At the present time EcoQuest Travel does not have a trip to Japan scheduled. The following itinerary is an example of trips we have conducted in the past and is similar to trips we intend to offer in the future. If you are interested in Japan as a destination please contact us for further information.
JAPAN BIRD WATCHING
Dancing Cranes in the Land of the Rising Sun
15 – DAY ITINERARY
“When the cranes have fed, they move away a little and, joined by the immatures, begin to leap and bow, using the cold twilight wind to pick them up, legs dangling, four or five feet into the air. As the sun sets behind the wooded ridge and faint stars appear in the fading blue above, the white birds dance forward and lift off the snow into the north wind.
To observe red-crowned cranes dancing in Hokkaido’s snows is the ultimate pilgrimage for ornithologists.”
Peter Matthiessen, “The Birds of Heaven,” 2001
EcoQuest Travel is proud to offer an incredible bird watching journey to the extraordinary country of Japan. From the crowded bustle of Tokyo and the glitter of skyscrapers to the still forests of Hokkaido and the quiet reverence of ancient temples, Japan is a land of contrasts. The Land of the Rising Sun is known more for its cultural riches, but the birdlife of Japan is rich and varied. We have chosen to travel in February to take advantage of the abundance and diversity of cranes and waterfowl in particular. Our visit will include three of Japan’s main islands: Honshu, Hokkaido and Kyushu. We begin in the far north in a land blanketed by snow and chilled by Siberian winds. Hokkaido is a breathtakingly beautiful place and this is punctuated all the more by the sight of red-crowned cranes dancing against a backdrop of snow and green conifers. No less spectacular is the huge gatherings of Steller’s sea-eagles; large rafts of harlequin ducks, scoters and alcids; and a chance to observe the rarely seen Blakiston’s fish-owl hunting. From the cold expanses of Hokkaido we journey far to the south to the rice paddies and wetlands of Kyushu. The marshes of Arasaki are famous for their flocks of wintering cranes. Thousands of hooded and white-naped cranes are often joined by Eurasian, sandhill and sometimes even demoiselle and Siberian cranes. Ducks, cormorants, gulls and other water birds are also abundant, and along with the bugling cranes, add to the cacophony. From the south we will return to Honshu and travel up into the Japanese Alps to witness snow monkeys soaking winter’s chill away in the hot springs. The opportunity for dramatic photographs of the monkeys with snow and ice upon their fur is not to be missed. We invite you to join us as we explore the fantastic birdlife, natural wonders, cultural sites and magic that is Japan.
Days 1 & 2) Thursday and Friday, February 7 & 8: Our US Gateway City to Tokyo, Japan
Our journey will begin today as you fly from your home cities to a US gateway city – likely Detroit, Chicago or Atlanta. Once in your gateway city you will connect to your flight to Tokyo, Japan. Please plan to arrive at your departure gate for Tokyo no later than two hours prior to your scheduled departure time. The flight from the US to Tokyo is a long one and you should arrive in Japan in the afternoon on February 8th. After clearing customs and immigration you will transfer to the comfort of the Shiba Park Hotel for a night of much needed rest. The Shiba Park is a comfortable first class hotel and will be a welcome retreat each time we are in Tokyo.
