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Mandarin ducks may look in love now, but is it just winter romance?

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The Hinogawa River in Hino, Tottori Prefecture, is one of Japan's busiest wintering sites for "oshidori" mandarin ducks.

During my recent visit, I saw the river teeming with these birds--as colorful as fabric swatches, with their vivid scarlet bills, purple breasts and ornamental plumes shaped and colored just like gingko leaves.

The river's sandbar reminded me of a rush-hour commuter train, tightly packed with hundreds of jostling birds.

"The busiest hours are from around dawn to 8 a.m., then from the late afternoon until sunset," said Junko Morita, my guide. "The birds commute between the river and woodland daily."

"Oshidori fufu" is a........

© The Asahi Shimbun