GuideChris Cook
Dates28/01/18 - 11/02/18
Days from UK16
Birding Days14
Ground Price£4115
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.
Our firststops are 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, 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.
We next visit the island of 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 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 at sea. Dams and rivers nearby hold Mandarin Duck, Long-billed Plover and Crested Kingfisher.
The highland lakes and surrounding woodland at provide 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.
On Honshu, we visit an area on the east of the island, where Baikal Teal winters in good numbers, and other waterfowl are commonly found. In recent winters, both Scaly-sided Merganser and Siberian Cranes have been found in the area.
We next visit the island of Hokkaido, the weather becomes very cold, and pack-ice may have formed on the sea. 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.
In addition to these, we will look around the peninsulas and harbours for wintering ducks and alcids, which may include Harlequin Duck, Steller’s Eider, Pelagic and Red-faced Cormorants, Least Auklet, Ancient Murrelet, and Spectacled, Pigeon and Brünnich’s Guillemots. 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
We will also visit Hachijojima. This volcanic island offers the chance of Izu Thrush, however, our main reason is to board the warm and comfortable ferry to Tokyo. 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.

Chris Cook
Chris Cook is a longtime member of Portland Bird Observatory in England, and also a life member of the Dorset Bird Club. He has written many articles on nature and wildlife for publications in England, Japan and Korea.

He has been based in Hong Kong and Seoul, and is now resident in Tokyo, where he has guided trips for several companies. He speaks good Japanese which is always useful on tours to this enigmatic country.