Visit your favourite destinations
Western Europe
North America
Eastern Europe
South America
Middle East
East Indies

A Report from

South Korea and Japan, late January to February 2005 ,

Ed Keeble (UK)

This extended trip was organised around two long-cherished ambitions- to see Steller's Sea Eagle on the ice in Hokkaido and to see a drake Scaly-sided Merganser anywhere one could be found.  The trip was successful on both scores and of course provided plenty of other entertainment besides. 

There are two points I would underline from this report:

I've benefited greatly from previous trip reports and if you have any follow-up questions or comments in relation to this report, or if links do not work, I am happy to be contacted on

South Korea:
I would strongly recommend planning South Korea as part of a winter trip and not just as an add-on to Japan.  If necessary, sacrifice days in southern Japan (Kyushu and Honshu) to make room for it.  I would consider splitting a 14 day trip to give as many as 5 or even 6 days in South Korea, with the balance in Japan. 

First off, there are a number of highly sought-after species which are available in South Korea and which you will not find, or which will be more difficult to find, in Japan.  Highlights of my visit were Scaly-sided Merganser; Swan Goose; Lesser White-fronted Goose; Solitary Snipe; Oriental White Stork; Chinese Grey Shrike and a single gathering of 500+ Cinereous Vulture.  I might add that I missed a flock of 400,000 Baikal Teal, which must be one of the numerically biggest dips ever! 

On top of that, South Korea offers birding in radically more exciting and less predictable circumstances than you will encounter in Japan.  For example, watching Red-crowned Cranes and White-naped Cranes leaving their roost in the DMZ is to my mind unmatched for sheer atmosphere by closer and more extended encounters in Japan.

I relied on Nial Moore's guiding services in South Korea [ see ] and would strongly recommend doing so.  Sites are subject to development and disturbance from one year to the next and you cannot rely on replicating trips reported from previous years.  I would have failed to connect with most of the above without Nial's help.

I went to South Korea in late January, ahead of going to Japan, because I was worried that the mergansers (my priority target) might move out before the end of February, but others have taken in South Korea after Japan, as an insurance policy.

As for logistics:

Inbound:  Flew LHR to Tokyo/Narita on 28th January arriving middle of the day 29th January  On arrival at Tokyo/Narita I connected with an Air Korea flight to Seoul/Incheon, arriving mid-evening the same day (29th January).  (LHR to Tokyo seemed to offer far more flight and price options than LHR to Seoul/Incheon and I couldn't find a satisfactory "open-jaw" LHR/Seoul/Tokyo/LHR flight). 

In the field:  Five full days in South Korea (30th January to 3rd February).  Even with as long as five days, you have to do a lot of driving in a short time and make some tough choices.

Outbound:  Flew Air Korea from Seoul/Incheon direct to Kagoshima on 4th February.  This worked very well- I was able to bird until late afternoon on my last day in South Korea, took a 10AM flight the following morning and was birding in Kyushu by 2PM that same day (4th February).  There may well be an earlier flight.  It follows that it is possible to take in South Korea from Japan, without the extra travel eating into birding time

I've posted some photos at  For a more detailed account which captures the atmosphere of winter birding in South Korea, have a look at Richard Klim's report from February 2005, link below. 

Japan: general
I had the advantage of having birded in Japan on previous occasions in the distant past and so I had some idea of where to go and how to get about- but that is not a pre-requisite and I don't think there is any need to be accompanied by a local guide, either for logistical or birding reasons.  The only place where you might appreciate some local help is on Hokkaido and Matsuo-san at Minshuku Fuhren will be happy to provide it, if that is where you stay.  All in all, Japan is perfectly "do-able" for an independent birder.

Japan: information
The best source of information remains Where to Watch Birds in Japan by Mark Brazil, published by Kodansha in 1987.  It may be nearly 20 years old, but for the most part it still holds good (and I am happy to lend out my copy in return for a donation to conservation).  

If you can't get hold of the Brazil book, all is not lost.  There are several good trip reports on the net, the ones I found most useful being:

The Kantori forum and website [  ] is also a valuable resource.  It is well worth joining up in order to monitor the site and browse through the archives, but it is not really aimed at providing fresh information to visitors.  I found that polite and well-directed enquiries did elicit some very useful information about rarities or semi-rarities on Kyushu and elsewhere. 

Japan: planning and logistics
It is very difficult to plan and book accommodation and transport from the UK, even with e-mail and internet access.  Most Japanese websites are in Kanji only and English is generally not spoken at all.  I used the services of Nigel Moorhouse at Sarus [ ]  to arrange the trip via his Japanese agents.  All I had to do was sketch in a basic itinerary and state a broad preference as to class of accommodation.  They then provided a comprehensive package with detailed directions for each stage and connection, in the same painstaking style as presumably would be provided to a Japanese visitor to London.  I cannot recommend this service provided by Sarus highly enough and it is something they seem more than willing to do for independent birders

You do need to bear in mind that the agents are used to dealing with "normal" tourists rather than birders and so they tend to offer flights, ferries and trains at comfortable mid-morning and afternoon times.  So when you get a proposed itinerary from them, have a close look and see whether you want to go earlier or later, to maximise birding time on travel days. 

Japan: money
Japan is not as eye-wateringly expensive as it once seemed to be.  From what I have seen on the net, a fully guided birding tour to Japan in winter might cost about £3,500 for two weeks on a Tokyo-Tokyo basis (i.e. international flights on top), so that's a rather intimidating £250 per day.  On a very crude comparison, the package put together by Sarus for me worked out nearer £100 per day on the same basis, on top of which I had to pay for my own petrol (and international flights).  To give a more concrete example, I found a perfectly good hotel in Rausu for yen 7,900; comparable to or better than UK prices (and with roosting Steller's Sea Eagle scopable from the window).

So I suspect that a determined crew of birders on a budget could get down below £100 a day, by sharing costs and introducing a higher ratio of minshuku (B&B) to hotels and some less fancy catering (including skipping formal breakfast, not served until 7AM by which time you may want to be out in the field or at least on the road).  But the flight/ferry/train/rental car costs are hard to do much about.  I have hitchhiked around Hokkaido in a previous life, but conditions in February are not conducive to this!

There is also the practical question of cash versus cards.  Credit cards are only patchily accepted.  In particular, many petrol stations are cash only and so I would strongly recommend bringing enough yen to cover fuel and other running expenses - it is a safe country in which to carry cash and doing so will save you a lot of hassle and (worse than that) lost birding time. 

Japan: food
For me, the food is one of the highlights of a trip to Japan.  But if you don't care for Japanese food and/or if you are on a tight budget, then there is ample opportunity for stocking up on basic and recognisable food items at garages and convenience outlets such as "Lawson" stations, even in eastern Hokkaido. 

