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JAPAN IN WINTER

Japan Birding Tours: our winter Japan bird watching holiday is the ‘alternative Japan’ bird watching tour. Our winter Japan birding tour concentrates on the wildlife spectaculars for which Japan is famous: the Hooded and White-naped Cranes of Arasaki, the 'Snow Monkeys' of Honshu, the Red-crowned (or Japanese) Cranes of eastern Hokkaido and the Steller’s Sea Eagles and Blakiston’s Fish Owls of the Shiretoku Peninsula. As well as these marvels, we will also see plenty of other good birds, including many endemics and wintering specialities. At the end of our Japan tour there is an optional pelagic in search of Short-tailed Albatross and other seabirds.

Monday 18th February — Monday 4th March 2019
(15 days)


Pelagic Extension: Monday 4th March — Wednesday 6th March (3 days)

Leaders: Hannu Jännes and Chikara Otani

Group Size Limit: 12

Tour Category: Easy walking, but cold conditions at times, and mostly comfortable accommodations

Sunrise at Rausu on northern Hokkaido and the huge Steller's Sea-Eagles are gathering on the ice, ready for their breakfast! (Pete Morris)

Sunrise at Rausu on northern Hokkaido and the huge Steller's Sea-Eagles are gathering on the ice, ready for their breakfast! (Pete Morris)

Japan, with its many islands and its wide range of climatic conditions, has a rich avifauna and, in particular, a number of fascinating endemic species ranging from the beautiful Copper Pheasant to the attractive Japanese Green Woodpecker. It is, however, during the winter months that Japan really comes into its own, for then it plays host to three of the greatest avian spectacles on earth: the great gathering of the Hooded and White-naped Cranes at Arasaki, the amazing concentration of that king of raptors, the huge Steller’s Sea Eagle, in eastern Hokkaido and, on that same island, the incomparable dancing amidst the snow of the Red-crowned Cranes.

This tour provides the perfect opportunity to see the best birding that Japan has to offer; its awesome crane and eagle spectacles. In addition we shall see many other wintering birds ranging from Spectacled Guillemot to Asian Rosy Finch, as well as many resident species, including the remarkable Blakiston’s Fish Owl.

A visit to upcountry Japan (the ‘real’ Japan) is an experience in itself and one that requires of the traveller a spirit of adventure and a willingness to adapt to new ways of doing things. Simple things like eating Japanese food, sleeping on futons and bathing in an ‘ofuro’ are very different from back home, but will be great fun if you are tolerant of cultural differences. The difficulty of travelling around in a country where few people speak a foreign language of any kind is the main reason why only a few non-Japanese birdwatchers have explored the islands. A superb travel infrastructure, mostly comfortable accommodations, interesting food and friendly, helpful people make travelling through Japan a thoroughly enjoyable experience.

After leaving the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo behind us, we will head inland for an exploration of the forested mountains of central Honshu where specialities include Copper Pheasant, Long-billed Plover, Japanese Green Woodpecker, Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Japanese Wagtail, Brown-eared Bulbul, Japanese Accentor, Japanese Waxwing, Varied Tit andJapanese Grosbeak. We will have a first chance for Pallas’s Rosefinch in this area, although chances are better in Hokkaido.

From here we will drive, via the incredible ‘Snow Monkeys’ (Japanese Macaques) of Jogokudani, to Komatsu on the Japan Sea coast of Honshu, our base for a visit to Katano Kamo-ike, home of one of the few regular wintering flocks of the beautiful Baikal Teal in the islands, as well as being a good area for Taiga and Tundra Bean Geese, Lesser White-fronted Goose, Falcated Duck and Grey-headed Lapwing.

Next we will fly southwards to the island of Kyushu, where we will visit the famous crane reserve at Arasaki (where up to six species of crane can occur!) and also look for Black-faced Spoonbill, the extraordinary Mandarin Duck, Black-tailed Gull, Vega Gull, Slaty-backed Gull, Kamchatka Gull, Saunders’s Gull, Japanese Murrelet, White-bellied Pigeon, Ryukyu Minivet, Pale Thrush, Chinese Penduline Tit, Bull-headed Shrike and Grey Bunting.

In complete contrast, the last part of the tour will be spent in far northern Japan. During our visit to Hokkaido we will make a thorough exploration of the eastern end of this superb island, a region of mountains, forests, frozen lakes and seacoasts which contains some of Japan’s most exciting birding localities, including Capes Nosappu and Kiritappu with their seabirds, sea ducks and Asian Rosy Finches, Rausu with its Steller’s Sea Eagles and Blakiston’s Fish Owls, and the marshy country north of Kushiro where the Red-crowned Cranes dance in the winter sunshine. Other specialities include Glaucous-winged Gull, Spectacled Guillemot, Least and Crested Auklets, Ancient Murrelet, and good chances for Red-faced Cormorant and wintering Solitary Snipe and Pallas’s Rosefinch.

During the optional extension, we will take an overnight pelagic trip by large ferry out beyond Tokyo Bay, where we will have an excellent chance of seeing the highly-sought-after Short-tailed Albatross, as well as Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses, Streaked Shearwater and Tristram’s Storm-Petrel. We will also have an opportunity to see Brown-headed Thrush and catch up on one or two other species that are difficult on the main tour.

Birdquest has operated tours to Japan since 1987.

