Kumamoto Prefecture

Kumamoto Prefecture lies immediately north of Kagoshima Prefecture and is easily visited in association with a visit to sites such as Arasaki in that prefecture.

Here you will find information on:

Yatsushiro Estuary and the Shiranui Mudflats.

Yatsushiro City, Kuma River mouth 熊本県八代市球磨川河口

About two hours drive north of Izumi, in Kagoshima Prefecture, is one of the best gull-watching spots in Japan. The mudflats of the Kuma River estuary are very extensive at low tide, but the key is to arrive about two hours before high tide, as the incoming water pushes the gulls ever closer to the accessible seawall.

When driving north or south between Izumi and Kumamoto it is well worth checking on the tide times and, if the incoming tide time matches your approximate itinerary, stopping by here for an hour or two can be very rewarding.

A wide range of gull species congregate here making it a useful place for a "Gulls 101" lesson! The commoner species here include Vega Gull, Black-tailed Gull and Black-headed Gull. Any large white-headed gull found here during winter should be checked carefully as it could be Heuglin's Gull, Mongolian Gull or perhaps another similar species in the Herring/Vega complex. In the past, and perhaps still, this was the place to find a small flock of wintering Pallas' Gull

One of the highlights at Yatsushiro is Saunders's Gull, and in the late winter there are usually double-figure numbers present. During February and March they begin to moult into breeding plumage and seeing them in this plumage is always a pleasure. Birds fly low over the mudflats and if they are close you can hear their tern-like kik, kik, kik calls as they search for food before suddenly dropping down onto the mud to catch small crabs.

Black-faced Spoonbill are often in the area, and other species include Common Shelduck (check for the rare Ruddy Shelduck too) and Temminck's Cormorant. There is a healthy wintering population of Western Osprey here and they are often to be found sitting on the bamboo poles sticking up out of the mud. On the nearby river check for Falcated Duck as they often join the flock of Eurasian Wigeon.

In the agricultural area behind the seawall, Eurasian Skylark and Buff-bellied Pipit are in the wet fields, and there is always the chance of a Red-throated Pipit and perhaps even a Richard's Pipit. Flocks of Russet Sparrow feed in the drier areas. With such a concentration of birds in the area, predators are never too far away, so keep watch for  Eastern Marsh HarrierHen Harrier, Peregrine Falcon, Merlin, Eurasian Kestrel, Eurasian Sparrowhawk and Northern Goshawk.

Recommended watching spot: 32.477049, 130.558840

Shiranui Mudflats

Matsubase Town 熊本県 宇城市 松橋町 御船

Further north, between Yatsushiro and Kumamoto, are the Shiranui mudflats, at the entrance of the Asa River in Matsubase Town.

Like Yatsushiro, when the tide is low there is a large area of mud exposed, but if you check tide times and arrive an hour or two before high tide, the area can be very productive.

There are two main species to look for here during the winter months: Saunders's Gull and Baikai Teal.

At high tide the gulls rest on the water in a large flock of up to 500, or even more, but they are distant. As soon as the tide turns, and feeding areas become available, Saunders's Gull move in close to the seawall giving close views of them as they search for their favourite food: crabs.

Several hundred Baikal Teal can be found here. They are usually found feeding with other ducks at the river mouth. Although they will not be at your feet, with a good telephoto lens taking decent photos is possible.  

There is also a good chance of Black-faced Spoonbill, as well as Grey Heron, Great White Egret and Little Egret, along with a few shorebirds such as Common Greenshank, Common Redshank, Kentish Plover and Northern Dunlin. During the spring and autumn migration seasons many more species pass through.

In the vegetable fields near the estuary, wintering birds include pipits, larks, thrushes and buntings. Scan the fields for Dusky Thrush, Pale Thrush and Brown-headed Thrush, Zitting Cisticola, any of the buntings that like open country. Overhead there may be Asian House Martin and Barn Swallow, even in winter.

Recommended watching spot: 32.628447, 130.653944

© 2020 Mark Brazil & Chris Cook

Last updated: 20200513