Hokkaido Day by Day

Hokkaido Day by Day

9 pm Wed Feb 16 So we all got to the airport. All checked in. All overweight, but ANA let us on! Now in an hour we’ll be in the air ūüôā

9 am Thu Feb 17. Arrived in Haneda. Whew trying to connect to the Internet for past two hours. Difficult! Will catch flight to Hokkaido soon. No sleep on the red eye, a wee bit sleepy!

4:15 pm Thu Feb 17. Arrived at Washi mo Yado in Rausu. Been traveling for about 17 hours! Now we are in the small inn. There are plenty of Stellar Sea Eagles perching on the trees around the inn. And also lots of deer ūüôā

7:30 pm Thu Feb 17. it gets dark by 6:15pm The Blakiston’s Fish Owl started calling at 6:45 pm, and finally came at 7:30pm. It stayed for a few minutes and hundreds of photos. By now, it was two days since I slept, so I was happy to get the owl and crashed, but we heard it came back at least three more times after 10 pm.

Blakiston's Fish Owl

6:30 am Fri Feb 18. We are at the pier boarding the “Evergreen” which is a outfitted as a nature tour boat. It was snowing and there were lots of people getting on the boat so one of our group decided to take a pass on the ride. There really were too many photographers on board, I think close to twenty. And many of them were inexperienced and setup tripods which is a bit nuts on a boat. Anyway, we were out until 9 am and saw perhaps 50 Stellar’s Sea Eagles and a similar number of White Tailed Eagles and hundreds of gulls and terns. At least three tourist boats where out in the harbor and none of us could get more than a few hundred meters from the pier as the pack ice was really thick and the boats had a hard time. Still snowing when we got back.

10:30 am Fri Feb 18. We decided to go on a drive North of Rausu, we went all the way until the road ends about 25 km out of Rausu. Beyond that you’d have to hike! There were lots of ducks in the few patches of water that were clear of pack ice, I think Mandarin Ducks, and of course tons of gulls, and a few Stellar’s Sea Eagles up in the trees. We came across a spot where the nature conservency had left hay out for the deer, and we spent a few minutes photographing a doe and her adolescent.

9:00 pm Fri Feb 18. Have been waiting for the owl for 3 hours, no show. It was snowing and very windy, basically blizzard conditions. Figure the owl wasn’t stupid and decided to stay put and stay warm.

5:30 am Sat Feb 19. Arrived at the Rausu pier, but snowing, so we decide not to go on the boat. Will try again at 8:30 am to see if the snow stops and the sky clears.

8:30 am Sat Feb 19. We went back to the pier and got on the Evergreen, all of us. Conditions were much better, not perfect, but much better. So we got to see dozens of Stellar’s and White-tailed Eagles. We could get out of the harbor too, the pack ice had drifted a bit further out, so the boats could also get out. There were also a few ducks and at least one cormorant.

11:00 am Sat Feb 19. Back from the boat we took another drive as far North from Rausu as the road goes, stopping at the Nature Center and three or four places to photograph the breaking waves and mountain scenery. Here is one photo next to the nature center.

View Shiretoko Bridge

3:00 pm Sat Feb 19. Back from lunch in Rausu we came back to Washi no Yado and took some shots of the eagles as they return from their day fishing at sea to roost in the trees on the sides of the hills. Looking forward to one last evening with the owl, the weather looks better so hope he will come.

6:00 pm Sat Feb 19. After a great dinner of Hokkaido crabs, very yumny, we got in our car hides and started waiting for the owl. He came at about 8:00 pm, and then we waited some more. I think most of us gave up at 9 pm as it was getting just too cold.

6:00 am Sun Feb 20. After a good sleep we’re up. This morning is cloudy and light snow, so no boat ride today as the photography won’t be good. After breakfast we’ll pack up and head towards Nemuro with stops at Notsuke Hanto and the “swan viewing point” Odaito.

10:30 am Sun Feb 20. We got to Notsuke Hanto, and drove the entire length stopping at the Nature Center. Unfortunately the pack ice on the Nemuro Strait side was quite thick and there were few to almost no places that we saw that had open water for sea ducks etc. At the nature center they had an up to date list of sightings of birds, and we talked to one of the staff. So I guess there were a few sea ducks, and scooters were around, but perhaps it w2s hard work seeing them. But for us the big tip was the location of 3 Short eared Owls which had been seen that morning. When we arrived in this area, sure enough they were around and we did see three, and managed to take some good pictures. We stayed with the owls until 1:30 pm or so.

