I have just returned from running a birding tour to Kagoshima & Eastern Hokkaido for eleven days. The tour started in the late afternoon of January 28 at Izumi, Kagoshima and finished at noon on February 7 at Kushiro, Hokkaido. I actually headed to Kagoshima on January 27 and viewed Redwing and Chinese Grey Shrike while preparing for my guests’ arrival. Below is the trip report including list of species recorded on the actual tour (Redwing and Chinese Grey Shrike excluded). I will post photos from the tour later.
Picking up the group went smoothly in the mid-afternoon, and we were able to watch Hooded and White-naped Crane for a while before sunset, which was a good start to the tour.
Total Species: 2
We got up pre-dawn to watch the cranes leave their roosts and congregate at the feeding areas. Our main target this morning was the juvenile Siberian Crane, and we had great views as it arrived and flew quite close to our position, circling before eventually landing quite far away. We spotted a juvenile Bewick’s Swan along with a Black-faced Spoonbill in the area of flooded rice fields, and also had nice looks at Daurian Jackdaw – both pied and dark morphs. Of course, there were thousands of Hooded and White-naped Crane, along with countless Rook.
After watching this spectacle, we had breakfast and then went to the eastern fields to look for the other two species of crane, Lesser Sandhill and Common. We found the Lesser Sandhills no problem, but the Common proved elusive until it was eventually spotted in a distant field. Other birds of note in the eastern fields were Bean Goose, Common Shelduck, Eurasian Spoonbill, Chestnut-eared Bunting, Common Reed Bunting, Common Snipe and Pin-tailed Snipe. A flock of Temminck’s Stint was also observed.
We checked some other areas at Arasaki for smaller passerines but it was pretty quiet, however we spotted an Upland Buzzard soaring above an Eastern Buzzard! There were a variety of ducks in the rivers – Eurasian Wigeon, Eurasian Teal, Mallard, Eastern Spot-billed Duck, Tufted Duck, Northern Pintail, Common Pochard, Common Coot, Common Moorhen, Black-crowned Night Heron and Little Grebe. Eastern Great Egret, Grey Heron and Little Egret were also numerous.
We then explored the mountains behind Izumi, driving up and over them and spotting a soaring Mountain Hawk Eagle. Afterwards we visited the dam area and saw Grey, Black-faced and Meadow Bunting along with Pale Thrush and Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker. At the dam itself were Mandarin Duck, however no Baikal Teal. But a White-bellied Green Pigeon showed very nicely! On the way back to Arasaki we stopped briefly at a park and saw Elegant Bunting and Long-tailed Tit.
Upon entering the Arasaki area again, we saw a Solitary Snipe as well as two Pin-tailed Snipe, while after we got back to the crane centre we had great, close views of the Siberian Crane as it was feeding. We decided to try the eastern fields again at dusk, and were rewarded with very close views of both Lesser Sandhill and Common Crane. And to finish the day, we spotted a Short-eared Owl in the fields on the way back to our accommodations from the hot springs in the evening!
Total Species: 69
We spent another pre-dawn observing flocks of cranes in flight, but this time from the more stunning locale of the eastern fields. It was a perfect dawn and a great start to the day. We then drove southeast over the mountains to Satsuma, picking up Japanese & Bohemian Waxwing and Brown-headed Thrush along the way. In the river at Satsuma we saw a female Scaly-sided Merganser, and we also viewed Russet Sparrow, Falcated Duck, Common Kingfisher and Crested Kingfisher here.
Minami-Satsuma-Sendai was our next stop to look for Oriental Stork and Chinese Grey Shrike, but only found the stork. We had great views of it, however. We then proceeded to Makurazaki for Redwing, spotting Japanese Cormorant on rocks off the coast and a Badger burrowing into the road embankment along the way. Unfortunately we couldn’t see the Redwing – seems it frequented this particular spot mostly in the mornings……
Total Species: 93
We made our transfer to Kushiro smoothly and just had time to watch the magnificent Red-crowned Crane dancing in the snow at sunset as well as a White-tailed Eagle – a perfect introduction to Hokkaido! We also saw Red Fox as we drove to our lodgings.
Total Species: 95
We decided to give the famous crane-viewing bridge a miss (needed to be there at at least 04:00 to stake a place!) and instead went directly to the Ito Crane Sanctuary after breakfast. Our first bird was a White-backed Woodpecker, followed shortly after by Marsh, Willow, Eastern Great and Coal Tit. Then Red-crowned Crane started arriving in small bands at around 09:00. A busy Eurasian Nuthatch was seen, and later we spotted a pair of Great Spotted Woodpecker at the passerine feeding tables.
