The following news summaries are by Jeff Durbin. They are based mainly on information taken from The Asahi Evening News (AEN), The Daily Yomiuri (DY), and The Japan Times (JT).
Conservation groups will ask Itabashi Ward in Tokyo to protect an area on the bank of the Arakawa River which is slated for development. The Construction Ministry, with various neighboring wards and cities, plans to build baseball diamonds, soccer fields, and a greenbelt there. Since the land was cleared two years ago in advance of construction, wild grasses and reeds have sprung up and attracted more than 50 species of birds, including several raptor species. An estimated seven short-eared owls (komimizuku, Asio flammeus) have wintered there this year, which is highly unusual for Tokyo. The conservationists will call for a government-sponsored conference to reconsider construction plans. (DY 26 Feb)
The Japanese crested ibis (toki, Nipponia nippon), down to one bird in captivity in Japan, still survives in China, and a foundation has been set up to fund its protection. The Japan Association for Preservation of Birds is inviting donations to help Chinese conservationists. Thirty ibis live wild in Shaanxi Province in north central China, in addition to about 30 others in captivity. Last April a male ibis named Midori died at a conservation center on Sado Island in Niigata, leaving just a single female bird in Japan. (JT 6 Mar) The Japanese crested ibis was widespread in Japan until the late 1800's. It roosted communally in trees near ponds, marshes, or wet rice fields where it fed on freshwater crabs and other invertebrates. In Japan, it became extinct in the wild in 1981.
A two-hectare estuary at the mouth of the Onosato River, one of the last natural areas on Osaka Bay, will become a bird refuge. A citizens group sought protection for the wetland, which is a migratory bird stopover. The Wild Bird Society of Japan reports that 150 bird species have been found there. The area, in Sennan City, lies opposite the artificial island on which the Kansai International Airport is located, 5 kilometers away. The estuary is also the only habitat in Osaka Bay for a species of crab, the hakusen-shiomaneki. (DY 6 Mar)
The bean goose, with the help of attorneys, is filing an appeal in Tokyo High Court to win damages because Ibaraki Prefecture has failed to protect its winter habitat in the town of Edosakimachi, near Lake Kasumigaura. Half of the area in which the goose winters is open for hunting, and plans are underway to build an expressway through it. A conservation group in Ibaraki, Hishikui Hogo Kikin, claims that the environmental assessment for the expressway ignores the bean goose, which is a protected species in Japan. The lawsuit calls for increasing the prefectural conservation budget and expanding the existing conservation area in Edosakimachi. Seventy birds have spent the winter there. It is the last wintering site left for the goose (hishikui, Anser fabalis) in the Kanto region. (DY 9 Mar)
After a sea eagle in Hokkaido died from lead poisoning, the Environment Agency announced it will restrict lead shot for hunting sea birds. However, Environment Minister Iwatare Sukio said that the measures will need the cooperation of hunting organizations and other government ministries. About 200,000 people in Japan have bird-hunting licenses. (JT 16 Mar)
Japan and South Korea will cooperate in studying endangered birds common to both countries. In particular, research will focus on the white-naped crane (mana-zuru, Grus vipio) and hooded crane (nabe-zuru, Grus monacha), which pass through South Korea to their sole remaining wintering ground at Izumi, Kagoshima Prefecture; the Saunders's gull (zuguro-kamome, Larus saundersi), down to 3000 birds; and the black-faced spoonbill (kuro-tsura-herasagi, Platalea minor), which has just 400 individuals left. A conference in May in Tokyo will solidify plans for the joint study. The Environment Agency, which made the announcement, is trying to promote cooperative conservation among Russia, China, South Korea, and Japan. (JT 26 Mar)
Life may have gotten a little easier for east Asia's migratory birds, with the formation of the East Asian-Australasian Shorebird Reserve Network. The Ramsar Convention on Wetlands, meeting this year in Brisbane, Australia, announced the network, whose goals will be cooperative research, exchange of information and training, and wetlands preservation. The Ramsar Convention nominates key wetlands that deserve protection. This year's Brisbane conference added 70 wetlands to its list, including Japan's Sakata lagoon, a stopover for swans and geese. The 44-hectare lagoon, in Niigata Prefecture, is the 10th wetland in Japan to be registered by the Ramsar Convention. Many east Asian wetlands are way stations for migratory birds, especially shorebirds, that move up and down the flyway between Siberia and Australia-New Zealand. Shorebirds depend on replenishing their energy at these wetlands in the course of migrations which may be as long as 25,000 kilometers. (JT 28 Mar; DY/JT 24 Mar)
The endangered golden eagle, with a population of about 400 in Japan, needs special protection measures, according to an Environment Agency advisory panel. Early this summer the agency will prepare to research the eagle's breeding conditions, and will consider artificial feeding. Ninety eagles per year must enter the population to maintain it, but currently about 45 young are fledging successfully. The agency has found 134 pairs of golden eagles (inu-washi, Aquila chrysaetos). In Japan the golden eagle is a mountain resident, living mainly above 1200 meters in central Honshu. It preys almost entirely on the Japanese hare (no-usagi, Lepus brachyurus), the copper pheasant (yamadori, Phasianus soemmerringi), and a snake, Elaphe climacophora. The Environment Agency will also make special protection plans for Abe's salamander of Kyoto Prefecture, the bekko tonbo dragonfly, and the hanashinobu perennial plant. (JT 27 Apr; The Birds of Japan, Mark Brazil)