Japan: getting about
I can't say I never missed a turning, but navigating was not hard.  Major road signs are written in both Kanji and English; rental cars have GPS as standard; and the Shobunsha 1:250,000 English edition road atlas is excellent for Kyushu and Honshu (available from the bookshop on airside at Narita Terminal 2).  You only need a basic map in Hokkaido.

Getting about at a reasonable speed, however, is a problem.  Roads tend to have heavy traffic and frequent traffic lights and expressways never seem to run where birders would want to go. So this is a key point when it comes to setting an itinerary- you have to assume that you will average under 50km/h during daylight hours, no matter how promising a route might look on the map.  For example, you can get around southern Kyushu with a total driving time of about 10 hours for the circuit- but if you have to go back on yourself at any point, for example to a hotel or the airport, then the driving time soon mounts up. 

When planning, be alert for opportunities to drop off the car, take a train and re-hire at the other end as there seem to be Nippon Rent-a-car offices everywhere.  In a suburb of Sendai I was able to walk in off the street and rent a car for the day, with some paper shuffling but no real hassle.

Japan: weather
The weather was much as expected.  There was some rain in Kyushu but it stayed above freezing and no birding time was lost.  There had been some quite heavy snow a few days before my arrival, but I think that is unusual. 

In Hokkaido there were several heavy snowfalls, but most of these moved through quite quickly with clear skies behind them.  After snow, bright sun and freezing temperatures combined to create long stretches of black ice which remained until the next snowfall came along.  So driving was interesting in Hokkaido, but never terrifying.  You should make sure you have a 4WD car (standard up there, I think).

I lost one and a half days birding (out of seven) to snowfall whilst I was on Hokkaido, which I believe is not unusual.  It follows that, whilst it is possible to "do" the cranes and eagles on Hokkaido in two or three days if you are truly in a hurry, the weather might steal a day from you.

Temperatures on Hokkaido were not as severe as I had feared; between 0 and -5C during the day, -5 to -15C during the night.  It was not windy whilst I was there (except during blizzards!) and I suspect that this was the main reason why I found birding was reasonably comfortable.  Others have had to endure much more challenging conditions and you do, of course, need to have the right gear (this and camera upgrades are hidden costs of the trip).  I would recommend those warming pads you can slip inside gloves and socks.

It is sobering to have to note that in Hokkaido the winters are getting relatively milder, with heavy snow and pack ice arriving later and less dependably with each year that passes.  When I arrived at Fuhren, the sea was still largely clear at least as far north as the Notsuke peninsula and had been so all winter, although pack ice did finally arrive in spectacular quantities during the last week of February.  Further north, there was plenty of pack ice at Rausu (enough to trap and kill 11 out of 12 members of a pod of Killer Whales in a nearby harbour!), but it too was unreliable and came and went whilst I was there.  Rausu harbour was iced solid in mid-February, but almost ice-free in late February.

Japan itinerary
The traditional itinerary seems to be to start in Kyushu in late January or early February for cranes and various other specialities, then up to Honshu (e.g. Karuizawa in the Japanese Alps) for passerines; then up to Hokkaido in mid-to-late February (including a ferry journey) for seabirds, eagles and cranes.  I followed that itinerary in broad terms, but with a few twists to reflect my particular interests (in a nutshell, eagles and seabirds strongly favoured over most passerines). 

Organised trips tend to allow much less time on Hokkaido and more time looking for endemics further south.  I guess if you are looking to "clean-up" on the available species, that's what you have to do.

The following worked well for me, but plenty of scope for it to be improved or compressed.  The most obvious omission is any time in the Japanese Alps- not a priority for me this time.

Japan: trip highlights and lowlights

For me, trip highlights were Steller's Sea Eagle, Blakiston's Fish Owl and Harlequin Ducks in E Hokkaido; Least Auklets off the Oarai-Tomakomai ferry; and Baikal Teal at Ko-ike/Mi-ike on Kyushu.  The only real lowlight was a lack of albatrosses off the ferries.

Japan: chronological account

4th February 2005

Flew into Kagoshima from Seoul/Incheon and picked up rental car about midday.  This was an unexpectedly early arrival so I used the extra half-day to go for the regular wintering Greater Spotted Eagle at Takae- an area of rice fields west of Sendai. 

Two-hour drive to Sendai.  At Sendai simply follow the road west along the south shore of the Sendai river for about 5km until you come to an obvious bend in the road with rice fields on the left and a tree-covered hill.  If you get to a nuclear power station, you have gone too far.  The Greater Spotted Eagle has wintered here for at least 12 years and was soon located- soaring and calling and then perched on top of the hill.  [Record shots at ]

Takae doesn't look that exciting, but is a popular birding site.  In addition to the commoner species, I had the only Red-throated Pipits of the trip here and I believe it is a good site for Russet Sparrow should that be of interest to you.

From Takae, I followed the road around to the coast and chanced on a very close pair of Falcated Duck on pools by the roadside.  Not rare, but not easy for a visitor to drop onto and these provided the only good views of the trip.  Then down to the harbour at Kushikino, where there were a few Temminck's Cormorants and 8 distant grebes, which at long range looked to be Slavonian Grebes rather than Black-necked.

From here the plan was to run down to the Manose river estuary about 60km to the south for wintering Black-faced Spoonbill and a recently found Ferruginous Duck, but the traffic was dreadful and I ran out of daylight.  It was a long haul back to Kagoshima and then up into the mountains as far as the Kirishima Castle Hotel (about two hours driving from the west coast to Kagoshima and then another hour to Kirishima, the handiest accommodation for Lake Mi-ike).

Night at Kirishima Castle Hotel.  Great meal served in my room.

5th February 2005

Up early and eastward over the mountains to Mi-ike- about 45 minutes from Kirishima.  A quick scan revealed about 500 duck, all asleep except for a rather jumpy drake Baikal Teal which flew a couple of laps around the lake and then flipped over the ridge towards Ko-ike lake with me in hot pursuit.  Arrived at Ko-ike after a brisk hour or so walk, with stops for Red-flanked Bluetail and Pale Thrush.  A beautiful, forest-clad crater lake, apparently birdless except for 8 Baikal Teal gently cruising along the far-side and occasionally snapping insects off the surface.  Closer inspection revealed a few Mandarin Ducks and commoner ducks in one corner.  [Record shot at ]

The forest on the crater floor contained lot of dead wood and early morning woodpecker activity was intense- extended views of a pair of White-backed Woodpeckers and also Japanese Green Woodpeckers.  Also, bafflingly, there was some exceptionally loud woodpecker drumming from the west ridge of the crater.

Things quietened down by late morning and so I retraced my steps to Kagoshima and all the way across to Izumi.  Route 504 (Miyanojo to Takaono) was an especially bad choice of road- single lane hairpins; snowdrifts and roadworks.   To be fair, I had gone past what I later realised was probably a road closed sign.  Based on my experience, use route 328 to Izumi instead.

