Japan - 18th February - 4th March 2018

Published by Julian Thomas (julianthomas AT talktalk.net)

Participants: Phil Thompson (Tour leader), Julian Thomas et al


A selection of photos can be seen at

This was a Naturetrek trip led by Phil Thompson. The cost was £7140 including the extension to Kyushu (I had to pay a single room supplement for this part of the trip). A number of meals were not included, but to my surprise eating out in Japan was very reasonable and I only spent £200 out of the £500 I was recommended to take. This was the first year Naturetrek had run trips to Japan, but the organisation of the tour was very good. Most of the most spectacular and hoped for wildlife was seen, although I note that both Birdquest and Birdfinders trips did end up with a significantly longer bird list, perhaps benefitting from more local knowledge and experience. On the other hand a more relaxed pace allowed longer viewing of some of the iconic wildlife. The opportunities for photography were exceptional although we were helped by near-perfect weather for most of the trip.

18th February. Arrived in Tokyo after views of the aurora borealis as our flight path took us past northern Siberia, which were, however, never more than underwhelming, and Mt Fuji as we flew over Tokyo Bay. We then flew to the most southerly of the main islands of Japan, Kyushu, viewing an active volcano and drove to the estuary of the Kuma River at Yatsuhiro. This was a perfect day weather wise, with clear blue skies, light winds and a benign temperature. The wide river had reasonably extensive mudflats at its mouth, with concrete walls separating the marine environment from rice paddies and isolated wooded ridges. A variety of dabbling duck were seen – bulky Eastern Spot-billed Duck as well as Gadwall, Mallard, Eurasian Wigeon, and Teal, but waders were very scarce, with a handful of Eurasian Curlew, Common Sandpiper and Lapwings and 2 Common Snipe in a paddy field. One hoped for rarity was found fairly easily with great views of two Black-faced Spoonbills sifting shallow pools on the mudflats, and another seen in flight. Grey Herons were numerous, and a roost of Black-crowned Night Herons was found, some of which left the roost giving good opportunities for flight shots, as did the many Black-eared Kites which were scavenging around a fishing harbour. As well as these birds a number of other raptors were seen – a circling Osprey, a speeding Merlin, Eastern Buzzard, Eurasian Sparrowhawk, and a splendid male Goshawk. We failed to find Saunder’s Gull, the only gull species seen being Vega Gull, but a fly past Caspian Tern was a scarce bird in Japan. A few Little Grebes on the river were joined by Great Cormorants, with hundreds on the sea. The woodland patches held a small variety of species, with Oriental Turtle Doves fairly common, a flock of Japanese White-eyes, 2 smart male Daurian Redstarts, Dusky Thrushes, noisy Brown-eared Bulbuls, and large flocks of Brambling, most of the males already in breeding plumage. In more open areas Large-billed Crows, Grey and White Wagtails (the eye catching lugens ), Buff-bellied Pipit, Skylarks, and Grey-capped Greenfinches were typical species. An evening meal was a cultural experience, with excellent shashimi and a variety of novel tastes and textures in the set menu.

19th February. The weather played a big part in undermining our plans today, with continuous rain driven by a cold north wind for most of the day, offering the sharpest possible contrast to yesterday. It was fortunate that the ‘crane observatory’ allowed viewing from a glazed platform, otherwise it would have been a dismal day at times. The cranes are given supplementary feeding early in the morning, and a considerable quantity of grain and frozen fish must be needed to support 12,000 Hooded Cranes (80% of the world population) and 3,000 White-naped Cranes (40% of the world population). As the food was distributed along some 100s of metres of track Hooded, with fewer White-naped Cranes flew in to form a vast moving carpet of feeding birds. It was noteworthy that many birds did not join the scrummage, perhaps being of lower rank. It kept us out of the rain, but denied us the fantastic sound spectacle of several thousand birds trumpeting. As the day progressed the birds began to scatter and forage in rice paddies at some distance from the centre. I was surprised to see an adult Hooded Crane feed a snail to its offspring – one might have expected them to forage entirely independently by now. Searching through the two most numerous species revealed 4 Sandhill Cranes, which gave really close views, and a Common Crane, although it seemed slightly perverse to search for this species amongst vulnerable range restricted East Asian species I had never previously seen!

The supplementary feeding also attracted numbers of wildfowl with several hundred Pintail, fewer Shoveler and Shelduck joining species seen yesterday. Corvids were also numerous with hundreds of Rooks joining the Large-billed Crows, this sub-species of Eastern Rook lacking the bare facial skin of frugilegus. Daurian Jackdaw proved a greater challenge with just one bird accompanying a flock of rooks. Many Great and Little Egrets presumably benefited from the fish put out for the cranes. One might have expected this concentration of birds to have attracted more raptors, not that conditions were favourable, but sightings in the day were limited to a perched Goshawk, ringtail Hen Harrier, many Black-eared Kites and a few Kestrels. We did make a morning excursion around the protected areas, occasionally venturing from the bus for brief exposure to the elements. A scarce Naumann’s Thrush was viewed along a canal, where several Black-faced Buntings played hide and seek amongst the reeds. The bunds of rivers and canals in Japan seem to be entirely concrete lined, which must have a big negative impact on the wildlife they support, but around the canals saw Eastern Yellow Wagtail, one being viewed well enough to identify as a male taivana, Buff-bellied Pipits, Greenshank, Common Sandpiper, and Dunlin. One small flocks of Spoonbills when inspected turned out to contain both Black-faced and Eurasian Spoonbills, while another group of 8 were all Black-faced. Flocks of Tree Sparrows were a common sight, but we also found a large flock of the very handsome Russet Sparrows feeding in a paddyfield.

By mid afternoon the rain finally ceased and we walked round a section of the sea wall, overlooking sodden paddyfields. On the channel a Black-necked Grebe joined Little grebes and duck, while in the field margins several of the really smart Meadow Buntings were joined by a single Chestnut-eared Bunting. They were extremely shy for a small passerine, flitting away at c40m range, so no photos of these species, nor of the Bull-headed Shrike that kept company with a Daurian Redstart, but I did manage to stalk close enough to one of many Dusky Thrushes and Oriental Turtle Doves seen. Other birds seen here included small numbers of Grey-capped Greenfinches, Brown-eared Bulbuls and White-cheeked Starlings. By the time we retreated to the hotel we felt we had probably done as well as possible given the dismal weather.

