Trip report: Japan in Winter: Birding on Ice (February 2014) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Charley Hesse.

Quite simply, Japan has some of the best winter birding in the world. Nowhere else can boast the immense Steller’s Sea-Eagle in such numbers, thousands of cranes of 4 species on their wintering grounds, Red crowned Cranes in a beautiful snowy backdrop and the enormous Blakiston’s Fish-Owl. We started our tour in the Japanese Alps of Nagano prefecture where we located some fantastic endemics and other rarities including Copper Pheasant, Long-billed Plover, Japanese Green Woodpecker and Japanese Accentor. From here we drove via the wonderful snow monkey park to the western Honshu wetlands where we saw the rare Baikal Teal, 3 species of geese and Bewick’s Swan. On Kyushu we witnessed the incredible spectacle of almost 13,000 cranes on their wintering grounds before heading to coastal Miyazaki where we took a boat trip to find the rare Japanese Murrelet. Finally on Hokkaido we watched dozens of Red-crowned Cranes waking on the misty Setsuri River, saw many Steller’s Eagles at close range and an amazing diversity of alcids and sea ducks on another boat trip on the Nemuro peninsular. Our trip was effected by unusually adverse weather conditions. Snow-storms and blizzards on Hokkaido caused the worst road closures in living memory, meaning that we were unable to reach Rausu. With additional effort we still managed to find Blakiston’s Fish-Owl at another site and an extra boat trip at Nemuro made up for the one we missed. The tour concluded with our new extension, a round-trip ferry boat ride to Hachijojima on which we saw 3 albatrosses. Participants were impressed with the exquisite and incredibly varied cuisine, fascinating culture presented on this tour.

Click this link to view the full report in PDF format (3.5 MB file)