a while, she was also very generous with her local information and within minutes I had re-planned the rest of my morning and headed off East towards the town of Newcomb.  Where, over the next couple of hours, I really cleaned up on the local birds adding in quick succession .... a Northern Shrike ... a couple of Evening Grosbeaks ... a Red Crossbill ... a couple of Boreal Chickadees ... and a Black-backed Woodpecker (5 New York State year birds, one after another).

Black-backed Woodpecker nest hole
The woodpecker was perhaps the most interesting as Joan had previously discovered a pair excavating a nest hole ... months earlier than they would traditionally do so.  Climate Change is having a huge impact on the birds in the Adirondacks  - Blue Jays now overwinter (at what cost to Gray Jays?) - Swainson's Thrushes are breeding higher and higher on the mountains (pushing out Bicknell's Thrushes?), and everything is breeding earlier.  While it's fascinating to see what's going on, it's also a little worrying and Joan, with her incredible on-the-ground knowledge is documenting it all.

Reluctantly though, I was timed out and still had a five hour drive to the City so had to leave.  I came to the Adirondacks eight times on my big year in 2012 and have only been back a couple of times since.  I've definitely missed it, and I'll be back soon.  As for Montreal ... I'll be there sooner ...

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Slogging Through March in New York

The worst birding month of the year ....

So back from Asia to the huge anticlimax that is March in New York.  Late April and May are spectacular here but March, well March is blah.  Migration is starting to happen but we are still getting snow storms, the Winter birds are leaving, and the Summer birds are still few and far between  But still, we persevere ....

Saturday March 12th - Central Park

With little to chase, but just the earliest hints of migration underway, I focussed on what was available close to the apartment.  Checked Central Park Reservoir, hoping for a reported Horned Grebe, which surprisingly according to eBird would be new for my New York County list ..... but I dipped.  Then down to The Ramble where I did catch up with an Eastern Phoebe (year bird!) and a singing Rusty Blackbird. A tiny hint of Spring.

Sunday March 13th - Bryant Park / Central Park

First to Bryant Park where I spent a very happy 20 minutes watching an American Woodcock (year bird!) toddling around in a bed of daffodils.  Quite simply one of my favorite species of bird in the world.

Then to Central Park where the Horned Grebe surrendered (New York County species number 200 - although I can think of a few more species I've seen that just never made it onto eBird).   Also added a Merlin which was both a year bird and a New York County bird.

Saturday March 19th - Queens and Nassau Counties

Hard to get get motivated in March but I came up with a small list of potential year birds and set off to find them.  First stop was Jamaica Bay for the regular nesting Barn Owls.  When I arrived, I bumped into Ken Feustel who was clearly there for the same thing.

There are Barn Owls in there, trust me ....
Working our way over to the 'Barn Owl Box' we settled down in the blind to see if the owls were planning to show.   Twenty minutes later they hadn't done so, but we knew they were in there so Ken took a risk and made (what was perhaps the lamest ever attempt at) a Barn Owl call.  And the Barn Owl popped it's head up and looked out of the box for a split second! Year bird!  But no photo ...

600 Snow Geese flew over while I was at Jamaica Bay, while newly arrived
Tree Swallows are choosing their nest boxes

Next stop was Jones Beach where 26 newly paired American Oystercatchers and a single pair of Piping Plovers both joined the year list.  Then a tour of local saltmarshes until I was able to add a newly arrived Osprey as well.  Not the most exciting birding though, especially after the recent Asia trip so I soon gave up and came back to the City.  Roll on April ....

Boat-tailed Grackle at Jones Beach.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Asian Urban Birding (Part 4) - Hong Kong

A Quick Stolen Morning of Birding in the New Territories

I really hadn't planned to do any birding in Hong Kong.  I arrived late on Sunday night from Singapore and had a ton of meetings on Monday and Tuesday before flying back to New York on Wednesday.  When I looked more closely at the schedule though it looked like there might be a window to get some birds in on Wednesday morning between my early morning calls and my trip to the airport.  Needing some local expertise I reached out to some local guides but drew a total blank, then on Tuesday I got an email from John Allcock (local birding expert and eBird reviewer) ... his plans had fallen through and he could bird with me in the New Territories on Wednesday morning if I wanted to .... of course I wanted to!