20th February. In sharpest possible contrast to yesterday the day dawned clear and it remained so all day, but with a keen north wind. Before sunrise we arrived at a road over which the cranes would fly from their roost, and for an hour or so the birds came over in their thousands, a fantastic spectacle against the dawn sky and rising sun and I was able to take a surfeit of flight shots. A Peregrine also flew past. We then walked along the canal where the Naumann’s Thrush was seen yesterday, this time enjoying much better views as it foraged in the open; both this and Dusky Thrushes are much easier to see than forest thrushes. There were also skulking Black-faced Buntings, and an even more elusive Japanese Bush Warbler in the reeds along the canal, and a Goshawk put in a brief appearance amongst the Black-eared Kites. We then spent the rest of the morning at the crane centre watching the massed flocks with many birds flying past at eye level. As yesterday one Common Crane and 4 Sandhill Cranes were seen. Large flocks of Pintail flew past, one totalling perhaps 1000 birds. As we departed the Crane Centre a drake Falcated Duck was found on the river, as well as a female Blue Rock Thrush before we drove through forested hills to Kogawa Dam, an impoundment which had flooded the steep valley. One would have expected such deep reservoirs to be fairly sterile, but as well as Pochard, impressive numbers of Mandarin Duck were seen tucked in along the bank, or under overhanging trees, with flocks of c50 birds flying round in tight formation, and another Falcated Duck amongst Mallard. Finding birds in the forest was hard work, but with searching Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Varied Tit, Pale Thrush and Red-flanked Bluetail were added to the list. Other birds seen included Black-headed Buntings and Sparrowhawk, but while Common Kingfishers were found we did not succeed in seeing the target bird in the shape of Crested Kingfisher. On our return to the hotel I was pleased to take really close photos of a male Daurian Redstart on a tiny area of parkland, which also hosted Japanese Tit, Varied Thrush, Oriental Turtle Dove and White-cheeked Starlings!

21st February. It had rained overnight, but cleared by dawn and I took a few photos of birds around the hotel before we walked to the nearby river. A Peregrine launched attacks from tall buildings. A surprising number of duck frequented the fast flowing water; not really the sort of habitat where one would have expected to find wildfowl, but there was a stunning flock of c90 Falcated Duck, as well as Wigeon, Spot-billed Duck, Teal and Mallard. The reed fringed margins held many Black-headed Buntings, Meadow Buntings and again skulking Japanese Bush Warblers. Large flocks of Asian House Martins hawked over the river, and Barn Swallows were also seen. The rocky boulders mid-stream provided foraging sites for Grey and White Wagtails (both sub-species) and also the large and rather striking Japanese Wagtail – actually reminiscent of a Forktail. The target bird here was eventually found – the Long-billed Plover, but it remained resolutely asleep, thus denying us views of the key ID feature, namely the long slender bill. Other waders seen here were Green and Common Sandpipers.

We then left Izumi, for another visit to Kogawa Dam, and this time the Crested Kingfisher was found with ease and viewed to every-ones satisfaction, with 2 birds fishing from perches in the open, and two more seen on the drive down. Other birds seen included another Pale Thrush and a Goshawk, with further views of the Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker.

The final stop was at another fast flowing river, the Sendawi. A large flock of Tufted Duck was an addition to the trip list, and an Osprey flew to and fro along the river. This was meant to be another site for Long-billed Plover, but none were found here, but I was able to take good photos of Meadow Buntings, far less wary here than around the Crane Centre, and with effort I managed to sneak close enough to a Bull-headed Shrike to take some record shots.

22nd February. After arrival in Tokyo, and a leisurely start to the day we braved the Tokyo metro to visit Kasai Rinkai Park on the shores of Tokyo Bay. With temperatures hovering around freezing, overcast conditions and sleet for much of the time it was fairly devoid of visitors. Areas of grassland and patches of scrub, plus reed fringed lagoons were the terrestrial habitats, while the shallow channels and mudflats attracted estuary birds, so the visit provided interest in spite of being on the edge of a megacity. Dusky Thrushes were common, and also 3 Pale Thrushes, one of which became involved in a fight with a Dusky Thrush. A pair of Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers provided entertainment as they worked the branches of a leafless tree, once extracting a large grub. Other common species were Oriental Turtle Doves, White-cheeked Starlings and Brown-eared Bulbuls, but the Azure-winged Magpies proved elusive until I was leaving the park when a party of 4 played follow my leader through the bushes. A Goshawk kept up a record of daily sightings as it hurtled overhead in a tail chase after a pigeon, and a Merlin came past in flickering flight. The reed fringed lagoons only held Shoveler, Teal and Spot-billed Ducks but there were impressive numbers of Scaup on the sea, perhaps over 1000 birds and well as hundreds of Great Crested Grebes, and a few Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser. Neat Black-necked Grebes swam in the channels, in which 3 Black-faced Spoonbills were busily fishing, as well as Great and Little Egrets. An Osprey beat its way along the coast, hovering at intervals, while on the mudflats could be seen many Dunlin and fewer Kentish Plovers, plus Common, Black-headed and Vega Gulls.

23rd February. We left Tokyo on a 07.55 flight to Hokkaido, arriving there at 09.15, to an austere winter landscape, with much lying snow, pastures abandoned for the winter, and scrubby deciduous and coniferous woodland covering the low hills, while in the distance higher mountains and classic cone shaped volcanoes formed the horizon. As we drove through the east of Hokkaido Whooper Swans and Black-eared Kites were seen in flight, but our first stop was at Tsurumi-dai where perhaps 200 of the stunning Red-crowned Cranes were on view. Quite breathtakingly beautiful birds against the snowy background, this was only a brief encounter, but we could still see behaviours such as dancing and displays with pairs extending their necks and bills skywards and trumpeting loudly. At the lunch stop Willow Tits were seen, before we made a roadside stop to view a roosting Ural Owl in a hollow in a tree. This race of the Ural Owl is paler than most forms and endemic to Hokkaido. Seemingly content in its hollow the owl did not even consent to open its eyes in the time we spent watching it. As we left the site a White-tailed Eagle flew over, and another was seen at the next red-crowned Crane site we visited, but I was so engrossed in the cranes here I failed to notice a Steller’s Sea Eagle overhead. The second site at Tsurumi -eto held similar numbers to the first site, with numbers building up as small parties of pairs regularly flew in. The hours passed very quickly while watching the behaviour and interactions of the cranes. A single Common Crane, which is hardly a small bird seemed dwarfed by the Red-crowned Cranes, and indeed was harassed by them to some degree. Finally departing from the cranes we went to Lake Kussharo, where volcanically heated water spilling into the lake keeps the margins ice free, and allows Whooper Swans to overwinter. The swans were totally fearless and it was one site where a telescope, or indeed bins were completely superfluous and the swans swam almost within touching distance. There were probably around 200 seen on the two sites on the lake we visited. Other birds seen here included Spot-billed duck and a few Goosander. The first mammals of the trip were seen in the form of two herds of Japanese Sika Deer, about 40 individuals in total. It was then on to a very traditional Japanese hotel and a fairly amazing banquet.

