After getting off the 2012 Western Pacific Odyssey on the morning of April 28, in Yokohama, I went to Miyakejima to see the island specialties. As it turns out, the end of April is an excellent time to go to this island.
Primary Locations on Miyakejima:
Tairoike (volcanic lake at south end of island)
Yakushi-do Temple (temple on northwest side of the island)
Izu-misaki (lighthouse on northwest side of the island)
Snapper Inn (minshuku on northeast side of the island)
Birds and Reference material:
Miyakejima has several target species including: Japanese Murrelet, Japanese Wood-pigeon, Izu Leaf-Warbler, Pleske’s Grasshopper-Warbler and Izu Thrush. In addition, there are subspecies of Varied Tit, Pygmy Woodpecker, Winter Wren, Japanese White-eye, and Japanese Robin.
I used the field guide “Birds of East Asia” by Mark Brazil, published in 2009. It adequately depicts the expected species.
No guides were hired. I believe you can hire a guide at the nature center at the lake (Tairoike) but they do not speak English.
Timing of the trip:
The best time is probably the last few days of April and most of May. The summer species (Izu Leaf-Warbler and Pleske’s Grasshopper Warbler) have arrived by then. Both species were aggressively singing on April 28/29. It would be more difficult to see Pleske’s Warbler when they are not singing and both species are gone in winter. The Izu Thrush and Wood-Pigeon are resident.
Transportation to the island:
There are two options to get to/from the island. ANA offers daily flight service (departing Haneda at 11:45am and departing Miyakejima at 13:20pm). It is a 45 minute flight. I purchased the flight for 9,000 yen each way (30 day advance purchase). Unfortunately, the flight is cancelled about 40% of the time because of volcanic gases (I did not know about this until arriving on the island). My flight to the island was fine. My flight from the island back to Tokyo was cancelled. Thus, I had to take the ferry. The airport is on the southeast side of the island (near the town of Tsubota).
The ferry leaves Tokyo around 2200pm and arrives Miyakejima at 0500am. Thus, all transport is in the dark and not good for pelagic species. The ferry departs Miyakejima at 1420pm and arrives Tokyo at 20:30pm. The trip back offers pelagic birding until dark (about 1830pm). The ferry was 6,700 yen each way. In Tokyo, the ferry docks at the Takeshiba Passenger Terminal which is near the Hamamatsucho station (Yamanote Line, Keihin-Tohoku line and Tokyo monorail). On Miyakejima, the ferry usually docks on the southwest side of the island (near the town of Ako). If there is a strong westerly swell, the ferry may dock on the east end of the island (near the airport). I had to pay cash at the ferry terminal at Miyakejima. They did not accept credit cards.
Transportation on the island:
Driving is on the left side of the road and the vehicles have the steering wheel on the right side of the car. There is no rental car office at the airport or port. I believe there are two rental car offices on the island. Kohtsu rental car is located near the Snapper Inn (phone 04994-61252). The other is located in Tsubota. These must be arranged prior to arrival. Snapper Inn can arrange after arrival if needed.
Buses circle the island. One goes clockwise and the other goes counterclockwise around the island. They do not start until ~7am which is too late for birding. They only go about 5 times/day, so it can be 1-2 hours in between buses. A bus schedule is available but it is in Japanese (so you have to ask about important stops and match Japanese characters). I used the bus system without problem.
There is an illustrated map of the island available. I got one at the airport. It has the primary locations and all the bus stops. Unfortunately, it is in Japanese but it is quite useful. All the bus stops are listed with their names (in Japanese). You would also benefit from looking at google maps as well as the map provided by the Wild Bird Society of Japan (see below).
These were rare and apparently you have to call to get them to pick you up. They are very expensive.
Currency is the Japanese Yen. I did not see ATMs on the island (but I did not look).
Hotels and Food: I stayed at the Snapper Inn. It is near the Minowa bust stop. It is in Kamitsuki (northeast corner of the island). Currently, one of their employees is fluent in English, otherwise they only speak Japanese. I emailed and called and between the two methods I ultimately booked a room. Their website is in Japanese. It does not appear you can book from their website unless you can read Japanese. They picked me up at the airport but this needs to be arranged prior. They were very helpful and I recommend them. It is not, however, the best location for birding. They also serve as a dive shop. They accept Visa and Master Card.
Snapper Inn http://www.snapper-d.com/
I ate dinner at the Snapper Inn. They serve breakfast at 0730 which is too late for birding. Thus, I bought breakfast food at a store on the day prior. I also bought lunch at a store at the harbor.
Directions are very simple. Look at the Miyakejima birding website Wild Bird Society of Japan and get a map. Between these two, I easily found the locations.
Tairoike: This is the volcanic lake on the south end of the island. It is good for all the species except Pleske’s Warbler. The best areas appeared to be on the east and north end of the lake.
Yakushi-do Temple: The temple (and road to the temple) is surrounded by forest and similar to Tairoike it is good for all the forest species. It is in the northwest part of the island and can easily be walked to from the lighthouse. There are bus stops for it as well.
Izu-misaki: This is the lighthouse on the northwest side of the island. It is surrounded by short bamboo/grass. It is a good location for Pleske’s Warbler.
Snapper Inn: It is on the northeast side of the island (off the main road). The bus stop is Minowa. If you got off the bus at the Minowa stop, walk on the small road that goes north/northeast from the main road. The Inn (two buildings) is on the right.