Day 3) Saturday, February 9: Tokyo
This morning after breakfast we will depart on a full day tour of Tokyo. Despite its huge size and densely packed population Tokyo has some quiet retreats including some excellent birding spots. Our first stop is the architecturally beautiful Shinto Shrine of Meiji-jingu. This shrine, built with Japanese cypress, had to be rebuilt due to damage it sustained during the bombing of Tokyo during WWII. The gardens and lakes surrounding the shrine are a haven for birds including mandarin duck, azure-winged magpie, pygmy woodpecker, Chinese bamboo-partridge, bull-headed shrike, brown-eared bulbul and varied tit. After a morning of birding in the gardens we will visit the famous Senso-ji Temple. This fantastic Buddhist temple is a tapestry of color and pageantry with hanging lanterns and prayer tablets, intricately carved religious sculptures, traditionally dressed monks and the smell of burning incense. We will eat lunch at a local restaurant among the Nakamise shopping arcade and perhaps have a short time to browse the shops. After lunch we will have another opportunity to bird at Kasai Seaside Park. Kasai is a wetland area that is excellent for wintering waterfowl with Eurasian widgeon, tufted duck, pochard, Northern pintails and Northern shoveler being very common. The area also holds large numbers of shorebirds and sometimes local rarities like black-faced spoonbill, water rail and Saunders’s gull. After a great day we will have dinner and overnight once again at the Shiba Park Hotel. (B,L,D)
Day 4) Sunday, February 10: Tokyo to Hokkaido and the Dancing Cranes
We will have an early breakfast at the hotel before transferring to Haneda Airport for our flight from Tokyo to Kushiro, Hokkaido. After the crush of humanity that is Tokyo and Central Honshu, Hokkaido will seem remote. Indeed, this northernmost island accounts for one fifth of Japan’s land area, but only 5% of the population lives there. Hokkaido is known for its wilderness areas and is famous for its population of red-crowned cranes. The red-crowned (also known as Japanese crane) is the largest of the crane species found in Japan and one of the rarest on earth. After our arrival in Kushiro we will travel to Tancho-no-sato crane sanctuary to witness these magnificent birds. The site of these great birds jumping and dancing above the snow is one of nature’s most impressive spectacles. We will have lunch at a local restaurant and spend the rest of the day observing and photographing the cranes. We will also visit Kushiro Marsh and in the late afternoon/early evening we will gather at the Otowa Bridge to see the cranes fly in to roost in the Setsurigawa River. After the evening flight of the cranes we will settle into, and have dinner at, our accommodations at the Hotel Taito. (B,L,D)
Day 5) Monday, February 11: Travel to Furen
Today, before breakfast, we will once again return to the Otowa Bridge to view the cranes on the river and their morning flights to the feeding grounds. After breakfast we will drive east along the coast, birding en route, toward the Nemuro Peninsula and Lake Furen. Along the way we will stop at the Akkeshi Waterfowl Center and the Kirittappu Marsh where we could see whooper swans, common merganser and smew. We could also see Japanese wagtail, Eurasian jay, Palla’s rosy finch, and both marsh and great tits. We will eat lunch at a local restaurant along the way. We should arrive at Lake Furen in the afternoon with time to look for Steller’s sea-eagles, white-tailed eagles and other species prior to checking in at our accommodations at the Nature Lodge Furen and Field Inn Furoso. These lodges are minshukus which are the Japanese equivalent of a family-run B&B. These particular minshukus are owned and operated by Japanese couples who are interested in birding and used to catering to the needs of birders. We will have dinner at the Lodges. (B,L,D)
Day 6) Tuesday, February 12: Ochiishi Boat Trip, Nosappu Misaki and Lake Furen: Steller’s Sea-Eagles, Alcids and Waterfowl