24th February. After moderate overnight snow falls the day dawned clear, with blue skies all day, but sub-zero temperatures and a biting wind. We left before dawn to drive to Otowa Bridge which overlooks an important crane roost. When we arrived the bridge was already thronged with Japanese photographers, presumably hoping to get that classic cranes and sunrise image, but fortunately most left soon after we arrived. There were c150 Red-crowned Cranes standing in or around the partially ice free river, most asleep or preening. We had hoped to see the Cranes depart for their feeding areas, but although a few birds came low overhead most remained on the roost until 10.00. The fewer Whooper Swans did leave, all following the same route, while other birds seen here included Goosander, Goldeneye, Japanese Wagtail, Great-spotted Woodpecker, Marsh/Willow Tits, Nuthatches (with white underparts), a juvenile Eagle and an indisputable adult Steller’s Sea Eagle. The rest of the morning was spent at the Tsurumi eto crane centre, where c150 Red-crowned and one Common Crane were on view. With better light than yesterday I just about filled the memory card with images of crane behaviour as well as cranes in flight against the blue. Having failed yesterday I located another Steller’s Sea Eagle here, with a third seen over the surreal sulphurous and steaming fumaroles at Mt. Io. A second mammal was added to the list with Red Foxes proving common, with 4 seen, and one by the roadside giving excellent views.

25th February. Once again blue skies all day showing Hokkaido to best advantage with snow clad mountains and forested hills as we set off for Rauso in north east Hokkaido. Before we left Varied Tit was seen around the hotel. Our first stop was at Shibetsu Harbour which was frequented by a variety of sea duck – sleek Goosanders and Red-breasted Mergansers, chunky Scaup, and Goldeneye being the most numerous. It also offered the first chance to peruse the gull selection, most of which were Slaty-backed, as well as fewer Glaucous, Glaucous-winged and Mew Gulls. Although one knew it would be the first of many it also gave the chance for great scope views of an adult Steller’s Sea Eagle; hard to describe what a magnificent bird it is without running into clichés. We then travelled along the coast road, with no real opportunity to stop, but flocks of Black Scoter and Harlequin Ducks could regularly be seen offshore. In the afternoon we had a short boat ride of just one hour outside the harbour. Scanning the sea revealed many slender billed and shag-like Pelagic Cormorants but no Alcids, but this birding was quickly abandoned as the crew began to throw discard fish, and distant dark shapes started dropping from the sky, to resolve themselves into White-tailed and Steller’s Sea Eagles. This was a fantastic spectacle as the eagles stooped down to the sea’s surface, to snatch the fish, often swallowing it on the wing. In Mull or Skye one might have one chance to photograph the Eagle’s strike, but here the carousel of eagles offered multiple opportunities.

This scene was repeated inside the harbour where the frozen sheltered sea created the illusion we were out on the pack ice, and again we had the most fantastic views of these magnificent birds, often having to zoom out to get the whole bird in frame. Some spectacular chases of gulls by the Steller’s were seen, and side by side it could be seen that here was a bird that can make a White-tailed eagle appear insignificant.

There was an excellent selection of wildfowl in the harbour to view after the boat trip, best of all being many Harlequin Ducks which gave stunning close range views in perfect light; absolutely gorgeous birds and eclipsing the moulting birds I had previously seen in Alaska. Other wildlife were Pintail, Goosanders, Whooper Swans, Goldeneyes, and Scaup.

After this spectacle we departed for the Blakiston’s Fish Owl site. It was not quite what I expected – close to the main road, with the café doubling up as a hide, and crowded with enthusiastic Japanese photographers armed with the ultimate in photographic technology. A pool in the small river was illuminated by floodlights and rainbow trout were stocked in here to lure in the owl. Unfortunately we had to depart at 19.00, by which time the only birds to show in front of the hide were Brown Dipper and Goosander. The owl did not in fact show until 01.00 that night.

26th February. We left the hotel early for a boat ride which departed at 05.30, just as dawn was breaking and we headed out over a calm sea, with lines of Pelagic Cormorants beating past, while over head streams of Steller’s and White-tailed Eagles headed purposefully out to sea. Scanning the sea gave fairly brief views of rolling dolphins. Apparently the only dolphin species regularly seen in the area is Pacific White-sided, with the other small cetaceans being Dall’s Porpoise and Harbour Porpoise. Another sighting was a pair of Brunnich’s Guillemots, but perhaps surprisingly no other Alcids were seen. It soon became clear we were making for the edge of the pack ice, which had conveniently moved closer to Hokkaido in the last week or so – pack ice at the latitude of the south of France! It was clear the squadrons of eagles that had passed overhead were making for the ice, and hundreds of Steller’s and White-tailed eagles could be seen perched on the ice, or circling around and soon they were giving mind-blowing views as they came gliding in to take offering of fish. Having taken a vast number of images yesterday I tried to desist from taking too many pictures today, instead appreciating the spectacle, but in the end it proved too tempting. This must certainly rank as one of the world’s most amazing wildlife spectacles. At around-15 to -20’C but clear blue skies the day certainly had a polar feel to it.

Along the river below the hotel several Brown Dippers disputed ownership of riverside real estate; presumably with headwaters freezing completely many birds must move downstream to annoy the residents.

After a late breakfast we headed out in the coach to Notsuki Peninsula, a sandspit not unlike a massive version of Blakeney Point, but with the inland estuary areas frozen solid, and areas of grassland and battered spruce forest. Huge numbers of Sika Deer were present here, perhaps the winds cleared the snow to allow them to graze more easily than in the inland forests. Foxes were also numerous, with many quite fearless individuals seen in daylight. The seaward side of the peninsula held numbers of sea-duck, the most numerous being Black Scoter, and with searching four of the slightly bizarre White-winged Scoter were found amongst them. There were also large numbers of Red-breasted Mergansers, curiously almost all drakes, while females predominated in the harbours. Elegant Long-tailed Duck, Goldeneye and Scaup completed this assemblage, while other birds included Red-throated Divers and several Spectacled Guillemots, in a somewhat confusing array of plumages moulting towards breeding plumage. Several Steller’s Sea Eagles beat along the coast or adorned electricity poles like overgrown buzzards.

