The Ultimate In Birding Tours

Asia (and its islands)

JAPAN SPECIALITIES – including Honshu, Izu, Amami, Okinawa, Ishigaki, Iriomote, Hokkaido and the Bonin Islands

Monday 22nd May – Wednesday 7th June 2023

Leaders: Dave Farrow and Chikara Otani

17 Days Group Size Limit 8
Thursday 22nd May – Saturday 7th June 2025

Leaders: Pete Morris and Chikara Otani

17 Days Group Size Limit 8

JAPAN SPECIALITIES: OVERVIEW

Birdquest’s Japan Specialities birding tours are our ‘Grand Japan’ itinerary that explores the full span of this fascinating archipelago at the best time of year for a birding tour that is focused on Japan’s many endemics and other regional specialities (winter visits are definitely not the time for such a tour as many of the specialities are absent at that season). Our Japan Specialities birding tour has the most comprehensive itinerary available, taking in everything between the southernmost Ryukyu Islands and cool-temperate Hokkaido in the far north, including a special optional extension to the remote Bonin (or Ogasawara) Islands. We will record even more of the Japanese specialities as a result.

Among the fantastic list of specialities on this remarkable itinerary are Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses, Streaked Shearwater, Tristram’s Storm Petrel, Japanese Cormorant, Ryukyu Serpent Eagle, Green and Copper Pheasants, Red-crowned Crane, Okinawa Rail, Long-billed Plover, Latham’s Snipe, Amami Woodcock, Tufted Puffin, Rhinoceros Auklet, Spectacled Guillemot, White-bellied and Ryukyu Green Pigeons, Japanese Woodpigeon, Rufous Hawk-Cuckoo, Blakiston’s Fish Owl, Pryer’s, Amami, Japanese Green and Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers, Japanese Wagtail, Ryukyu Minivet, Brown-eared Bulbul, Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Lidth’s Jay, Chestnut-cheeked Starling, Varied, Owston’s, Ishigaki and Iriomote Tits, Marsh Grassbird, Sakhalin, Styan’s and Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warblers, Japanese Bush Warbler, Japanese, Ijima’s and Sakhalin Leaf Warblers, Japanese, Brown-headed, Izu and Amami Thrushes, Japanese, Ryukyu and Okinawa Robins, Japanese Accentor, Long-tailed Rosefinch, Japanese Grosbeak and Japanese Reed, Japanese Yellow and Grey Buntings.

The optional extension to the Bonin Islands adds the endemic Bonin White-eye and Bonin Greenfinch and such rare seabirds as Bonin Petrel, Bannerman’s and Bryan’s Shearwaters, Matsudaira’s Storm Petrel and Short-tailed Albatross.

At the opposite end of the vast continent of Eurasia from the British Isles lies another archipelago – the islands of Japan. Westernized and yet profoundly Oriental, Japan remains an enigmatic land to westerners, few of whom know much about it beyond its shiny consumer exports.

Stretching from the sub-tropics in the Ryukyus to the cool temperate latitudes in Hokkaido, these beautiful islands with their jagged and broken coastlines possess some of the most striking scenery in East Asia. We are used to thinking of Japan as densely populated, but this is true only of the coastal lowlands. Over four-fifths of the land surface is hilly or mountainous and there is a much greater percentage of forest cover than in western Europe. To this day, away from the large cities, Japan remains an essentially rural country, despite a population of nearly 130 million. Nowhere in Japan is far from the sea and this has an immeasurable influence on the landscape and the people.

Japan’s avifauna shows a number of parallels with that of the British Isles, not least the great number of vagrants which each attracts. However, due to its greater distance from the mainland, its many islands and its wider range of climatic conditions, it has a richer avifauna and, in particular, a considerable number of fascinating endemic, near-endemic and range-restricted species ranging from the beautiful Japanese Robin to the relatively recently-discovered Okinawa Rail. It is these endemics that appeal most to the visitor and this tour is specifically designed to find as many of them as possible. Our travels will also show us many other exciting East Asian birds ranging from the magnificent Blakiston’s Fish Owl to the secretive Malayan Night Heron. This unusual tour provides a unique opportunity to see the best that Japan has to offer in late spring and early summer and is an essential trip for anyone seriously interested in Palearctic birds.

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.