Our explorations today will begin with a boat trip out of Ochiishi to look for seabirds. The open sea between the pack ice could yield an incredible variety of alcids and sea ducks. Among the birds commonly encountered are harlequin ducks (often abundant), long-tailed ducks, black and white-winged scoters, spectacled guillemots, ancient murrelets and crested and least auklets. Some of the less common birds we might see include yellow-billed loon and Steller’s eider. This trip can be bone-chillingly cold so we will need to dress very warmly for the trip. After we return from our boat trip we will make a brief stop at the Ochiishi promontory which could yield red-faced cormorant, glaucous-winged, and slaty-backed gulls and perhaps, if we are lucky, a gyrfalcon. From Ochiishi we will travel east to some excellent birding sites on the Nemuro Peninsula including Nosappu Misaki – the tip of the peninsula. There is a sea-watching hide at Nosappu which should provide great views of seabirds and perhaps a harbor or ringed seal. After Nosappu we will spend the remainder of the afternoon near Lake Furen which is home to large concentrations of both Steller’s sea-eagles and white-tailed eagles. Steller’s sea-eagles are huge and the sight of these great eagles roosting in the trees or fishing from the lake is unforgettable! After a full day of birding we will return to the Minshuku Furen for dinner and overnight. (B,L,D)
Day 7) Wednesday, February 13: Furen to Rausu
This morning, after breakfast, we will depart for the seaside city of Rausu located north on the Shiretoko Peninsula. This peninsula juts northward into the Okhotsk Sea and may allow access to the sea ice. The area just outside Rausu is also home to many roosting Steller’s sea eagles. It will be a fairly long snowy drive to Rausu and lunch, somewhere along the way, will be on our own. Upon arrival in Rausu we will check into our accommodations at the Dai-Ichi Hotel and should have some time to bird, look for roosting eagles and have a good soak in the hotel’s hot baths before our evening activities. In the early evening we will take a picnic dinner with us to the Blakiston’s fish-owl viewing site in hopes of glimpsing this rare and elusive species. (B,D)
Day 8) Thursday, February 14: Boat to the Sea Ice and travel to Nakashibetsu
We will depart the hotel early this morning for our boat trip which we hope will carry us out to the sea ice. It is important to remember that conditions vary year to year and there is no guarantee that we will get to the sea ice – in fact there hasn’t been any in recent years. If we are lucky and conditions are right we could get very close to the floating sea ice which will allow us some spectacular wildlife viewing – especially the Steller’s sea eagles, white-tailed eagles, and perhaps seals and sea lions. If there is no sea ice the boat trip will likely stay either inside the harbor or just outside it. The birding can be great in either case though the chance of mammals decreases dramatically if there is no ice present. After our boat trip we will pack up our belongings and begin the journey to Nakashibetsu. Lunch will be on our own today depending on where we are at the time. Once we arrive in Nakashibetsu we will check in at the Ryokan Fujiya. Ryokans are traditional Japanese inns and we have chosen this one specifically because it has a feeding station set up for Blakiston’s fish-owls. This evening gives us another chance to see one of these massive owls fishing from the feeding pond. Before dark we might even see some hazel grouse keeping to the cover of the conifers. We will have dinner at the ryokan. (B,D)
Day 9) Friday, February 15: Nakashibetsu to Tokyo and on to Kagoshima, Kyushu
We will have the morning to look for the owls, and other birds, before beginning a long day of travel. In the late morning we will transfer to the airport in Nakashibetsu for our flight to Tokyo. Once in Tokyo we will change planes and fly to Kagoshima on the southern island of Kyushu. After arriving in Kagoshima we will transfer to the town of Izumi, near the marshes of Arasaki, and our accommodations for the night at the Hotel Wing International Izumi. We will have dinner at the hotel tonight and lunch will be on our own due to being in transit most of the day. (B,D)
Day 10) Saturday, February 16: Arasaki Marshes: Wintering Cranes and Waterfowl
Today we have the whole day to witness the spectacular gathering of wintering cranes that make the rice paddies and marshes of Arasaki famous. Well over 10,000 birds can overwinter in Arasaki including thousands of hooded and white-naped cranes. Among these more common Asian crane species are a few Eurasian cranes and sometimes even demoiselle, sandhill and Siberian cranes. Waterfowl also winter in large numbers at Arasaki including spot-billed duck, common teal, falcated teal, Eurasian widgeon, pochard and tufted duck. Other birds that might be present include long-billed plover, Eurasian and black-faced spoonbill, black-tailed gull, painted snipe, northern lapwing, crested kingfisher, Daurian jackdaw, Japanese skylark, Daurian redstart, Chinese penduline tit and Japanese grosbeak. We will take a break for lunch at a local restaurant and have dinner at the hotel. We will overnight at the Hotel International Izumi. (B,L,D)