We then returned to the Blakiston’s Fish Owl site. I had already opted to miss the evening meal in the hotel, but then decided to make an all-nighter of it if necessary, as I was told the owl would most reliably appear between 03.00 and 05.00. Fortunately I did not have to wait that long; at 12.25 a low double hoot was heard at intervals, and then with a feeling of relief and delight I saw a huge grey brown shape float down to the stream. The owl did not stay long, after a few seconds it waded into the pool, flailing its wings and then emerged with a struggling small trout, which was quickly swallowed, and the bird then flew up river. Certainly as impressive a bird in its way as the Steller’s Sea eagle.

27th February. After last nights success made a leisurely start to the day, as we travelled to Shibetsu, stopping at various harbours on the way to view sea-duck and gulls. At Rauso harbour I was quite happy to take photos of Red-breasted Mergansers catching some perch like species, and admiring the Steller’s Sea Eagles soaring above the mountains above the town – almost a more appropriate way of viewing eagles than seeing them so close one could take pictures with a camera phone. Along the coast a redhead Smew was added to the list as it swam with several Harlequin Duck, and at Shibetsu harbour there was a nice raft of Scaup that could be viewed at close range. At Hot Spring Lodge, Yorushi the provision of bird feeders provided entertainment with a stream of Willow, Marsh, Coal and Japanese Tits, Nuthatches, Great-spotted Woodpeckers and Jays going to and fro, but I then walked to a bridge a short distance from the hotel and searched the stream margins for Solitary snipe with two Dutch birders, and seemingly amazingly one was quickly located. This excellent bird was in the most un-snipe like habitat of a fast flowing river, and gave excellent views as it probed the gravel, bobbing in a manner of a Jack Snipe. Crested Kingfisher was also present here.

At the hotel we were in the middle of probably the best Japanese cuisine of the trip when the arrival of the Blakiston’s Fish Owl was announced and we arrived to view the owl sitting on the snow just a few metres away with a trout in its talons. This was quite a brief view, before the owl floated off down the river. Waiting for the owl was considerably enlivened by the arrival of a Japanese Sable. Unfortunately this beautiful mammal was then caught in a live trap, intended to detain it so it could not steal trout intended for the owl, but we argued its case and it was duly released. Clearly not greatly perturbed by its incarceration it then visited the bird feeders to polish off any leftovers, before bounding off in typical mustelid style. The owl reappeared at 23.10, first perching across the river before flying down to the pond, and giving quite breath-taking views at caught and swallowed about half a dozen trout.

28th February. At dawn at Hot Spring Lodge, Yoroushi the Sable was out and about; clearly it has made a den under the decking behind the hotel, from where it launched forays to take any food put out for birds. As all of our days in Hokkaido it was startlingly clear, with blue skies, but very cold at -17’C. We then drove south east to the frozen Lake Furen. A walk through frigid woodland, which held Nuthatches and many Sika Deer gave views over the sea, which was extensively frozen but with areas of open water, which held large numbers of Goosander, Goldeneye and Whooper Swans, with 1000 or so Black Scoter and a few Long-tailed Ducks further out, where the inshore ice gradually gave way to predominantly open sea. It also gave us a last view of the stunning Red-crowned Cranes, with 2 pairs present.

At Lake Furen itself the ice was home to a large gathering of White-tailed and Steller’s Sea Eagles which were feeding on blocks of frozen fish put out by the roadside café owner. With perfect light it was a great opportunity for photos as well as watching the order of dominance of the various birds. The Steller’s predictably dominated the blocks of fish, with the White-tailed eagles standing around, waiting for the Steller’s to leave. Frequent aggressive interactions were seen, and surprisingly the immature Eagles often seemed to stand their ground against the adults. Agile and bold Large-billed Crows were able to sneak in and steal scraps, but I was astonished when a fox appeared and attempted to dis-possess a Steller’s Sea Eagle, although the Eagle repelled the fox in no uncertain manner.

On the final drive to the airport Eastern Buzzard was seen perched in a tree. The weather was cold but perfect as we left Hokkaido, but severe blizzards were forecast for the following day.

1st March. The weather in Tokyo offered quite a contrast to Hokkaido, with spring sunshine, and temperatures hitting 18’C, after overnight rain, as we made an excursion to the Imperial Palace, walking round the moat and admiring the impressive stonework of the walls, as well as visiting the gardens. The moat held a few dabbling duck, most notably several Falcated Duck, which gave fantastic views in perfect light as they tagged along with Coots, relying on the diving birds to bring weed to the surface. It was quite a surprise to see a few House Swifts hawking over the grounds as well as finding another Naumann’s Thrush accompanying Dusky Thrushes on the lawns. Other birds seen were Sparrowhawk, Brown-eared Bulbuls, White-cheeked Starlings and Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers, but the first bird we saw as we left Tokyo Central station was an Osprey soaring over the city, and landing on a skyscraper. Late in the afternoon we had the experience of taking the Bullet Train to Nagano.

2nd March. In the morning we went by coach to the ‘Monkey Park’ at Jigokudani (Hell Valley) in the mountains above Nagano. On the way saw Peregrine, Great Egret and Goosander. Although there was much snow and ice, and the temperature only rose to 5’C in the mountains it felt very pleasant in early spring sunshine. An easy walk of 2km round the steep hillsides took us to an area where a large troop of Japanese Macaques resided, and tend not to wander too far in winter as they have supplementary feeding. The Macaques were not hard to find, with at least 100 present, but with the mild conditions none felt the need to enter the thermal pools and allow us to take those iconic images. However they provided plenty of viewing interest, with mutual grooming, many squabbles and chases, and boisterous play amongst juveniles, and 4 hours passed very quickly. A Golden Eagle drifted over, seemingly without provoking extreme alarm for the monkeys, but the best sighting was on the slopes above the river, where a Japanese Serow moved slowly through scrub and bushes, browsing on shrubs, before it lay down to chew the cud. It never came into the open for clear photos, but still an excellent sighting of this stocky, curious looking bovid, with short backward pointing horns

3rd March. On the final day in Japan we went to the forested mountains around the town of Karuizawa, leaving on the Bullet Train in the mid-afternoon. With something of a heatwave even in the mountains the once extensive snow cover was melting fast. With bright sunshine it should have been perfect conditions for tracking down resident species like woodpeckers, but birding the trails in the chestnut and larch forests proved quite hard work. The best sightings were of a party of c12 Japanese Grosbeaks which had been foraging in the forest floor but then gave scope views of their massive yellow bills as they flew up to higher branches, and the endemic Japanese Green Woodpecker with scarlet crown and black flank scaling. Otherwise the bird list included Varied, Japanese, Coal, Long-tailed, and Willow Tits, Nuthatch, Tree-creeper, Brown Dipper, Eastern Buzzard, Dusky Thrushes and Meadow Buntings. The active but snow covered volcano, Mt Asama dominated the views to the north of the bird sanctuary. To stretch a point we also saw a Japanese Giant Flying Squirrel via a camera fitted to a nestbox which gave views of the hibernating animal – we also holes in trees clearly used by the animals, with many scratch marks below the entrance hole.

