Okinawa, 21-26, May 2017

One of my friends has finished her master degree. So we went to Okinawa as a trio from 21st to 26th May for a graduation trip. Hong Kong Airlines took us from Hong Kong International Airport to Naha International Airport via a direct flight. The purpose of this trip was not birding as the graduate is a hard-core shopaholic. But I often made detour myself to give myself some time for birding.

Naha is a popular travelling destination in East Asia. Japanese is the main language spoken in Okinawa. Multi-lingual signs displaying Japanese, English, Korean, Traditional Chinese and Simplified Chinese are everywhere. The weather is generally sunny. In late afternoon, cloud patches may bring some drizzles. Prices are not high. I spent ¥30,000 on food, transport, recreation and souvenir during the six days. Consumer tax was 8%. The most touristy place is the International Shopping Avenue, 国際通り, pronounced as Kokusai-Doori.
The downtown of Naha is well-connected by a monorail network. Depending on your needs, single ticket or one-day pass can be bought. The Japanese are so considerate that the compartment is kept extremely quiet for everyone to enjoy a comfortable journey.

Birding and nature

Several common species can be seen everyday. Blue rock thrush is the most beautiful yet easy to see species. Males have sharply contrasting plumage with red and blue while the females are masters of camouflage. They breed here in Okinawa. They occur on turfs and by the shore. More approachable specimens can be found in the gardens of hotels. The locals love them and feed them with the delicacy from the hotel.

Two kinds of bulbuls can be seen. Brown-eared bulbul (Hypsipetes amaurotis) are the commonest. They usually occur in small groups. Being a frugivore-insectivore, they can be found in many parks and green spaces. Chinese bulbuls (Pycnonotus sinensis) occur in pairs. I think they have a larger patch of white on the heads than the counterparts in Hong Kong. They occupy the less disturbed green areas in the fringe of the city.

Oriental turtle doves (Streptopelia orientalis) are opportunistic ground-feeders. I saw this interesting individual waiting for fish feed pellets in Ryukyu Village. The golden-lined feathers on the winds are just beautiful.

Manko Wetland

On 23rd May, I rented a bicycle for the whole day for ¥1,000. The first station was Manko, which is the largest remaining wetland in Naha. It is qualified as a RAMSAR site. You can appreciate the water birds from various vantage points. I suggest starting from the waterfront promenade of the Manko Park. Then, go on the Toyomi Bridge(とよみ大橋). An osprey passed right over me. A raptor hunting  in the city is just unimaginable. 
Osprey - They say it's a common bird there.

Soon you will see the Manko Waterbird and Wetland Center. Admission is free. Take the boardwalk outside. You can view the birds at eye-level. Black-faced spoonbills, whimbrel, sandpipers, terns, egrets and many other species could be observed. I saw a Mongoose swiftly passed through the bushes.

Grey-tailed tattler - The Japanese called it 黃足鷸 because its legs are yellow in colour.

Intermediate egret - It is an Intermediate, right? The gape does not extend behind its eyes.

Black-faced spoonbills - A total of three was seen at a far distance. One was ringed.

Whimbrel - only one was seen on that day.

The board in front of the information desk shows the time of the tides. Japanese name birds based on Latin binomial nomenclature. It would be quite difficult to translate the names from Japanese to Latin, then to English. So just ask the staff for the record of the day. The photo exhibition inside the center gives you an impression of the birds seen in Naha. I think the staff in the center is avifauna researchers. You can support them by buying the birding maps which costs ¥100 each. The Japanese word for birding places is 探鳥地, pronounced as Sagutorichi.

Fiddler crabs are abundant.

Triangular Pond
I learnt that Naha has many 探鳥地. So the upcoming destination is三角池, pronounced as Sankakuchi. In English, it means Triangular Pond, which could be the result of its shape. It is a roosting place for water birds. The Triangular Pond is actually a small area. An assorted assembly of water birds was presented. I am sure that more birds can been seen in the evening. I only spent 15 minutes there before heading for the next place.

