Trip report: Japan in Winter custom tour (Jan-Feb 2018) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Andres Vasquez. This was a custom tour.

Japan in Winter is a magical place and a tour that every birder MUST do at some point in life. With three of the birding world’s Super Stars like the hulking Steller’s Sea-Eagle, the elegant and iconic Red-crowned Cranes (once as little as 16 pairs was all there was for this species), the largest owl in the World Blakiston’s Fish-Owl posing for pictures, Hokkaido alone among the three islands visited, is a birder’s paradise. If you add to this heavyweight trio other localized targets like Japanese Accentor, Japanese Murrelet, Saunders’s Gull, Long-tailed Rosefinch, Baikal Teal, Asian Rosy-Finch, Black-faced Spoonbill, Falcated Duck, Japanese Waxwing, and Japanese Wood-Pigeon, then this tour is already a birder’s, and a lister’s dream.

Further more, if you enjoy waterfowl, the amount of these birds we find in Japan is crazy among which the over-the-top beautiful Mandarin Duck takes a high spot on the rankings of the family but other members are also highly appreciated starting with Long-tailed Ducks, Halequin Ducks, Common Goldeneyes, Tufted Ducks, Greated Scaup, White-winged and Black Scoters, two species of swan, two mergansers, Smew, Common Pochard, among others. If you still require another excuse, Japan holds one of the greatest spectacles of birding which takes place every morning during winter: the feeding of over 13,000 individual cranes of four different species, Hooded, White-naped, Sandhill, and Common; this is a mesmerizing show that combines sunrise light with a cacophony of calls of thousands of birds flying in from all directions to feed on the open grasslands of Izumi.

Putting birds aside, other aspects of nature that we enjoy on this tour are enough to bring thousands of tourists to Japan. Among those things we can mention the visit to Jigokudani Park, where the Japanese Macaques (aka Snow Monkeys) visit the hot springs of an idyllic snow-filled mountain valley creating a show that brings hundreds of visitors to the spot every day. We also enjoyed very much seeing a family of cute Red Foxes playing in the snow fields of Furen Lake. Birding and nature sightseeing took place among breathtaking landscapes, adorned with snowcapped volcanos, lush evergreen forests, or across endless fields of white snow. All this makes that every day, even the ones in which we mainly need to move from one birding area to another, still very enjoyable and soul comforting.

This year we ran two tours parallel to each other at the same time, one the normal set depature tour (guided by Charley Hesse and detailed in a different trip report) and the other, a custom tour for a very nice couple of birders Patricia and Michael, that wanted to do it at their own pace. This turned out very productive for both groups since we managed to cover more land as a team and kept in constant communication with updates about the birds found at the different spots we both visited independently. There were a couple of activities that we did all together like the boat rides in Hokaido and Kyushu plus the last day of the tour’s activities since it required last minute planning due to a surprising and frustrating cancellation of the ferry that was going to take us to Miyake Island due to bad weather conditions, but about this we could not do anything more than coming up with a back up plan that turned out well for all concerned.

FULL HIGH RES Japan 2018 Report (14 MB file)

FULL LOW RES Japan 2018 Report (1.9 MB file)