A birding trip to Japan in winter is simply one of those “must do” birding holidays and we are very excited to launch this new tour with Stu Elsom who will be leading it with local guides.
From impressive snow-capped mountains to the stark coastline and the forests, this tour should produce numerous must-see birds! Steller’s Sea-Eagles congregating in the harbours feeding on fisherman’s fish scraps, huge numbers of at least three crane species gathered at their wintering grounds and the simply huge Blakiston’s Fish Owl are just some of the birding spectacles that await you on this fabulous holiday.
DAY 1: Arrival Tokyo and transfer to Karuizawa
Transfer to hotel and if time allows, visit nearby birding area to get our first taster of Japanese birding! Overnight Karuizawa
DAY 2: Karuizawa Area – Myogi-ko
Nestled beside the slopes of the Asamayama volcano, the nearby forests will be our first birding destination where we will search for scarce species such as Copper Pheasant, Crested Kingfisher, Pallas’s Rosefinch and Japanese Waxwing. We will then explore the area around Myogi-Ko for wildfowl, including truly wild Mandarin Ducks. Overnight Karuizawa
DAY 3: Karuizawa – Kambayashi Onsen – Kanazawa
Travel by road from Karuizawa to Kambayashi Onsen where we will try for two key target species, Baikal Teal and Long-billed Plover as well as more common species such as Smew and Taiga Bean Goose. We will then walk to Jigokudani for what will surely be one of the key highlights, seeing Japanese Macaques bathing in the hot springs surrounded by snow, hence their other better known name, Snow Monkeys. We will then continue our journey to Kanazawa with birding stops en route. Overnight Kanazawa
DAY 4: Kanazawa
Today we will visit Koraku-en, one of the three great Japanese gardens which can be equally great for birding. For those interested, there will be time to visit other cultural and historical sites. We will take a visit to Katano-Kamo-ike for general birding as well as some birding on the coast where we may find our first sea ducks and maybe alcids too. Overnight Kanazawa
DAY 5: Transfer to KYUSHU: Fukuoka (domestic flight)
We will take a domestic flight from Komatsu to Fukuoka. On arrival at Fukuoka, we will drive to Izumi, on the island of Kyushu. We will make a number of birding stops en route at various wetlands along the Ariake Sea. Here we hope to find Great Black-headed Gull, Saunder’s Gull and Ruddy-breasted Crake as well as numerous wildfowl, herons and waders. Assuming our arrival into Fukuoka was on time, we should then arrive into Izumi in good time to experience our first spectacle of thousands of Cranes of up to five species! Overnight Izumi
DAY 6: Arasaki Crane Centre – Local Farmland – Kogawa Dam
We will depart our hotel at dawn to experience the sun rise over the Arasaki Crane Centre and to witness what must be one of the top wildlife spectacles in the world. The sight and the sound of literally thousands of cranes flying overhead and feeding in the fields, is something that will never be forgotten.
After we have taken in the spectacle of the Cranes and had our fill of this wonderful site, we will then take some time searching for other species. These may include Bull-headed Shrike, Daurian Redstart, Dusky Thrush and Oriental Greenfinch. The farmland and associated reedbed areas may produce species such as Oriental Skylark and Chinese Penduline Tit and a visit to nearby coastal scrub habitat should reveal Pale Thrush, Japanese Bush Warbler, and Black-faced and Siberian Meadow Buntings.
A visit to the Kogawa Dam should produce some different species with a further chance of finding Baikal Teal, Falcated Duck and possibly Yellow-throated Bunting. Overnight Izumi
DAY 7: Mi-ike – Miyazaki
This morning we will drive to Lake Mi-ike, a very scenic location surrounded by forests and mountains. In the forests we should find a number of the commoner species as well as White-bellied Green Pigeon and White-backed Woodpecker. The area near Ebino area may produce species such as Yellow-throated Bunting and Grey Bunting as well Daurian Redstart and we will check any feeding stations for other passerines. Overnight Miyazaki
DAY 8: Transfer Kushiro (domestic flight)
We will drive to Kagoshima for another domestic flight to Haneda with a connection to Kushiro. Overnight Kushiro
DAY 9: Tsuri – Cape Kiritappu – Nemuro
Another day of Cranes as we visit the various sites in Tsurui for the beautiful Red-crowned Crane. We will then head towards Cape Kiritappu where we will visit a number of harbours en route to Nemuro. Species we may see today include White-tailed Eagles as well as Pelagic Cormorants and both Black and Stejneger’s Scoters and Harlequin Ducks. Gulls will also be numerous and should include both Glaucous and Glaucous-winged Gulls. Overnight Nemuro
DAY 10: Nemuro area
Dependent on the weather, we will head out to sea for our first boat trip from Ochiishi or Habomai where we hope to find Sooty Guillemot, Least Auklet, Crested Auklet and Ancient Murrelet. We’ll see our first Steller’s Sea-Eagles as well as numerous Scoters and Harlequin Ducks and gulls such as Slaty-backed Gull and Black-tailed Gull. Overnight Nemuro
DAY 11: HOKKAIDO – Notsuke Peninsula – Yoroushi
Birding the east coast to Notsuke Peninsula and harbours, then inland to Yoroushi.
If the weather was not kind to us the previous day we will take a boat trip from Ochiishi or Habomai today. Overnight Yoroushi
Day 12: HOKKAIDO: Yoroushi
Today we will be birding the Yoroushi area, visiting also the Akan-Mashu National Park on the island of Hokkaido. Most birders have heard of Hokkaido as the breeding home of one of the most impressive of all the world’s owls, the mighty Blakiston’s Fish-Owl. We will stay at a nearby traditional Japanese Inn where we have an excellent chance of seeing this hugely impressive owl at night as it fishes in a stream behind the accommodation. The site is well set-up for visiting birders and the views can be incredible and easily viewed in the specially provided floodlights beside the feeding area. We may also get lucky with Solitary Snipe that are sometimes seen here too.
During the day we will do some birding around the Sea of Okhotsk coast at Abashiri dependent on the weather. Overnight Yoroushi
DAY 13: Tsuri – Kushiro – Tokyo (domestic flight) – LONDON
Drive back to Kushiro via Tsurui for our last looks at the Red-crowned Cranes and then fly from Kushiro to Tokyo and a connecting flight onto London where the tour concludes.
*Please note this itinerary may change slightly (to increase our chances of key species) dependent on the most recent information from our local guides*