We then went to look for a Ural Owl that we’d heard about and saw three Steller’s Sea Eagle flying along the mountain ridges and across the road in front of us. We saw another sitting out in the open on a snow-capped ridge. We arrived near the owl location but the snow was too deep to allow us to explore it properly, so we decided to head back through Tsurui to Akan and the International Crane Centre. Along the way we saw another (the same?) adult Steller’s Sea Eagle perched very nicely in a tree in the morning sun, and a small flock of around a dozen Asian Rosy Finch (little did we know that this would be our best view of this species for the entire Hokkaido leg of the tour!). Later we got our first look at Ezo Deer, and saw another Red Fox on the way to Akan.
The Akan International Crane Centre had the most concentration of Red-crowned Crane we had seen so far. We arrived in time for the 14:00 feeding, which consisted of fish. This brought in three White-tailed Sea Eagle as well as Black-eared Kite and Carrion Crow. A pair of Red Fox were scavenging around as well, and later a flock of Whooper Swan arrived. We also had good views of Eurasian Jay, while a cage at the Centre housed a Black-necked Crane (native to Tibet and Central China). Shy Ezo Deer were also at the Centre, timidly running up to the maize, eating a little and then skulking off to the distant tree line.
Total Species: 108
This morning we had our first bad weather of the trip so far, but it didn’t seem to matter as we were changing location from Kushiro to the mountains west of Nakashibetsu. However the fog refused to lift so we had very limited visibility until around 15:00 when the skies eventually cleared. We tried locating the Ezo subspecies of Ural Owl but although we were in a spot where it had been seen previously we failed to find it. The forests in this area were very quiet with the only notable birds being Common Merganser, Marsh Tit, Coal Tit, Eastern Great Tit, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Eurasian Jay. We saw several Ezo Deer along Route 240, including a nice buck. We also saw one Red Fox sleeping in snow near our accommodations.
Our rooms had been reserved specifically for viewing Blakiston’s Fish Owl. The owls can arrive as early as 18:00 or as late as midnight, and they stay until they are sated which could take anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours depending on how successful they are at catching fish from the rock pool in the stream.
So we waited patiently throughout the evening and had great views of a pair of Sable that visited the pond area several times, as well as a Red Fox. Unfortunately, around 23:00 a large earthquake (magnitude 6.7) hit off the coast of Kushiro, causing a fair amount of shaking even up where we were staying (magnitude 5). We hadn’t seen or heard the owl until then and by 00:30 were beginning to give up hope, thinking that perhaps the the earthquake had put them off and made them more wary than usual…
Total Species: 109
But finally at 02:19 a single bird was observed catching and devouring one fish before catching another and flying off at 02:30! The same bird returned around 05:30 and stayed equally as briefly. We learned later that this bird was the adult male – there is also an adult female and immature male in the area but they stayed away from the stream. The bird that visited the stream seemed unusually wary if the reports of a minimum 20 minutes feeding were accurate so perhaps the earthquake did affect the birds’ behaviour somewhat…
After breakfast we briefly watched the common birds again at the feeder, also spotting a Eurasian Red Squirrel. We then headed to Odaito on the east coast. Here we saw Whooper Swan as well as Red-breasted Merganser, Common Merganser, Common Goldeneye, Black Scoter, Asian White-winged Scoter and Mallard. We also observed Glaucous Gull, Slaty-backed Gull, Common Gull and Vega Gull. We then toured the Notsuke Peninsula, getting great views of Steller’s Sea Eagle along with Long-tailed Duck, Harlequin Duck, Common Guillemot, Slovanian Grebe, Red-necked Grebe as well as other seabirds. Mammals spotted included Red Fox and Ezo Deer. Lastly we headed to Rausu, picking up Asian Rosy Finch, Greater Scaup, Japanese Cormorant, Mongolian Gull and Black-headed Gull along the way. Weather deteriorated as we got to Rausu and we spent the remainder of the afternoon watching a herd of Ezo Deer and soaring Steller’s Sea Eagle. Later that night we caught a glimpse of Blakiston’s Fish Owl before turning in for the night.
