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Birdwatching in Hokkaido, Japan

Hokkaido, the wild northern island of Japan, is an exciting and delightful destination for birdwatching year round. This scenic island offers a range of habitats from coastal lagoons and wetlands to boreal forests and high mountains.
The many resident species include a range of northern Palaearctic species with an added mixture of East Asian regional endemics. Spring and autumn see huge numbers of migratory waterfowl passing through the island along with seabirds, raptors and thrushes. Once summer arrives, breeding migrants swell the numbers of resident birds. In winter iconic resident birds such as Red-crowned Crane, White-tailed Sea Eagle and Blakiston’s Fish Owl remain and are joined by the spectacular Steller’s Sea Eagle.
Spring, from March to May, and autumn, during October and November are ideal times to see maximum numbers of species as winter birds are lingering or arriving, migrants are on the move and seabirds are plentiful.

"Japanese Cranes."

In addition to the birdlife, Hokkaido’s forests, wetlands and coasts are alive with wild flowers, butterflies and dragonflies in summer, and at different times of year there are many mammals to watch for too, including bears, foxes, sable, deer, pika and cetaceans, making almost any time of year exciting for a visit.

Electronic map of Japan

8 DAYS EAST HOKKAIDO SPRING/AUTUMN CLASSIC TOUR

AVAILABLE MARCH/APRIL and OCTOBER/NOVEMBER
This tour, by comfortable 4WD vehicle, provides a well-paced birdwatching and sightseeing tour of all of the key areas/habitats of east Hokkaido targeting all of the accessible resident species and migrants.


Day 1 - Chitose to Central Hokkaido.
Arrive this morning at Chitose Airport, just outside Sapporo. You will be met by your guide and set off immediately for a remote valley site in central Hokkaido. Along the way, as you cross the Hidaka Mountains, you will begin to encounter the typical birdlife of Hokkaido, including Black-eared Kite, Oriental Turtle Dove and Brown-eared Bulbul. Light permitting, in the late afternoon you will begin birdwatching in the riverine forest, watching for birds such as White-backed Woodpecker and Varied Tit. As dusk falls we begin to look for night birds, Eurasian Woodcock occur here but our main target species is the rare and critically endangered Blakiston’s Fish Owl.
Picnic Lunch, Dinner and overnight at a local hotspring hotel.

"No bird is more iconic of Hokkaido than the Red-crowned Crane Grus japonensis.
In the Ainu language it is called Sarurun Kamuy – the god of the marshes."

Day 2 - Central Hokkaido to the Sea of Okhotsk.
After early morning birding in search of more forest species, which include Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker, we set out for the Sea of Okhotsk, reaching there in the afternoon. Along the way we will look for the common buntings of Hokkaido: Siberian Meadow, Black-faced and Chestnut-eared, as well as Long-tailed Rosefinch.
Picnic Lunch, Dinner and overnight at a local lodge near Abashiri.

"One of Hokkaido’s rarest species, Blakiston’s Fish Owl Bubo blakistoni
is arguably the largest owl in the world and one of the most endangered.
In the Ainu language its name Kotan Koru Kamuy means the god that defends the village."

Day 3 - Sea of Okhotsk.
This morning we will visit Lake Toufutsu in search of our first Red-crowned Cranes and look out for migrating waterfowl that frequent the area include Whooper Swan, Tundra Bean and Greater White-fronted geese. In the afternoon, we will also visit nearby Cape Notoro and Abashiri Harbour to look for our first White-tailed Sea Eagle, Pelagic Cormorant, Black Scoter, White-winged Scoter, Greater Scaup and Harlequin Duck. Red-necked, Slavonian and Black-necked grebes are all regular in this region.
Picnic Lunch, Dinner and overnight at a local lodge near Abashiri.

"A rare breeding resident of Hokkaido.
We hope to encounter the White-tailed Sea Eagle on several days of the tour."

