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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. 

No Departures for this Tour

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

Day 1: 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: 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. 

Day 3: 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.

Day 4: 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.

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.

Day 6: 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 is particularly good for alcids.

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.

The boat trip has to be paid for additionally.

Day 7: 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. 


Copyright © 2012 Kolibri Expeditions. All rights reserved.
Telephone: +51-1- 652 76 89. From the US: 011-51-1- 652 76 89. Cell: 988 555 938 (Gunnar) or 999 007 886 (Elia Gallo) - Email: kolibriexp@gmail.com