We will begin our Japan Specialities birding tour on the main island of Honshu, where we will first explore the lakes and marshes of the Pacific coastal lowlands in search of the uncommon Marsh Grassbird (or Japanese Marsh Warbler) and attractive Japanese Reed Bunting.

Leaving the sprawling metropolis of Tokyo behind, we will then travel into the scenic forested mountains of the central part of the island, looking for a suite of specialities including Green Pheasant, Long-billed Plover, Japanese Green and Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers, Japanese Wagtail, Chestnut-cheeked Starling, Varied Tit, Japanese Thrush, Japanese Grosbeak and the localized Japanese Yellow Bunting, plus the chance of Copper Pheasant, before turning our attentions to famous Mount Fuji. We will search the slopes of the perfectly shaped volcano that epitomizes Japan for another of Japan’s specialities, Japanese Accentor, as well as White-bellied Green Pigeon and Japanese Leaf Warbler.

The next leg of our journey will see us travelling southwards to the Izu Islands, in search of its island endemics, which include Izu Thrush, Ijima’s Leaf Warbler and Owston’s (or Izu) Tit, as well as the restricted-range Styan’s Grasshopper Warbler. We will then travel back to Tokyo by ferry, hoping to see Tristram’s Storm Petrel among the thousands of Streaked Shearwaters and other seabirds during the exciting voyage.

We then fly southwards along the chain of the Ryukyu Islands, visiting Amami-Oshima, Okinawa, Ishigaki-jima and Iriomote-jima. On these verdant islands, we will search for enigmatic endemics such as Ryukyu Serpent Eagle, the amazing Okinawa Rail, the secretive Amami Woodcock, Ryukyu Green Pigeon, Pryer’s and Amami Woodpeckers, Ryukyu Minivet, Japanese Paradise Flycatcher, Ryukyu and Okinawa Robins, Amami Thrush, Ishigaki and Iriomote Tits, and the beautiful Lidth’s Jay, as well as other interesting species including Malayan Night Heron.

During the last part of this splendid tour, we will visit the northern island of Hokkaido. On this dramatically scenic island, we will seek out a selection of major northern Japanese specialities, including the spectacular Red-crowned (or Japanese) Crane, Japanese Cormorant, Latham’s Snipe, Spectacled Guillemot, the world’s largest owl, the huge Blakiston’s Fish Owl, Middendorff’s and Sakhalin Grasshopper Warblers, Sakhalin Leaf Warbler and Grey Bunting, as well as Hazel Grouse, Black Woodpecker, Lanceolated Warbler, the spectacular Siberian Rubythroat and Long-tailed Rosefinch.

A pelagic into the waters of the Pacific should turn up both Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses, the comical Tufted Puffin and Rhinoceros Auklet.

Birdquest has operated Japan birding tours since 1987.

What makes the Birdquest Japan Specialities tour special? The most comprehensive itinerary of any bird tour company and the top local bird guide.

Bonin (or Ogasawara) Islands Extension Option: For those participants who want to go, we will arrange a visit to the remote and seldom visited Bonin (or Ogasawara) Islands, which house another two endemics, the Bonin White-eye (formerly mistakenly placed with the honeyeaters, as Bonin Islands Honeyeater) and the Bonin Greenfinch. There is also an endemic form of Japanese Bush Warbler that may in the future be split. In addition, the long ferry journey to and from the Ogasawara (or Bonin) islands, or between the islands, offers excellent chances for some superb speciality seabirds, including Bonin Petrel, Bannerman’s and Bryan’s Shearwaters, and Matsudaira’s Storm Petrel, as well as Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Brown Noddy and Sooty Tern. We may also see the rare Short-tailed Albatross and White-necked Petrel.