Wednesday March 9th - Various Hong Kong Hot Spots

Up at 3am for conference calls and then checked out of the hotel 5:30am.  The hotel was the very fancy Four Seasons, and I checked in as a business man but checked out as a bird bum (dressed in well worm, sweaty, dirty, birding cloths, that I'd worn in Singapore).  I also asked for a cab to an out of the way place in the New Territories rather than to the airport.  I suspect the hotel staff were a little confused.

Finding my way to Tai Po Station, and after a Starbucks breakfast (they serve real British-style Sausage Rolls in Starbucks in Hong Kong - awesome!) I managed to find John in the station parking lot and we were soon off to Tai Po Kau Nature Reserve for some early morning forest birding.

The reserve was a really neat piece of secondary forest - all the primary forest was apparently cut down during the Japanese occupation in World War 2 - and was a surprisingly positive story.  The forest is re-growing and the birds are apparently re-colonizing.  Many species have come back to Hong Kong, some natural re-arrivals and some no doubt helped by the local Buddhist tradition of buying and releasing song birds.  The weather was pretty grotty, and the birds were a little quite this morning but we did manage to get a small list of forest birds including a Pygmy Cupwing (formerly Pygmy Wren-Babbler) and a calling Chinese Barbet, a recent colonist and a life bird for me.

Next stop, with the rain easing off and the sun coming out, was the legendary Long Valley, an area of government-subsidized traditional farmland and paddy-fields.  This habitat is long gone from modern Hong Kong except in this small area where old ways are preserved, and it truly is a birding spectacle, quite literally stuffed with birds.

Chinese Pond-Heron (only one Pond-Heron here) and Pied Avocet 

A mix of vegetable fields, paddy fields, ditches, and areas of fallow land really seem to be a really rich bird habitat.  Lots of shorebirds and a few herons filled the fields and a good mix of wintering passerines inhabited the field edges.  We saw 4 species of pipit (Olive-backed, Red-throated, Richard's, and American), Little Buntings, 2 types of Eastern Yellow Wagtails, lots of 'Stejneger's' Siberian Stonechats, and even a Chinese Blackbird.

I have a soft spot for Wood Sandpiper, one of the first 'rare' birds I saw as a
kid in Wales.
On the shorebird front, there were lots of Wood Sandpipers, Common Snipe,  Little Ringed Plovers, Pied Avocets and Black-winged stilts (Marsh Poodles).  The shorebird I wanted to see here though was Greater Painted-Snipe, a life bird for me, and John (who had previously done research on this species) diligently worked the fallow fields until he found me some.

Great Painted-Snipe thinking we can't see them.

While we were talking (and birding) I mentioned that I still needed Black-faced Spoonbill and, still having a little time before I had to get to the airport, John suggested a quick stop at the Nam Sang Wai Wetlands to see if we could find some.

This stop turned out to be another very birdy spot with lots of shorebirds (Marsh Sandpipers, Spotted Redshank, Common Greenshank, Avocets, Stilts, etc.), herons, ducks, and an Eastern Marsh-Harrier.  But no Spoonbills ... and with time running out we admitted defeat and headed off to find me a taxi to take me to the airport.  As we left the area though I caught a glimpse of some white birds through small gap in the mangroves ... somehow they seemed wrong for egrets so I asked John to pull over and 'humor me'.  We waked back down the road and found a gap in the mangroves and .... Black-faced Spoonbills!  Life bird!  And a great way to end the trip .... 193 species of birds ... not bad for some stolen time on what was otherwise a trip characterized by busy days of meetings and busy nights of conference calls.  Got me thinking about what birds I can see on my next trip to Asia.

Crappy record shot of Black-faced Spoonbills ... but a life bird!
So trip over, I changed out of my stinky birding cloths on the roadside and put on clean cloths for my 16-hour flight to New York.  Figured I'd probably still smell bad but it wouldn't be obvious who smelled like a salt marsh if I changed my cloths.  Until next time Asia ...