Total Species: 125
This day began auspiciously enough with myself sighting Mountain Hawk Eagle at dawn and also all of us getting very close views of Brown Dipper in the stream outside our accommodations. There were also many deer active, hence the presence of the hawk eagle. However our boat trip out to the sea ice was cancelled due to a combination of bad weather and the fact that all the sea ice had been blown well offshore to the east. So we decided to head directly to the Nemuro Peninsula. Upon arrival, we stopped to watch a congregation of Steller’s and White-tailed Sea Eagle on the frozen Lake Furen surface feeding on offerings of fresh fish and meat, accompanied by plenty of Black-eared Kite, Carrion and Large-billed Crow (I later identified Northern Raven among the crows here). After taking in this spectacle, we went a short distance to the Shunkunitai Nature Centre and watched Great Spotted Woodpecker, Hawfinch and Eurasian Nuthatch along with the common tit species. We then hiked along the short boardwalk, where we saw White-backed Woodpecker and a nice male Merlin. Later we payed Meiji Park a brief visit and added Goldcrest to our list. We also saw Eastern Buzzard and our first Varied Tit for Hokkaido.
Total Species: 129
Although the weather was fine, strong gale-force winds prevented us from going on any boat trips so we headed out to Cape Nosappu to do seabird watching from there. Although the conditions were extremely cold and windy, we could identify Pelagic Cormorant and Red-faced Cormorant, as well as Ancient Murrelet, Rhinocerous Auklet, Least Auklet and Brunnich’s Guillemot. The usual Harlequin Ducks, Long-tailed Duck and Black Scoter were also there in numbers, as well as a pair of Common Gull. It was also nice to observe Northern Fur Seal and Harbor Seal at quite close range.
Afterwards we went along the southern coast of Nemuro Peninsula, stopping in at fishing ports and capes along the way to Ochiishi, where we saw Peregrine Falcon and a possible Gyr Falcon hunting the cliffs and more of the usual seabirds. We also watched a large herd of Ezo Deer, complete with many large bucks. Finally we returned to the nature centre and enjoyed observing eagles, swans, ducks, mergansers and the common forest species. Here we also confirmed Glaucous-winged Gull.
Total Species: 137
We finally got the “all clear” for our boat trip after a delay this morning, so we headed back to Cape Nosappu while we waited for the boat for about 30 minutes and saw quite a few birds – many more than the previous morning. There were many Common Guillemot as well as a Great Crested Grebe. We also had great views of Sea Otter!
At 09:30 we boarded our boat and headed out of the harbour and immediately saw several murrelets and guillemots. We quickly identified Ancient Murrelet and Least Auklet, along with more Common Guillemot. Then things became a little more quiet until we approached Cape Nosappu and suddenly we were spotting Spectacled Guillemot everywhere! Many birds were in various stages of moult – changing from non-breeding to breeding plumage, so it was interesting and challenging to identify them.
Afterwards we drove back to Kushiro Airport so that one of our group could make an early return to Tokyo for business, but the detour was not without merit as we added Rough-legged Buzzard to our list. We returned to our base at Lake Furen, hoping that the bad weather reports for the final day would not prevent us from getting a last morning of birding in!
Total Species: 139
Expecting lousy weather for our final day, we awoke to fog that soon lifted to reveal clear blue skies! Better still, at promptly 07:00 the boat tour people called and said our boat would be leaving at 09:00 as scheduled. So we leisurely ate our breakfast while taking in the Eastern Great, Coal and Marsh Tit, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Brown-eared Bulbul and dark-morph Eurasian Tree Sparrow that were busy at the feeders along with Eurasian Red Squirrel. After pre-packing all our gear for the flight to Tokyo Haneda, we set off for the fishing harbour and grabbed our boat. The conditions were superb – calm seas, clear skies and little wind to speak of. However, seabirds were a bit thin on the surface. We did spot Ancient Murrelet, Common Guillemot, Spectacled Guillemot and Least Auklet, but in far fewer numbers than yesterday. We did come across a few Asian White-winged Scoter, which were the first we’d seen since Odaito. There were also a lot of Pelagic Cormorant, Black Scoter, Harlequin Duck and Long-tailed Duck. Perhaps the best part of the cruise was being able to sail along the border between Japan and Russia for a while, so we can say we’ve seen Spectacled Guillemot, Common Guillemot, Black Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Pelagic Cormorant in Russian waters! The northeasterlies had blown in sea ice, and we could actually see the lower edge of the thicker sea ice line several kilometres to the north. A Russian Coast Guard vessel was in the area, but stayed close to one of the islands they control.