Please be sure to inform our office at the time of booking if you are interested in the Bonin Islands Extension. Kindly note that owing to the infrequent ferry schedule to the Bonin (or Ogasawara) Islands, the extension may not neatly dovetail with the main tour. The price quoted for this extension is based on a minimum of three people. A significant supplement would apply for only one or two participants. It is, however, possible for us to make ferry and accommodation bookings for one or two people if you are willing to go unescorted. As long as you are content to learn a few basic Japanese words and smile and bow, you will have a great time. Our office will contact those who have registered their interest in a Bonins extension well before departure to let them know what the options are.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The western-style and Japanese-style hotels are mostly of a good standard. At Miyake-jima and Lake Oketo, we will be staying in Japanese-style guesthouses (minshuku). The minshuku will be spotlessly clean and quite comfortable, but it should be appreciated minshuku are quite simple establishments with Japanese-style futons to sleep on rather than conventional beds and bathroom facilities are shared. Accommodation on the overnight ferry outbound to Miyake-jima is in twin-berth cabins (available for single occupancy). At Rausu, where we spend one night, the minshuku is very small, so there may be several people in each room and bathroom facilities are shared. Accommodation on the overnight ferries going to and from the Bonin (Ogasawara) Islands is in twin-berth cabins which are available for twin or single occupancy. Accommodation on Hahajima is in a simple but quite comfortable guesthouse. Road transport is by minibus/passenger van and roads are good.

Walking: The walking effort during our Japan Specialities birding tour is easy throughout, but the long daylight hours in the northern islands tend to result in some long days in the field.

Climate: It will be warm or hot in most areas, but will range from cool to warm in upland areas on Honshu and on Hokkaido. There will be a mixture of dry and sunny and wet and overcast conditions, with rather high humidity in the south.

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Japan Specialities birding tour will be quite good.

TOUR HIGHLIGHTS

  • Exploring the extensive marshes east of Tokyo, home to Marsh Grassbirds and Japanese Reed Buntings
  • Visiting the gorgeous forests of the Japanese Alps with breeding Narcissus and Blue-and-white Flycatchers and rare Yellow Buntings
  • Seeing the amazing and iconic Mount Fuji, home to Japanese Accentors and Japanese Leaf Warblers
  • Taking a sea trip to the Izu Islands, surrounded by Streaked Shearwaters and perhaps Tristram’s Storm Petrels and Japanese Murrelets
  • Experiencing the endemic breeders of the Izu Islands, with abundant Ijima's Leaf Warblers, huge Japanese Woodpigeons, and colourful Owston’s Tits and Izu Thrushes
  • Getting immersed in usually secretive Locustella warblers, several species of which can be surprisingly showy at this time of year
  • Finding a fantastic selection of robins, bluetails and rubythroats!
  • Exploring Yanbaru in Northern Okinawa, complete with endemic Okinawa Woodpeckers and stunning Okinawa Rails
  • Seeing the rare Amami Woodcock, Amami Thrush and Lidth’s Jay, as well as the strange Amami Black Rabbit
  • Visiting the far south of the archipelago, close to Taiwan, where Malayan Night Herons are relatively common and a suite of distinctive endemics species and subspecies delight
  • Exploring a surprisingly warm and verdant Hokkaido, where Blakiston’s Fish Owls and Red-crowned Cranes can be enjoyed in warm temparatures!
  • Witnessing the fantastic array of breeding species in the lush forests of Hokkaido, from Hazel Grouse and Black Woodpecker to Sakhalin Leaf Warbler and Grey Bunting
  • A brilliant opportunity to travel through the stunning Japanese Archipelago and experience its unique culture.
  • Immersing oneself in the superb Japanese cuisine and hospitality
  • Taking a once in a lifetime sea voyage to the Bonin Islands, enjoying a brilliant array of seabirds
  • Enjoying the endemic Bonin Islands Greenfinch and Bonin Islands White-eye

OUTLINE ITINERARY

  • BONIN (OR OGASAWARA) ISLANDS PRE-TOUR EXTENSION
  • Day 1: Midday extension start at Tokyo. Depart Tokyo by ferry.
  • Day 2: Arrive at Chichijima in the Bonins. Transfer to Hahajima.
  • Days 3-4: Hahajima.
  • Day 5: Transfer back to Chicjijima. Depart by ferry for Tokyo.
  • Day 6: Afternoon extension end at Tokyo.
  • MAIN TOUR
  • Day 1: Morning tour start at Narita. Explore Narita region.
  • Day 2: Drive to Karuizawa.
  • Day 3: Karuizawa region.
  • Day 4: Karuizawa region, then drive to Gotemba. Visit Mount Fuji.
  • Day 5: Mount Fuji, then return to Tokyo. Overnight ferry bound for Miyake-jima.
  • Day 6: Miyake-jima.
  • Day 7: Ferry to Tokyo.
  • Day 8: Flight to Amami-Oshima. Overnight at Naze.
  • Day 9: Amami-Oshima. Overnight at Naze.
  • Day 10: Amami-Oshima, then fly to Okinawa with onward connection to Ishigaki-jima.
  • Day 11: Ishigaki-jima and Iriomote-jima.
  • Day 12: Fly to Okinawa. Drive from Naha to Yamburu area.
  • Day 13: Yamburu area.
  • Day 14: Return to Naha. Flight to Tokyo and onward flight to Asahikawa on Hokkaido. Drive to Lake Oketo.
  • Day 15: Lake Oketo, then drive to Rausu.
  • Day 16: Drive via Lake Furen to Kiritappu.
  • Day 17: Easternmost Hokkaido including Ochiishi boat trip, then drive to Kushiro airport. Evening flight to Tokyo Haneda for tour end.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.