Asian Urban Birding (Part 3) - Singapore (cont'd)

Sunday Morning in Singapore City

Up early again for more birds, but this time on my own and I'd decided to stay local.  Leaving the hotel I couldn't find a cab so ended up walking through central Singapore with my bins and camera, working my way to my destination, a newish park called Gardens By The Bay.  This park is really, very Singapore - it's new, clean, and obviously very expensive.  A large area of reclaimed land by the water that has been immaculately landscaped with dense plantings, multiple water features, lots of sculpture, and some interesting restaurants and exhibits.  It's certainly not the wilderness, but there were a lot of birds there .....

Singapore is quite literally stuffed with bird photographers.  They outnumber birders dozens to one, and most of the birding sites I'd visited that weekend were thick with them.  I'd heard that there were some good birds at the Gardens - a Black Bittern and some Wandering Whistling-Ducks - and so I wandered around the various ponds looking for them.  Then I rounded a corner and there were 30 photographers standing next to a lotus pond .... I guess I'd found the right place ....

Black Bittern (above) and Yellow Bittern (below)

Wandering Whistling-Ducks
White-throated Kingfisher
This particular lotus pond seemed to be bird-central at the park and perhaps as many as 50 photographers (but no birders) came and went while I spent a half hour there.  The Whistling-Ducks were in this pond along with 4 Yellow Bitterns, an Oriental Reed-Warbler and the Black Bittern even flew in for a quick visit.  

While everyone seemed to be in that one area, I got itchy feet and decided to wander off to see if I could find more species.  Most things around the park were the local common species but I did find a Tiger Shrike (such a cool name for a bird) and some White-rumped Munias among other things.  I also saw a Peregrine Falcon which somehow seemed very out out place over a park in the tropics.  In total I saw 33 species, not bad for a park in the center of a major city.

Olive-backed Sunbird, female - the common sunbird in Singapore
Tiger Shrike - such a cool name for a bird.
Pink-necked Pigeon - pretty bird, but it's the most common pigeon locally.
Too soon though, it was time to leave.  I had to check out of the hotel and, after an epic lunch (Singapore is the most amazing food city with an epic fusion of Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Western influences) it was time to head to the airport for the next flight .... off to Hong Kong!

Asian Urban Birding (Part 2) - Singapore

A Full Saturday of Birding and Natural History in Singapore

After Tokyo, I took the long, late flight down to Singapore on Wednesday night, got settled at the ParkRoyal Hotel (very eco / green) and worked all day Thursday and Friday.  Saturday was a long-planned day off though and I'd arranged to meet local birding expert Lim Kim Chuah for a full day in the 'wilds' of the island.  Friday night, I met an old friend for dinner at the excellent National Kitchen restaurant and ate an excellent, and very local fish-head curry (how could I not order that when I saw it on the menu?).  I also drank a lot of cocktails - NEVER drink with Australians - so I set the alarm, then moved it to the other side of the hotel room so I'd be sure to get up.

Saturday March 5th - Various Singapore Hotspots

5:30am and we were on our way to the Central Catchment Preserve, Singapore's only remaining tract of real forest, preserved to protect the watershed around the main reservoir.  We arrived at the trail head well before dawn and walked the mile or so in to the reservoir in complete darkness, hoping for owls, and we did in fact hear some - a couple of Brown Boobooks and a couple of Sunda Scops-Owls.   Both species were calling close to the trail but we never did get a look at either, and as dawn started to approach their voices were replaced with those of Great Racket-tailed Drongos, Ruddy Kingfisher and a bunch of Blue-winged Pittas.

As the light came up, we started to actually see birds, including a close view of one of the Pittas, and over the next couple of hours we had really solid tropical birding adding 41 species of forest birds.

Dollar bird (above) and Banded Woodpecker (below) 

Long-tailed Macaque - we encountered a group of mostly females with young
on the trail.
Next stop was the Sungie Buloh Wetland Preserve, a very well organized series of trails and boardwalks in a coastal mangrove area.  We were here to focus mostly on shorebirds, but they didn't really cooperate for us.  What we had here instead was a very cool general natural history experience.  The visit started with a specialty bird, a Copper-throated Sunbird and we also soon added a good mix of herons, egrets, kingfishers, etc.  I was personally much more into the mangrove habitat though and spent most of the visit photographing things you more usually only see on natural history TV show - Archer Fish, Mudskippers, Water Monitors and even 2 Estuarine Crocodiles (the "Saltwater" Crocodile of Steve Irwin / Crocodile Hunter fame).

