Common Birds on Mt. Takao
I recently found myself in Tokyo for a week, and unlike my previous visits to the city, I spent a lot of time looking at birds. I’m a much bigger bird nerd than I used to be. Before, I only really noticed Tokyo birds enough to note that the crows were huge (truth) and the sparrows were pretty cute (they still are) as I doled out extra rice from my lunch.
Before arriving, I googled around for birdwatching places in Tokyo, and couldn’t find very many sites in English, although there were a lot of helpful forum posts. As it turned out, almost any green space in Tokyo was host to many varieties of birds, and since there’s no shortage of public parks in the city, I saw new birds almost everywhere I went.
I didn’t bring my DSLR on the trip (je regrette) as I was trying to keep luggage light, so the pictures are a little lacking, but I still have memories! And eBird. Even though I was abroad, my OCD habits of list-keeping forced me to drag my travel-weary body home and enter a full list of birds seen into my laptop at the end of each day. So I have a good written record of my trip, if it’s somewhat lacking in visual aids.
So, after a week beating street in Tokyo and surrounds, here are a few of my favorite spots for birdwatching.
Ueno Park – Central to Tokyo, and accessible by the Ueno subway station, this is a good option if you only have an hour or two to spare. I stopped here after arriving on the train from Narita, and quickly picked up Japanese White-eye, Japanese Tit, Oriental Turtle-dove, Large-billed Crow (the aforementioned massive corvid), and the Brown-eared Bulbul, which I would soon tire of, as they were in virtually every tree, screaming their heads off.
Around Shinobazu Lake, on the south end of the park, I found both Great and Japanese Cormorants, as well as a man feeding a huge mass of Eurasian Tree Sparrows and ducks, mostly Mallards, Northern Pintail, and Eastern Spot-billed Ducks. Hiding in the reeds were some Northern Shovelers, Common Pochards, and Eurasian Coots.
There were also a bunch of Tufted Ducks snoozing in the lake with some Black-headed Gulls, bobbing about like corks in the lake, and a Little Egret hunting on the shore. Not bad for a single afternoon.
Yoyogi Park – Since most Tokyo apartments are fairly small, and there are neighbors on all sides, when people want to get noisy, they have to go somewhere else. Yoyogi Park, near the Harajuku, or Meiji-jingu Mae stations, is a great place to see people getting down on the weekend – besides the birds, on one visit, I saw a girl group practicing their dance moves, a yoga class, and a bunch of pompadour rockstars jamming out on their boom box.
Despite all the activity, there’s no shortage of birds. The usual suspects are present all over the park – Tree Sparrows, Large-billed Crows, Brown-eared Bulbuls, and Rock Doves, and Eurasian Spot-billed Ducks in the pond.
Usual Suspects in Yoyogi-Koen
But the real gem of Yoyogi-Koen is the large fenced in Bird Sanctuary on the eastern corner. While people can’t enter the sanctuary, you can look over the short fence into the trees, where a myriad of smaller birds live. In a short visit, I saw several Japanese White-eyes, Varied & Japanese Tits, a Dusky Thrush, both Grey & White Wagtails, a Pygmy Woodpecker, and several colorful Bramblings.
You probably won’t have the place to yourself though – at any one time, there were roughly 7-10 Japanese birders with their spotting scopes and massive lenses, all good-naturedly jostling for the best views of the sanctuaries avian inhabitants. They also seem to have trained a few Varied Tits to take seeds out of your hands, some of the more daring ones were darting from person to person, collecting treats. No idea what kind of seeds though – I tried to give one a sesame seed and it wasn’t interested.
Shinjuku Park National Garden – I was unfortunate to visit this park in Shinjuku on a day that turned into a rainy mess, but the Japanese Tits and Eurasian Tree Sparrows were out in force – as well as a bunch of Tufted & Eastern Spot-billed Ducks, and a few Common Pochards, among the more common domestic Mallards. I also found a Common Kingfisher hunting in the rain, near the Japanese garden, and a Little Grebe hunting nearby.
Hibiya Park – While it’s not the best birding ever, Hibiya-koen is as central to Tokyo as you can get. A quick walk through this small park near the Imperial Palace and Tokyo Station yielded Mallards, Tufted & Eastern Spot-billed Ducks, White Wagtails, a plethora of Brown-eared Bulbuls, Rock Doves, Large-billed Crows and Tree Sparrows everywhere you look.
Mt. Takao – About 45 minutes outside Tokyo, a short hike up this mountain from the Takao-san Guchi train station makes a good day trip, if you’re itching to get out of the city and into some real woods. I say hike, but it’s really a stroll up an inclined paved path, and you can take a tram half-way up, so it’s not exactly strenuous. It did snow at the top though, so dress warmly in the winter, even if it’s mild at the bottom.
My noisy friends, the Brown-eared Bulbuls were everywhere here too, apparently undaunted by the cold, as well as Japanese White-eyes, and Large-billed Crows. Best of all, I found four kinds of Tits here – Japanese, Varied, Coal and two Long-Tailed Tits. I also found four Pygmy Woodpeckers here, and I’m sure there were many more.
Also, Varied Tits are apparently fearless – I set my Onigiri (rice ball) lunch down on a wooden bench and one of the little devils was perched on top, digging rice out of it before I could blink.
Kasai Rinkai Park – Across the bay from Tokyo Disney, this park, half grassy woods, and half wetlands, was probably the best birding I found in Tokyo, and the one spot I wish I could have spent more time in.
It’s easily accessible from central Tokyo, Kasai-rinkai Koen is just a few stops away from Tokyo Station on the JR Keiyo line. I heard some people talking about how they got there at the crack of dawn (I admire their stamina) and saw a slew of raptors, none of which I managed to spot while I was there. Although you can’t enter the wetlands area, which is left as natural habitat, you can walk out on a long spit of land nearby, and look over with binoculars or a spotting scope.
This was the best place I’d found for the Japanese Cormorant, although Great was also present. There were probably 300 Greater Scaup rafting in the bay – I thought they were debris at first, there were so many. Closer, there were Eastern Spot-billed Ducks, Common Pochards, and Eurasian Wigeons. Around the wetlands there were Little, Eared, and Great-crested Grebes, Little Egrets, and a Grey Heron. There were also peeps along the rocky shore, including Dunlin and Common Sandpipers. I also found White-cheeked Starlings here, and a mess of Black-headed Gulls. In addition to the usual suspects – Tree Sparrows and Brown-eared Bulbuls – the Japanese Wagtails seemed to be everywhere, as well as their White Wagtail buddies.
There’s no shortage of good birding in Tokyo – most of the parks are centrally located, and easily accessible by subway. Mt. Takao and Kasai-Rinkai Koen would be better done has half-day or full day trips, but wherever you end up, you should be able to find some birds to keep you busy.