PRICE INFORMATION

Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

Tipping is not customary in Japan.

We also include these flights in the tour price:

Tokyo-Amami Oshima,

Amami Oshima-Naha (Okinawa)

Naha (Okinawa)-Ishigakijima

Ishigakijima-Naha (Okinawa)

Naha (Okinawa)-Tokyo,

Tokyo-Asahikawa

Kushiro-Tokyo

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)



2023: £5750, $7140, €6710, AUD10210, JPY950000. Tokyo/Tokyo.
2025: provisional £5750, $7140, €6710, AUD10210, JPY950000. Tokyo/Tokyo.

Single Supplement: 2023: £380, $470, €440, AUD670, JPY63000.
Single Supplement: 2025: £380, $470, €440, AUD670, JPY63000.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

The single supplement excludes the night at Rausu.

This tour is priced in Japanese Yen. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

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.

JAPAN SPECIALITIES BIRDING TOUR: DETAILED ITINERARY

Japan Specialities: Day 1  Our Japan Specialities birding tour begins this morning at our hotel at Narita airport near Tokyo, where we will stay overnight.

(There are international flights into Tokyo arriving early this morning, in time for the tour start, or we can book you into the same hotel near Narita airport if you are arriving the previous day.)

Despite its proximity to the city, much of the region to the north of Tokyo retains a rural, market-garden atmosphere thanks to an abundance of level land, good soil and a mild climate. The lakes and marshes of the area are of particular interest to birdwatchers and we shall spend this morning at two wetlands with extensive reed beds.

The main species we hope to find is the very uncommon, localized and restricted-range Marsh Grassbird (or Japanese Marsh Warbler), here at one of its few known breeding grounds. At this time of year, they are usually relatively easy to see as they song flight from the tops of the reeds.

Also present will be restricted-range Japanese Reed Buntings in their neat black-headed breeding plumage, while other species we should encounter include Little Grebe, Great Cormorant, Yellow Bittern, Great Egret, Grey Heron, Black Kite, Eurasian Coot, Common Snipe, Oriental Turtle Dove, Eurasian Skylark, Barn Swallow, the near-endemic Brown-eared Bulbul, Oriental Reed Warbler, the smart Bull-headed Shrike, White-cheeked Starling, Grey-capped (or Oriental) Greenfinch and Eurasian Tree Sparrow. With a bit of luck, we will also see Great Bittern and Grey-faced Buzzard.

Japan Specialities: Day 2  After some more birding near Narita if need be, we will drive westwards, crossing Tokyo, and then continue on into the mountains to Karuizawa for a two nights stay.

Later today we will begin our exploration of this superb locality by visiting an area of abandoned paddyfields and farmland. Likely species here include the very distinctive and colourful endemic Green Pheasant, Siberian Stonechat, Asian Azure-winged Magpie, Carrion and Large-billed Crows, the colourful, restricted-range Chestnut-cheeked Starling and Chestnut-eared Bunting.

Japan Specialities:  Day 3  Karuizawa is situated in the mountains of central Honshu to the west of the capital and this attractive region of rugged peaks and forested valleys is excellent for birding. At this season, summer visitors will have swelled the ranks of the resident birds.