Arrived at Izumi/Arasaki by mid-afternoon, where there were thousands of Hooded Cranes and hundreds of White-naped Cranes on view.  A very good (even for Izumi) collection of rarer cranes was scattered but not very well hidden amongst them, with a single Demoiselle Crane and a single Red-crowned Crane, the latter likely to be from Manchuria and the first here for nearly 40 years.  At least one Common Crane and three Common/Hooded hybrids.  No Siberian White Crane at Izumi this year.  Happily, I had seen a summering bird in Hokkaido some years ago, so no complaints from me.

Late afternoon is a good time to be birding at Izumi- the initial feeding frenzy is over and parties of cranes radiate out across surrounding fields and flight back in to the reserve area to roost, with Japanese photographers desperately trying to catch them in front of the setting sun.  Saw Chestnut-eared Bunting, Buff-bellied Pipit, Dusky Thrush and Bull-headed Shrike along the reserve fence and Peregrine.

Overnight at the Wing Hotel in Izumi, about 30 minutes drive from the cranes and so not as convenient as the minshuku, which is right on the spot. 

6th February 2005

Back out to the cranes for some photography, but weather had turned overcast.  Located a distant Sandhill Crane at the back of the reserve area to complete the crane set and then spent the day birding and photographing in the general area.  A Short-eared Owl mobbed by crows was unexpected find.  More expected were Chestnut-eared Buntings (usually seen singly, for example along the sea wall) and Black-faced Buntings.  The commonest bunting by far, however, was Reed Bunting and I didn't find any Rustics here.  I took a while to find Daurian Jackdaws amongst the Rook flock, but located at least 5 dark birds.

(I might add that I might have accumulated a longer list here if I had done more birding and less photographing.  The area around the river mouth seems to have been quite productive for other birders, with Black-faced Spoonbill, Crested Kingfisher, Long-billed Plover and other waders.)

It is worth making the point that whilst the cranes at Izumi/Arasaki are spectacular [some photos at], it is a somewhat unnatural and heavily peopled environment and you may find a couple of days here more than enough before heading off on the circuit around southern Kyushu and then north.  I had birded here before and so, callous though it may sound, I was not unhappy to be moving on.

Night at Wing Hotel, Izumi.

7th February 2005

I had bumped into a Japanese birder the previous day and been able to confirm the tide times, essential for the gulls at Yatsushiro.  Headed up there first thing and arrived just as the tide turned, which was perfect as the gulls were very close inshore just beyond the wooded hill on the north side of the river.  Had excellent views of 8 Saunders's Gulls and the Great Black-headed Gull coming into breeding plumage, photographed from the shelter of the car on the sea-wall, in heavy rain and under low cloud [photos at ].  Not much else, except Red-necked Grebe and Osprey offshore.

Rain continued late morning as I embarked on the long drive across to Kadogawa on the east coast.  A good choice of road this time, through the mountains on route 218 from Matsubase (north of Yatsuhsiro) to Nobeoka (east coast).  The road crossed several truly spectacular viaducts, before dropping down to run alongside the wide and stony Gokase river, still in quite heavy rain.  The river proved to be very good for Mandarin Ducks from Takachiho east; I estimated at least 150 between here and where road crosses river at Kitakata, just west of Nobeoka, including one loose flock of 60+.  Hirundines had collected over the river in the wet weather and there was a gathering of several 100s of Barn Swallows, Asiatic House Martins and at least 6 Little Swifts, along with Daurian Redstart and three species of wagtail- Black-backed Wagtail, Japanese Wagtail and Grey Wagtail.  There would surely be Crested Kingfisher, Brown Dipper and Long-billed Plover on this stretch of river, but I didn't find them during my short stop.

Arrived Kadogawa early afternoon, armed with the deceptively simple directions for Japanese Murrelets taken from the Anderson 2002 report.  I believe I am not the first birder to end up driving in circles around the north side of Kadogawa harbour, trying and failing to get down to the outer harbour wall.  Anyway, I took a look at the road atlas and decided to drop a few kilometres down to Hyuga, where there seemed to be an obvious road to a lighthouse.  This worked much better for me and I was soon watching a distant Japanese Murrelet with Biro island (where murrelets breed from February) in the background.  Also a juvenile Goshawk and an Eastern Reef Heron.  Black Kites were especially common here.

Overnight at Ryokan Ichifuji in Kadogawa.  Proprietor is a rugby coach and so his English extends to "fly half" but not to "yes" or "no".  Dinner included oysters and flash-fried liver from a wild boar he himself had shot.  Not everybody's idea of the perfect end to the day.

8th February 2005

Back to Hyuga in better weather to an island with causeway which I had noticed the previous day.  This worked just great- at least twenty Japanese Murrelets, some very close in.  Before wading across, you might want to check via hand signals with local fisherman whether the tide is on its way in or out! 

The site is easy to find [map and photos at ].  Look on the road atlas and you will see a two-headed peninsula at Hiyuga.  Follow the coast road which runs along the top (north) side of the lower (southern) head.  The little island is just off that road on the left, just before the road climbs to the car park at the end of the head.  I also saw a few murrelets from the car park at some distance, around the fish traps. 

From Hyuga, I dropped down to the Hitotsuse estuary just north of Miyazaki for Black-faced Spoonbill.  Stay on route 10 south from Hyuga until you cross the river and then turn left to follow the road along the south side of the river.  I had four Black-faced Spoonbill at the mouth of the estuary along with 3 Shelduck.  Also over a thousand dabbling duck, which had included Baikal Teal the previous week.  I did not see Long-tailed Shrike, which I had heard (via Kantori) was wintering on the north shore.

From the Hitotsuse, I had no choice but to complete the circuit via Miyazaki on the east coast back to Izumi on the west coast, ready for a departure from Kagoshima airport the following day.  Bad planning by me again- I should of course have arranged the last night closer to Kagoshima airport.  Spent the afternoon at Mi-ike on the way through to Izumi, with similar birding to last time, lovely views of the same 8 Baikal Teal now on the main lake, but woodpeckers much quieter.  Very close views of a Ryukyu Minivet along the path to Ko-ike, apparently with a mixed tit flock. 

Night at Wing Hotel, Izumi.

9th February 2005

Travel day.  Drove Izumi to Kagoshima (about an hour and a half), flew Kagoshima to Tokyo/Haneda, then train up to Mito for the Oarai ferry terminal.  It is a £20 taxi ride from Mito to Oarai, so well worth picking up a train for that leg.  Long wait for the late sailing to Tomakomai, enlivened by watching Japan defeat South Korea live in a world cup qualifier.

I have seen much discussion about which is the best ferry to get.  It is tempting to assume that the seawatching gets more exciting as you go north- but from the reports I have seen (and my own experience) the best concentrations of seabirds tend to be encountered off mid-to-northern Honshu.  It follows that on a February trip, it is probably best to get the late evening sailing from Oarai (departs just before midnight) arriving at Tomakomai early evening the next day.  This provides the maximum number of hours at sea off Honshu in daylight.  The earlier sailing can also be good, but you will pass more of Honshu in darkness and so get less seawatching. 

