An early flight from Tokyo saw us arrive at Kushiro airport by mid-morning and, with a few hours to kill before the daily feed was scheduled to take place at Akan Crane Centre, we decided to make the short journey in to Kushiro to explore the port area for gulls.
Although there wasn't much snow on the ground the skies were grey and the temperature hovering just below freezing, and it was no real surprise when it began to snow a short while after our arrival - my first truly 'white' Christmas!
Kushiro harbour was busy despite the date, with plenty of trawler activity attracting hundreds of gulls. Quickly we found our first Kamchatka Gulls of the trip off the main pier, with birds of all ages performing well for the camera as they came in for our bread and popcorn handouts.
Adult Kamchatka Gull
Slaty-backed Gull appreciating our offerings
Slaty-backs chasing a dumpster truck out of Kushiro harbour in the snow
Female Greater Scaup
At 14:00 the feed began and a bucket load of fish was thrown out. Within seconds up to five White-tailed Eagles appeared from nowhere, swooping down to grab the offerings and giving absolutely outrageous views as they did so. The cranes acted quite aggressively towards the eagles as a peaceful scene became utter mayhem in the space of seconds. The eagles, evidently wary of the cranes' flying limbs, rarely paused to enjoy their meals and soon flew off to the safety of nearby trees. This spectacle was over in little more than ten minutes, and serenity soon returned.
We enjoyed the delights of Akan for the rest of the afternoon, focusing almost entirely on photographing the cranes as well as we could. The light changed quite frequently as banks of cloud rolled over and mist occasionally began to rise, allowing for photos to be taken in a range of conditions.
I went for a little wander late on and came across a Grey-headed Woodpecker giving excellent views near the captive crane pens - the only individual of the trip. Other birds included Willow Tits, Jay of the race brandtii and Great Spotted Woodpecker.
With darkness falling we made the short drive to our accommodation in Tsurui where I was very quick to head for the onsen to warm up. After that we we treated to a superb Christmas dinner, consisting of several dishes of traditional Japanese cuisine - a fitting end to a fine first day on Japan's northerly island.