We will spend much of our time in the forest where our main quest will be the rare and elusive Japanese Yellow Bunting. Whilst looking for the bunting we should encounter many other species including Eastern Buzzard, Common and Lesser Cuckoos, Pacific Swift, the endemic Japanese Green Woodpecker, the diminutive, restricted-range Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Asian House Martin, Grey and Japanese Wagtails (the latter is a breeding endemic, though it occurs in the Korean peninsula in the non-breeding season), Ashy Minivet, Eurasian Wren, Brown Dipper, the attractive Siberian Blue Robin, Japanese and Brown-headed Thrushes, the shy Asian Stubtail (not an easy bird to find here), Asian Brown Flycatcher, gorgeous Narcissus and Blue-and-white Flycatchers, Long-tailed, Willow, Japanese and Coal Tits, the beautiful Varied Tit, Eurasian Nuthatch, Japanese White-eye, Eurasian Jay, the amazing Japanese Grosbeak and Meadow Bunting. With luck, we will encounter one or two of the more elusive species, such as the secretive endemic Copper Pheasant or Ural Owl.

We will also make an excursion to a nearby river where we will be hoping to find Mandarin Duck, Long-billed Plover and perhaps Crested Kingfisher, as well as more widespread species such as Common Sandpiper and Common Kingfisher.

Japan Specialities: Day 4  After some final birding in the Karuizawa region we will drive south to Gotemba for an overnight stay. In the late afternoon, we will have our first opportunity to explore the bird-rich forests on the northern flanks of Mount Fuji.

Japan Specialities: Day 5  Gotemba lies beneath imposing Mount Fuji, Japan’s highest volcano (3776m) and one of the world’s most famous and spectacular mountains. Its perfect snow-capped cone is a fantastic backdrop on a clear day, and even at this time of year, there are occasionally fresh falls of snow on the peak!

We shall explore the northern and eastern slopes of Mount Fuji itself as far as the treeline scrub, as well as the extensive areas of coniferous and deciduous forest that all help make this one of Japan’s most scenically outstanding regions. The prime target here will be the rather Dunnock-like Japanese Accentor, but we should also find a number of other new species such as White-bellied Green Pigeon, Oriental Cuckoo, the superb Rufous (or Northern) Hawk-Cuckoo, Black-backed Wagtail, Olive-backed Pipit, Red-flanked Bluetail, Eastern Crowned Warbler, Japanese Leaf Warbler, Goldcrest, the elusive Grey-bellied Bullfinch and Black-faced Bunting (of the yellow-bellied subspecies personata). If we are fortunate we will come across the fantastic Siberian Thrush.

Later we will travel back to Tokyo and catch an overnight ferry bound for Miyake-jima, one of the Seven Islands of Izu that lie to the south of Tokyo.

Japan Specialities:  Day 6  As we approach Miyake-jima, where we will spend the night, we will see our first Black-tailed Gulls. Miyake-jima suffered from some serious volcanic eruptions in 2000 and as a result, was closed to visitors for several years. Much of the forest on the island was destroyed, but fortunately, some protected areas survived and here it is easy to find the Izu specialities.

During our visit, we will explore the rocky coastline, grassy headlands and remaining forests. There is a wide variety of birdlife, including a number of specialities. The endemic Izu Thrush is common, as are the highly distinctive endemic Owston’s (or Izu) Tit and Ijima’s Leaf Warbler. This latter species is restricted to the Izu islands as a breeding species and has hardly ever been recorded in the winter months, although it is suspected that it winters in the northern Philippines. Miyake-jima is also a reliable location for the localized Styan’s (or Pleske’s) Grasshopper Warbler, a small-island specialist that favours dense herbage close to the coastline.

Other species we may well find include Black-crowned Night Heron, the extremely localized Japanese Woodpigeon and Japanese Bush Warbler (known as ‘the Japanese nightingale’ due to its rich song). We will also have another chance to find Japanese Robin, here of an endemic race. The ‘weep and sweep’ of the Chinese Bamboo Partridge is a familiar sound on the island and we should encounter these introduced gamebirds along the road verges.

Japan Specialities: Day 7  After some final birding on Miyake-jima we will take the ferry back to Tokyo for an overnight stay.

At times during the voyage, we will be surrounded by seabirds, including many thousands of Streaked Shearwaters, and we will search diligently for other species which may well include the large Tristram’s Storm Petrel, Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters and, if we are lucky, the elusive and little-known Japanese Murrelet. On the run-up to Tokyo Bay, we may well see several other species, such as Red-necked Phalarope and Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses.