For a March or later trip, other factors come into play and in particular the possibility of Short-tailed Albatross in southern waters makes the Nagoya-Sendai ferry a tempting prospect.  My original plan was to do Nagoya-Sendai and then Sendai-Tomakomai, but I talked myself out of it.

Night on ferry.

10th February 2005

On deck by about 6AM.  Sea choppy, wind force 3 or even 4, sky overcast with occasional snow flurries and cold.  Birding conditions were quite challenging, but on the plus side the ferry was very stable, not too fast and with quite good shelter up front.  I even managed to construct a seawatching hide out of an abandoned pallet and a broken door.

Plenty of Brunnich's Guillemot/Guillemot and Ancient Murrelets, mostly in small parties and totalling about 200 of each over the first few hours, along with 100s of Slaty-backed Gulls and Kittiwakes.  I judged most of the auks to be Brunnich's based on front-end jizz.  About 20 Least Auklet, of which 3 close to the boat swimming, flying and landing were a highlight of the trip.  They are truly tiny.  My best views came from determined repeat scanning close to the boat (no matter how unpromising that seemed) and not being distracted by more distant auk/auklet/murrelet spp.

Of several hundred auklet/murrelet spp. which I did see further out, many will have been Ancient Murrelet, but several parties were not (medium brownish, pale bellied, darker underwing).  They looked to me to be Rhinoceros Auklet, but none came close enough to be certain.

Having started well, numbers of birds gradually tailed off as we steamed north, left Honshu behind us and came inside Cape Emine on Hokkaido.  The wind freshened, the snow flurries became more frequent and I have to confess to ducking in and out of the cabin to warm-up.  I continued to see Brunnich's Guillemot/Guillemot in reduced numbers and a few Pelagic Cormorants, but not much else apart from two moments of relative excitement - a Horned Puffin flying with two Brunnich's Guillemot and a split-second glimpse of a small-to-medium grey petrel, likely to have been Fork-tailed Storm Petrel.  1 Peregrine seen hunting at sea.

Disembarked at Tomakomai and (to the bewilderment of the crew) re-embarked a few hours later for the return.  Night on ferry.

11th February 2005

Again on deck by about 6AM.  Weather improved, sea still a bit choppy.  Similar pattern of birding to the previous day, but perhaps due to the better weather, I was able to log birds in greater numbers.  Larger flocks of Slaty-backed Gulls and Kittiwakes and some attendant Pomarine Skuas- 5 in total.  About 400 Ancient Murrelets.  At one point we went through a patch of flat calm water with a close flock of about 70 Ancient Murrelets, also very close views of 1 Ancient Murrelet pursuit feeding underwater right by the boat and a few more Least Auklets.  One Crested Auklet was the only sighting of the trip and plenty of Northern Fur Seals "porpoising" through the waves and peering at the ferry.

Disembarked at Oarai and train back to Tokyo (about an hour and a half).

Overall, this and the previous day's seawatching were slightly disappointing by Japan standards- no albatrosses or other tubenoses except for the fleeting petrel and only a few auklets apart from Ancient Murrelet.  It is too early in the year to hope for albatrosses in numbers, but I had expected Laysan to put in an appearance at some point.  As for the auklets, the relative lack of them may reflect the variations in pack ice cover further north.  Others have reported similarly disappointing experiences in winter 2004/5 and this is worth bearing in mind, when you are planning a trip and are allocating precious days between one temptation and another.   On a short trip, maybe opt for one ferry journey and some seawatching around the Nemuro peninsula, rather than taking the ferry both ways.  (I have since seen a report from the Oarai/Tomakomai route in late February- still no albatrosses, fewer guillemots, but large numbers of Crested Auklets.)

12th February to 16th February 2005

No birding except for a brief visit to Gyotoku, which was disappointing and no sign of the Scaup flock which used to winter there, and to the enclosed woodland at Meiji Jingu shrine which was rather good.  A spectacular displaying Goshawk directly over the shrine was the undoubted highlight, but also several Red-flanked Bluetails and Daurian Redstart.  I missed Azure-winged Magpie.

17th February 2005

Flight from Tokyo/Haneda to Komatsu.  Picked up hire car and headed for Katano Kamo-ike.  Goshawk and a party of Gray-headed Lapwings on rice fields en route. 

Katano Kamo-ike is a small lake about 30 minutes south of Komatsu, used by geese, swans and ducks as a secure roost site from which to feed on surrounding rice fields.  It is the most reliable site in Japan for Baikal Teal and so I had included it principally as an insurance policy in case I had not connected with them elsewhere.

From the plush glass-fronted hide, 50+ Baikal Teal, about 10 Falcated Duck and a few Smew amongst the commoner ducks (Mallard predominating).  Chaos as a Goshawk attempted to catch a Teal.  One Ruddy Shelduck amongst several hundred Bean Geese.  The hide officially closes at 5PM, but the warden was happy for me to hang on until after 6PM when first several hundred Bewick's Swans flighted in to roost, then a White-tailed Eagle and a Goshawk, then much later the Greater White-fronted Geese arrived in near darkness, then the dabbling ducks flighted out en masse.  Very spectacular sights and sounds.

Night at Wing Hotel, Komatsu.

18th February 2005

I had hoped to spend the day looking for Lesser White-fronted Goose but according to the warden this year the Whitefronts were feeding about 30km away (hence their late arrival and early departure from Katano Kamo-ike each day).  So having already bagged Lesser White-front in South Korea, I decided instead to spend the day birding in the immediate area.

On the lake, birds much as previous day.  Baikal Teal remaining distant and, since most of the duck were asleep, not a very exciting place to be.  About 250 Bewick's Swans flew out and fed on a flooded rice field just down the road.  [Some record shots at ]

In woodland behind the lake, extensively de-barked trees looked like the work of White-backed Woodpecker, but I didn't get good enough views to clinch this in cold and windy conditions.  Small parties of Rustic Buntings along the path around the reservoir, but on the reservoir itself only one Great Crested Grebe and one Coot.  Two Long-tailed Rosefinch and a few mixed tit flocks with Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker.

On the beach at Katano and cape to the north, a flock of 25 Hawfinch feeding in the dunes and I flushed a Woodcock.  Very windy, but Pelagic Cormorant, Black-throated Diver and Red-throated Diver offshore.  Several more diver spp., 2 Ancient Murrelets and at least 3 Red-necked Grebes.

Night at Wing Hotel, Komatsu.

19th February, 2005

Early morning birding around Komatsu before flight to Sapporo/Chitose.  Saw the only Yellow-throated Bunting of the Japan trip in coastal pines, also Merlin in rice fields by airport.