Tsurumi Ward in Osaka is pushing for a 5 billion yen menagerie in Tsurumi Ryokuchi Park, with the hope of attracting one million visitors a year. The proposed site is the last habitat in Osaka for gray-headed lapwings (keri, Microsarcops cinereus) and already home to about 40 wild bird species. The plan calls for a 5-6000 square meter dome which imitates a tropical rain forest. Fifty or 60 species from around the world, including the Bird of Paradise from southeast Asia and the Quetzal from Central America, will be brought for display. The Wild Bird Society of Japan argues that some of the species are listed on the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). Project director Tachibana Minoru says mainly zoo-bred birds will be acquired, and wild birds will be captured only if their populations are healthy. A Wild Bird Society member says, "The idea of a menagerie is anachronistic. If you want to see tropical birds, you should go to tropical regions." (JT 2 June)
Little terns (ko-ajisashi, Sterna albifrons) have returned this spring to colonize a beach in Shizuoka Prefecture. A local environmental group, Sanctuary Japan, reported that the terns arrived in May and built 209 nests. No terns have bred in the last 5 years there while off-road vehicles were permitted to drive along the coast, but in December 1994 the prefectural government prohibited driving in a 10-kilometer long area. Little terns, a designated rare species in Japan, breed here after wintering in Australia. The newly protected stretch of beach is also a significant breeding area for loggerhead turtles (DY 8 June). An Environment Agency study shows little tern breeding areas disappearing because of construction. The tern prefers unvegetated places, often on reclaimed land, and these are popular for development. Just four nesting sites in Japan host more than a thousand terns (JT 10 May).
A colony of 600 black-tailed gulls (umineko, Larus crassirostris) have nested this year near a town in Akita Prefecture. The Nikahomachi gulls show little fear of cars and people, and sometimes search for food near homes. Nearly all black-tailed gulls in the Tohoku region nest on remote cliffs and islands far from humans. Tsukamoto Yozo, vice chairman of the Wild Bird Society of Japan, says, "I have never heard of anything like this." One expert believes that Tobishima island, a prime nesting area, has become overcrowded, and the displaced birds settled in Nikahomachi (DY 12 July). Reports are increasing of wild birds moving into cities, including common gallinules (ban, Gallinula chloropus), cormorants (u), and jungle crows. An estimated 20,000 highly adaptable jungle crows (hashibuto-garasu, Corvus macrorhynchos) now reside in Tokyo, double the count of 5 or 10 years ago. Last year the crows provoked a thousand citizen complaints to city hall. With habitat destruction in their wild territories, owls and hawks are also being sighted more frequently in cities (JT 25 June).
North Korea has established 3000-hectare and 2000-hectare sanctuaries in order to protect migrating white-naped cranes (mana-zuru, Grus vipio) and hooded cranes (nabe-zuru, Grus monacha). Development in the area will be prohibited, and rangers will enforce protection measures. The two cranes species migrate from Siberia and winter in Japan at Izumi, Kagoshima Prefecture. (DY 11 Aug)
The only wild crested ibises in the world, in Shaanxi province in China, are on the increase. There are now 43 wild ibises (toki, Nipponia nippon), plus 25 living at a breeding center. According to Japanese ornithologists who visited Shaanxi, the province is considering giving birds to Japan to continue captive breeding efforts. Japan had been attempting to breed the species at a facility on Sado island, Niigata Prefecture until last year, but a female ibis, on loan from China, was given back to Shaanxi after its last potential mate died in April 1995. The breeding center in China was established in 1990 with Japanese assistance. It returned three birds to the wild last year. (JT 21 Aug)
The endangered Blakiston fish-owl, living in Hokkaido and the Kuril Islands, can't wait much longer for Japan and Russia to settle their 50-year old dispute, according to an owl researcher. Currently there is no overall management plan for the species (shima-fukuro, Ketupa blakistoni). An estimated 100 birds live in Hokkaido, with about 300 on the Russian islands of Kunashiri, Etorofu, and Shikotan, which are also claimed by Japan. The owl is nearly extinct on the Russian island of Sakhalin. Now Russian and Japanese researchers are exchanging information over the Internet, but the Japanese researcher says intergovernmental surveys and other steps must be carried out to save the species. In Hokkaido little habitat is left for the fish-owl; many birds nest in special boxes or catch fish at fish farms. In the Kurils, however, the fish-owls still live in a natural state. The Kurils have belonged to the USSR, and now Russia, since 1945; they were seized two weeks after the Japanese surrender in World War II, and Japanese diplomacy has failed to get them back (JT 20 Sep). The fish-owl uses various hunting strategies like snatching or plunging to catch trout, char, salmon, frogs, and in winter, various rodents. It depends on large trees with cavities for nesting. Logging and river development have mainly caused the population decline. Though designated as a Natural Monument, the owl has no protected habitat in Hokkaido (The Birds of Japan, Mark Brazil).