Species Lists

Mute Swan Cygnus olor. A few birds were seen in the moat of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Whooper Swan Cygnus Cygnus. This winter visitor to Hokkaido was seen at various locations. At Lake Kussharo small areas of open water amid the icy expanse of the lake are maintained by inflows of geo-thermally heated water, allowing Whooper Swans to overwinter. They were extraordinarily tame with birds swimming almost within touching distance, and some 200 were present. The spectacle was quite impressive, even without the swans being enveloped by clouds of condensing vapour, as happens on really cold days. Otherwise smaller numbers, 15-30 birds were seen at Rauso, where rivers entered the sea, and similarly at Lake Furen.

Common Shelduck Tadorna tadorna. A handful of birds seen around the
Arasaki Crane centre on Kyushu.

Mandarin Duck Aix galericulata.This stunning species was seen in good numbers at Kogawa dam, with c100 birds present, typically nit venturing fa into open water, instead remaining in the shadows of overhanging trees. They were quite wary, taking flight at over 100m distance. A few birds were seen on the river at Izumi.

Northern Shoveler Spatula clypeata. Some 20 birds seen amongst the hordes of Pintail at Arasaki Crane Sanctuary, also seen at Kasai Rinkai Park in Tokyo, and in the moat at the Imperial Palace.

Gadwall Mareca Strepera. Small numbers seen at the Arasaki Crane Centre, with 40 birds at the river in Izumi, and similar numbers at Kasai Rinkai Park and in the moat at the Imperial Palace.

Falcated Duck Mareca falcata. I had previously seen this species in Hongkong, but enjoyed vastly better, prolonged views of this spectacular and gorgeous duck in Japan. A handful were seen at Arasaki Crane Centre and at Kogawa Dam, but over 100 were present on the river at Izumi, looking reminiscent of Torrent Ducks, as they swam in the fast waters, while birds in the moat of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo gave amazing close range views. As with other dabbling ducks they attended coots to pick off weed brought to the surface by that bird.

Eurasian Wigeon Mareca Penelope. Seen at several locations on Kyushu, with around 200 at the Arasaki Crance Centre, with just a handful of birds in harbours and around river mouths in Hokkaido.

Eastern Spot-billed Duck Anas zonorhyncha. This distinctive and bulky duck was quite numerous on Kyushu, with up to 180 seen daily, the largest numbers being at the Arasaki Crane Centre, and on the river at Izumi. Otherwise a few birds were seen in the moat of the Imperial Palace.

Mallard Anas platyrhynchos. Small numbers seen at several sites on Kyushu, with up to 100 daily. Also seen in Tokyo, at Kasai Rinkai Park.

Northern Pintail Anas acuta. This elegant duck was the most numerous species on Kyushu, with large numbers at the Arasaki Crane Centre. An attempted count of a single flock gave an estimate of over 1000 birds. There were many fewer on Hokkaido, but very confiding birds in harbours gave photo opportunities rarely available in the UK.

Eurasian Teal Anas crecca. Fairly common on Kyushu and in Tokyo, with up to 80 birds seen daily.

Common Pochard Aythya farina. Small numbers (up to 8 birds) seen at Kogawa Dam, in harbours on Hokkaido, and in the moat round the Imperial Palace.

Tufted Duck Aythya fuligula. Some 40 birds were present on the Sendai River. On the 25th February, with similar numbers amongst sea-duck in harbours around Hokkaido.

Greater Scaup Aythya marila. There were very large numbers on the sea at Kasai Rinkai Park in Tokyo, with c2000 birds in offshore flocks. Smaller numbers, unto 100 birds were present in harbours in Hokkaido, but these offered rather close views.

Harlequin Duck Histironicus histrionicus. We had fantastic close views of this ornate species in harbours around Hokkaido, totally eclipsing the moulting birds I had previously seen in Alaska. As we drove along the coast to Rauso I could see small parties of Harlequins along the rock shores, but there was no opportunity to stop, but this scarcely mattered with up to 150 in Rauso Harbour giving incredible close range views in perfect light.

White-winged (Stejneger’s) Scoter Melanitta deglandi stejnegeri. It took quite a bit of searching before 4 examples of this slightly bizarre sea-duck were found amongst Black Scoters along the Peninsula.

Black Scoter Melanitta Americana. This was a numerous sea-duck off Hokkaido, with hundreds if not thousands of birds stetched along coastlines, although few were close enough to appreciate the grotesquely swollen yellow bills of the males.

Long-tailed Duck Clangula hyemalis. I rather hoped to get close range photos of this beautiful sea-duck, but none were present in harbours, and although c30 were seen along the Peninsula all were distant.

Common Goldeneye Bucephela clangula. Fairly common in harbours and along rocky coastlines on Hokkaido, with up to 40 seen daily including birds in communal display at Lake Furen.

Smew Mergellus albellus. I had been challenged by one of the group to find a drake Smew, so clearly a redhead in a Harbour was not good enough.

Goosander Mergus merganser. This hardy fish-eater was common in harbours on Hokkaido and on any ice free rivers, with 2-30 birds seen daily.

Red-breasted Merganser Mergus serrator. This bird was seen in similar locations to the preceding species on Hokkaido, and in similar numbers. One noted feature was that on the open sea almost all the birds were males, while females predominated in harbours. In Rauso Harbour they were seen to catch several quite large fish of sea perch/wrasse classification, which were still swallowed without too much effort.

Red-throated Diver Gavia stellata. Five examples were seen on the sea at Notsuki Peninsula.

Little Grebe Tachybaptus brevicollis. Fairly common on canals and estuaries on Kyusho, with up to 10 seen daily, also a few birds in the moat around the Imperial Palace.

Great-crested Grebe Podiceps cristatus. This species was only seen on the sea at Kasai Rinkai Park in Tokyo, where several hundred were seen offshore with
flocks of Scaup.

Black-necked Grebe Podiceps nigricollis. One example of this neat bird was seen on Kyushu, with perhaps 6 birds on estuary channels at Kasai Rinkai Park in Tokyo.

Eurasian Spoonbill Platalea leucorodia. A group of 5 were found with Black-faced Spoonbills in an estuarine creek on the Highashi protected area.

Black-faced Spoonbill Platalea minor. This endangered East Asian species was first seen at the Kuma River estuary with 3 birds sifting shallow pools on the mudflats, one close enough for reasonable photos, while 10 were seen with Eurasian Spoonbills in the Highashi protected area. A final 3 birds were seen on the mudflats of Tokyo bay at Kasai Rinkai Park.