Day 11) Sunday, February 17: Kogawa Dam, Lake Mi-ike and Kagoshima
We will depart early this morning to visit the area surrounding the Kogawa Dam. The forests around the dam are great for white-bellied green pigeon, crested kingfisher, mandarin duck, yellow-throated bunting and a host of other birds. From the dam we will travel to Miyazaki prefecture and Mi-ike Lake. The lake is great for wintering waterfowl, including Baikal teal if we are lucky, and the forests surrounding the lake contain copper and green pheasant, Japanese green woodpecker, red-flanked bluetail, Ryukyu minivet, common creeper, Japanese grosbeak and many other species. After spending most of the day at these two locations we will drive south to Kagoshima and check in at the Kagoshima Kuko Hotel for dinner and overnight. This hotel is located close to the Kagoshima airport making our early transfer to airport tomorrow morning easier. (B,L,D)
Day 12) Monday, February 18: Kagoshima to Tokyo and on to Nagano and Yudanaka
After an early breakfast we will depart for the Kagoshima Airport for our early morning flight to Tokyo. After our arrival in Tokyo we will transfer from the airport to Tokyo Station and our Japan Rail bullet train ride to Nagano up in the Japanese Alps. Once in Nagano we will transfer to the town of Yudanaka and Kanbayashi Onsen by bus. We will have a boxed lunch today while we are traveling. Once in Kanbayashi Onsen we settle into our accommodations at the Ryokan Shimaya. We should have enough time to do some birding along the trail which leads to Jigokudani Onsen – we may even have enough time to get to the onsen itself to view its most famous residents. An onsen is a hot spring and this particular hot spring attracts troops of Japanese macaques (or snow monkeys) trying to fend off winter’s chill. After birding and observing the monkeys we will have our own soak in the onsen baths at our ryokan prior to dinner. (B,L,D)
Day 13) Tuesday, February 19: Jigokudani Onsen: Snow Monkeys and Nagano
This morning we will hike 30 minutes to the Jigokudani Onsen to observe and photograph the snow monkeys. They make fascinating photography subjects while soaking in the hot springs. If we are lucky and it snows it makes for even better photographs as the snow sticks to their fur. We also have a chance for more birding today and will try to locate some species we may not have seen yet like copper pheasant, Ural owl, Japanese green woodpecker, Japanese waxwings, brown dippers, alpine accentors, goldcrests and long-tailed tits. Both golden eagle and mountain hawk-eagle are regularly in the valley and if we are lucky we could also spot the elusive Japanese serow (a wild goat) on the cliffs above the hot springs. We have lunch today at our Ryokan before spending the afternoon birding and looking for monkeys. In the late afternoon we will depart by bus for Nagano and have dinner and overnight at the Hotel Metropolitan. (B,L,D)
Day 14) Wednesday, February 20: Nagano and on to Tokyo
After breakfast we will depart by bullet train for Tokyo. Once we arrive in Tokyo we will have a chance to visit the Imperial Palace and bird the Palace’s East Gardens. From the Palace we will transfer to the Shiba Park Hotel and have the rest of the afternoon to unwind and prepare for dinner. Tonight we will enjoy a special farewell dinner at a local restaurant. (B,D)
Days 15) Thursday, February 21: Departure for the US
We will have breakfast at the hotel this morning and should have a bit of time to pack up prior to checking out of the hotel and transferring to Tokyo’s Narita Airport for our flights back to the US. Due to the magic of crossing the International Dateline you will arrive in your US gateway city earlier than we departed on the same day we left. Once in your US gateway city, after clearing immigration and customs, you will transfer to your individual flights home. (B)
* Please note that EcoQuest Travel, Inc. will make every effort to adhere to this itinerary, but dates, times, activities and prices are subject to change depending on scheduling and availability.