Helpful advice should you encounter an Estuarine Crocodile - the crocodile below
was just across the channel from this sign.

Asian Water Monitor with (non-native) Red-eared Slider friend
Fish Watching!  Archer Fish sp. and Mudskipper sp.

Tearing ourselves away from the mangroves we crossed back to the East side of the Island to look for a Spotted Wood-Owl, a life bird for me.  A juvenile owl had been roosting in Pasir Ris Park hopefully set up nicely for me to see along with a Buffy Fish-Owl that normally roosts in the same area (another potential lifer and a bird I'd missed several times before on Asia trips).  Two staked out life owls in one park, sounded like an awesome stop.

Trouble is ...... I have terrible karma with owls, I typically just don't find them.  Other people can walk through a forest and spot all sorts of roosting owls, I have trouble finding them even when I know where they are.  I have a theory that there is an 'owl-gene' ... some people have it, I don't.

So arriving at the park, we quickly racked up a decent list of good birds while heading to owl site number 1.  Thirty minutes later, with no sign of the owl, we gave up and tried for owl number 2 .... nada!  Another typical Welsh Birder dips owls scenario ... one I'm all too familiar with.

Red Junglefowl are quite common in Singapore and this Oriental Pied-Hornbill
was also quite confiding in the park.

On the way back to the car we decided to give the Wood-Owl one more try and (and this really NEVER HAPPENS) this time I actually spotted the Spotted Wood-Owl.  Life bird!

The Spotted Wood-Owl that I spotted!
Next stop .... Plovers!  Five Species of Plover in two quick stops (well four species and one upcoming split).  We picked up a Pacific Golden-Plover then added Malaysian Plover, Kentish Plover, Lesser Sand-Plover and a 'Swinhoe's Plover'.  This last form, the white-faced form of Kentish Plover seems destined for species status and so it was good to get one on my list just in case.

Malaysian Plover (above) and Lesser Sand-Plover (below)

Long-tailed Shrike
Running out of time, we had just enough energy for one more stop.  Kim Chuah had checked with friends and found the location of another roosting Buffy Fish-Owl so off we went for yet another attempt at this species.  We had spectacularly precise directions though so we quickly went to the Singapore Botanical Gardens, found the trail, found the vine that marked the roost, located the tree, and .... found the Buffy Fish-Owl.  Another life bird!

Buffy Fish-Owl ... my fourth attempt at this species and success!
So exhausted, and very happy, with 88 species of bird and a host of other vertebrate species, I got dropped back at the hotel.  Great day!

Asian Urban Birding (Part 1) - Tokyo

A Day Off in Central Tokyo

Just back from a business trip to Asia which included visits to Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Singapore.  The trip was spread over several weeks so I was able to grab at least part of one day in each city to go birding.

Sunday February 28th - Meiji Shrine / Imperial Palace Moat

I have a tradition in Tokyo - fly on Friday night, arrive on Saturday night, and take the Sunday off to recover from jet-lag before heading to the office on Monday morning.  I've been to Tokyo 19 times in all, and I've quite often done the same thing on my free Sunday mornings.  I like to start my trip with a visit to the Meiji Shrine, an active temple set in a beautiful block of mature woodland in Central Tokyo.  The locals go for religious reasons or to view the iris garden in season, I got for the birds.

Arriving at the shrine, I started to re-familiarize myself with the local birds and bird calls.  In Tokyo, two species are absolutely ubiquitous and their calls are constantly heard in or near any patch of green.  Large-billed Crows and Brown-eared Bulbuls are the 'sounds of Tokyo' for me and sure enough, with were creating quite a racket as I came into the park.  Putting them aside though, I started to work my way around the paths looking for the good variety of woodland birds that Winter there and soon started to pick out some better things.

