Mt Yamamoto Raptor Migration 2018

Eastern Buzzard

Mt Yamamoto, Ojiya, Niigata, Japan

September 24, 2018

We made it to Mt Yamamoto briefly this weekend and we saw a number of thermals carrying some raptors. There were a heap only briefly between 9-9:45am yesterday morning and I didn't take as many photos as I should have. I was saving my film for more later, which didn't come. Some patchy weather at times too. Anyway, it only happens once a year so good to see it even briefly. In past years, I got more sparrowhawks and occasional falcons but this time I only photographed Eastern Buzzards, Grey-faced Buzzards, and Oriental Honey Buzzards. Maybe the latter will end up on islands off the coast of Western Australia in about a month's time.

Grey-faced Buzzard

Oriental Honey Buzzard

Out of the Fog

Japanese Sparrowhawk

Mount Yamamoto, Ojiya, Niigata, Japan

September 24 & 25, 2016

I have a sore neck and tired arms. I had been looking forward to the raptor migration all summer long. I had also been browsing bigger and longer lenses to get me a bit closer to the action. I dreamed about big 500 f4s worth more than 10 grand, but considered the Sigma and Tamron 600mm zooms. I thought about the Nikon D500 which just looks gorgeous for birding. In a rush of blood, last Thursday I picked up a Nikkor AF-S 200-500mm f5.6. Would 500mm be worth it coming from 400mm? Well, I think so, but just the extra 900 grams did me in. My wife said I just need to build up my strength. She is usually right. I attached the lens to a Black Rapid harness that I already had amongst my gear and it was comfortable enough. Anyway, I took it with two bodies, Nikon D7100 and Nikon D800 to the mountains. Man, was it foggy on Saturday but it lightened up on Sunday. 

Anyway, I'm happy with the kit and the results despite the mist and had a good two days. We mostly saw Oriental Honey Buzzards, Grey-faced Buzzards and Japanese Sparrowhawks.

By Sunday, I realised that the butterflies and dragonflies outnumbered the raptors and briefly had a go at them too. I was sceptical handholding the big lens and wasn't sure I was handling it right, but I was fairly impressed with the results when I downloaded them. Even the dragonflies look ok.

I think I'd be better taking a monopod in the future.

I saw a Facebook page a couple of years ago called Hachi-Kuma. "Hachi" is honey and "Kuma" is bear in Japanese. "Honey-bear" is the Japanese name for Oriental Honey Buzzard. They tracked one from Aomori at the top of Honsho, down through Niigata and onwards to islands just off the coast of north Western Australia, ...and back again!


Grey-faced Buzzard (left) and male Oriental Honey Buzzard (right)

I yanked my camera out of the bag to get this shot just when I arrived on Saturday..they quickly disappeared into the cloud.

Grey-faced Buzzard

female Oriental Honey Buzzard

Saturday...very dull and foggy

Japanese Sparrowhawk

Peregrine Falcon

This feisty Japanese Sparrowhawk (left) really gave the poor, innocent Peregrine Falcon a going over.

Oriental Honey Buzzard


I think this is a Japanese Sparrowhawk. (The head looks large though?)
...there are also chances of Eurasian Sparrowhawks and Chinese Goshawks of which the juveniles are pretty similar.

Luehdorfia japonica are found in the mountains of Japan according to my Butterfly App.

Raptor Migration, Ojiya, Niigata 2011

Oriental Honey Buzzard female
Also known as Eastern Honey Buzzard
Yamamoto Mountain, Ojiya, Niigata, September 24, 2011

The first time I heard of Ojiya, I was just 19 kilometeres away when it was the epicentre of a major earthquake. On a more positive note, it is where Ken Watanabe (actor in "Inception", "The Last Samurai") was born. It is also famous for a bullfighting festival. (That is bulls being made to fight each other).

Of greater interest to me, was finding an article two years ago in a newspaper about a good viewing area for migrating raptors, Yamamoto Mountain, Ojiya. 

Looking north from the viewing platform at Yamamoto Mountain.

We went and had a look two years ago and decided to go back for more this year. After the 15th typhoon departed leaving a sense of a new season in its wake, we thought it was a good time to look. We arrived about 11:30am on Saturday. Loads of raptorphiles were there well before us celebrating having witnessed 500 individuals consisting of six species just for that morning. We stayed just for 90 minutes but decided to go back for more the next day. Over the two days, they recorded: Japanese Sparrowhawk, Oriental Honey Buzzard, Grey-faced Buzzard, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, Osprey, Eastern Marsh Harrier, Northern Goshawk, resident Black-eared Kites, Common Buzzard, and ten minutes before we arrived on the Sunday, one fourth-year Golden Eagle. The latter seemed to be the highlight of everyone's day. The best chance for photographs was when an individual would fly by on its way to a thermal. We could see good numbers circling around together in the distance. The close ones we encountered were mostly flapping their wings and briskly heading directly to join the thermals.
It is just the start of the migrating season and most of the birds I could ID were juveniles and were mostly what I regard as summer species for the area. (Apart from the Common Buzzards). If we went back in weeks to come we'd see some falcons too. Two years ago, I saw and photographed Peregrines and Oriental Hobbies. They should be around in October.

Ricefields below Yamamoto Mountain

Looking straight out from the viewing platform.

A Common Buzzard (left) gliding below a Grey-faced Buzzard.
Most birds passed very high up and I've had to crop these photos without mercy.

Ok. So I admit, I'm not the raptor person I thought I was. There were so many young Accipiters
and to be honest I have to guess one from the other, namely Japanese Sparrowhawk and Eurasian Sparrowhawk (The latter also known as Northern Sparrowhawk). I think the stripe on this guy's throat means he's a young Japanese Sparrowhawk

Oriental Honey Buzzard  Young Male???
I think Oriental Honey Buzzard sounds cooler than 'Eastern' HB

Resident Black-eared Kite stooping.

It looks easy if you study a couple of books but when you get out there, there was nothing for ages then suddenly a batch would come over and there are clouds and sun and glare and people speaking Japanese and everybody is looking at a different subject and trying to confirm what they're looking at, and dragonflies and wind, children running up and down the metal stairs... I'm wondering if .... ....but maybe it's a Japanese Sparrowhawk..

Common Buzzard

Grey-faced Buzzard

The one close-encounter was this Eurasian Sparrowhawk who suddenly seemed to burst-out of  a tree beneath the viewing platform. Unfortunately, s/he had to fly into the wind (away from me) to get altitude and I filled-up my camera's buffer with backside shots. She finally angle-out beautifully but my camera was frozen for precious seconds. Actually, this is only my third encounter with this species.

I'm guessing this is a male Northern Goshawk

Grey-faced Buzzard stooping..? It disappeared behind trees.

male Oriental Honey Buzzard

Grey-faced Buzzard

Looking towards Nagaoka.

Raptors aplenty on the thermals. They go higher and higher, then go as far as they can before finding another thermal loaded with more of their kind. So many of them looked like first year birds. I wonder when their parents tell them about it?

I think this is a Japanese Sparrowhawk racing by up against a dark cloud when we just got there on Saturday. It was interesting to see them racing by but you could see the thermal with raptors in the distance in the direction they were heading. ....Actually, now I think it's an Eurasian Sparrowhawk....

I wonder if I should go back there next month?