One bird I’ve long been wanting to see while in Japan is the beautiful Fairy Pitta. The numbers of this globally-endangered species in Japan seem to have been steadily decreasing, or else they are moving from historic breeding grounds such as Mi-ike to more secretive locations deeper in the mountains. Every year a few migrate through Kabashima and offshore islands in the Japan Sea, although this year at Kabashima the first one was heard and spotted on May 31, quite late. But knowing some had arrived meant that I could stake out a spot in Nagasaki where one pair has been breeding for the past few seasons.
Therefore this morning I arrived well before dawn and set up my blind (hide) in a likely area along the trail. I couldn’t hear their very distinctive call, so I was a little worried that this pair might not have arrived or had moved to another location. However I didn’t have long to wait before I saw them. At 05:20, firstly one and then a second thrush-like shape dropped onto a stretch of trail covered in leaf litter.
In the gloom of the overcast pre-dawn “light” I raised the binoculars to get a better look and laid my eyes on my first Fairy Pitta! Even in the dim conditions, their colours stood out starkly and perhaps more vividly than in bright sunlight, and I could instantly see how they had earned their Japanese name, “yairocho” (ヤイロチョウ; 八色鳥) – the “eight-colored bird”.
They were quite timid even though they were unaware of my presence, so I just watched rather than try photographing them with flash. They fed for about five minutes, tossing the leaf litter aside and eating the insects, grubs and worms they found underneath. Then one bird flew off so I took the opportunity to capture one image of the remaining bird just as it was about the follow its mate.
I waited until 10:30 for them to appear again, but they had moved on to another stretch of forest. I never heard their call, which means that this pair must have arrived early – at least two weeks previously. I was very lucky – at this location birders say you have a one-in-ten chance of spotting one and even then they usually fly off as soon as they sense a human presence. So to share a five-minute period alone with them was very special indeed!