Day 4 - Sea of Okhotsk to Shiretoko Peninsula.
We have time to visit Lake Toufutsu one last time this morning in search of any birds we may have missed there, then continue eastwards to the river mouth at Shari. This area is an excellent site for Slaty-backed, Glaucous-winged, Glaucous, Black-tailed, Common and Black-headed gulls, while rarities here have on occasions included: Ross’s, Thayer’s and Iceland. We continue along the Sea of Okhotsk and cross the Shiretoko Peninsula to reach Rausu on the Nemuro Channel. Here we stay in a small local inn and can visit a local hotspring to experience Japanese hotspring therapy.
This evening will provide us with a second chance of Blakiston’s Fish Owl.
Picnic Lunch, Dinner and overnight at a local B&B in Rausu.
Day 5 - Shiretoko Peninsula.
Early this morning we will visit some of the higher forest habitat on the Shiretoko Peninsula in search of early arriving (Spring) or late lingering (Autumn) species, including Japanese Accentor and Grey Bunting. The indigenous Sika Deer and endemic subspecies of the Red Fox are fairly common in this area. In spring, we will take a whale-watching boat trip up the Nemuro Channel in search of Dall’s Porpoise, Minke Whale and Orca, we will be looking for Short-tailed and Sooty shearwaters along the way, and particularly for Temminck’s Cormorant and Spectacled Guillemot.
We will also explore the various harbours along peninsula looking for seabirds that can include grebes, waterfowl, auklets and storm petrels, and for more White-tailed Sea Eagles soaring above. With luck we may also find a late-lingering or early-arriving Steller’s Sea Eagle. This evening will provide us with a further chance of Blakiston’s Fish Owl.
Picnic Lunch, Dinner and overnight at a local B&B in Rausu.
Day 6 - Shiretoko Peninsula to Nemuro.
Today we leave the Shiretoko Peninsula and set off down the east coast of Hokkaido. Our view out across the Nemuro Channel is to the southernmost of the Kuril Islands – Kunashiri. We visit Notsuke Peninsula in search of Red-crowned Cranes, raptors (eagles, kites, Peregrine, or Merlin), and passerines common in the area, such as Buff-bellied Pipit and Oriental Greenfinch. Asian Rosyfinch occur here in winter and out of season birds are not impossible. We continue our journey to Lake Onetto keeping our eyes open for roadside raptors such as Eastern Buzzard, and at each of the rivers we cross we check for water birds that include Grey Heron, Common Merganser and perhaps Smew.
Picnic Lunch, Dinner and overnight at a local lodge in Nemuro.
Day 7 - Nemuro.
Weather permitting we board a local fishing boat and sail off the coast from Cape Ochiishi in search of marine life. Dall’s Porpoise is possible here, but we will mainly be looking for: Spectacled Guillemot, Tufted Puffin (spring), Red-faced Cormorant, Short-tailed and Sooty shearwaters, and in autumn Laysan and perhaps Black-footed albatrosses. Rarities here have included Short-tailed Albatross and Buller’s Shearwater.
We also explore various local birdwatching areas around Lake Furen and Ochiishi or to Cape Nosappu depending on the season and depending on the boat departure, in search of a wide range of species including: various seabirds, Hazel Grouse, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Japanese Bush Warbler, Eurasian Nuthatch, Eastern Great Tit, Marsh Tit, Long-tailed Tit and Rustic Bunting.
Picnic Lunch, Dinner and overnight at a local lodge in Nemuro.
Day 8 - Nemuro to Kushiro.
Today we may visit Kushiro marsh prior to arriving at Kushiro Airport for your return flight to Tokyo (Haneda).


8 Day tour price is: 2 pax ¥385,000 per person. 4 pax ¥260,000 per person.
Single supplement: ¥50,000

50% deposit when booking and balance 1 month prior to departure. If less than 1 month to departure full payment.

Due to currency fluctuations and fuel cost we reserve the right to adjust any pricing prior to departure.

Convert your tour cost into your currency of choice.<

The itinerary outlined here is for guidance only. Tailor-made birdwatching, wildlife photography and mammal-watching tours of Hokkaido and other parts of Japan can all be arranged. Tours at other seasons can also be arranged.


Included:
Guide fees and expenses, all ground transportation within Hokkaido (from Sapporo on Day 1 to Kushiro on Day 8), two boat trips, accommodations (Japanese-style), all meals as indicated (breakfasts and dinners will be Japanese style and served at our accommodations; lunches will either be picnics or at local restaurants depending on the weather).
Excluded:
Transport and accommodation prior to meeting guide in Sapporo and after leaving guide in Kushiro, unless included in an extended personalised itinerary. Airfares, travel insurance, alcoholic beverages, items of personal nature, gratuities, etc

Birding guide Mark Brazil, your local Birdingpal guide.

Mark Brazil is a long-term resident of Hokkaido, and the most experienced natural history guide in the region. An ornithologist by training and a birder, naturalist, photographer and author by inclination, Mark is a newspaper columnist and in addition has written several books relating to Japan:
A Birdwatcher’s Guide to Japan (1987), The Birds of Japan (1991), Wild Asia (2000) and Field Guide to The Birds of East Asia (2009)
Articles:Japan Times. and Japan Visitor.


Should you only need a guide for a day please send a message to Mark.   

Birding guide Kaz Shinoda, your local Birdingpal guide.
He lives near Tokyo, the ideal starting point for a birding tour of Japan, or for a few days birding linked to business visits to the capital. He frequently guides individuals and small groups of visiting birders in the Tokyo area on day trips. As a birding guide with more than a decade’s experience, he can guide visiting birders throughout the country as well. As a nationally licensed English-speaking Tour Guide, he is knowledgeable about Japanese geography, history, and especially culture – important subjects that help enhance a birding trip to this unique country. In addition to that, he is a nationally licensed Domestic Travel Service Supervisor. His organizational and logistical skills will be key to the success of your birding trips in Japan.