Black-crowned Night Heron Nycticorax nycticorax. Some 15 birds were found roosting in trees fringing the Kuma River on Kyushu, birds leaving the roost and undertaking flights gave superb views and photo opportunities.

Grey Heron Ardea cinereal. Quite common on Kyushu, with 20 birds along the Kuma River, and similar numbers around the Arasaki Crane Centre.

Great Egret Ardea alba. 5-10 birds were seen around the Arasaki Crane Centre, and on the river at Izumi, with just a single bird seen at Kasai Rinkai Park in Tokyo.

Little Egret Egretta garzetta. Rather more numerous than the preceding species, but seen in the same locations, with 10-25 birds seen daily on Kyushu.

Pelagic Cormorant Phalacrocorax pelagicus. Seen around Rauso, with 50 birds along rocky shores on 25/2, but many birds seen flying out in flocks at dawn on 26/2, about 350 birds. One bird had gill netting entangled around its wing.

Great Cormorant Phalacrocorax carbo. The largest numbers were seen along the Kuma River on Kyushu, with c150 present, with smaller numbers seen daily along coastlines and rivers on Kyushu and Honshu, but not seen on Hokkaido.

Western Osprey Pandion haliaetus. One or two birds were seen daily along coastlines and rivers on Kyushu, with another bird hovering over the sea at Kasai Rinkai Park. Perhaps most remarkably one was seen soaring over Tokyo Central Station, and landing on skyscrapers.

Eurasian Sparrowhawk Accipiter nisus. Birds were seen at the Kuma River and at Kogawa Dam (displaying) and also at the Imperial Palace gardens.

Northern Goshawk Accipiter gentilis. Birds were seen daily on Kyushu, with a distant perched bird at the Crane Centre, and three others seen soaring over forest patches. At Kasai Rinkai Park one shot overhead in a tail chase after a pigeon – the outcome was not

Hen Harrier Circus cyaneus. A ringtail was seen hunting over rice stubble and along the sea wall at the Highashi Protected Area.

Black-eared Kite Milvus lineatus. This was the most common raptor in Japan, and was seen daily, except for the day spent at Kasai Rinkai Park. It was most numerous around fishing ports and at the Arasaki Crane Centre, where they deftly scavenged fish, on Hokkaido even from under the watch of Sea Eagles. Some 20-30 were seen daily on Kyushu, with rather smaller numbers on Hokkaido.

White-tailed Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla. This species was seen in large numbers and gave incredible views on Hokkaido. A few birds were seen inland, often drifting over sites where we viewed Red-crowned Cranes, but c60 were seen on the first short boat trip from Rauso, with c100 seen on the next boat trip to the pack ice, and c180 on the frozen Lake. In the UK on a boat trip from Skye or Mull one might have one chance to take photos of an eagle stooping; here the carousel of eagles gave endless opportunities. Normally regarded as an enormous raptor the White-tails had to stand around while the larger Steller’s dominated the food resource.

Steller’s Sea Eagle Haliaeetus pelagicus. Truly an eagle of superlatives, and an awesome apex predator, the first birds were seen inland in Hokkaido, but it was far more numerous along the coast, with birds seen perched on electricity supply poles like overgrown buzzards. On the afternoon boat trip from Rauso this species was rather less numerous than White-tailed with some 40 present. As travelled out at dawn from Rauso the next day a stream of eagles could be seen steadily flying out to sea, and when we reached the edge of the pack ice there were perhaps 250 present -surely on of the most remarkable wildlife spectacles on the planet. The c120 or so birds on the frozen Lake also gave fantastic views in perfect light as they disputed fish offerings with each other and a seemingly reckless Fox.

Eastern Buzzard Buteo japonicus. This was the first raptor seen on Kyushu, soaring over forested hills, but subsequently views were hard to come by, and just 3 more were seen on journeys on Hokkaido, with one bird at Karuizawa.

Golden Eagle Aquila chrysaetos japonicus. One bird was seen soaring above the valley as we watched the Japanese Macaques, which did not seem very concerned about what could presumably be a potential threat.

Common Kestrel Falco tinnunculus. A few birds seen on Kyushu and Honshu.

Merlin Falco columbarius. Birds flew over at the Kuma River estuary on Kyushu, and at Kasai Rinkai Park at Tokyo.

Peregrine Falco peregrinus. Birds were seen hunting around Izumi on two days, or perched on tall buildings, with another seen near Nagano as we travelled to the Snow Monkey site.

Common Moorhen Gallinula chloropus. A few birds seen on Kyushu.

Eurasian Coot Fulica atra. Fairly common on Kyushu, as well as on the moat around the Imperial Palace.

Sandhill Crane Antigone canadensis. Four birds were seen at very close range in rice stubble at Arasaki.

White-naped Crane Antigone vipia. Some 2000 examples of this striking species were present at Arasaki Crane Centre, giving superb close range views on the deck and in flight.

Red-crowned Crane Grus japonicus. One of the world’s most elegant birds, and breath-takingly beautiful against the snows of Hokkaido. Seeing them on fields where they are given supplementary feeding is a little artificial, but gives close range views and study of their behaviours. There were c200 at both the Tsurumidai and Tsurumieto sites we visited on the 25th February. At the Otowa Bridge at sunrise roosting cranes could be viewed rather distantly in the river, with birds departing overhead, and we then visited the Tsurumieto site again in perfect light. Two pairs were seen at Lake

Common Crane Grus grus. Single birds were seen amongst Hooded Cranes at Arasaki, and with Red-crowned Cranes on Hokkaido

Hooded Crane Grus monachus. Spectacular numbers, comprising 80% of the world population were seen at the Arasaki Crane Centre on Honshu. Some 10,000 birds were still present, with scrummaging birds feeding on fish and grain put out for them, and perhaps the best views of thousands flying overhead against the rising sun as they left their roosts.

Northern Lapwing Vanellus vanellus. Small numbers seen daily on Kyushu, 20-50 daily.

Long-billed Plover Charadrius placidus. The only bird seen was a sleeping bird on a gravel bar on the river at Izumi.

Kentish Plover Charadrius alexandrinus. Some 15 birds were seen on the mudflats at Kasai Rinkai Park.

Eurasian Curlew Numenius arquata. Five birds seen on the Kuma River on Kyushu.

Dunlin Calidris alpina. A few birds were seen on Kyushu, with another 60 on the mudflats at Kasai Rinkai Park.