Advice: I got all the target species quickly and without problems. If everything went smooth, you could take the ferry from Tokyo, arriving at 0500 and get all the island specialties and go back on the afternoon ferry. This would be easiest if the birds are singing (last few days of April/first week or so of May). The only problem with this plan is no night birding for owls and possibly missing an island specialty if a species is not cooperating. If you choose this plan, I would go straight from the ferry to Izu-misaki (lighthouse for Pleske’s Warbler). You would need some sort of transportation (hopefully, a taxi would be waiting or you pre-arranged a taxi at the port). If the Pleske’s Warblers are singing, it will be very easy. Then walk back up the road to the temple (Yakushi-do Temple), and bird the temple road briefly because you will want to take the first bus to Tairoike (the first bus picks up at the temple just before 0800). Bird around the volcanic lake and then take the bus to the ferry
Alternatively, you could do what I did and fly ANA, arriving around 12:30pm. Bird Tairoike in the afternoon and night birding around Snapper Inn for owls. The next morning bird the lighthouse and the temple area. Then, go down to the ferry area birding that beach and get on the ferry at 1400pm. This plan allows for 1) enough time for all the island specialties, 2) night birding for owls, 3) being on the ferry during daylight for pelagic species, and 4) avoiding an overnight ride on the ferry (which is unlikely to be comfortable). This plan hinges on the flight making it to the island.
Please see the following website for additional information on Miyakejima:
Wild Bird Society of Japan
Wild Watch Japan
Chinese Bamboo-Partridge – 2 seen and 1 heard near Snapper Inn. Two more (heard only) at the temple
Pacific Loon – 2 seen from the ferry
Laysan Albatross – one distant bird from the ferry
Black-footed Albatross – four birds from the ferry
Short-tailed Albatross – one immature bird from the ferry
Streaked Shearwater – There was a constant stream of these birds the entire ferry trip. I estimated over 20,000 birds. I did one minute counts (fixing my binoculars and counting every bird going east through the binocular field) every 15 minutes after departing the island (from 14:30 – 16:30 as all birds were flying east). The maximum count was 192 birds/minute and the minimum was 42 birds/minute (average was 92 birds/minute). At 92 birds/minute, 11,040 birds went by the ferry in the first 2 hours. I was unable to count from 16:45 onwards as birds were flying in both directions and by 17:00 birds were starting to sit on the water. There was no evidence that fewer birds were present from 17:00 onwards and in fact, I believe there were more as large flocks were sitting on the water.
Flesh-footed Shearwater – one bird from the ferry
Short-tailed Shearwater – all Sooty/Short-tailed Shearwaters that were close enough to identify or that I photographed were Short-tailed. Approximately 200 birds were seen and most were in Tokyo Bay
Great Cormorant – one from the ferry as we entered Tokyo bay
Pelagic Cormorant – one from the lighthouse area on miyakejima
Lesser Sand-Plover – one along the beach near the ferry terminal (APO)
Gray-tailed Tattler – two along the beach near the ferry terminal (APO)
Eurasian Woodcock – one flushed around the lake (Tairoike)
Red Phalarope - ferry
Black-headed Gull – Tokyo Bay
Herring Gull – Tokyo Bay
Common Tern – ferry
South Polar Skua – ferry
Pomarine Jaeger – 2 adults from the ferry
Japanese Murrelet – 19 birds, seas were calm (and flat at times) making it easy to pick these out. Trips can also be arranged (by the Snapper Inn) to go near their nesting rocks. They are early nesters (need to do it before mid-May).
Rhinoceros Auklet – several in Tokyo Bay
Japanese Wood-Pigeon – one seen and more heard around the lake (Tairoike). Two seen near the lighthouse early in the morning on the following day. Several heard around the temple area. This was the island specialist that I had the hardest time seeing.
Lesser Cuckoo – one around the lake (Tairoike)
Northern Boobook – one spontaneously calling just south of the Snapper Inn. I walked along the road (left from the minshuku) and there is a drainage ditch (with cement). It was in the trees in that area.
White-throated Needletail – two along the main road at the entrance to the temple
Fork-tailed Swift (Pacific Swift) – multiple birds along the main road and from the lighthouse
Pygmy Woodpecker – island subspecies, seen around the lake (Tairoike) and along the main road near the entrance to the temple
Varied Tit – island subspecies, two flocks at the lake (Tairoike) and one flock at the temple.
Eurasian (Winter) Wren – island subspecies, one at the lake (Tairoike) and two at the temple. All were singing.
Brown-eared Bulbul – common
Japanese Bush-Warbler – at the lake (Tairoike) and near Snapper Inn, singing
Pleske's Warbler – I was worried about being too early after I was told that they may not arrive until mid-May. I was pleasantly surprised to find them to be common in the grassy area around the lighthouse. Multiple birds were singing from exposed perches and were easily seen. I also had one in the grassy area east of Snapper Inn (walk north from Snapper Inn along the road and take the first road right to the end which is on a bluff overlooking the ocean). The very end of April appears to be a good time for this species. From google maps, it appears that there is also suitable grass habitat on the south end of the island as well, but I did not try in this area.
Ijima's Leaf-Warbler – abundant at the lake (Tairoike) and temple
Narcissus Flycatcher – one bird at the lake
Japanese Robin – two birds as the trail descends down to the lake - Tairoike (this is the southeast portion of the lake) and one bird at the temple.
Blue Rock-Thrush – near the lighthouse
Izu Thrush – Japanese endemic and one of the specialties of the island. It was common throughout
Japanese White-eye – abundant
Chestnut-cheeked Starling – six birds along the road from the lighthouse to the temple
Meadow Bunting – common
Oriental Greenfinch – at the lake (Tairoike)
Eurasian Tree Sparrow