Red-crowned Crane, Furen, 26.3.10c
Just back from an 8-day trip to Hokkaido, the northernmost island of the Japanese archipelago. Because of travel limitations (unable to hire a car), I was restricted to ferry, train and bus. Neverthless, I had a great time, took many photos and added 32 species of bird to my Japanese list.
I started off on last Saturday, travelling to Oarai via train. The ferry to Hokkaido left the following morning at 2am, so it was an early wake up and straight into some seabirding. The ferries are big ships, so conditions were very different to pelagic birding trips in Australia. Definitely no opportunities for photos. Conditions before 6:30am were best for seabirding: I saw Black-footed Albatross, Least Auklet, Pomarine Skua, Streaked Shearwater and Sooty Shearwater for the first time in Japan. After that, the wind really picked up, making birding almost impossible. The spray, even as high up as I was, made things really hard. You had to go in every 30 minutes to get rid of all the water on the binoculars, and that was when you were being careful. That meant that the birds were moving quite a bit, so I managed to add Laysan Albatross (one bird), more Black-footed Albatrosses, numerous Rhinoceros Auklets, some Crested Auklets, two Ancient Auklets, a diver spp. (too far away, divers very similar), Brunnich's Guillemot (lots of guillemots, but separating from Common is hard at best), and a female Common Teal (god knows what it was doing there). Still, I was happy with that seawatch. No Short-tailed Albatrosses (rare), but plenty of birds nonetheless.
The next day was pretty much dedicated to traversing from Tomakomai (where the ferry docked) to Minshuku Fuhren, eastern Hokkaido. Nevertheless, I still managed to add White-tailed Sea-eagle from the bus. That night I checked in with Matsuo, the host of Minshuku Fuhren and chatted with a couple of Japanese birders there (with my limited Japanese).
The next morning I got up early and had already seen Red-crowned Crane, Whooper Swan and White-backed Woodpecker before breakfast. After that, I headed off with two Japanese birders to do a small pelagic trip off Nemuro Peninsula. On the way we checked in at a rock stack where we found a pair of nicely co-operative Red-faced Cormorants amongst the many Pelagic Cormorants. Red-faceds are very rare in Japan, restricted to very Eastern Hokkaido in very small numbers. We managed to get some nice shots, which I will post later. We also stopped to photography a young Steller's Sea-Eagle sitting atop a pole, my first. Then it was on to this short pelagic, where I added some more auks and sea ducks: Black Scoter, Long-tailed Duck, Pigeon Guillemot and Spectacled Guillemot were seen for the first time, as well as Crested Auklet, Least Auklet, Harlequin Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, etc. I will post photos later. In the afternoon I headed off into some local woodland, where birds such as Marsh Tit, Willow Tit, Bullfinch, were new birds.
The following day I decided to do a long walk, hiking along a trail through old pine forests (and lots of snow) in search of Black Woodpecker and Hazel Grouse. I failed on both accounts, but did add more common species such as Coal Tit (beautiful bird, underrated in illustrations), Eurasian Treecreeper and Winter Wren. Overall, not a very exciting day, not many photos and not a lot of birs around.
The next day I headed to the start of the previous day's hike, where the birds had been most numerous. This proved to be a good decision, with nice photos of both Great Spotted and White-backed Woodpeckers eventuating. I also saw lots of Eurasian Nuthatches and a Red Squirrel. No new birds though.
The next day, following a nice dump of fresh snow overnight, I headed out to the same spot in the hope of some white photos. The day started well with close encounters of a pair of Red-crowned Cranes. This was one of the photos to come from that shoot. Beautiful birds to say the least. Then it was off to shoot the many Willow and Marsh Tits, as well as Eurasian Nuthatches and Coal Tits. I saw my first Goldcrest (cute little bird, Japan's smallest), and then added Bean Goose on a trip around Lake Furen with Matsuo-san. On the way back it started snowing very heavily, apparently the kind of snowfall that they only get 3 or 4 times a year. Amazing.
After that, it was time for the trip home. I continued my trend of adding new birds from the bus (this time a male Goosander), but the ferry trip the following day was rather boring. Few birds were about, none new. In all, a great trip, great fun, lots of new birds and lots of photos. After the 32 new species, my Japanese list is now on 146. I may just get past 200 in the end.
This Crane shot was taken on the last day at Fuhren. I managed to approach reasonably close to this pair resting in the early morning cool. In tradition style, it was down on the belly, lying down in the snow, for this shot. Head turn is not quite perfect, but lighting was quite hard.
Hope you all had a great week, and look forward to catching up with your photos:)