Solitary Snipe Gallinago solitaria. Searching the margins of the snow fringed river at Yorushi was rewarded with great sighting of a snipe probing the shallow gravelly sections – a most un-snipelike habitat. While feeding it bobbed up and down in a similar way to Jack Snipe. It was close enough to give reasonable photos, although the light was poor.

Common Snipe Gallinago gallinago. Three birds, probably this species were seen in rice stubbles at the Kuma River and Arasaki Crane Centre on Kyushu.

Common Sandpiper Actitis hypoleucos. A total of 11 birds seen along rivers in Kyushu.

Green Sandpiper Tringa ochropus. One bird seen on the river in Izumi.

Common Greenshank Tringa nebularia. One seen on an estuary creek at Arasaki Crane Centre.

Black-headed Gull Chroicocephalus ridibundus. 20 birds seen at Kasai Rinkai Park.

Common (Kamchatka) Gull Larus canus. A few birds seen at Kasai Rinkai Park, and in harbours on Hokkaido. It seems surprising we did not record any Black-tailed Gulls.

Glaucous-winged Gull Larus glaucescens. Small numbers were seen in harbours on Hokkaido and on the the pack ice, with 3-5 birds seen daily.

Glaucous Gull Larus hyperboreus. A number of birds picked out amongst Slaty-backs in rauso Harbour, and on the pack ice, with c10 birds seen daily.

Vega Gull Larus vegae. The common large gull on Kyushu, and at Kasai Rinkai Park, with just a few birds seen on Hokkaido.

Slaty-backed Gull Larus schistisagus. This dark mantled species was by far the most common gull on Hokkaido, with 150-500 seen daily.

Caspian Tern Hydroprogne caspia. Apparently quite a scarce bird in southern Japan, one beat its way down the River Kuma at Yatsuhiro.

Brunnich’s Guillemot Uria lomvia. I am pretty sure two Guillemots which flew past the boat at dawn on the 26th February were of this species.

Spectacled Guillemot Cepphus carbo. It was disappointing not to record more alcid species, with quite a list of potential species, but at least this species was recorded at Notsuki Peninsula, with some 30 picked out with the scope, all still in winter plumage.

Oriental Turtle Dove Streptopelia orientalis. A common bird in any areas of bushes and scrub on Kyushu, with 20-40 seen daily. It was also numerous in Kasai Rinkai Park with c30 birds seen.

Blakiston’s Fish Owl Bubo blakistoni. We had three chances to see this most impressive of owls. The first to the hide on the river just north of Rauso brought no sighting before we had to leave at 19.00, and the owl did not turn up until 01.00. The following evening I was determined to do whatever it took to see the bird, but it took a wait until 12.34 when the male owls double hoot was heard from behind the hide, and a few minutes later a huge grey shape drifted down to the fish stocked pool. After inspecting the water the owl entered the water, wings flailing and came out with a struggling trout which was duly swallowed, and the owl then departed. At Hot Spring Lodge an owl appeared at 18.45, interrupting our meal, and then reappeared at 22.30, on the second visit making the most of its time by catching and devouring 4 small trout. This bird is blind in one eye, so may well be surviving because of the supplementary feeding; it has been blind for two or more years.

Ural Owl Strix uralensis. A roosting bird was seen in a hollow tree, conveniently close to a road on Hokkaido, and could be viewed from c50m, giving great views through the scope.

House Swift Apus nipalensis. About six birds were seen over the Imperial Palace gardens in Tokyo.

Common Kingfisher Alcedo atthis. Three birds were seen around Kogawa Dam on both visits.

Crested Kingfisher Megaceryle lugubris. This normally conspicuous species couldn’t be located on our first visit to Kogawa Dam, although birds were heard calling. On the following day two birds were seen fishing from tree stumps in the reservoir, with a third in flight over the water, and a typical view of one perched on a tree overlooking the fast flowing river draining the reservoir. Another bird was heard calling from the river at Hot Spring Lodge on Hokkaido.

Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker Yungipicus kizuki. This diminutive woodpecker seemed quite widespread, with birds seen at Kogawa Dam on Kyushu, at Kasai Rinkai Park and the Imperial Palace in Tokyo, at Lake Furen on Hokkaido and at Karuizawa.

Great Spotted Woodpecker Dendrocopus major. Seen on 4 days in Hokkaido with 4 birds visiting feeders around Hot Spring Lodge.

Japanese Green Woodpecker Picus awokera. It took some searching before one example of this endemic species was seen in forest at Karuizawa.

Bull-headed Shrike Lanius Bucephalus. Five examples of this handsome shrike were seen on Kyushu, in locations like along the sea wall at the Arasaki Crane Centre.

Eurasian Jay Garrulus glandarius. Up to 10 birds coming down to feeders around Hot Spring Lodge, these birds were of the rufous headed sub-species, brandtii.

Azure-winged Magpie Cyanopica cyanus. A group of 4 birds worked through scrub at Kasai Rinkai Park, on 22/2.

Daurian Jackdaw Coloeus dauuricus. Just one bird was seen at Arasaki Crane Centre as it flew past with Oriental Rooks, drawing attention to itself with typical ‘chak’calls. Essentially an all dark bird it was presumably a first winter.

Oriental Rook Corvus frugilegus pastinator. Large numbers were seen around the Crane Centre at Asasaki, with c500 birds seen on each visit. Very similar to Western Rook , but lacking the bare facial skin.

Carrion Crow Corvus corone. Fairly common on both Kyushu and Hokkaido.

Large-billed Crow Corvus macrorhychos. Seen every day of the trip, from mountain forest, to coastal wetlands and cities, its loud honking calls a feature of all sites visited.

Coal Tit Periparus ater. About 5 birds seen visiting feeders at Hot Spring Lodge on Hokkaido, with others at Karuizawa.

Japanese Varied Tit Sittiparus varius varius. This large and very smart tit was seen at Kogawa Dam, on Hokkaido in various locations, and at Karuizawa.

Marsh Tit Poecile palustris. Tricky to separate but both this species and Willow Tits were seen on Hokkaido, at Ottawa Bridge, and at Yoroushi.

Willow Tit Poecile montanus. Probably more numerous than Marsh Tit and seen in most areas of woodland visited in Hokkaido and Honshu.

Japanese Tit Parus minor. This washed out version of a Great Tit was commonly encountered in woodlands and parks in Honshu, Hokkaido and Kyushsu.

Eurasian Skylark Alauda arvensis. This species was seen frequently in the stubble fields on Kyushu, with up to 40 seen daily.

Brown-eared Bulbul Hypsipetes amaurotis. This noisy species was a common bird of scrub and open woodland, and also city parks in Kyushu and Honshu, but getting clear views and photos of this species was surprisingly difficult.

Barn Swallow Hirundo rustica. Three birds were seen in Izumi.

