Thursday, January 28, 2010

Black Kite Kamakura

Day #1
I have put links into this post to my Flickr; you can click across for each link or click the Flickr link at the end and scroll through the photos then.
Didn’t get off quiet as early as I wanted to yesterday morning. It was also the first day where I have felt a little overwhelmed with the transport system. I was worried that I was avoiding the underground because I use the raised Yamamote Line so much, so I used the underground to get to Tokyo station, where I would get the local train to Kamakura. I had to change lines to get there, and the change was a bit of maze and at Tokyo station I got really confused by the signs and ended up in the wrong place. But I didn’t panic and even coped with peak hour crush. Once I was on the right train I realised that there was a closer station to pick up that connection and I didn’t need to go through the underground at all. And when I got to Kamakura I found out there was a train direct from Sibuya- so I just done that 45min trek to Tokyo station for nothing... avoiding or not avoiding? Who knows, but at least next time I will know the direct route.
Apart from going to Kamakura to see and experience the temples I was hoping that the forests that Sarah had written about would be good birding and less crowded that Takao-san (yes- I will post about that day…), and with less background noise than the Meiji Temple (which is in the centre of Tokyo) and the industrial Oi Yacho Koen.
When I got off at Kamakura I had a good feeling because straight away I saw two large raptors circling above the town.
My plan was that I would check out some of temples on the route to the two hiking tracks- one starts on the western side of the tracks behind the big Buddha and one on the East from the oldest Zen temple in Kamakura: the beautiful Kenchoji; to Zuisenji. Kamakura is located between small hills with the valleys running down to the ocean. Lots of the temples are built into the tops of these valleys and there are walking tracks over the ridges to the next valley- if you are a Kamakuran the shortest route to where you are going will often be walking up these steep sets of stairs.
I chose the shorter hiking track as I was starting in the middle of the day and took the little rickety local train to a couple of stations along. First thing I heard when I got off was a high-pitched whistling and whinnying like a horse (but high pitched- imagine the sounds in those old Western movies in the desert) - a raptor call. There where several circling quiet low. I finally have a copy of a field guide I like and identified the birds as Black Kites: “58.5 to 68.5cms in the body (females bigger than males) with a 150cm wingspan. Locally abundant on sea coasts, rivers and lakes; where it feeds mainly on carrion and dead fish.” There where quiet a lot of them in sky and I wander along happy at their presence and admiring the beauty of the gardens in the temples.
I had brought with me a packed lunch as I had remember from Sarah’s blog that she had needed the apple and seeds she had packed. There were plenty of places on the west side for food but I was happy to eat my tomatoes, bread roll and cream cheese with walnuts and figs. But I was feeling very self conscious because you never see Japanese people eating on the street and as it was a holy place, and I was responding to it’s special energy, I didn’t want to offend anyone by sitting in the wrong place to eat- I had considered some of the stairs leading up to temple gates, stairs in tiny cemeteries, the train station- I did grab one mouth full before the train arrived- so after several hours when I got to the vending machines and picnic table thoughtfully provided at the coastal look out at Syugenji temple, I was really relieved. Before I sat down I took a picture of the sign with the Black Kites. As part of my research I have been taking pictures of animal–human interaction, so I was most pleased to get the shot of the Kite on the TV antenna, and have been collecting pictures of animal signs- you can see some more here. I didn’t really think about what it might mean, just ‘yes they are Black Kites’.
Why does food always taste so good when you have been walking a lot? Or when you are at a lookout admiring the clear sky and ocean? Why can’t we make proper crunchy French bread in Australia?
Those where my thoughts as I focused on breaking off pieces of baguette and spreading the cheese, feeling the relaxation spread as my blood sugar levels started to go back up.
I was looking out to the ocean when I sensed something large near my left shoulder. Sharp pain in my left thumb! I cry out! A crow? No- too big, too fast A Kite! My god!
Having such a large bird so close to you is quiet a buzz! It happen so fast I was looking the wrong direction so didn’t really see him/her descend straight down with the talons forward. The pain in my thumb focussed my eyes away from the birds movement I just saw him/her spreading its wings and glide away. My instant reaction was to put away the rest of my baguette so he/she didn’t come around for another swoop.
Everyone around asked if I was ok and apologised (As if they had control!) I showed them my binoculars and field guide and said I was happy because I had come to see birds and that was a close look. And the birds kept circling overhead at about a 4-metre clearance- that is close.
Only after a few minutes I realised that he/she had taken the chunk I was eating out of my hand and that he had nicked my thumb near my nail. Amazing really given the size of the bird and the size of it’s claws. I am in awe of it’s ability to judge space and speed.
The Kites flying over town had a more ominous feeling after that and I felt hunted and hungry. I wasn’t really into this temple- the garden where beautiful but would have been nicer at another time of year. I headed off to the Big Buddha hoping to find a safe spot to eat.
I got accosted by two school girls wanting to practice their English- it wasn’t very advanced. The concept of “Is this an ok eating spot” was not getting across- but I figured the big stones where there under the blossom trees ready for the picnics so it wouldn’t matter if I was 2 months early.
I had given up seeing Fuji-san when I was rewarded with this view towards the end of my 3km walk.

Go to flickr for extra photos.


  1. Kite thought thumb was a worm! They are quite ominous, but so beautiful and big. xxx

  2. great story raq, a close-encounter of the bird kind.

    hope that's not your texting thumb, else how would you report your adventure on 'twitcher'. he he.