Rest of day travelling- flight to Sapporo then three hours by train across snowy landscape to Kushiro.  Goshawk and a Red Fox en route.  This is a prime example of where it is better to get the train than drive- it would be very long haul by road from Tomakomai or Sapporo to Kushiro (6-8 hours I would guess) and driving conditions could be very nasty indeed.

Night at ANA Hotel in Kushiro. 

20th February 2005

Awoke to find several inches of snow had fallen overnight, but it seemed to have eased off.  Headed out to Tsurui for Red-crowned Cranes (about 40 minutes into Kushiro marsh over snow covered roads) and arrived safely, but it almost immediately started to snow again and I was advised to get out whilst I still could.  Quite an alarming drive out in heavy snow, not least because Japanese drivers seem to go at the same speed irrespective of road conditions- so much too slow when dry, much too fast when icy.  Spent the day moping about in Kushiro watching Dusky Thrushes in continuing snowfall and wondering what the next day would hold.  As consolation, a great meal in the 5th floor Japanese restaurant in the ANA Hotel.

Night at ANA Hotel in Kushiro.

21st February 2005

Awoke to find snow no longer falling and the snowploughs busy.  Still a thick crust of frozen ice on the roads even in Kushiro central, but I retraced my steps out to Tancho no Sato to find the crane photographers massing.  No cranes, as they had been flushed by a farmer with his snow-blower.  I estimated the aggregate total focal length of lenses pointed at the empty field to be about 20 metres (50 photographers carrying an average of 400mm of lens per person)!  Red-crowned Cranes started to flight back in from about 10AM and there were about 70 feeding and socialising by the time I left for Kushiro and Fuhren after lunch [some photos at ]. 

The unexpected highlight was my first Steller's Sea Eagle, an adult leaving its roost behind the crane site along with three White-tailed Eagles.  No-one else even glanced at it.

It is a two-three hour drive from Kushiro to Fuhren along good (but icy) roads.  Stopped at Akkeshi en route for views over the bay.  Distant Black Scoters and appearances by both Steller's Sea Eagle and White-tailed Eagle

Arrived mid-afternoon at Minshuku Fuhren.  This is the place to stay, not least because you can see Steller's Sea Eagle from the breakfast table, but also because it is a cross-roads for birders and Matsuo-san will know what is being seen where.  He is a very genial host, helpful with logistics and may be available to provide some guiding, if you need it.  I noticed that he was already having to juggle bookings for February 2006, so (especially if you are travelling in a group) contact him early [ ]. 

As it was about 4PM, it was the perfect time to nip back to the Blakiston's Fish Owl site at Hattaushi bridge- scene of many disappointments but some triumphs for birders over the years.  Since I triumphed on this occasion (I gather pretty much the first to do so at this site this winter) here are some directions.

1. Follow the road back towards Kushiro from Minshuku Fuhren for about 9km.  Just past a very tall red-striped sign on the right, there is a turning to the left, signed to Hattaushi.  Take the turning and the bridge (festooned with yellow owl-deflector flags) is a few hundred yards down the road in a wooded valley.  You need to be there by 5PM.

2. Do not stop on the bridge.  Drive past and park sensibly in a gateway on the right a few hundred yards past the bridge.  Do not leave the road under any circumstances.

3. Walk back to the bridge and have a quick look upriver (just in case the owl is sitting there already- it has happened).  Then walk about half-way back to the gateway- you need to be able to see the treetops against the sky. 

4. Listen very carefully.  I heard an owl call between 5-6PM each time I went there on this trip, but only a very few times and it is surprisingly easy to miss.  Watch for the owl flying in towards the bridge from upriver, just below tree-top height.  I saw it briefly in flight at about 5:30PM, but very easy to miss in fading light.  Then scan and re-scan any obvious perches.  At 5:40PM the owl was sitting about 20 metres from the road atop a broken tree, looking around with the wind fanning its ear tufts and flank feathers.  Then after 5 minutes or so, it flew right over my head with an audible swooshing of wings (are fish owls the only owls not to have soft-edged wing feathers?) and disappeared downriver.

A wonderful moment.  Having scored here I didn't visit the alternative owl viewing sites up the coast which are more reliable, but more artificial sounding from the reports I have seen (flashlights and CCTV).  These are at Yoroushi (Dai-ichi onsen) and a minshuku at Rausu.  Matsuo-san will be able to point you in the right direction and make reservations if required. 

Night at Minshuku Fuhren.

22nd February 2005

Woken at 5.30AM by an American tour leader playing a video of himself in Costa Rica at full volume on his laptop.  Day spent along the Nemuro peninsula.  Started at Ochiisi harbour, where good numbers of Black Scoter, Harlequin Duck, Long-tailed Duck and Scaup (small parties, not large numbers).  White-winged Scoters off the outer harbour wall here.  The cape itself was cut off by snow, so I progressed along the south coast of the peninsula to Habomai, where a similar collection of sea-duck including about 250 Black Scoter close and in glorious light.  Several White-tailed Eagles and an adult Steller's Sea Eagle here.  At Cape Nosappu, sea-duck again and Ancient Murrelet, Pelagic Cormorants but disappointingly, no other auklets or murrelets in a short seawatch here (not intensive, as I was expecting to come back later in the week).  Two Rosy Finches at the cape.  Returning along the north side of the peninsula, the same species and a Slavonian Grebe.

Night at Minshuku Fuhren.

23rd February 2005

Time to get out onto the ice at Lake Fuhren.  The access point onto the ice is a track down to the lake edge through a little collection of fisherman's houses, just west of the rather extravagant Fuhren visitors' centre. 

First thing (7AM in my case), this is an awesome place to be.  Eagles collect in trees along the lake edge as fishermen on snowmobiles head out onto the ice to unblock holes and raise their nets.  Gulls gather, then kites and lastly, generally once the fishermen have moved on, the eagles. 

So you simply take a deep breath, ignore the patches of slush at your feet and walk out onto the ice after them.  How far you walk is up to you; the eagles are scopable from not too far out.  I had to trudge I guess about a kilometre through snow over ice to get closer to where the action was.  Only much later did Matsuo-san mention that he knew one of the fisherman and could arrange a lift on his snowmobile!

The eagles are quite wary out here and well aware of the difference between a fisherman and a birder or photographer, so you can get to about 300 metres before they start to move off, but it is hard to get closer.  This makes for a great birding experience, but slightly tantalising for a photographer [some photos at ].  Matsuo-san is also toying with the idea of a snowmobile-drawn hide for next year and that might make an interesting little adventure.

Anyway, scattered on the ice and in the lakeside trees were about 200 Steller's Sea Eagles (mostly adults), 50 or so White-tailed Eagles and 100 Black Kites.  Several hundred gulls (Glaucous Gull and Slaty-backed Gull).  It was a surreal experience to stand out there with them, especially as by mid-morning the fishermen are done and so I was the only person out there on the ice as far as the eye could see in any direction. 

Once the eagles were gorged, activity subsided and it was an easy flight for them and a hard walk for me back to the shore.  I arrived back at about the same time as the forecast snow and that put an end to birding for the rest of the day.