Short eared Owl

2:00 pm Sun Feb 20. Odiato “Swan viewing Point” On the recommendation of the nature center we continued to a good spot for Whooper Swans which was near the memorial to the four Russian occupied islands. We did see many swans but they were rather far away. A couple of folks spent a long time taking photos of pin-tailed ducks !

4:00 pm Sun Feb 20. We arrived at Field Inn Furo-so and found it to be a thoroughly nice place with wonderful hosts who also speak good English, and they are very keen birders with lots of local knowledge. Plus they have several bird feeders and a number of species visiting these feeders. We’re sure we are going to enjoy our stay here.

8:00 am Mon Feb 21. Our guides came by to pick us up in a van. We went on an all day circuit out to Cape Nosappu, stopping at several fishing ports on the South coast. This coast facing the Pacific Ocean was largely ice free, whereas the North coast facing the Nemuro Strait was full of pack ice. The ice free fishing ports had a lot of ducks and scoters. We photographed at least a half dozen species of ducks incuding the Long tailed Duck which I think was everyone’s favorite. At one of the stops a reporter from the main Hokkaido newspaper caught up with us and interviewed us as a group of seven bird watchers from Singapore in the Nemuro area is big news !!

On the way back we stopped at On-ne-to Lake, but it was frozen and except for a few deer and roosting raptors there was no activity.

8:00 am Tue Feb 22. The guide again met us with a van and took us to Shunkunitai Forest. We had a walk off about 1.5 km out along the boardwalk, and then the same length back. Unfortunately we saw zero birds except for a few sea gulls over the ocean. The guide mentioned a young brown bear had been seen here a month ago, and also mentioned that the forest has been badly damaged by several severe storms so the bird life is not as good as it was. After the boardwalk we went to the Nature Center and had a look at the exhibits and then the guide dropped us back at our inn.

11;30 am Tue Feb 22. After a few days of eating snack food for lunch at the ever present Seicomarts we decided we wanted a real cooked lunch and set off to find a restaurant. We pulled into one with the most cars parked on the theory the most local cars equals the best food, and sure enough we had stopped at a local ramen restaurant and the food was delicious and modestly priced. After lunch we decided to take a drive to Cape Ochiishi just to see what we could see. It turns out there was a large herd of Sika deer out on the cape and there were several stags with good racks. We spent some time taking photos of all these deer, and then drove back to our inn.

Sika Deer

8:00 am Wed Feb 23. We went to a small hotel on the edge of Furen-ko that feeds the eagles every 8 am. They haul a sled out onto the ice and put out frozen meat and fish. This attracts crows, Black Kites, White-tailed Eagles, and Stellar’s Sea Eagles Sometimes the eagles fight or try to steal food from each other and put on quite a show.

9:00 am Wed Feb 23. We had tried to book a boat trip out of Ochiishi port but all the boat trips were canceled for the day as the pack ice was too thick. Quite interesting that the pack ice varies day to day as the ocean currents, waves and winds move it around. So instead of a boat ride we went back to Notsuke Hanto to look for the Short-eated Owl for flight shots. We saw the owl but the weather had taken a turn for the worse and was overcast, windy and very cold. So we came back to the inn and shot the birds at the feeders for the rest of the afternoon.

I think the Japanese have a good sense of humor, many of the signs I think are quite funny -:) This part of Hokkaido is dairy farm country, with several farms open for tourists. I’m not sure what this sign says, but I rather like it!

See no Evil, Speak no Evil, Hear no Evil

4:00 am Thu Feb 24. We left Field Inn for the crater lake Kuassharo¬†at 4:00 am. This is the largest volcanic crater lake in Japan and the water is warm from the volcanic activity.¬† The drive was not¬†as long as expected¬†and we arrived at the Southern end of the lake by 5:30 am. Driving North we weren’t too sure where to stop, and tried a couple of places. We found a spot by the side of the road with 20 or so swans and stopped for about an hour. Later we moved to a group of restaurants with perhaps 100 to 200 swans that were quite used to people. We had a nice time with these swans, later the owners of the restaurants came¬†to feed them oats which sink to the bottom which the swams eat off the bottom, I guess this is healthier than bread!¬† The temperature of the lake is quite warm and creates a mist in the cold air, especially earlier in the morning when the air is quite cold. Of course then the light is not so good, that’s the trade off.

Whooper Swan Courtship

10:15 am Thu Feb 24. Then we went to find the Ural Owl with the directions given to us by the guide. Lucky for us there were some Japanese photographers at the owl location or we might have missed it. The Ural Owl is very nice and the light was good, the only downside is he really didn’t open his eyes!¬† A very sleepy owl.