Asian House Martin Delichon dasypus. Perhaps 50 birds were hawking over the river in Izumi city on 21/2, showing sullied underparts and almost square tail.

Japanese Bush Warbler Horornis diphone. As expected a difficult species to view well, but two birds were seen in reeds fringing the river in Izumi city.

Long-tailed Tit Aegithalos caudatus. Parties were seen at Kogawa Dam and at Karuizawa, these birds being of the form trivirgatus. Unfortunately I missed seeing the striking white headed birds on Hokkaido at Yoroushi.

Japanese White-eye Zosterops japonicus. Small parties commonly seen in gardens and forest on Kyushu, also a few birds amid the plum blossom in the Imperial Palace gardens.

Eurasian Wren Troglodytes troglodytes. This species seemed able to survive the Hokkaido winter by ferreting around within hollow logs and under the banks of streams. Birds were seen at Yoroushi, and also at Karuizawa.

Eurasian Nuthatch Sitta europaea. On Hokkaido the white bellied sub-species asiatica was seen at Otawa bridge and Yoroushi; birds near feeders giving great views, while the form amurensis was seen at Karuizawa.

Eurasian Treecreeper Certhia familiaris. One seen in forest at Karuizawa.

White-cheeked Starling Spodiopsar cineraceus. This was a fairly common species in open country and in parks and gardens on Kyushu and Honshu, with 15-30 seen daily.

Pale Thrush Turdus pallidus. This subtle thrush seemed elusive and shy in forest at Kogawa Dam, where 2 birds were seen, but 3 tamer birds at Kasai Rinkai Park gave much better views.

Dusky Thrush Turdus eunomus. This handsome thrush proved to be quite common on Kyushu and Honshu, with 4-20 seen daily on these islands. The birds often foraged right in the open, giving great photo opportunities.

Naumann’s Thrush Turdus naumanni. This distinctive thrush is supposed to winter only in very small numbers in Japan, but one was seen near the Arasaki Crane Centre on Kyushu, and a second bird consorted with Dusky Thrushes on the lawns of the Imperial Palace in Tokyo.

Red-flanked Bluetail Tarsiger cyanurus. A nice male was seen along the forest edge at Kogawa Dam, others heard calling here.

Daurian Redstart Phoenicurus auroreus. One or two birds were seen daily on Kyushu, in quite open country, with a male in Izumi giving fantastic close views and photo opportunities, and one seen at Kasai Rinkai Park.

Blue Rock Thrush Monticola solitarius philippensis. Female birds were seen along the sea wall at the Highashi Protection area, and another at the Sendai River.

Brown Dipper Cinclus pallasii. Some 5 birds were seen on the river at Yoroushi, with others at Karuizawa and at the Blakiston’s site at Rauso. Seen feeding on cased caddis.

Russet Sparrow Passer rutilans. A flock of 20 or so were found feeding in rice stubbles near the Arasaki Crane Centre on Kyushsu.

Eurasian Tree Sparrow Passer montanus. A common bird in towns and villages in Kyushu and Honshu, but more or less absent from frigid Hokkaido.

Grey Wagtail Motacilla cinereal. 1-3 birds seen along the fast flowing rivers on Kyushu daily.

White (Black-backed) Wagtail Motacilla alba lugens. Quite common in parks and gardens as well as wetland areas on Kyushu.

White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis. Less numerous than the preceding sub-species, but seen on Kyushu and at Kasai Rinkai Park.

Japanese Wagtail Motacilla grandis. This large and boldly marked wagtail was very much a species of fast flowing rivers, with 5 birds seen along the river at Izumi, as well in the more frigid conditions of Otowa Bridge on Hokkaido.

Eastern Yellow Wagtail Motacilla tschutschensis. At least 2 seen in along drainage ditches near the Crane centre on Kyushu, one had the yellow supercilium of taivana.

Buff-bellied Pipit Anthus rubescens. Up to 10 birds were seen daily around transient puddles at the Crane Centre on Kyushu.

Brambling Fringilla montifringilla. Some large flocks were seen on Kyushu, with c200 at Yatsuhiro, and probably in excess of 1000 birds close to the Crane Centre on the 20th and 500 near the Sendai River.

Japanese Grosbeak Eophona personata. Some 12 examples of this impressive finch were feeding on the ground, perhaps on chestnuts in the forest at Karuizawa.

Grey-capped Greenfinch Chloris sinica. A fairly common species on Kyushu, with up to 30 seen daily, plus a few birds seen at Karuizawa.

Meadow Bunting Emberiza cioides. This very smart bunting was seen on Kyushu, along the sea wall at the Highashi protected area, and at the Sendai River, about 8 at each location. Curiously the birds at the first location were exceptionally shy, while at the second a close approach was possible. Birds were singing in forest clearings at Karuizawa.

Chestnut-eared Bunting Emberiza fucata. Single birds were seen along the sea wall at the Highashi protected area, and by the Sendai River.

Black-faced Bunting Emberiza spodocephala. This was probably the most common bunting on Kyushu, with up to 10 seen daily, but good views were hard to come by as the birds tended to skulk in reeds.

Common Reed Bunting Emberiza schoeniclus. A few birds were seen daily on Kyushu, in similar habitat to Black-faced Bunting.


Japanese Macaque Macaca fuscata. A large troop entertained at the Snow Monkey Park, with fascinating interactions between these highly social animals, even if only one was seen bathing in the hot spring. At least 120 were present.

Red Fox Vulpes vulpes. This was a common animal on Hokkaido, with many animals active by day – 4-8 were seen daily, including one who had he temerity to try to steal food from a Steller’s Sea Eagle.

Sable Martes zibellina. Much more stocky than a Pine Marten, an example of this beautiful carnivore frequented the area around the feeders and fish pond at Yoroushi. It seemed to have a den under the decking and was not exclusively nocturnal, being active well after dawn.

Sika Deer Cervus nippon. Fairly common on Hokkaido, with herds seen during drives in the forest, but the largest numbers were seen along the Shiretoko Peninsula, where perhaps strong winds had reduced snow cover and made feeding easier; perhaps 400 animals were seen here.

Japanese Serow Capricornis crispus. One individual was located on the slope above the Snow Monkey Park. It moved with extreme deliberation as it browsed on shrubs, and never really gave a clear view of its entire body, before it sat down to chew the cud, but still an excellent sighting of this unusual ungulate.

Pacific White-sided Dolphin Lagenorhynchus obliquidens. A small pod (4-6) of dolphins were seen from the boat on the early morning/dawn trip from Rauso. They were not seen very well but this species is supposed to be the only Lagenorhynchus species present at this time of year.