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Winter birding and bird photography in Japan

 INTRODUCTION:

Birding Japan in the winter

Steller's Eagle Haliaeetus pelagicus. Photo: ChunHsien Huang
Visit the Japanese snow and ice wonderland of Hokkaido where in the dancing cranes, fishing eagles and owls provide an unforgettable wildlife spectacle that’s complimented by the almost legendary Japanese cuisine - a cold weather trip with red-hot experiences. To keep price as low as possible, and to be able to really penetrate the Japanese culture we chose to stay at Japanese style guest-houses. This means that baths are often shared. In Tokyo it would be possible to upgrade of course, but otherwise the selected hotels work very well from a birders point of view as being right where the birds are.
 
This short trip is focused on viewing, and photographing, the Red-crowned Cranes dancing in the morning mist, Steller’s Eagles hunting off the pack ice and the huge Blakiston’s Fish Owl getting its daily fish; each among the largest in their respective families. A trip to Japan in the winter would not be complete without seeing the Japanese Macaques relaxing spa-style in the steaming thermal baths surrounded by snow. 


 DEPARTURES:
  February 25 - 2018


If the departure dates don't fit you, please suggest another date.
 GALLERY OF BIRDS ON THE TOUR:
[No Pics in Tour]


 THE TOUR:

Day 0 Saturday         Fly to Tokyo

Most will commence their travel on the Saturday (some even on Friday) but since reaching Japan from the US means one would have to cross the dateline, it will be already Sunday when arriving. Also travelling from Europe on the Saturday, unless starting very early it means arriving on the Sunday.

Day 1. Sunday          Arrive in Tokyo (Haneda or Narita Airport)

Presumably most will arrive at in late afternoon or early evening.  Arrive at the airport and transfer with taxi to the group hotel reserved for the group for two nights. (To be determined)

Dinner & taxi fare not included.

Taxi fare from airport: $24-45 depending on how heavy the traffic is.

Day 2.  Monday         Tokyo-Nagano - Jigokudani (Snow Monkey Park) - Nagano - Tokyo.

At 6 AM, we opt for the first Nagano Shinkansen aka Asama, the famous Japanese bullet train that will be bring us to Nagano. We’ll buy our day-passes for Jigokudani Spa at Nagano Station from where we’ll depart by bus. The name Jigokundani, translated to “Hell’s Valley”, gets it’s name from the eerie atmosphere of steam and boiling water that bubbles from the frozen ground. The ominous steep cliffs and wild forest add to the mystery and magic these Snow Monkeys call home during the winter months. Birding will be sparse, but we shall still look out for a couple of Japanese specialities such as Pygmy Woodpecker, Large-billed Crow, Varied and Japanese Tit, Alpine and Japanese Accentor and Asian Rosefinch.

After this incredible visit, we head back to Nagano with the bus and then return to Tokyo with the Bullet train and our hotel/guesthouse. 

Lunch & Dinner not included

Tuesday Tokyo - Kushiro, Hokkaido (flight) - Akan - Tsurui

We make an early start to Haneda Airport from where we fly to Kushiro on the northern island of Hokkaido. Transferring to our rental car, we drive up to the Akan International Crane Centre. Along the road we’ll keep an eye out for Black-eared Kites, Eastern Buzzards and if we’re lucky, also find Japanese Tits &Grosbeaks. At the Crane Centre the star attraction is obviously the Red-crowned Cranes where the Steller’s Eageles and White-tailed Sea Eagles may also turn up.

Later the afternoon, we head east to the village of Tsurui where we’ll stay the night in a Ryokan (Inn). PallasRosefinches, Ural Owls on day-roost and Hazel Hen may be on this road.

Lunch & dinner not included.

Wednesday February 2016      Tsurui - Otto-wa-bashi - Kiritappu - Rausu

Tsurui is located about 20- 30min from the Kushiro Shitsugen National Park and wetlands and it’s along this road where we will going very early morning. We will be at Otto-wa-bashi bridge, an internationally renowned photography spot, to see and photograph the Red-crowned Cranes get up and dance in the misty sunrise over the river. Whooper Swansare present on the river many times while we may see several Sika Deer stags were having play fights in the distance. After this spectacular show, we head back to the Ryokan for breakfast.

A longer drive further east brings us to the Kiritappu Peninsula and also the town of Rausu. Checking out what the coastal species we can find, we’ll drive to our accommodation to find the Blakiston’s Fish Owl which comes in to feed on the river in front of us after our exquisite dinner.

**This day’s other potential birds: Stellers Sea-Eagle,Lesser &Great Spotted Woodpeckers,Bohemian Waxwings,White-tailed Sea Eagles,Long-tailed Rosefinch, Greater Scaup, Black Scoter, White-winged Scoters, Rough-legged Hawk, Harlequin Ducks, Pelagic Cormorant, White-tailed Eagles, Brown Dipper

Lunch not included, but dinner and breakfast is. 