We got back in to port at about 10:30 and headed to a spot where Pine Bunting had been reported a month earlier but we had little time to devote to searching and our drive-by did not reveal any birds apart from a flock of Eurasian Tree Sparrow. So we continued along the road between Cape Ochiishi and Cape Kiritappu and were extremely lucky to be driving right along the coastline when a grey-morph Gyr Falcon appeared right in front of us, hunting the cliff faces. We were able to view it for about 30 seconds as it flew quickly right along the edge past our car, before dropping out of sight below the cliffs behind us.
That was basically our last birding action for the trip (we did spot what appeared to be a solitary Asian Rosy Finch as well as several Eastern Buzzard afterwards), and a very fitting way to end our tour. We got to Kushiro Airport at 14:00 with snow starting to fall and bad weather closing in, but our flight got away on schedule at 15:25.
Total Species: 140
In retrospect the extra time taken to try to see the Redwing could have been better spent in the Minami-Satsuma-Sendai, Mi-ike or Izumi area. Otherwise the Kagoshima leg of the tour was very successful, especially listing 69 species in one day. We were also able to see most of the rarities we were after, although there were some glaring misses of commoner species such as Northern Shoveler and Japanese Green Pheasant.
As for Hokkaido, we got to see the “Big Three” up close and personal, and added rarities such as Red-faced Cormorant, Gyr Falcon and Rough-legged Buzzard. We also had reasonable success with the alcids. Conspicuously absent were smaller passerines…..we saw very few Asian Rosy Finch, a single Hawfinch and that was about it for migratory finches and buntings. Locals told us the snow had been too deep, so the smaller birds had migrated further south than normal. There were reports of Snow and Lapland Bunting way out at the tip of Notsuke Peninsula but conditions were such that we were reluctant to venture that far on foot with bad weather closing in (a decision that proved correct, as strong winds and driving snow came in within an hour). We also couldn’t turn up any of the rare smaller gulls – there were mainly Slaty-backed and Glaucous. Harriers were another group that we missed….
However, the final total of 140 species for winter in Japan was a very healthy one!
COMPLETE BIRD LIST
Bean Goose | Anser fabalis
Greater White-fronted Goose | Anser albifrons
Mute Swan | Cygnus olor
Tundra swan | Cygnus columbianus
Whooper Swan | Cygnus cygnus
Common Shelduck | Tadorna tadorna
Mandarin Duck | Aix galericulata
Gadwall | Anas strepera
Falcated Duck | Anas falcata
Eurasian Wigeon | Anas penelope
Mallard | Anas platyrhynchos
Asian Spot-billed Duck | Anas poecilorhyncha
Northern Pintail | Anas acuta
Eurasian Teal | Anas crecca
Common Pochard | Aythya ferina
Tufted Duck | Aythya fuligula
Greater Scaup | Aythya marila
Harlequin Duck | Histrionicus histrionicus
Asian White-winged Scoter | Melanitta stejnegeri
Black Scoter | Melanitta americana
Long-tailed Duck | Clangula hyemalis
Common Goldeneye | Bucephala clangula
Goosander | Mergus merganser
Red-breasted Merganser | Mergus serrator
Scaly-sided Merganser | Mergus squamatus
Little Grebe | Tachybaptus ruficollis
Great Crested Grebe | Podiceps cristatus
Red-necked Grebe | Podiceps grisegena
Slavonian Grebe | Podiceps auritus
Oriental Stork | Ciconia boyciana
Eurasian Spoonbill | Platalea leucorodia
Black-faced Spoonbill | Platalea minor
Black-crowned Night Heron | Nycticorax nycticorax
Grey Heron | Ardea cinerea
Great Egret | Casmerodius albus
Little Egret | Egretta garzetta
Great Cormorant | Phalacrocorax carbo
Temminck’s Cormorant | Phalacrocorax capillatus