Common waterbirds in Triangular Pond - Black-winged stilt, Grey heron, Little egret and Common moorhen 


具志干潟, pronounced as Gushi-Higata, is a lagoon south of the Naha International Airport. You can reach the mudflat easily. However, I only took a brief look of it. Time was running out. The way to the next destination is long.

Common kingfisher - Leaving the Triangular pond, I saw this little gem.

Sueyoshi Park
Sueyoshi Park (末吉公園) is an 84-hectare remaining secondary forest in the heart of Naha. It is a small hill.  Oriental Turtle Doves (Streptopelia orientalis) turn up in pair on the open turf. Japanese white-eyes (Zosterops japonicus) can be seen flying through trees in blossom. I flushed a timid Malayan Night Heron (Gorsachius melanolophus) foraging on the forest floor.

The lower part of the park was designated for more intensive uses. Japanese people know how to enjoy nature. I saw people walking dogs, photographing flowers, observing firefly and playing sports. With my very modest Japanese, I managed to mingle with the locals. I met a gentleman who taught me the word "bird" in Japanese. 鳥, which shares the same character with Chinese, is pronounced "Tori" in Japanese.

Japanese love spending time in nature. This woman has a lovely Shiba Inu called Hana. She walks the dog every evening. I saw her twice on two separate days. She was so surprised hearing me calling Hana on the second occcasion we met.

Schools arrange outdoor activities for pupils and they enjoy it. The possiblities of things happening on the large piece of flat grassland in the centre of the park are limited by their creativity. Soccer, baseball, jogging... you name it.

A shrine is seated on top of the hill. After climbing more than a hundred steps, you can enjoy an unrestricted panorama of the city in front of the red shrine. I saw a Japanese Sparrowhawk (Accipiter gularis) circling the sky. Swallows are also easier to see at the hill top.

Ficus trees strangling the large boulders on the hill top have become the subject of worship by the Japanese. They believe that Kami, a kind of spirit in the nature, dwells in the forest. I saw a fallen ficus tree whose entire root system is detached from the rock. However, they set up a place of worship there. A fallen tree has high ecological value especially in the middle of dense urban. Thanks to the Kami, the integrity of the Sueyoshi Park’s ecosystem is well-preserved.

Human disturbance was minimal in the top of the hill. The forest bottom was littered with fallen leaves and twigs, enriching the soil below. As a subtropical island, Okinawa experiences sufficient rainfall and warmth which speed up decomposition. Microbial activities are enhanced. Insect, spiders and many other arthropod thrive in such nutritious environment. Larger organisms are attracted by the food sources. The food chain has been completed by the top predators such as hawks. Nutrients can be recycled when the corpses and excretion are decomposed on the undisturbed forest floor.

The top of the hill is also a heaven for learning the competition and succession processes of the vegetation community. The park was restored in the 1970s after WWII. Some fast-growing species have established. They may have been artificially planted or spontaneously seeded by birds and bats. Soon, ficus trees, climbers and stranglers moved in due to the abundance of hosts. There is still a long way to the apex because most of the hosts are still alive. It may take decades for the appearance of those gigantic ficus trees.

The steep terrain is favourable for views of the canopy. I found a Japanese Paradise Flycatcher (Terpsiphone atrocaudata) jumping up and down the branches. Japanese tits (Parus minor) love the dense foliage of the ficus trees. I believe there will be more when you visit during the migration seasons.
Japanese tit - The iconic green patch on down its nape could not be shown.

Japanese paradise flycatcher - This is my personal first! So excited!

Horsetail trees (Casuarina equisetifolia) and Japanese pine trees (Pinus thunbergii) lined up the trail. There are photos showing drowsy owls by the trunks but I could not spot one. Fortunately, a male Japanese Sparrowhawk was perching on a branch enjoying its catch. Suddenly, a series of high-pitched squeaks brought a female sparrowhawk. I could not understand what happened. Anyways, the male was left with nothing. 