Thursday February             Nemuro sea trip - coast - Furen

Early morning we head off to the harbour as per the recommendation of our japanese contact. We’ll be heading out to sea where the pack-ice is, with the prize being the Steller’s Eagles hunting from and relaxing on the pack-ice. Obviously this is not the only species around as White-tailed Sea Eagles, Tufted Duck, Greater Scaup, Black Scoter, Common Goldeneye, Red-breasted Merganser, Thick- billed Murre, Pelagic Cormorant, Harlequin & Long-tailedDucks, Mew, Slaty-backed, Glaucous-winged & Glaucous Gulls, Common Murre, Pigeon & Spectacled Guillemots, Ancient Murrelet, Least & Crested Auklet can also be seen.

For lunch we’ll trying some more local cuisine and explore the Nemuro Peninsula as well as Furen on the way back for Red-necked, Horned and Black-necked Grebes, Pacific Diver, Pelagic Cormorants, Black Brant, Spectacled Guillemot, Rhinoceros Auklet, Harlequin Duck, White-winged & Black Scoters, Common Goldeneye, Red-throated & Arctic Loons, Eared Grebe.

Tonight we stay at Minshuku Furen (minshuku = local guesthouse) where the owner are not only avid birders, but produce mouth-watering meals.

Lunch not included, but Dinner and breakfast is. 

Friday February 2016                     Furen - Kushiro - (flight) - Tokyo.

For those that didn’t get enough yesterday, there’ll be an optional sea trip from a different harbour to yesterday that will once again feature Steller’s Eagles,White-tailed Sea Eagles and an array of sea birds (see list on 17th Feb.)

Birding as we go, we drive to Kushiro for our flight back to Tokyo in the afternoon. Once here we will be experiencing a couple of different public transport options with a monorail trip to Tokyo Station and then the Nagano Shinkansen aka Asama, which is the famous Japanese bullet train that will be bring us to Nagano and our hotel for the night.

Optional sea trip & Lunch not included

Saturday February           Tokyo - Trip ends

There should be plenty of time to check Tokyo landmarks as well as doing some birding in the Chiyoda park where the imperial palace is located and with birds such as Azure-winged Magpie,  Pygmy Woodpecker, Mandarin Duck, Chinese Bamboo-Partridge, Bull-headed Shrike, Pale, Brown-headed and Dusky Thrushes, White-cheeked Starling, Brown-eared Bulbul and Varied Tit

If you only had a week available for your Japan holiday you would fly back to your country of origin. If you fly east, you will experience the interesting sensation of landing before you take off. 

If you have more time you may stay another night in Tokyo to run Tokyo Marathon on Sunday morning or to watch over 35000 runners participating many of them in fantastic costumes. 

We will give a two pre-tours in 2017. Seabirding and some island Miyakejim Island birding on Feb 16 (departure at night on the 15th). And Okinawa endemics on Feb 17-19. Price to be determined and depending on number of takers. 

The ferry from Tokyo to Miyakejim with morning on the island for Izu Thrush, Owston's Tit & Japanese Wood-pigeon. On the way back to Tokyo it is great seabirding with Short-tailed, Laysan & Black-footed Albatrosses. I plan this with start on the the 15th as the ferry leaves at 22:30. We'd be back on the 16th.

In the morning on the 17th we fly to Okinawa and fly back to Tokyo on the 19th to meet up with the rest of the group. There should be no problem in getting both the Okionawa Rail and the Okinawa Woodpecker in February. And the other Ryukyu endemics also seem straightforward, except for perhaps Amani Woodcock unless we find one displaying (likely too early).

The main idea with this short Japan tour is to let people who only have one week off from work, experience the best of winter birds in Japan. For Japanese endemic landbirds, a spring trip needs to be organized at some point.  



 TRIP SUMMARY:
DAY 1 Arrive in Tokyo (Haneda or Narita Airport)
DAY 2 Tokyo-Nagano - Jigokudani (Snow Monkey Park) - Nagano - Tokyo.
DAY 3 Tokyo - Kushiro, Hokkaido (flight) - Akan - Tsurui
DAY 4 Tsurui - Otto-wa-bashi - Kiritappu - Rausu. Dancing Japanese Cranes.
DAY 5 Nemuro sea trip for Steller's Eagle - coast - Furen
DAY 6 Birding Furen - Kushiro - (flight) - Tokyo
DAY 7 Birding in Tokyo. International departure.
 
 PRICE :
Option: Winter birding and bird photography in Japan -- Days: 7
Price: US$ 2249
 

We shall penetrate Japanese Culture by sampling the varied and delcious japanese food and stay at typical Japanese guest houses.

Group size: 4-7 people plus guide.

Price includes guiding and coordination by Gunnar Engblom, in situ coordination from Japanese operators, rental car, all domestic flights, bullet train to Nagano, all lodging in double occupancy or japanese guest houses with breakfast and some dinners shared with our hosts. Baths in such Japanese guest houses are often shared.  In Tokyo it would be possible to make upgraded hotel choice. 



 CLIENT'S COMMENTS:
 


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