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Winter Birding and Bird Photography in Japan


Birding Japan in the winter

Steller's Eagle Haliaeetus pelagicus. Photo: ChunHsien Huang
Visit the Japanese snow and ice wonderland of Hokkaido where  the dancing cranes, fishing eagles and owls provide an unforgettable wildlife spectacle that’s complimented by 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 is possible to upgrade, but otherwise the selected hotels work very well from a birders point of view being close to where the target 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 meal; 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. 

  February 15 - 2018

If the departure dates don't fit you, please suggest another date.

UPDATE: Due to some booking problems of the Minshuku Furen, 2018's departure dates have been changed. 

The content is much the same though. 

One has to arrive to Tokyo on the 15th of February. There is a flihgtt the same afternoon at 17.45 from Haneda to Kushiro  
16. Fri  Drive  to Rauso. NIght for Fish Owl
17. Sat Stellers Eagle pack ice boat. Travel to Nemuro. Alternative lodging as Furen is full.
18. Sun. Drive to Kushiro via Akkeshi for a second boat ride with many auks and gulls. Drive on to Tsurui.  Some Crane watching in late afternoon. 
19. Mon. Cranes most of morning then fly to Tokyo in the afternoon. Night in Tokyo. 
20. Tue. Full day with Snow monkeys. Night in Tokyo.
21. Wed. Some sightseeing in the morning. Midday end of tour.

Extension. Afternoon flight to Okinawa
22. Thu. Okinawa full day
23. Frid. Okinawa full day. 
24. Saturday  Okinawa morn and fly to Tokyo. Night ferry to Tokyo islands. 

25. Sun.  Most of day on the ferry from Tokyo to Miyakejim with morning on the island for Izu Thrush, Owston's Tit and Japanese Wood-pigeon. On the way back to Tokyo there is great sea birding with Short-tailed, Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses. Back in Tokyo in late afternoon.


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, transfering by taxi to the hotel reserved for the group for two nights.

Dinner & taxi fare not included.

Budget a Taxi fare from airport at; $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 take 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 that 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 by bus and then return to Tokyo with the Bullet train to our hotel/guesthouse. 

Lunch & Dinner not included

Day 3. 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 and Grosbeaks. At the Crane Centre the star attraction is obviously the Red-crowned Cranes. Also,possibly Steller’s Eagles and White-tailed Sea Eagles.

Later that 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.

Day 4. Wednesday, 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 in the morning. We will be at Otto-wa-bashi bridge, an internationally renowned photography spot, to see and photograph the Red-crowned Cranes dance in the misty sunrise over the river. Whooper Swans are often present on the river and we may see Sika Deer stags. 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 for coastal species, 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. 

Day 5. Thursday, Nemuro sea trip - coast - Furen:

Early morning we head off to the harbour. 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. 

Day 6. Friday, 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.

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

Day 7. Saturday, 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.. 

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.

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.
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. 


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