Should you only need a guide for a day please send a message to Kaz.   

Testimonials.
We had never been to Hokkaido prior to our visit in mid-March 2010 and Mark not only provided us with an incredible tour of the wildlife that eastern Hokkaido has to offer, but he did so with an amazing passion for what he does and more importantly the Japanese culture. On our two day visit we were able to see a multitude of birds including the Hokkaido's specialties; Steller's Sea Eagle, Japanese Cranes in various settings (walking across sheets of ice, in the early morning mist, at feeding sites, etc), Blakiston's Fish Owl, and Ural Owl among lots of other great birds and dramatic scenery. This combined with immersing us into the Japanese culture with options to stay at traditional Japanese inns/hot springs and trying the local cuisine, we truly felt like we received the true Hokkaido experience.
We highly recommend Mark as a bird guide for the Hokkaido region as he will undoubtedly provide you with an experience in which you will see some of the most amazing birds and wildlife that Hokkaido has to offer and he will do so with an unbelievable passion that will allow you to truly appreciate the unique Japanese way of life.
Take care and hope to see you soon.
Murray Jukes, USA Murray.Jukes(AT)PoloRalphLauren.com
In mid-October Gillian and I spent a magical four days (October 13-17) with Mark Brazil and his partner Mayumi Kanamura. Our itinerary took us up to northeastern Hokkaido to Lake Tofutso and the Shiretoko Peninsula as well as to Tokachi Plain near Kushiro and the Nopporo Forest near Sapporo. We also had an amazing pelagic trip out of Oshiichi on the Pacific coast near Nemuro.
Mark Brazil is a superb guide in every way, and we had a wonderful time with Mayumi and him. It was our first time ever in Japan and we were introduced to Japanese life and birds in an instructive and delightful way.
The arrangements for the trip were perfect and a sign of Mark's consummate professionalism. All the arrangements fell into place throughout our four days. We stayed in excellent minshuku in Rausu and Lake Furen where the accommodation was both authentic and comfortable and the food in both places absolute feasts of Japanese cuisine. The fish and seafood were out of this world.
These four days of birding in Hokkaido with Mark and Mayumi were among the happiest and most productive birding experiences of our lives. Martin Bowman, Canada pict(AT)riverlink.ca


Notes:
All the date of itineraries include arrival and departure dates.
All trips are available year round, but prices may be adjusted around special holidays.
Minimum lead time 1 month.
To check availability for tours on short notice, fill out “Request for Quote” form with desirable dates.
Birding season: Most mAverage fitness required for walking in woods along uneven forest trails and balance for boat trips while looking for birds; and a sense of adventure for experiencing Japanese food and culture.
onths are good but March and April, October and November are particularly exciting, not too cold, and with high species diversity. .
Fitness:
Average fitness required for walking in woods along uneven forest trails and balance for boat trips while looking for birds; and a sense of adventure for experiencing Japanese food and culture.
Equipment: Mark will be carrying a field scope (Kowa 30x WA) on a tripod (Manfrotto), so you don't need to bring your own. Binoculars, waterproofs, trekking boots, and soft-sided luggage are all recommended.

Some facts about Japan.

Japan is an island archipelago located off the east Asian coast between Taiwan, Korea and eastern Russia. It consists of four main islands (Hokkaido, Honshu, Kyushu and Shikoku in order of size) with several thousand smaller islands and islets. The ranges of the Japan Alps form the spine of the main island of Honshu, while volcanic peaks are conspicuous from Kyushu to Hokkaido making this a spectacularly mountainous country. Estimates vary, but it is generally said that approximately 70% of the country is mountainous and 70~80% of the country is forested. Lowland areas are of limited area and are intensively settled for urban areas, industrial areas and agriculture. Japan's current population of c125 million people is focussed in a belt along the Pacific coast from Tokyo west to Fukuoka. A parliamentary democracy since 1945, Japan has a superb and efficient infrastructure including transport and accommodation. The country ranks as one of the safest in the world with extremely low crime rates; the water is potable throughout. The Japanese people, although convinced of their homogeneity are in fact of mixed Asian/Polynesian origins; they have a very strong sense of national identity and culture (of which they are very proud) and a strong sense of "the right way to do things". Japanese people speak a common language, Japanese, but with very strong regional dialects. They are almost invariably more polite than one can expect in other countries. Japanese cuisine is extraordinarily varied, on one recent 18-day trip around Japan I logged 120 different kinds of grains, pulses, vegetables, fruits, meats, fish and shellfish served at meal times. Road traffic is limited by low speed limits; traffic drives on the left.


More facts about Japan.

Field Guide books and CD’s recommended:

Field Guide to the The Birds of East Asia by Brazil, M. 2009 Helm, London.


Birds of East Asia

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Last update 20/02/2014