Saturday, September 19, 2009

"With my heart, I reeled in the sky."

I get asked, "How did you get into birdwatching?" a lot. The answer is probably, because it's a lazy hobby, for the most part - or at least it is the way I practice it. I can watch the birds outside the window when the teacher is lecturing, I can see them on the bike ride home, I can see a dozen different kinds in the town's main park. But sometimes I also feel like making some actual effort and going somewhere out of my way to see something really special.

The white-bellied green pigeons that flock to Oiso in Kanagawa prefecture are one of those. They land on the rocks off Terugasaki Beach, sometimes in the hundreds, to sip at the saltwater.

According to this site, you're most likely to see them between seven and nine, and Oiso is 40 minutes from Yokohama, so I left the hostel at 5:30 AM. There might have been a sign at the station that points the way to Terugasaki Beach, but I'm not one for details. So I headed towards the enormous sign that said OISO BEACH, figuring one beach probably would lead to another. And soon I was very glad I went that way.

It was a bit eerie at first - a great many people in dark clothes were just standing in the water, not swimming or splashing. Then I realized they were surfers, waiting for the perfect wave.

  They were so close I was afraid they'd run into each other. They didn't, as far as I saw, so there's probably a trick to staying out of each other's way even when standing on a board.

See that boat in the distance? That's foreshadowing, folks.

A school baseball team practicing next to the highway:

I stood to get a picture on what seemed to be a dry piece of land behind a rock, only to have the water cleverly seep around it and fill my shoes. You can tell I wasn't awake yet by the fact that I didn't think about just stepping up on the ledge behind me.  

Behind the barrier seemed to be a promising place for the sort of rocky beach I was looking for, so I walked around it (sloshing all the way).

I think they're called dolosse, the huge concrete shapes used to break waves and prevent erosion. Up close they're impressive and a little cuddly.

I want to climb around on them like the jungle gyms of my childhood.

Here the sandy beach had been replaced with a sturdy concrete wall, and dozens of people lined up fishing off it. The old men you'd expect, but also teenage couples and mothers with small children. I didn't see anyone catch anything, but a few opportunistic cats were hanging around.

It's narrow-minded of me but I'd never thought of either surfing or fishing as popular Japanese hobbies. Even though I know of a handful of celebrities who will talk about surfing, and as many as four of the talents I consider "my favorites" adore fishing. So I should have had a clue that the general population would also. Now that I think about it, though, I can't think of anyone who admits to bird-watching. Hmm.

I kept going in the same direction, when I saw a ship making a course directly for me. Because I was being a tourist, I stopped and waited for it to make slow impact.

The enormous anchor dragged it to a halt, fortunately. Continuing, I came across an unappetizing swimming pool.

Past which I found the place I'd been searching for, Terugasaki Beach. And realized that a pair of binoculars that I'd bought at Daiso and the camera function on my Softbank phone were child's birdwatching - this was where the big boys played.

You know the old analogy books where Our Hero goes different places and meets different groups of people, but wherever he goes everyone there is only doing One Thing? Off the top of my head I'm thinking Charles Kingsley, William Schwenk Gilbert - that sort. First there were The Surfers, then The Fishers, then The Birdwatchers. There is to be no overlap between the three.

Except, I don't know if you can see, but there is a man in red out on the rocks. Fishing with a cooler beside him. The little old lady (who said she came there every morning to see the pigeons) expressed the frustration of everyone on the beach. "He's in the way. He shouldn't be out there." Later, though, when a huge wave washed all his equipment off and he risked his neck to grab it, I heard laughter from the beach, and she said, "Everyone's rejoicing, that's not good."

If I were a serious bird-watcher down there with them, if I were taking pictures on an actual camera instead of my cell-phone, if I were the type that liked a beautiful picture more than an intriguing one, I would probably have shared their annoyance. As it was, I felt a little bit of respect for the unknown man. He was fishing in a place where others didn't - maybe wouldn't even dare, considering the slippery rocks - he was doing what he wanted without caring what others thought, he was being "the nail that sticks out."

There were only a few small flocks of the pigeons, that darted down to drink and almost instantly took flight again as a huge wave threatened to drown them. In the end I only got two pictures with the birds remotely in them, and not good pictures at that.

Next year I think I'll try going earlier in the season in the hopes of seeing more.

1 comment:

Taro 3Yen said...

"I think there are called dolosse."

Wow. You learn something every day.
South Africa claims they were ™invented™ in 1963 for use in Cape Town and Afrikaans word for "concrete tetrapods" is dolosse.

However, 1950, the Laboratoire Dauphinois d'Hydraulique (Sogreah) in Grenoble, France. Basically, nobody invented them--they spontaneously appeared from outer space in the early 50s around the same time as the UFO sightings, ha, ha.

To quote Alex Kerr author of "Dogs and Demons: Tales from the Dark Side of Japan" (Hill and Wang, 2001):
"These projects are mostly unnecessary or worse than unnecessary. It turns out that wave action on tetrapods wears the sand away faster and causes greater erosion than would be the case if the beaches had been left alone,"

Surfers and naturalists (and anybody sane) hate the tetrapods because over time they erode away all sand on beaches and destroy the beach habitat creating a concrete dead zone. Arrrg.