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JAPAN IN WINTER

Thursday 4th February - Saturday 20th February 2016

Dave Farrow

Scaly-sided Merganser put in another appearance (Dave Farrow)

Scaly-sided Merganser put in another appearance (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. As always the host country was very hospitable, with delightful people and an exciting cuisine, all adding hugely to the enjoyment of the birding. The weather stayed fine for the most part, although on Hokkaido we suffered a ‘warm’ spell when it actually rained, however that did provide a spectacular landscape of ice once it froze! Visiting the three main islands, we began on Honshu where in the crisp snowy hills we saw three Copper Pheasant, White-backed and Japanese Green Woodpecker, Long-billed Plovers, Long-tailed Rosefinch and a Japanese Accentor. We visited the Snow Monkeys of Nagano, where Japanese Macaques have learned the habit of sitting in a hot pool, and along the north coast we encountered a suite of thrilling rarities, namely Scaly-sided Merganser, Siberian Crane and Swan Goose, along with Baikal Teal, Tundra and Taiga Bean Geese, Pacific and Black-throated Divers, Ancient Murrelets, Grey-headed Lapwings and a Solitary Snipe. Shifting to the warmer climes of Kyushu, we enjoyed the spectacle of thousands of Hooded and White-naped Cranes at Arasaki, along with Saunders’s Gulls, Black-faced Spoonbills, Long-billed Dowitcher, Ruddy-breasted Crake, Daurian Jackdaw, Chinese Penduline Tits and Chestnut-eared Bunting. Elsewhere in Kyushu we saw a strikingly dark form of Ural Owl, Japanese Murrelets, White-bellied Green Pigeon, Crested Kingfisher, Ryukyu Minivets, and had the nice surprise of seeing the normally elusive Grey Bunting at a feeder, together with Forest Wagtail and Yellow-throated Buntings. Shifting northwards to Hokkaido, we visited the dancing Red-crowned Cranes and watched them being mugged by White-tailed Eagles! Despite there being no pack ice this year, we were still able to enjoy scores of Steller's Sea Eagles and White-tailed Eagles at close range as they gathered around a snowy harbour. Blakiston's Fish Owl entertained as hoped, eating his fish supper in a snowy streambed, and a fine pair of Ural Owls were seen at a daytime roost. Also around Hokkaido we saw Spectacled, Pigeon and Brunnich’s Guillemots, Least Auklets, Red-faced Cormorants, Rough-legged Buzzard, Pallas's Rosefinches, Asian Rosy Finches and a vagrant Golden-crowned Sparrow. We had an excellent pelagic extension to the tour, a great day at sea where we saw good numbers of Short-tailed Albatross, plus Laysan and Black-footed Albatross. Mammals featured were Japanese Serow, Largha Seal and Northern Sea-Lion. 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.

There were plenty of Short-tailed Albatrosses on the pelagic extension (Dave Farrow)

There were plenty of Short-tailed Albatrosses on the pelagic extension (Dave Farrow)