Wednesday 27 January 2016

Japan 2015 day eight: cranes at dawn, White's at dusk

26 December 2015

One of the numerous must-see wildlife spectacles of Hokkaido is the early morning roost of Red-crowned Cranes in the river viewed from Otowa bridge, south of Tsurui. We'd heard that the temperature needs to reach around -15c for steam to rise from the river and 'fortunately' Boxing Day morning proved one of those ball-clenchingly cold starts.

Though we all felt that the crane photo opportunities were a little overrated, there was no doubt that the hoar frost provided an impressive sight. Despite all my layers, I was freezing and extremely glad of the car and subsequent breakfast back at the hotel!

After breakfast we headed back to Kushiro harbour for another gulling session. Seven Harlequins showed included a showy drake while additional species to yesterday included a group of eight Black-necked Grebes and a number of Pelagic Cormorants.

Gull numbers were similar to the previous day although three hybrid Glaucous-winged x Glaucous Gulls were new, while the ubiquitous and characterful Large-billed Crows never failed to entertain.

Slaty-backed Gull 

Large-billed Crow

After having had our fill (and chilled to the bone by the biting wind) we decided to head back inland. Roadside fields along Route 240 just south of Tsurui held an impressive minimum of 195 Red-crowned a Cranes as well as half-a-dozen Whooper Swans.

Continuing north we were thoroughly disappointed to find Lake Kussharo entirely ice-free - a testament to the extremely mild winter experienced on Hokkaido up until the previous week. This unfortunately meant that the Whooper Swan opportunities were somewhere between sub-optimal and absolutely rubbish, although the birds themselves were brilliantly tame. Neighbouring woodland was quiet except for Treecreeper, Great Spotted Woodpecker and both Willow and Marsh Tits.

A little deflated, we made the short journey to our accommodation that night - the very quaint Gustaf Papilio guesthouse. On getting out the car I was thrilled to see a White's Thrush fly up in to a nearby tree, and soon we had all enjoyed views of the bird perched high up, watching us intently.

Over the next hour we were treated to simply stunning views of the thrush as it fed to within 10 metres of us. As with all thrushes a lack of movement and sound from us seemed to ensure the bird was more trusting and, despite the awful late afternoon light, we all managed some pleasing photos - definitely one of the birds of the trip!

White's Thrush - just stunning!

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