Fighting for food!

Japanese sparrowhawk - the king in the secondary forest.

Seeing these top predators in such a busy city is surely amusing. They are doing quite well as I later discovered feathers possibly from a dove, suggesting that food is not a problem in the park. 

Despite signs warning people of the consequences of abandoning pets, I saw quite a number of cats roaming in the park. They are as deadly as the raptors.

Apart from birds, some beautiful butterflies were spotted. I suppose there is a butterfly garden somewhere in the protected area of the park. But nectar sources such as black jack (Bidens pilosa) are widespread. I only took photos of the Common map (Cyrestis thyodamas) and the Blue admiral (Kaniska canace).

On one day, we went to Onna in the central Okinawa for snorkeling. Apart from water sports, we can take a look at the erosion processes underway. Cliffs with a trimmed bottom are common. The crystal-clear water must have contributed to it. The geological composition of the rock, dissolved minerals in the water and flow velocity are the influencing factors.

Japanese people are nice and friendly. Here are some workers and fishermen hanging around the docks. I told them I was there for the birds. One of them jokingly asked me to take a picture of him as if he was a bird.

I checked the shore for birds in the evening before. Eventually I ventured into a food storage facility. A walk along the shore produced Pacific reef egret (Egretta sacra) and Jungle crow (Corvus macrorhynchos). Several species recorded previously were also seen.
Pacific reef egret white morph - Look at its beak and leg colours. Obviously it's not a Little egret.

Jungle crow - Always flying around. But difficult to get a decent photo.

Brown-eared bulbul juvenile - The only juvenile that I encountered in this trip.

Is this a Fugu fish?

Japanese always make delicacy. Staff of restaurants takes their customer very seriously. We had Japanese Buffet, 食べ放題, pronounced as Tabe-Hodai. But we embarrassingly entered the restaurant at 8:30 p.m., 45 minutes before last order. The waiters had kindly reminded us of last order for four times, holding a menu in their hands and recommending their dishes.

Okinawa buckwheat noodles, 沖繩そば, pronounced as Okinawa Soba, is a specialty of the prefecture. Each restaurant has its own recipe for Okinawa Soba. So there may be better choice apart from the top picks of the travel guide.

Okinawa Soba - There are several sizes of serving you can choose from.

Because the United States Forces Japan (在日米軍) stations in Okinawa, American food was quite common. I went to a Steakhouse and ordered a set dinner. When I finished the meal with great satisfaction, I told the waiter it was delicious. She courteously bowed when saying thank you.

The taco and the set lunch, though it can be ordered all day from Steakhouse 88.

I tried an avocado chilli burger in MOS Burger.

Ladies in group is a common sight in Japanese restaurants.

There is a wet market in国際通り where you can pick seafood unloaded straight from fisherman lorries. I ordered an assorted sashimi plate for ¥600. Quite good, isn’t it?

Japanese used to serving iced water to customers. Iced water was hard to get and was reserved for VIP only in the past. It is a taboo in Japanese restaurants for two persons to pick up the same piece of food using their chopsticks at the same time. The Japanese fear the bad luck it brings as it resembles the action of picking up bones during the cremation of the deceased.


The trip to Okinawa is relaxing and enjoyable. Although none of the Okinawa endemics were spotted during the six days, the whole trip was eye-opening. Sometimes, the concentration on birds left us few opportunities to experience the remaining dimensions of a place. Perhaps the next trip to Okinawa would take me to the northern part where the endemics can be found.

My friends and a local taxi driver communicating with newly invented hybrid language

Enormous satisfaction after the great nocturnal adventure

1 comment:

  1. These foods look so yummy.I love Japanese foods a lot cos they are so healthy and tasty.I haven't eaten the avocado chilli burger,I would love to taste that.