Trip report: Japan in Winter: Birding on Ice (Jan-Feb 2020) by Tropical Birding

Guided by Charley Hesse. This was a set departure tour.

This year’s Japan in Winter tour was our most successful to date. Not only did we get our biggest ever trip list, we did it in style, hitting all of the big targets with great views and photos. In the end we saw over 500 Steller’s Sea-Eagles, soaring, feeding, fighting… The Full Monty! The enormous Blakiston’s Fish-Owl kept us waiting for hours, but we were rewarded with multiple fantastic views from our bedroom windows. We had over 100 Red-crowned Cranes bugling and strutting their stuff. We aced the tremendously difficult Copper Pheasant in the Japanese Alps, whereas most other groups missed it. We also got great views of Japanese Waxwing which only turns up every few years. In the south of Japan, we saw thousands upon thousands of cranes of 5 species flying into their feeding site at dawn, the globally threatened Saunders Gull on coastal mudflats, endangered Black-faced Spoonbills, close up views of Japanese Murrelets on a special boat ride and the rare Japanese Woodpigeon in a spot few people even know about. Those that chose to go on the extension were rewarded with hundreds of albatrosses including over a dozen of the rare Short-tailed Albatrosses, views of the endemic Izu Thrush, Japanese Robin and Owston’s Tit. The tour was also characterized by the number of rarities including things like Naumann’s Thrush, Fieldfare, Pallas’s Rosefinch and even Ross’s Gull! After the tour, I did a short recce to the north of Honshu to see the beautiful Crested Ibis; one of the greatest bird conservation success stories in Asia. I also visited the wintering grounds of thousands of Greater White-fronted Geese, in search of the rare Lesser White-fronted. This may become available as a future extension, as if there wasn’t enough to see already. As ever, the food was mind-blowing and the exposure to Japanese culture carefully explained by a fluent Japanese guide was a big addition. Read more by clicking the link to the full trip report below.

FULL Japan in Winter: Birding on Ice trip report (3.5 MB PDF)