Night at Minshuku Fuhren.

24th February 2005

Back to the ice at Lake Fuhren.  This time I followed the lake shore to get closer to the eagles in the trees- some success and worth the effort just to hear Steller's Sea Eagle calls echoing along the shore.  The snow was about knee-deep over ice and so rather heavy going, to say the least. 

Left the lake mid-morning and chanced on a White-backed Woodpecker along the lake shore (Great Spotted Woodpecker also here).  Then crossed to Hanasaki on the south shore of the Nemuro peninsula.  The lighthouse here is a very good vantage point for seawatching, but despite good viewing conditions I saw far fewer seabirds than I had hoped.  A few Ancient Murrelets, one Common Guillemot and a couple of Red-throated Divers.  Missed Spectacled Guillemot, which would undoubtedly have been present.  I may have spent too much time behind the camera and not enough behind the scope; other birders did better here and at Cape Nosappu.  Still a great place to be, with Harlequin Ducks and Black Scoters close in [some photos at ] and White-tailed Eagle and Steller's Sea Eagle around the harbour.  Several Dunlin on the rocks- not Rock Sandpipers!

Back at Fuhren mid-afternoon.  Several Rosy Finch along the path to Shunkunitai island.  (A flock of 150 was wintering here.)

Night at Minshuku Fuhren.

25th February 2005

Several "eagle-boats" sail into the pack ice from Rausu every morning, laden with fish heads to tempt the eagles within full-frame photographic range.   This might not bear much resemblance to conventional birding, but I would strongly recommend putting any aesthetic or other objections to one side, handing your money over (not cheap - yen 9,000 for long lens photographers and a reduced rate of yen 6,000 for mere birders or other spectators) and climbing aboard.  Matsuo-san once again will help you making bookings.  You might want to avoid the very early morning sailing, the course of which is influenced by the mandatory requirement in Japan to get photographs of the sun rising.

I headed up to Rausu at 6AM in order to catch the 9AM boat.  It was about a two-hour drive on black-ice and packed snow all the way and I was given a chance to test my braking distance by a roadside Steller's Sea Eagle at Odaito, which decided to stay put and stare me down from no more than 10 metres. 

I had been warned that westerly winds had blown the pack ice into Russian territorial waters two days previously and that the boats were staying in port.  However, the leading edge of the ice was still stacked up off the tip of the Shiretoko peninsula and by 10AM the boat was securely wedged into it, with engines off and eagles all around.  10-20 White-tailed Eagles perched on ice and flying within a few metres of the boat, 100+ Steller's Sea Eagles slightly more wary but comfortable at 30 metres and some happy to come in to 20 or even 10 metres from the boat, usually to snatch a fish-head from a White-tailed Eagle [some photos at ].  Plenty of gulls, but I hardly glanced at them.  We had a couple of hours with the eagles for our money and then back to Rausu by lunchtime.  Just amazing. 

Decided to stay up in Rausu and go out on the boat again the following morning, so spent the afternoon harbour-hopping along the peninsula to enjoy Harlequin Ducks and other sea-duck.  More Goldeneye and Goosander up here compared to Fuhren, including up to 80 of the latter just by Rausu harbour.  Late afternoon I headed along the peninsula to watch eagles coming in to roost- saw 10s of birds, but the roads were pretty bad beyond Rausu so returned.  Only Ravens of the trip were seen high over the peninsula.  Also party of unidentified but largeish passerines high upon the forested slope- looked to be grosbeak or crossbill spp.

Night in hotel in Rausu.

26th February 2005

I spent the morning in same way as previous day- on the eagle-boat.  Spent the afternoon heading back down the coast to Fuhren, with stops along the way as follows.

North of Shibetsu:  Ice sheet complete as far as eye could see, but about 150 Black Scoter in small patch of open water.

Notsuke peninsula:  Pack ice complete on north side as far as eye could see.  About 20 Rosy Finch along road to the end of the peninsula.  At the end, 2 Steller's Sea Eagles (adult and juvenile) and 3 Large-billed Crows on a dessicated seal carcase.  The bleakest place I have ever been in my life!  2 very hardy Dusky Thrushes.

Odaito:  Some open water with Whooper Swans.

Fuhren: Several pale Common Buzzards

Night at Minshuku Fuhren

27th February 2005

Change of plan today.  I was due to spend the day in the Fuhren area, overnight at Minshuku Fuhren and then leave early on the 28th to drive to Kushiro and fly out.  However, the usually accurate local weather forecast was for more snow overnight, so I decided to leave Fuhren a day early, to get to Kushiro ahead of the snow and use the extra day to travel and bird my way down to Tokyo by ferry and train.

Spent the morning with the big Whooper Swan flock at Akkeshi and would have had time to return to the Red-crowned Cranes at Kushiro and/or twitch the Lesser Short-toed Lark with Lapland Buntings at Kiritappu, if I had pushed on.  It would have been neat to have seen Lesser Short-toed Lark in both the hottest (Negev) and coldest (Hokkaido) places I have birded in Eurasia.  Also Black Brant wintering there.

Train to Tomakomai and safely onto the Tomakomai-Sendai ferry.  Night on the ferry

28th February 2005

The southbound ferry to Sendai docks at about 9AM, so you get 3 hours seawatching from 6AM.  It is bigger, faster and less sheltered than the Oarai ferry.  I had one last Least Auklet for the trip and several hundred Ancient Murrelets.  Still no albatrosses.

The advantage of this plan was that I was presented with most of the day for birding in the Sendai area, in addition to removing any stress about making the flight connection from Nemuro to Kushiro and Tokyo.  I guess I shouldn't exaggerate the latter issue; some Dutch photographers safely made it from the eagle boat all the way up at Rausu at noon onto a 4PM flight out of Kushiro.

Hired a car and headed up to Lake Izunuma via the scenic Matsushima bay.  At Matshusima, about 200 Scaup and dabbling duck in highly photogenic surroundings.  Whooper Swans at several points on the way up to the lake, which as ever took longer to reach than I had hoped; about an hour and a half from Sendai. 

The lake itself is pretty uninspiring visually (a reservoir in rice fields), but the ducks were quite a spectacle.  There is something rather unnerving about walking across a car park being pursued on foot by about 2,000 hungry and quietly quacking Pintail [see ].  Away from the Pintail (when they allowed me to escape), several Smew and Goosander and on surrounding fields Whooper Swans and some quite approachable Greater White-fronted Geese

As with Katano Kamo-ike, I would not recommend this as a diversion for a hard-core birder with limited time.  But combined with Matsushima on a leisurely retreat back to Tokyo from Hokkaido, I rather enjoyed it.

Overnight at ANA Hotel, Narita

1st March 2005

An unexpected bonus- early morning birding from the ANA Hotel at Narita was simply delightful.  I followed the stream outside the hotel into a little wooded valley with fields and enjoyed amongst other things Japanese Wagtail (2 on the stream); Siberian Meadow Bunting (every few hundred yards, many in song); and Green Pheasant (first of the trip). 