Japan Specialities: Day 8  Today we will take a flight to Amami-Oshima in the middle of the Ryukyu Islands chain. (Note that flight schedules in the Ryukyu Islands tend to change frequently, so the order of the itinerary may also change.)

On Amami-Oshima, we will be staying in the principal town, Naze, for two nights. We should arrive in time for some initial exploration.

Tonight will be our first opportunity to search for the endemic Amami Woodcock. After dinner, we will drive along some of the many forestry roads. With a bit of luck, we should find the woodcock and we may also see the rare and declining Amami Black Rabbit, a relict forest rabbit found only on this one island.

Japan Specialities: Day 9  Amami-Oshima is the greenest and most rural of the Ryukyus and possesses very attractive coastal scenery with rocky headlands alternating with small sandy bays.

Along the shoreline and rivers, we may see Common Kingfisher and Striated Heron, though we shall devote most of our time to searching the lush subtropical evergreen forests where the bird we will be most keen to find is the cobalt blue and cocoa-coloured endemic Lidth’s Jay. We will also be looking out for the distinctive, very dark, Amami Woodpecker (often lumped in White-backed Woodpecker), the endemic Ryukyu Robin and the endemic Ryukyu Flycatcher.

If we are reasonably fortunate we will also see the secretive endemic Amami Thrush. As the population of this secretive bird numbers only 100 or so individuals, finding one is none too easy (although we have often succeeded).

Japan Specialities: Day 10  After a final morning on Amami-Oshima we will take a flight to Naha on Okinawa where we connect with a flight to Ishigaki-jima, one of the most southerly of the Ryukyu Islands that stretch from the main islands of Japan to Taiwan, for a two nights stay. Later we will begin our exploration of this fascinating subtropical island.

Japan Specialities: Day 11  As well as holding an endemic species and other very restricted Ryukyu endemic, this fascinating island is also home to some interesting endemic subspecies, as well as a few species that are difficult to find elsewhere. Being situated so close to Taiwan, there are even some species that just creep into Japan at this point.

Of prime interest to us will be the Ryukyu Serpent Eagle, which is endemic to the southern Ryukyus and which was formerly treated as a race of Crested Serpent Eagle, and the endemic Ishigaki Tit (probably a good split from Japanese, this form is very dark and shows reduced white on the cheeks). We will also have a fair chance of tracking down one of Asia’s more secretive and difficult species, the stunning Malayan Night Heron.

Whilst exploring Ishigaki-jima we should also encounter a number of other species including Cinnamon Bittern, Eastern Cattle Egret, Pacific Reef, Little, and Intermediate Egrets, and possibly even the globally-threatened Chinese Egret, Purple Heron, Chinese Spot-billed Duck, Common Moorhen, White-breasted Waterhen, Kentish, Greater Sand and Mongolian Plovers, Red-necked Stint, Sharp-tailed Sandpiper, Common Greenshank, Grey-tailed Tattler, Terek Sandpiper, Eurasian Whimbrel, Greater Crested and Little Terns, Emerald Dove, the stunning Ruddy Kingfisher (the subspecies here has a beautiful lilac hue to the upperparts), Pacific Swallow,  Light-vented Bulbul, the endemic Ryukyu Minivet, Blue Rock Thrush (here of the red-bellied form philippensis), Zitting Cisticola and Large-billed Crow (here of the tiny subspecies osai and another candidate for a split). We may also see one or two of the scarcer species that are to be found on the island, such as Watercock, Slaty-legged Crake or Oriental Pratincole.

The mellow hoots of the endemic Ryukyu Scops Owl are amongst the commonest night sounds here – the others being the sounds of frogs, several of which are endemic to the island – and we should see this lovely species as well as the more menacing-looking Northern Boobook.

We will also take the inter-island ferry across to neighbouring Iriomote-jima so that we can observe the near-endemic Iriomote Tit.

Japan Specialities: Day 12  After some final birding on Ishigaki-jima, we will take an early afternoon flight to Okinawa, the largest of the Ryukyus.

From Naha airport, we will drive almost the whole length of the island to the Yamburu region for a two nights stay. Here, we will begin searching for one of Japan’s most spectacular endemics, the Okinawa Rail. This species was only described for the first time relatively recently. Although it is still quite common in its ever-shrinking range it can be hard to see and may require some persistent searching. At dusk, we may see more Ryukyu Scops Owls and, with luck, we will even see the little known Japanese Scops Owl, here of the form pryeri.