Ural Owl

12:00 pm Thu Feb 24. At Noon we stopped for lunch at a small ramen restaurant on out way to Tsurui. An old steam locomotive pulling an old train just passed by, it was quite a sight.

Steam Locomotive

2:05 pm Thu Feb 24. We arrived at the Akan International Crane Center just a few minutes after the 2 pm feeding. The activity was still good for the next 30 minutes. Several White-tailed Eagles and many Black Kites and crows were trying to steal the fish before the cranes got it. There were perhaps 100 to 150 cranes. What a coincidence, we bumped into Wong from Singapore who was there shooting for a day.  After the feeding activity started to die down, some of the cranes did the courtship dance, a bit difficult to capture as there were so many cranes it was tough to isolate them. We were lucky to see one pair mating!  At about 3:30 pm we left for Tsurui.

Red Crowned Crane (mating)

4:00 pm Thu Feb 24. We got to Tsurui and immediately made a quick drive around town to scout of the various photography points, especially the famous bridge where the cranes can be seen at dawn. We’ll try to get there very early tomorrow to get a good spot.

4:30 am Fri Feb 25. We start off for the bridge for the dawn shoot of the cranes in the river with the rising mist. Too bad today was about +3 C when we arrived at the bridge, there was some mist but it was mostly fog, although the early light was interesting, the effect wasn’t the maximum it might have been.

7:00 am Fri Feb 25. After the bridge we came back for breakfast, and then went to the Tsurui crane feeding station nearby the town center. On arrival the scene was nicely backlight with a misty light but progressively became harsher as the day progressed. Feeding time was about 9 am, and we stayed until about 11:30 am, then we went to lunch at a local restaurant.

1:30pm Fri Feb 25. After lunch we drove to the Akan feeding center arriving before the 2:00 pm fish feeding time. Maybe close to 100 photographers and other folks at the center and lots and lots of cranes. Sure enough as the fish were put out the kites and eagles tried to snatch the food. In truth the cranes were not exceptionally interested in the fish and kind of poked at it. Most of the photographers shot the raptors and ingnored the cranes, making a bee line for the exit once the peak action was over at about 2:30 pm.¬† Here’s one lucky White-tailed Sea Eagle (juv) who just snatched a fish from a crane.

White-tailed Sea Eagle

3:30 pm Fri Feb 25th. We stayed until just after 3:00 pm and the cranes were not as active as yesterday, so we headed off to the sunset flight point back in Tsurui arriving around 3:30 pm. However there was not much action so we moved to the feeding station for the good late afternoon light, and returned to the sunset point just before 5:00 pm. Sure enough the flights of cranes peaked just after 5:00 pm and we got some nice flight shots against the sunset sky.

4:30 pm Sat Feb 26th. We get to the bridge site early to beat the rush. It’s cold, -9 C. We hope we’ll get a good rising mist, but as the sun rises at just after 6 am, there is not much mist. We stay at the bridge site until 6:30 am and then decide to go for the Tsurui feeding site to try for backlit shots.

6:45 am Sat Feb 26th. We reach the Tsurui feeding site and wait until 9:15 am, no cranes show up at all. We hear that sometimes the cranes won’t show up until latter in the morning when there is a very cold start to the day. So after driving around a bit looking for where the cranes may be we head back to the hotel and pack up.

12;00 pm Sat Feb 26th. Stop for lunch at a small restaraunt near Kushiro and return the rental cars, we are at the airpot by 1;30 pm and camp out in a restaraunt for our flight at 4:50 pm.

11:00 pm Sat Feb 26th. Yamane-san treated us to a nice sushi dinner at Haneda airport. Now we are waiting for our flight to Singapore which will board soon.  We landed early abouot 5:10 am Sunday Singapore time.

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3 Responses to “Hokkaido Day by Day”

  1. Scott McGregor says:

    AWESOME photos from Hokkaido here Con. I am keen to visit Rausu and surrounds next Feb/March – Do you have a specific boat trip or operator that you would recommend or not recommend for the purposes of photographing the Sea-eagles? And what blogs or info did you subscribe to for new sightings etc, or was this information all gleaned from your guide?

    Regards,
    Scott McGregor

  2. dear Con,
    your pictures are amazing, congratulations! we will go to Rausu and are wondering if we should ahev a boat ride with Nature Cruises or if we can go on a photographic boat ride with http://kamuiwakka.jp. Do you have an opinion? thanks & regards, Marion

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