Tour Timing: February to early March is absolutely the best time for a winter birding tour in Japan. Day length is significantly longer than in December-January, which makes a real difference, and late February/early March is the period with the best chances for sea ice at Rausu and so gives the best chances for amazing sea-eagle encounters. There are plenty of wildlife photographers around for the very good reason that February is the top month in the area, and in any event the photographers have no impact on the quality of the birding. By mid-March winter is ending and numbers of many winter visitors declining fast.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The western-style or Japanese-style hotels we use are of good standard. For two nights at Arasaki, two nights at Mi-ike and for one of the nights at Rausu we will be staying in Japanese-style guesthouses (minshuku). These will be spotlessly clean and quite comfortable, but it should be appreciated minshuku are quite simple establishments, with shared bathroom facilities at Arasaki and Rausu. During the extension, accommodation for one night is on a large ferry in comfortable twin-berth cabins (available for single occupancy). Road transport is by minibus and roads are good.

Walking: The walking effort is easy throughout.

Climate: Rather variable. It will be quite mild (i.e. merely cool) in Kyushu, but it will be cold in Honshu and it will be cold or very cold in Hokkaido. It may rain at times in the south, or snow in the north (where snow will be lying on the ground), but the weather is predominantly dry and sunny at this season.

Bird/Mammal Photography: Opportunities are excellent.

Prices are provisional

Tour Price: £5090, €5710, $6920, JPY754000 Tokyo/Tokyo. Single Room Supplement: £276, €309, $374, JPY40800. Deposit: £600, €720, $840, JPY90000.

Pelagic Extension: £690, €780, $940, JPY102500. Single Room Supplement: £82, €92, $111, JPY12100. Deposit: £100, €120, $140, JPY15000.

Includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals, water and entrance fees. Tipping is not customary in Japan.

Also includes these flights: Komatsu-Fukuoka, Kagoshima-Tokyo, Tokyo-Kushiro-Tokyo.

Kindly note that, to have the internal flights included at this price level, your international flights to and from Japan must be with a Oneworld alliance carrier so that you qualify for a Japan Airlines internal airpass. If you are obtaining your international flight tickets yourself you will need to liaise with our office to ensure that we have the qualifying flight details for issue of the airpass. You may, however, opt to pay the substantial price difference applicable for using another international carrier if you wish.

The main tour single room supplement excludes the two nights at the minshuku at Arasaki. The minshuku does not charge extra for single occupancy, but the number of rooms is limited, so on some visits there are not enough available for everyone wanting single accommodation to have one. So far as is possible, priority will be given to those booking earliest. The supplement also excludes the night at the minshuku at the Blakiston’s Fish Owl location at Rausu. On request we can usually arrange for single occupancy rooms at another house situated about 10 minutes walk away. Transfer by vehicle after you finish watching/photographing the owl in the evening will not be possible, so you will have to walk. There is no extra charge for this, but we do need to make a special request so be sure to tell our office at the time of booking if you prefer this option.

Base prices for this tour are in Japanese Yen. The exchange rates used are: £1 = Yen 148.0, €1 = Yen 132.0 and $1 = Yen 109.0.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.

The superb dancing Red-crowned (or Japanese) Cranes of Kushiro provide a fitting finale to our fabulous tour (Pete Morris)

The superb dancing Red-crowned (or Japanese) Cranes of Kushiro provide a fitting finale to our fabulous tour (Pete Morris)

111 photos View Gallery Photos From JAPAN IN WINTER
The remarkable Blakiston's Fish Owl, the world's largest owl, is often a great favourite on this tour! (Pete Morris)

The remarkable Blakiston's Fish Owl, the world's largest owl, is often a great favourite on this tour! (Pete Morris)

The rare Saunders's Gull is regularly seen in small numbers on the southern island of Kyushu (Pete Morris)

The rare Saunders's Gull is regularly seen in small numbers on the southern island of Kyushu (Pete Morris)

This stunning White-naped Crane was one of over 11,000 cranes of up to six species at Arasaki! (Pete Morris)

This stunning White-naped Crane was one of over 11,000 cranes of up to six species at Arasaki! (Pete Morris)

The wonderful Japanese Macaques (or Snow Monkeys) provide great entertainment and have a wonderful set of facial expressions! (Pete Morris)

The wonderful Japanese Macaques (or Snow Monkeys) provide great entertainment and have a wonderful set of facial expressions! (Pete Morris)

A superb selection of wildfowl can be seen in Japan in the winter. As well as Falcated Ducks (a fine male is depicted above), we are likely to see the splendid and rare Baikal Teal! (Pete Morris)

A superb selection of wildfowl can be seen in Japan in the winter. As well as Falcated Ducks (a fine male is depicted above), we are likely to see the splendid and rare Baikal Teal! (Pete Morris)

The impressive Steller's Sea-Eagle (right) makes the White-tailed Eagle seem small! (Pete Morris)

The impressive Steller's Sea-Eagle (right) makes the White-tailed Eagle seem small! (Pete Morris)

The stunning Japanese Waxwing is an erratic visitor, but can be seen most winters (Pete Morris)

The stunning Japanese Waxwing is an erratic visitor, but can be seen most winters (Pete Morris)

Many of the flights and flight-inclusive holidays on this website are financially protected by the ATOL scheme. But ATOL protection does not apply to all holiday and travel services listed on this website. Please ask us to confirm what protection may apply to your booking. If you do not receive an ATOL Certificate then the booking will not be ATOL protected. If you do receive an ATOL Certificate but all the parts of your trip are not listed on it, those parts will not be ATOL protected. Please see our booking conditions for information, or for more for more information about financial protection and the ATOL Certificate go to: www.atol.org.uk/ATOL Certificate

Birdquest Ltd is Registered in England, Company No. 01568270. The address of our registered office is Two Jays, Kemple End, Stonyhurst, Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9QY

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