Japan Specialities: Day 13  Okinawa is still a verdant subtropical island, but sadly much of the original forest has been cut and nowadays the remaining patches are mainly along the ridges. As well as the Okinawa Rail, the forests hold the endemic Pryer’s (or Okinawa) Woodpecker, one of the rarest woodpeckers in the world. The latter is almost as elusive as the rail, but their distinctive calls should help us locate them. Whilst out on the forest tracks we should also encounter the endemic Ryukyu Green Pigeon, the spectacular Japanese Paradise Flycatcher and the most attractive and voluble songster of the region, the endemic Okinawa Robin. We will also have another chance to find species such as Ryukyu Minivet and Ruddy Kingfisher.

At the various dams, we will look for the colourful though secretive Mandarin Duck and we may well see House Swifts overhead. Along the coastline, the rocky islets and harbours hold elegant Black-naped and Roseate Terns, both of which are likely to give good views.

Japan Specialities: Day 14  This morning we will return to Naha and catch a flight to Tokyo followed by an onward flight to Asahikawa, situated in the heart of the northernmost island of Hokkaido, from where we will head east to Lake Oketo for an overnight stay.

At dusk, the characteristic grunts and ‘kisick’ calls should lead us to roding Eurasian Woodcocks overhead and we will also try to find Oriental Scops Owl and the declining Grey Nightjar. We will also have another chance to look for Ural Owl.

Japan Specialities: Day 15  Lying to the north of Blakiston’s Line, the avifauna of Hokkaido is somewhat different from that of Honshu, having a more Siberian influence, and spring will only recently have arrived.

The lush forests in this part of Hokkaido share many species with the forests of central Honshu and so we will reacquaint ourselves with many of our old friends such as White-bellied Green Pigeon, Japanese Robin (although the form here is brighter and has a blackish breastband) and Narcissus Flycatcher.

There are, however, a number of species that do not occur or are much harder to see further south, and so we will be focusing our attention on these. In particular, we will be wanting to find Sakhalin Leaf Warbler and the furtive Grey Bunting.

Other birds of interest include the elusive Hazel Grouse, White-throated Needletail, the imposing Black Woodpecker, White-backed and Grey-headed Woodpeckers, Marsh Tit, Hawfinch and Eurasian Siskin. We also have another chance for Siberian Thrush.

After spending much of the day in the Lake Oketo area, we will head northwestwards to Rausu for an overnight stay.

Rausu, situated at the base of the Shiretoko peninsula, is dramatically scenic, with high mountains rising just behind the town. We will arrive in good time, for we have an exciting evening ahead of us! This area of eastern Hokkaido is home to a small population of the almost mythical Blakiston’s Fish Owl and we have a very high chance of seeing this magnificent bird during our stay in the area.

Only about 60 pairs are believed to survive in Hokkaido, but here at Rausu, the local people are very fond of ‘their’ owls and every evening, as dusk approaches, the owners of our minshuku put out a few small fish for them at a small floodlit pond at the margins of a stream! It usually does not take too long before this huge owl puts in an appearance, gliding down to the edge of the pond, hopping into the water and grabbing its first snack of the evening! A pair of Blakiston’s Fish Owls regularly comes to the pond, and both birds may make several visits during the course of the night. Watching these splendid birds from only a relatively short distance is indeed a rare privilege and surely ranks amongst the world’s most extraordinary birding experiences!

Japan Specialities: Day 16  Today we will travel eastwards to Kiritappu for an overnight stay.

Along the coastline of easternmost Hokkaido, and around the vast Lake Furen, we shall turn our attention to wetland habitats. Here we will encounter our first magnificent Red-crowned (or Japanese) Cranes. The latter is widely dispersed across eastern Hokkaido during the breeding season, as the cranes seek undisturbed marshes in which to breed.

Latham’s Snipe are common and can frequently be seen carrying out their incredible, noisy dive-bombing aerial displays overhead, while Black-browed Reed Warblers and Common Reed Buntings sing from the marshes. Occasional White-tailed Eagles put in an appearance, whilst other highly sought species in this area include the stunning Siberian Rubythroat, Russet Sparrow and the gorgeous Long-tailed Rosefinch.

