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JAPAN IN WINTER

Sunday 16th February - Tuesday 4th March 2014

Dave Farrow

The fabulous Scaly-sided Merganser (Dave Farrow)

The fabulous Scaly-sided Merganser (Dave Farrow)

This year's winter tour to Japan was once again a truly wonderful trip around this enchanting country with its thrilling and spectacular avifauna. Visiting the three main islands, we began on Honshu although our tour start coincided with a record snowfall that required some rapid re-organising! Apart from this hiccup, we were soon back on track, and went on to visit the warmer climes of Kyushu, and then finally to the pack ice on snowy (yet mild) Hokkaido. Highlights included the dancing Japanese Cranes of Hokkaido and the noisy hordes of Hooded and White-naped Cranes at Arasaki. Rare waterfowl were a feature of this year’s tour, with a surprise find on our first afternoon of a drake Baer’s Pochard, a gorgeous male Scaly-sided Merganser on a suburban river that gave us a great close show, plus hundreds of Baikal Teal, a Bufflehead, a White-winged Scoter and a Swan Goose. The Eagles of the icy north are always a major thrill, with our 'nature cruise' into the pack ice bringing us eyeball-to-eyeball with scores of Steller's Sea Eagles and White-tailed Eagles, squabbling over the fish thrown for them while legions of large Gulls picked up the scraps. A Blakiston's Fish Owl appeared for us, eating his fish supper in a snowy streambed, and a fine Ural Owl was seen at a daytime roost. Also around Hokkaido we saw Spectacled, Pigeon and Brunnich’s Guillemots, Least Auklets, Red-faced Cormorants and a couple of Sea Otter, while on Kyushu we enjoyed a mini-pelagic to see the endearing Japanese Murrelets. We saw a splendid cock Copper Pheasant, jay-walking in front of our bus, plus two male Pallas's Rosefinches, Asian Rosy Finches and a vagrant Forest Wagtail. We had a superb pelagic extension to the tour, and had a great day at sea when we saw exceptional numbers of Short-tailed Albatross, plus Laysan and Black-footed Albatross and a pod of Sperm Whale. Add to this a greatly enjoyable visit to the enchanting Snow Monkeys of Nagano, it all added up to be a wonderful experience. As ever, this tour is often as much about the food as the birds (if that were actually ever possible!) and we dined very well on a very elegant cuisine.

Short-tailed Albatross (participant Frank Hummel)

Short-tailed Albatross (participant Frank Hummel)