Wednesday 3 February 2016

Japan 2015 day 13: Hokkaido - Tokyo - Karuizawa

31 December 2015

Looking north from Furen

Our final morning on Hokkaido was to be spent driving south to Kushiro from Furen, taking in a few sites en route. First port of call was a woodland track between Furen and Ochisii - Take had told us it was a decent place to look for the striking grisiventris subspecies of Bullfinch, which we had not yet seen. A slow drive through the forest with several tactical spots eventually produced a Bullfinch, but alas it was a female rather than the pink-cheeked, grey-bellied male we'd been after! The woods were otherwise pretty quiet, a typical range of common woodland species (including several Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers) and a few Steller's Sea Eagles were as good as it got.

It was pretty clear that the holiday season was in full swing on arrival in Ochisii. The harbour was totally devoid of people, let alone fishing activity, and gulls were extremely thin on the ground. A group of nine Falcated Ducks was a pleasant surprise and there were also several Black Scoters and a Scaup. With time pressing we decided to head south to Kushiro to spend the final couple of hours photographing gulls at the harbour. A quick stop in Akkeshi produced a first-winter Vega and a couple of Kamchatka Gulls among the commoner Slaty-backed and Glaucous-winged Gulls.

Many second-winter Slaty-backed Gulls tend to look quite grotesque

Given that everywhere was shut down for New Year it was no great surprise to find far fewer gulls in an eerily quiet Kushiro harbour, but the Slaty-backs kept us entertained until we'd used up our final four loaves of bread (and two bags of popcorn). There was a little more ice around the harbour which had also concentrated groups of Scaup, Goldeneye, Harlequin and Red-breasted Merganser, and so we enjoyed our final looks at these species (and our last White-tailed Eagle) before the time came to head to the airport for our 13:40 flight.

Kushiro Harbour just a short while before leaving Hokkaido

The rest of the day was spent travelling. We arrived back in Tokyo mid-afternoon, enjoyed a typically efficient breeze through Haneda Airport and were soon at Tokyo station. Before boarding the Shinkansen up to Karuizawa we enjoyed a bit of train-spotting, which I'm not ashamed to admit to in Japan. It's hard not to stand and admire the artistic beauty of the bullet trains arriving and departing with enduring precision at Tokyo station - they are some of the most extraordinarily designed machines you will ever see and I'm certainly not embarrassed to have been the excitable tourist standing at the end of the Platform 23 that afternoon.

Shinkansen at Tokyo station

We were picked up at Karuizawa station by our hosts at Pension Edohara and were enjoying yet another delicious meal soon after. New Year's Eve actually turned out to be a bit of a tame affair, as it apparently is for most people in Japan, Traditionally families spend it together, eating a nice meal and watching their favourite TV programs. So that's what we did, and New Year was welcomed in with a cold Kirin watching some sort of hybrid sport that appeared a mix of sumo, cage fighting and boxing ...

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