Guided by Charley Hesse and Sam Woods. This was a set departure tour.
For the fourth year in a row, we beat our previous year’s trip list with an all-time record of 185 species. Every year, the Winter Japan tour is slightly different, and this year’s could be summed up by ‘balmy weather’ and rarities. We had an almost clean sweep of available targets; and by gathering valuable gen from other birding groups and Japanese birders, we chased down some real MEGAS, like Siberian Crane, Swan Goose and Scaly-sided Merganser. Of course we also had the expected Hokkaido highlights like the mammoth Blakiston’s Fish-Owl coming in close to feed on fish, Red-crowned Cranes on the snow and close encounters with Steller’s Sea-Eagles. A bit of good luck and flexibility with our birding schedules meant that we went out on all three of our pelagic excursions on the main tour. Although the ice flow hadn’t arrived yet, we had a great boat ride to photograph Steller’s Sea-Eagles & White-tailed Eagles; we managed to get out to sea from the Nemuro Peninsula to photograph several species of alcids and we had beautiful conditions in Kyushu to see the Japanese Murrelet. Our redesigned extension including a morning’s birding on Miyakejima worked spectacularly well as we picked up the endemics there and also great seabirds, including 3 species of albatrosses on the way back. This year’s tour was a tremendous success birdwise, but the unique Japan experience also never fails to enchant visitors.