Tsukuba`s Indefatiguable Bird-Chasers are Back Again! This Time in Force ! Come Watch ( and hear) Them in Action, as they help keep our groundscapes clean! (this season every evening from 6:30-7:30 at Tsukuba Center)
Summers have always been NOISY in Tsukuba with the incessant buzz of cicadas and other insects. But in recent years the mid-August cacophany heard around the Tsukuba Center has become nothing less than frightening! Yesterday evening I stepped out of the Okura Hotel’s lobby and out onto the road. Naturally, the cicadas (semi) were chirping and droning, and this made me feel as if I had ringing in the ears. Then suddenly, from up in the sky and towards the south, there appeared a black swarm, and then another, and still yet another dark mass. These were flocks of Grey Starlings (mukudori) coming to roost for the night around the Center. I stood mesmerized by their interweaving which created visual effects more fascinating than any kaleidoscope or lava lamp. As the starlings started to settle into the trees, the cicada-driven noise more than doubled its volume and you could virtually feel the soundwaves vibrating against your body. Then, suddenly, another sound rose up above the rest of the din. Extremely loud and like something out of a nightmare. If I hadn`t known better I would have thought I was walking past a slaughterhouse – or that Godzilla, Gamera, Mothra and all their Japanese movie-monster companions had descended upon Tsukuba for some final, decisive battle.
That was what I imagined the first time I encountered this horrifying racket 3 years ago, and it was the same thing was probably going through the minds of all the bewildered first-time hearers who were standing outside with me, looking around in fright.
This year, however, I knew better. It was the BIRD-CHASERS! They were back at it again, fighting their never-ending battle of keeping the starlings ( mukudori) AWAY from Tsukuba Center. They go about their task by making very loud and very ANNOYING noises – the highly amplified distress call of the Starling itself ( blasted out of mega-phone-like devices) and more humorously ( and economically), by rubbing on balloons or inflated plastic umbrella bags to make a distinctive screech-like sound, highly irritating to both the birds and humans ( but especially to the humans, it seems!) Why the folks at Tsukuba Center want to get rid of the birds is something easy to understand. Besides the horrible racket the birds make, their droppings are prodigious and the ground along the pedestrian square area between the hotel and Nova Hall and then the path stretching towards the library becomes pasty and difficult to maneuver. Not pleasant at all, especially when you are wearing sandals. In the festering heat of August, this situation is probably not very good from a hygienic standpoint either. Eager to see my old friends the BIRD-CHASERS, I forgot all about the humidity for a moment and sauntered up the stairway to the Center`s upper plaza. Looking around for familiar faces, I was surprised to find that instead of the usual 2 or 3 guys from the city office, armed with megaphone , plastic bag and bare hands ( used for vigorous clapping), there was a large contingent of men, all armed with these traditional weapons of the trade, spread out all over the area. Re-enforcements had been brought in!
That IS a good thing, since in past years you couldn`t help but feel sorry for the poor guys who had to CHASE after the flocks of birds as they flew from tree to tree. This year, each chaser waited for a flock to come his way, and when one did they proceeded to do their thing. You could even say that they looked like they were having fun, each of them trying, it seemed to suppress a boyish grin. Photographing and speaking with these gentlemen, I found that instead of being from the City-Office, they were mostly from the company UR, which manages the Tsukuba Center Area, and this, of course , involves keeping it clean. Watching one of the bird-chasers begin to tire as he rubbed on a balloon, I joked that its better to rub ( the balloons) than to have to SCRUB the poop off the walkways! For those of us bystanders who had gathered to watch , we could not help by OOH and AAH as the starling flocks interwove and mingled, and then tried to alight and test out the safety of potential places. The noise made by the BIRD-CHASERS soon had them take to the air again, in search of a quieter place to settle down for the night. Anyway, this week you should still be able to enjoy watching the interweaving flocks, and the spectacle ( both visual and acoustic) of the bird-chasers trying to get rid of them. It really is something to behold ( and behear!) Ironically, even with all the heroic efforts of the bird-casers , the birds do NOT move very far away, and in fact, when I came back to the same spot later at night, I found that the trees at Tsukuba Center were all full of starlings! Why do the starlings like to roost in the center of the city? no-one is really sure, but I guess it makes them feel safe from predators. They must also prefer trees lined up neatly in a row. The cicadas and starlings will be keeping things noisy for a few more weeks. If you too would like to hear the buzz and watch the starlings interweave come to the bridge between Right-On and Days Town, at dusk. The bird-chasers will be the upper-plaza out-side the Okura Hotel, between the station and Nova Hall, every evening for the next few weeks at around 6:30 PM. You cant miss the racket!
For my original article on my first encounter with the bird-chasers read: http://blog.alientimes.org/2008/09/running-with-tsukuba-centers-tireless-bird-chasers/