Species list for Japan only:

[For more detail on South Korea, refer to Nial Moores and ]

Do not despair if a key species is missing from this list- I was not trying to "clean-up" in Japan and have birded here before.  A more concentrated effort would undoubtedly have plugged some of the more glaring gaps (like Azure-winged Magpie.). 

In order to make the list as useful as possible, I have included comments in relation to a number of species which I did not see.  I have not followed a rigid naming convention, but hopefully it will be apparent what species I am referring to. 

Red-throated Diver

1 close inshore off Katamo on Honshu.  2 off Hanasaki on Hokkaido.

Black-throated Diver

1 seen off Katamo and off Komatsu on Honshu and several more probables off there at longer range- showed white flank patch and heavy bill.

[Pacific Diver]

[About 10 diver spp. off Honshu from the Oarai ferry may have been this species, which I think is generally regarded as commoner than Black-throated on the ferry routes.] 

Little Grebe

Several at Mi-ike.  Note that birds here have a white eye.

Great crested Grebe:

Seen at Komatsu.

Red-necked Grebe:

1 off Yatsushiro on Kyushu. At least 5 off Katamo and Komatsu on Honshu. 1 off Hansaki on Hokkaido.

Slavonian Grebe [Horned Grebe]

8 probables off Sendai coast on Kyushu.  1 off harbour west of Cape Nosappu on Hokkaido

Black-necked Grebe: [Eared Grebe]

2 in Oarai ferry terminal .

[albatrosses and other tubenoses]

[None seen in about 25 hours at sea off Honshu.  Others had the same experience.  Hopefully this is a one-off and next year will see normal service resumed.]

[Fork-tailed Storm Petrel]

[One probable from Oarai-Tomakomai ferry.]

Great Cormorant

In Tokyo area and at Katano Kamo-ike.

Temminck's Cormorant

On Kyushu, east of Sendai and at Kadogawa

Pelagic Cormorant

At sea from Oarai-Tomakomai ferry and offshore around Nemuro peninsula. No large flocks.

[Red-faced Cormorant]

[Not seen, but recorded by others in February 2005 off E Hokkaido with Pelagic Cormorant, including close-in off Cape Nosappu.]

Black-crowned Night Heron

In Tokyo area.

Eastern Reef Egret

At Hiyuga on Kyushu.

Great Egret [Great White Egret]

Seen in small numbers, for example at Katano Kamo-ike on Honshu.

Little Egret

Seen on Kyushu and in Tokyo area.

Grey Heron:

In small numbers, for example at Katano Kamo-ike on Honshu.

[Oriental White Stork]

[There was a twitchable bird on Honshu in winter 2004/5.  Worth checking on Kantori.]

Black-faced Spoonbill:

4 on the Hitotsuse estuary on Kyushu.  Present at several other sites and so no need flog up to northern Kyushu for them.  Check on Kantori.

Mute Swan:

1 in Tokyo area.

Whooper Swan:

Several hundred in Lake Izunuma area on Honshu.  Small numbers at various sites on Hokkaido, large flock of 500+ on Akkeshi lake..

Bewick's Swan [Tundra Swan]:

Up to 250 at Katano Kamo-ike.

Bean Goose:

Up to 200 at Katano Kamo-ike.  Not allocated with certainty between Tundra and Taiga, but some exceptionally large-billed birds.

Greater White-fronted Goose:

500++ coming in to roost at Katano Kamo-ike in near darkness.  Smaller numbers at Lake Izunuma, all orange-billed birds.

[Lesser White-fronted Goose]

[Not seen by me.  I believe that 1 was present as usual in the Katamo area plus a couple of hybrids.] 

[Black Brant]

[Wintering at Kiritappu]

Ruddy Shelduck

1 with Bean Geese at Katano Kamo-ike on Honshu.

Common Shelduck

3 on the Hitotsuse estuary on Kyushu.

Mandarin Duck:

Small numbers at Ko-ike and about 150 on Gokase river towards Nobeoka on Kyushu.  None seen in Tokyo area.

Eurasian Wigeon:

Hundreds at Izumi, smaller numbers at other sites on Kyushu.

Falcated Teal: [Falcated Duck]

2 east of Sendai on Kyushu.  About 10 at Katano Kamo-ike on Honshu.


2 with Wigeon near Miyazaki on Kyushu.  2 at Komatsu on Kyushu.

Baikal Teal:

8 commuting between Ko-ike and Mi-ike on Kyushu.  50+ at Katano Kamo-ike on Honshu.  If you are going to Kyoto, worth checking on Kantori for sites such as Heijo Imperial Place moat.

Common Teal:

Very common in Komatsu area on Honshu.



Spot-billed Duck


Northern Pintail [Common Pintail]

Several thousand at Lake Izunuma.  Less common elsewhere.

Northern Shoveler

Not particularly common.  Small numbers at Katano Kamo-ike on Honshu.

Common Pochard:

Seen in Tokyo area.

[Baer's Pochard]

[Not seen. Unknown to me, there was a twitchable bird east of Tokyo over the period.]

[Ferruginous Duck]

[Not seen.  One present on Manose river on Kyushu.]

Tufted Duck:

Seen for example at Mi-ike on Kyushu.

Greater Scaup:

None seen in Tokyo area.  Several hundred at Matsushima on Honshu and small parties in harbours on Hokkaido.

Harlequin Duck

Common in harbours and off rocky coasts on Hokkaido; trip total of about 150.  Maximum at one site about 30 in Rausu harbour. 

Long-tailed Duck

Common but only in small numbers offshore.

Black Scoter

Common in E Hokaido, several flocks in the 100s.

White-winged Scoter

2 off Ochiisi harbour. 

Common Goldeneye

Common offshore but only in small numbers.  50-100 around Rausu harbour.


Small numbers at Katano Kamo-ike and Lake Izunuma on Honshu.

Red-breasted Merganser:

1 at Yatsushiro on Kyushu.  Small numbers seen in E Hokkaido.

[Scaly-sided Merganser] [Chinese Merganser]

[Not seen in Japan.  The regular returning female at Akata-Chyosei-ike in Tochigi on Honshu is the only report I am aware of from Japan in winter 2004/5.]


Small numbers seen in Nemuro area.  Commoner at Rausu with about 80 around the harbour.

Black Kite [Black-eared Kite]

Common throughout.

White-tailed Eagle:

1 at Katano Kamo-ike on Honshu.  Common in E Hokkaido.

Steller's Sea Eagle:

Common in E Hokkaido.  Trip total about 350.

Northern Goshawk:

1 at Hyuga on Kyushu.  Several around Komatsu on Honshu, 1 in Tokyo area, 1 on Hokkaido.