Among the regular birds at the Meiji Shrine, Japanese Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Japanese Pygmy-Woodpecker, and the local specialty Varied Tit work the canopy while Dusky and Pale Thrushes shuffle around in the leaf-litter.  I was also able to pick out a Japanese Brush-Warbler, a Red-flanked Bluetail, a Brown-headed Thrush, and four different individual Hawfinches, a personal favorite.  In all I saw 24 species of birds in a couple of hours of wandering the trails.  Not a huge list, but some nice things and a very pleasant start to my Asia birding adventure.

Hawfinches are quiet and easy to overlook
Varied Tit is a bit of a speciality bird in Tokyo, I think many Western birders
got their life Varied Tit here
Dusky Thrush, the most common of perhaps a half-dozen thrush species possible
at the Shrine.
 Perhaps the best bird of the day took me a while to log on to.  As I walked the paths I kept hearing a loud 'key-kek-kek-kek' call and couldn't for the life of me think of what it might be.  Some sort of woodpecker perhaps, it just didn't sound right, and yet the call was oddly familiar - I knew I'd heard it before somewhere.  The mystery was solved after about half an hour when a male Northern Goshawk flew in front of me and perched, somewhat backlit, above the path.  Felt a bit slow for not realizing sooner, but it was a real pleasure to get up close and personal with a species that I usually see only as a 'zoom-past' in the North woods.

Northern Goshawk
Finishing up at the garden mid-morning, and really enjoying a beautiful Spring day outdoors I decided to keep birding and walked several miles, doing a complete circuit of the Imperial Palace Moat.  Another beautiful spot, this one with picturesque stone fortifications, sculptural pine trees and a shallow moat stuffed with waterfowl.

The majority of the ducks were familiar Eurasian Wigeon, Common (Green-winged) Teal, Tufted Ducks, etc.  but there was a distinct Asian feel from species like Eastern Spot-billed Duck and Falcated Duck.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck (above) and Falcated Duck (below)

Given the amount of time I spent there I also bumped into a few land birds, perhaps the best of which was a soaring Eastern Buzzard and a surprise Bull-headed Shrike feeding on the grassy banks of the moat.  A beautiful day and a really nice mix of birds, although my feet were killing me by the time I got back to the hotel that evening.  Worth it for the great birds though ...

Tuesday March 1st - Hibeki Park

On this trip, the office and the hotel (Palace Hotel, Tokyo) were actually both right next to good birding spots, and given the odd routine of an Asia  business trip (which often involves being on conference calls in the middle of the night) I was able to grab a half hour in one of the local parks on the way to and from the office.

Hibeki Park is a very typical Japanese urban park in that every square inch of the place is used.  The park isn't large but it contains several restaurants, children's play areas, sports areas, tennis courts, etc.  On the plus side though, it also contains several ornamental ponds and some garden areas that seem good for birds.  Even on a quick visit I was able to add Little Egret, Common Kingfisher, another Red-flanked Bluetail and a Daurian Redstart, all good urban birds.

Japanese Cormorant
Wednesday March 2nd - Hamarikyu Gardens

Another odd morning with conference calls at 4am and 5am but then no scheduled meetings until 9am.  Making the most of the gap, I grabbed a cab and rushed over to the Hamarikyu Gardens (a former Imperial duck-hunting preserve) only to find that it didn't open until 9am (argh!).  With an hour to kill though, and no cabs in sight, I wandered over to some nearby piers that gave me a view of Tokyo Bay.  This oversight on my part actually produced the best bird of the Tokyo visit as, while scanning the bay for grebes and ducks, I came across a gull roost that had a really great mix of species at close range.  There were probably about 100 gulls on this little breakwater, about 80 of them were Black-headed Gulls but there were also Herring (including some 'Vega' Gulls), Mew, Slaty-backed and Black-tailed Gulls in the mix.  There was also a very small gull sitting in a row of Black-headed Gulls.  At fist I thought this bird was a Little Gull, just based on the size difference, but it didn't look quite right somehow not 'cute' enough, the black bill seemed too big as well.  The plumage, absent the bill looked just like the Black-headed Gulls around it, but the size was so obviously different.  As I walked away to head back for my meetings I was still thinking Little Gull, but then the 'penny dropped' ... Saunders's Gull!  A life bird for me, and something I just wasn't expecting to see.  A great way to end the Tokyo portion of the trip.