GuideNigel Moorhouse
Dates18/01/20 - 02/02/20
Days from UK16
Birding Days15/17
Ground Price£4300
Flight ex UK£550
A Far-eastern Odyssey … Japan in winter is one of birding's must-visits, with famous gatherings of Cranes and Steller's Sea Eagles. Our trip visits six islands, from the frozen north to the subtropical south in search of the specialities and endemics.
Beginning on Honshu, we will visit some areas near Tokyo, where we can look for wintering Baikal Teal, as well as Japanese Reed Bunting, Green Pheasant and wintering waterfowl. From there we head into the mountains at Karuizawa. Our main quarry here is Copper Pheasant, which is quite elusive, but there is a good range of other species, including Japanese Grosbeak, Japanese Accentor, Japanese Wagtail and Japanese Green Woodpecker, as well as local subspecies of palearactic passerines. There is also the option of a trip to see the Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani.
We next visit the island of Hokkaido, the weather becomes very cold, and pack-ice may be on the sea (although it is rare in recent years). We will be staying in the east of the island, and our main quarries will be the winter gatherings of Steller’s and White-tailed Sea Eagles, and Red-crowned Cranes. The sight of the eagles on the ice-covered sea, and the cranes dancing in the snow will be treasured memories. We will also look offshore, where seaducks include Harlequin Duck and Black and Stejneger's Scoters, and alcids include Spectacled and Pigeon Guillemots, Ancient Murrelet and Least Auklet. Other species we will seek out on the island include Brown Dipper, Asian Rosy Finch,and Japanese Wagtail and we have excellent opportunities of finding the rare Blakiston’s Fish Owl.
On return to Tokyo, we will take a pelagic trip to Hachijojima. This volcanic island offers the chance of Izu Thrush (although time on the island is limited). This pelagic which will allow us to look for many seabirds, and these can include Japanese Murrelet, Laysan, Black-footed and Short-tailed Albatrosses, Pacific Diver, Streaked Shearwater, Tristram’s Storm-petrel, South Polar Skua, Black-tailed, Glaucous, Glaucous-winged and Slaty-backed Gulls and Black-legged Kittiwake.
We next head south to Kyushu. Here, one of the highlights will undoubtedly be the Arasaki reserve, where there is the possibility of six species of crane in a spectacular gathering, including over 10000 Hooded and 3000 White-naped! Others often present in smaller numbers include Common, Sandhill and Demoiselle. The whole area is excellent, and we hope to find Black-faced Spoonbill, Japanese Skylark, Brown-eared Bulbul, Brown Dipper, Chinese Penduline Tit, Pale Thrush, Bull-headed Shrike, Oriental Greenfinch, White-cheeked Starling, Japanese Grosbeak, Russet Sparrow, Black-faced, Rustic, Meadow, Chestnut-eared and Elegant Buntings and Daurian Jackdaw. Other areas we will visit include Yatsushiro, where mudflats will be filled with eastern waders, Saunder’s and Vega Gulls are regular, and Falcated Duck can be found.
Dams and rivers nearby hold Mandarin Duck, Long-billed Plover and Crested Kingfisher. Thewoodland surrounding provides the opportunity to look for Varied Tit, Japanese Grosbeak, Japanese Pygmy and Japanese Woodpeckers. Luck may also bring us the endemic Copper Pheasant and Grey Bunting.
We end on the southern sub-tropical islands of Amami and Okinawa, part of the Ryukyu Chain. These islands have several endemic species which we hope to catch up with, including the stunning Ryukyu Robin (possibly split into 2 species), Okinawa Rail, Lidth's Jay, Amami Thrush, Amami Woodcock, Ryukyu Minivet, and Pryer's Woodpecker. After dark, we will look for the nocturnal Elegant Scops Owl. Other species include Japanese Sparrowhawk, Ryukyu Green Pigeon, Japanese Woodpigeon, Pacific Swallow, Olive-backed Pipit, Chinese Bulbul, Red-flanked Bluetail, Dusky Thrush, Asian Stubtail, Japanese Bush Warbler, Varied Tit and Japanese White-eye. We will have time to look over mudflats and paddyfields for a mixture of shorebirds, including Grey-tailed Tattler, Greater and Lesser Sandplovers, Long-toed, Temminck's and Red-necked Stints, and rarities have included Spoon-billed Sandpiper and Far-eastern Curlew.
At the end of the trip, there is the option of a short extension to the islands of Ishigakijima and Iriomote. Here, Ryukyu Serpent Eagle is found, and there are endemic subspecies of Varied and Japanese Tit which have been separated by some authors.

Nigel Moorhouse
Nigel Moorhouse owns Sarus Bird Tours, and has been guiding for over 20 years. He has especial interest in Africa, but has travelled to all continents as a birder or as a guide.

He is also a mapping expert, and co-wrote A Birdwatchers Guide to Turkey. He can do everything from developing the website, to designing the brochure, and everything inbetween.