In particular, a trio of skulking Locustella warblers will keep us busy here. The tiny and streaked Lanceolated Warbler and the larger Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler can usually be watched relatively easily once we have tracked them down by their repetitive songs. The larger Sakhalin Grasshopper Warbler is, however, rather more secretive. Fortunately, they are both noisy and fairly common, and this early in the season the lush vegetation in which they can hide is not too plentiful, and so, with a little persistence, we should be rewarded with some views of this, the largest member of the genus!

Whilst searching the marshes and adjacent coast, we will come across a number of other species which may include Red-necked Grebe and Sand Martin, and we are likely to find a few species of wildfowl, including some lingering winter visitors, which may include Red-throated and Pacific Loons (or Red-throated and Pacific Divers), Falcated Duck, Greater Scaup, Common Merganser (or Goosander), Stejneger’s and Black Scoters, and the superb Harlequin Duck.

At Cape Kiritappu we will be on the lookout for Japanese (or Temminck’s) and Pelagic Cormorants, Slaty-backed Gull and the smart  Spectacled Guillemot. Lingering Glaucous Gulls and Black-legged Kittiwakes are also possible here or elsewhere along the coastline of eastern Hokkaido.

A highlight of our visit to the area will be a boat trip off the port of Ochiishi into the waters of the Western Pacific. Both Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses are regular on these trips and we should also see the wonderful Tufted Puffin and Rhinoceros Auklet. With a bit of luck, we will also turn up a rarer alcid, such as Ancient Murrelet or Horned Puffin, or some other unexpected bonus.

Japan Specialities: Day 17  After spending much of the day birding in easternmost Hokkaido, we will head for Kushiro airport. From there, we will take an evening flight back to Tokyo Haneda airport, where our tour ends.

(There are international flights out of Haneda departing later this evening or after midnight, or we can book you into a hotel near the airport if you are departing the following day.)

 

BONIN ISLANDS EXTENSION

Japan Specialities (Bonins): Day 1  In the late morning we set sail from Tokyo and leave ‘mainland’ Japan behind. Once we are out in Tokyo Bay we can start looking for seabirds. We are sure to see many thousands of Streaked Shearwaters, and we will look out for other species, which are likely to include Laysan and Black-footed Albatrosses, the large Tristram’s Storm Petrel, Sooty and Short-tailed Shearwaters and, if we are lucky, the elusive and little-known Japanese Murrelet. We also have a fair chance of seeing the rare Short-tailed Albatross.

Japan Specialities (Bonins): Day 2  This morning we are approaching the Bonins, and this is where the really special birds will start to appear. Prime amongst these are Bonin Petrel, Bannerman’s and Bryan’s Shearwaters, and Matsudaira’s Storm Petrel. There is also a fair chance for White-necked Petrel and we should encounter Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Brown Noddy and Sooty Tern.

We are scheduled to arrive at the main island of Chichijima in the late morning and here we will transfer to another ferry for the sail across to Hahajima, where we will spend three nights. The crossing will give us another chance for seabirds.

Japan Specialities (Bonins): Days 3-4  There is usually no choice but to have two full days on Hahajima, as that is how the ferry schedule works, but the island is an attractive place and of course home to the endemic Bonin White-eye (formerly treated as Bonin Islands Honeyeater) and the endemic Bonin Greenfinch as well as the distinctive Bonin form of the Japanese Bush Warbler, which may well represent another Bonin endemic species.

Japan Specialities (Bonins): Day 5  Today we take the inter-island ferry back to Chichijima where we transfer to the overnight ferry bound for Tokyo. The latter leaves in mid-afternoon, so we will have yet more chances for Bonin speciality seabirds today.

Japan Specialities (Bonins): Day 6  Today we return to Tokyo (arriving in mid-afternoon after a final pelagic seabirding session).

ULTIMATE JAPAN TOUR REPORT 2019

by Dave Farrow

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ULTIMATE JAPAN TOUR REPORT 2017

by Dave Farrow

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ULTIMATE JAPAN TOUR REPORT 2015

by Dave Farrow

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ULTIMATE JAPAN TOUR REPORT 2013

by Dave Farrow

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Other key-importance East Asian birding tours by Birdquest include: