Mount Aso Highlands

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Last Friday afternoon I revisited the highlands near Mt Aso, Kumamoto prefecture, Japan. Usually I visit this location in the early morning, but I wanted to see what was happening in the late afternoon. Also, the light direction is better in the afternoon, so more options to photograph species active in the area. The scenery was quite different from my last visit.

At that time, the predominant flower was the purple milk thistle, but this time it was the bright lemon yellow of Thunberg’s Daylily. Also changed was the long grass covering many of the meadows; some of this had been cut by tractors and indeed a few tractors were still busy cutting grass when I visited.

This created a great photographic opportunity, as many predators were taking advantage of the removal of cover for prey species such as moles, voles, mice, snakes, lizards and grubs. Therefore after I had photographed and taken video footage of some male Japanese Reed Buntings, I positioned myself with a view across to a freshly mown hillside (although for my 300mm + 1.4x TC, it was a bit distant – a 600 or 800 would have been great!).

The first mammal I noticed was a Japanese Badger, and soon after I spotted a Japanese Green Pheasant on another section of the hillside. But then I saw an adult Japanese Fox (a subspecies of Red Fox) prowling in the meadow. It soon caught the scent of a mole, then crouched and waited patiently for it to signal its whereabouts.

The fox then took two bounds down the hillside and pounced! It successfully killed and extracted a large Japanese Mole and proceeded to eat it, but then noticed a Japanese Raccoon Dog higher up the hill. So the fox quickly hid the mole carcass and had a stand off with the raccoon dog, which was quite uneventful – the raccoon dog just continued on its way and the fox went back and finished its snack.

The fox then went up and over the other side of the hill, where I caught glimpses of it jumping around chasing small birds that were also feeding among the cut grass. The Japanese Raccoon Dog found some food of its own and skulked away, and the pheasant and badger had long since disappeared. So I decided to walk up the hill and see if I could locate the fox again. I silently crested the hill and immediately saw the fox in front of me!

Instead of running away it just stood and stared, so I took a few photos as it let out a few threatening growls. But soon it turned and ran down the other side of the hill and was joined by its mate and hid in some remaining tall grass in a small, steep gully.

Apart from Japanese Reed Bunting and Japanese Green Pheasant there were quite a few other birds such as Black-eared Kite, Eastern Buzzard, Black-browed Reed Warbler, Zitting Cisticola, Eurasian Skylark, Chestnut-eared Bunting, Meadow Bunting, Large-billed Crow, Japanese Bush Warbler, Barn Swallow, Eurasian Cuckoo and Little Cuckoo.

An adult breeding male Japanese Reed Bunting (Emberiza yessoensis) singing from flowering Thunberg’s Daylilies (Hemerocallis thunbergii) in highlands in Kumamoto prefecture, Japan.

John Wright

John Wright

John Wright is an Australian wildlife photographer and bird guide based in Kyushu, Japan. John became seriously engaged in nature photography while living in Japan and then Thailand. He returned to Japan in 2008 and has since concentrated on wildlife photography, especially birds. John visits Southeast Asia and Australia regularly, but usually travels within the Japanese archipelago, where he also guides visiting birders and wildlife photography enthusiasts.

John Wright

John Wright

John Wright is an Australian wildlife photographer and bird guide based in Kyushu, Japan. John became seriously engaged in nature photography while living in Japan and then Thailand. He returned to Japan in 2008 and has since concentrated on wildlife photography, especially birds. John visits Southeast Asia and Australia regularly, but usually travels within the Japanese archipelago, where he also guides visiting birders and wildlife photography enthusiasts.

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