Northern Sparrowhawk: [Eurasian Sparrowhawk]

Seen on Kyushu and at Narita on Honshu.

Common Buzzard:

Seen at Mi-ike on Kyushu, around Lake Izunuma and in E Hokkaido.  The latter are wintering birds from further north, not Japanese residents.  Pale and unfamiliar looking.

[Rough-legged Buzzard]

[Not seen by me.  At least 1 present in the Fuhren area- but not a common bird in E Hokkaido.]

Greater Spotted Eagle:

1 at Takae, near Sendai.


Several on Kyushu.  Also in Komatsu area.


A few seen.  Not common.


1 at Komatsu.


1 at Izumi and one offshore from Oarai-Tomakomai ferry.

[Copper Pheasant]

[Not seen by me, but I heard that some visiting birders did manage to catch up with this species.]

Green Pheasant:

1 at Narita.

Common Coot:

Seen in small numbers.

Common Crane:

1 at Izumi, plus several Common/Hooded hybrids.

Hooded Crane:

5,000+ at Izumi

Sandhill Crane:

1 at Izumi

White-naped Crane:

1,000+ at Izumi.

Red-crowned Crane

1 at Izumi.  70+ at Tancho no Sato on Hokkaido. 

Demoiselle Crane:

1 at Izumi.

Gray-headed Lapwing:

Seen at Komatsu on Honshu.

Northern Lapwing:

Small numbers at Izumi and Yatsushiro.

[Rock Sandpiper]

[Not seen by me, but some other visiting birders saw a small party on islets just west of Nosappu.]


At Hanasaki on Hokkaido.

Eurasian Woodcock:

1 flushed at Katano on Honshu.

Green Sandpiper:

Seen on Kyushu.

Common Sandpiper:

Seen on Kyushu.

Pomarine Skua:

5 from Tomakomai-Oarai ferry.

Great Black-headed Gull: [Pallas's Gull]

1 at Yatsuhiro on Kyushu.

Saunders's Gull:

8 at Yatsuhiro on Kyushu.

Common Black-headed Gull:

Seen in Tokyo.

Black-tailed Gull

Seen at Hyuga and Kadogawa on Kyushu.

Common Gull [Kamchatka Gull]

Seen at Komatsu on Honshu and in E Hokkaido.

Herring Gull [Vega Gull]

Seen but mix of species/subspecies not studied closely. 

Slaty-backed Gull

Common on Hokkaido and from Oarai-Tomakomai ferry

Glaucous-winged Gull

Common on Hokkaido

Glaucous Gull

Common on Hokkaido

Black-legged Kittiwake

100s (all adults) from the Oarai-Tomakomai ferry.

Common Guillemot

Seen, but I believe that most of my unidentified Common/Brunnich's were probably the latter species.

Brunnich's Guillemot

Common off Oarai-Tomakomai ferry- see above. 

[Spectacled Guillemot]

[Missed by me.  Common along Nemuro peninsula and should be a cert. for a visiting birder.]

[Pigeon Guillemot]

[Seen by others along Nemuro peninsula.]

Ancient Murrelet

The most dependable of the alcids.  Common off Oarai-Tomakomai ferry, also seen off Komatsu on Honshu and off Nemuro peninsula.

Japanese Murrelet [Crested Murrelet]

20+ off Kadogawa/Hyuga on Kyushu.

Crested Auklet

One off the Oarai-Tomakomai ferry.  [I have since seen a report of much larger numbers from the last week of February, 2005.  Perhaps a response to the late arriving pack-ice further north.]

Least Auklet

About 20 off the Oarai-Tomakomai ferry. 

[Rhinoceros Auklet]

[About 20 probables off the Oarai-Tomakomai ferry.]

Horned Puffin

1 off the Oarai-Tomakomai ferry.

Rock Dove [Feral Pigeon]

Watched them closely at Tancho na Sato, willing a Goshawk to attack.  (Saw a great photo on the wall there of a Red-crowned Crane kung-fu attacking a Goshawk, which in turn had just nailed a pigeon.)

Rufous Turtle Dove


Blakiston's Fish Owl

1 at Hattaushi bridge on Hokkaido.

Short-eared Owl

1 at Izumi on Kyushu.

Little Swift [House Swift]

On the Gokase river near Nobeoka on Kyushu.

Japanese Green Woodpecker

At Mi-ike on Kyushu.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Common on Hokkaido.

White-backed Woodpecker

At Mi-ike.  Possibly present behind Katamo Kamo-ike on Honshu.

Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker


[Lesser Short-toed Lark]

[Twitchable bird on Kiritappu.]

Common Skylark [Eurasian Skylark]


Barn Swallow:

On Kyushu.

House Martin: [Asiatic House Martin]

On Kyushu.

Red-throated Pipit:

At Takae on Kyushu.

Buff-bellied Pipit:

Common at Izumi on Kyushu.

Gray Wagtail:

Seen on Kyushu.

Black-backed Wagtail: [White Wagtail]

Seen on Kyushu.  Most birds pale-backed, but not assigned to sub-species. 

Japanese Wagtail:

Seen on Kyushu and at Narita and Komatsu on Honshu.

Ryukyu Minivet:

1 at Mi-ike.

Brown-eared Bulbul:


[Japanese Waxwing]

[Reported with Bohemian Waxwing in Nemuro in mid-February, but berries mostly gone by late February.]

Northern Wren:


Red-flanked Bluetail:

Several at Mi-ike.

Daurian Redstart:

Common on Kyushu.

Blue Rock Thrush:

Common on rocky coasts on Kyushu and Honshu.

Japanese Thrush: [Brown-headed Thrush]

Seen in Tokyo area.

Pale Thrush:

Common on Kyushu.

Dusky Thrush:


Long-tailed Tit:


Willow Tit


Marsh Tit:


Varied Tit:


Coal Tit


Great Tit:


Eurasian Nuthatch:


Japanese White-eye:


Bull-headed Shrike:


Eurasian Jay:


[Azure-winged Magpie]


Daurian Jackdaw:

5 at Izumi on Kyushu.


At Izumi on Kyushu.

Carrion Crow


Large-billed Crow [Jungle Crow]



Seen on Hokkaido, over the Shiretoko peninsula.

Gray Starling:  [White-cheeked Starling]


Eurasian Tree Sparrow:


Oriental Greenfinch:


Rosy Finch:

Quite common on Hokkaido this year.

Long-tailed Rosefinch:

Seen at Katamo Kamo-ike on Honshu.

Black-faced Bunting:

Very common.

Siberian Meadow Bunting:


Chestnut-eared Bunting [Grey-headed Bunting]

Common around Izumi on Kyushu, usually seen singly.

Yellow-throated Bunting:

Seen at Katamo Kamo-ike on Honshu.

Rustic Bunting:

Common in small parties, but these and other buntings were much commoner in South Korea.

Common Reed Bunting:

Common around Izumi on Kyushu.


Why not send us a report, or an update to one of your current reports?