Pelagic Cormorant | Phalacrocorax pelagicus
Red-faced Cormorant | Phalacrocorax urile
Merlin | Falco columbarius
Gyr Falcon | Falco rusticolus
Peregerine Falcon | Falco peregrinus
Osprey | Pandion haliaeetus
Black-eared Kite | Milvus lineatus
White-tailed Sea Eagle | Haliaetus albicilla
Steller’s Sea Eagle | Haliaetus pelagicus
Northern Sparrowhawk | Accipiter nisus
Northern Goshawk | Accipiter gentilis
Eastern Buzzard | Buteo japonicus
Upland Buzzard | Buteo hemilasius
Rough-legged Buzzard | Buteo lagopus
Mountain Hawk Eagle | Nisaetus nipalensis
Common Moorhen | Gallinula chloropus
Common Coot | Fulica atra
Siberian Crane | Grus leucogeranus
Sandhill Crane | Grus canadensis
White-naped Crane | Grus vipio
Common Crane | Grus grus
Hooded Crane | Grus monacha
Red-crowned Crane | Grus japonensis
Northern Lapwing | Vanellus vanellus
Long-billed Plover | Charadrius placidus
Solitary Snipe | Gallinago solitaria
Pintail Snipe | Gallinago stenura
Common Snipe | Gallinago gallinago
Common Greenshank | Tringa nebularia
Common Sandpiper | Actitis hypoleucos
Temminck’s Stint | Calidris temminckii
Black-tailed Gull | Larus crassirostris
Common Gull | Larus canus
Mongolian Gull | Larus mongolicus
Glaucous-winged Gull | Larus glaucescens
Glaucous Gull | Larus hyperboreus
Vega Gull | Larus vegae
Slaty-backed Gull | Larus schistisagus
Black-headed Gull | Chroicocephalus ridibundus
Brunnich’s Guillemot | Uria lomvia
Common Guillemot | Uria aalge
Spectacled Guillemot | Cepphus carbo
Ancient Murrelet | Synthliboramphus antiquus
Least Auklet | Aethia pusilla
Rhinoceros Auklet | Cerorhinca monocerata
Rock Pigeon | Columba livia
Oriental Turtle Dove | Streptopelia orientalis
White-bellied Green Pigeon | Treron sieboldii
Blakiston’s Fish Owl | Bubo blakistoni
Short-eared Owl | Asio flammeus
Common Kingfisher | Alcedo atthis
Crested Kingfisher | Megaceryle lugubris
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker | Yungipicus kizuki
White-backed Woodpecker | Dendrocopos leucotos
Great Spotted Woodpecker | Dendrocopos major
Bull-headed Shrike | Lanius bucephalus
Eurasian Jay | Garrulus glandarius
Daurian Jackdaw | Coloeus dauuricus
Rook | Corvus frugilegus
Carrion Crow | Corvus corone
Large-billed Crow | Corvus macrorhynchus
Northern Raven | Corvus corax
Bohemian Waxwing | Bombycilla garrulus
Japanese Waxwing | Bombycilla japonica
Eastern Great Tit | Parus minor
Coal Tit | Periparus ater
Varied Tit | Poecile varia
Marsh Tit | Poecile palustris
Willow Tit | Poecile montana
Asian House Martin | Delichon dasypus
Long-tailed Tit | Aegithalos caudatus
Eurasian Skylark | Alauda arvensis
Zitting Cisticola | Cisticols juncidis
Brown-eared Bulbul | Microscelis amaurotis
Japanese White-eye | Zosterops japonicus
Goldcrest | Regulus regulus
Eurasian Nuthatch | Sitta europaea
White-cheeked Starling | Sturnus cinereus
Pale Thrush | Turdus pallidus
Brown-headed Thrush | Turdus chrysolaus
Dusky Thrush | Turdus eunomus
Daurian Redstart | Phoenicurus auroreus
Blue Rock Thrush | Monticola solitarius
Brown Dipper | Cinclus pallasii
Russet Sparrow | Passer rutilans
Eurasian Tree Sparrow | Passer montanus
Grey Wagtail | Motacilla cinerea
White Wagtail | Motacilla alba
Japanese Wagtail | Motacilla grandis
Buff-bellied Pipit | Anthus rubescens
Brambling | Fringilla montifringilla
Oriental Greenfinch | Carduelis sinica
Eurasian Siskin | Carduelis spinus
Asian Rosy Finch | Leucosticte arctoa
Hawfinch | Coccothraustes coccothraustes
Meadow Bunting | Emberiza cioides
Chestnut-eared Bunting | Emberiza fucata
Rustic Bunting | Emberiza rustica
Elegant Bunting | Emberiza elegans
Black-faced Bunting | Emberiza spodocephala
Grey Bunting | Emberiza variabilis
Common Reed Bunting | Emberiza schoeniclus