16th February: Hokkaido – Akan International Crane Centre

After the plane arrived at the airport in Kushiro, we dropped off our luggage at a hotel and headed for the Akan International Crane Centre.  This is not the headquarters of a Japanese multinational involved in the construction industry but rather one of the few places where you can see red-crowned cranes in Japan.

Red-crowned cranes (tancho)

 

Red-crowned cranes (tancho)

We arrived in late winter, which is when the cranes undertake mating displays in preparation for the spring, as you see here.  The cranes form lifelong pair-bonds.

 

Red-crowned cranes (tancho)

 

Red-crowned cranes (tancho)

 

Sika deer

This is a young sika deer that wandered in.  Although sika deer have been introduced into many countries, they are generally scarce in the wild except in Japan, where they benefited from the local extinction of their main predator, the wolf.  There are three sub-species in Japan and the deer in Hokkaido are in a different sub-species from those we saw in Nara.

 

Red-crowned crane (tancho)

 

Red-crowned cranes (tancho)

 

Red-crowned crane (tancho)

Red crowned cranes are both the largest and amongst the rarest cranes in the world.  They stand up to five feet tall (1.5 metres).  There are two populations, East Asian and Japanese.  The East Asian cranes migrate annually between Siberia or Mongolia and North Korea or Eastern China; the Japanese cranes remain resident in Hokkaido.  They are Japan’s most sacred bird.

The Japanese cranes used to range more widely including Honshu but suffered from hunting and habitat loss.  They were thought to be extinct until 10 were discovered near Kushiro in the 1920s.  The population then recovered very slowly until one year in the early 1950s, during a harsh winter, Japan’s population was only a half-starved 20 or 25 individuals huddling around a hot springs.  Local farmers saved them by providing grain and later their numbers rebounded due to conservation programs.  There are now around 1,200 in Hokkaido and 1,400 in the separate population in Asia.  The Akan International Crane Centre is part of the conservation program and they are fed here in winter to help try to guarantee their continuing survival.

 

White-tailed sea eagle (Ojiro-washi)

 

White-tailed sea eagle (Ojiro-washi)

 

White-tailed sea eagle (Ojiro-washi)

The Crane Centre feeds the cranes fish at around three in the afternoon.  White-tailed sea eagles have not failed to notice this and turn up for a free meal at the appropriate time.  These eagles range widely through Europe and many parts of Asia and the world-wide population is about 10,000.

 

Black Kite (Tobi)

A few black kites also turned up, a much smaller raptor than the White-tailed sea eagles.

 

White-tailed sea eagle (ojiro-washi) and red-crowned cranes (tancho)

There is a certain amount of competition for the fish.

 

Red-crowned crane (tancho)

The cranes get some …

 

White-tailed sea eagle (ojiro-washi)

 

White-tailed sea eagle (ojiro-washi) and red-crowned crane (tancho)

… and the eagles get some….

 

Whooper swans

Meanwhile, a quartet of whooper swans flew by overhead.  We will see more of these in a couple of days.

 

Sika deer

Also, the parents of the sika fawn turned up.  This of course is the male.

 

White-tailed sea eagle (ojiro-washi)

 

White-tailed sea eagle (ojiro-washi) and red-crowned crane (tancho)

Occasionally, an eagle will plummet from the sky in a dive for fish.  Unpredictable and hard to capture.

 

White-tailed sea eagle (ojiro-washi) and red-crowned cranes (tancho)

No-one seems to have the fish here.

 

Red-crowned cranes (tancho) in front of Mt Ukotakinupuri

8 comments on “16th February: Hokkaido – Akan International Crane Centre

  1. The photographs are beautiful.

    Like

  2. Elena says:

    wow! these are some fantastic shots!

    Like

  3. Mick says:

    Up to the usual standard. Just bought the new Olympus OM-D EM-5 – compact and very clever …

    Like

    • Murray Foote says:

      Thank you.

      I’m sure you’ll have great fun with it. It’s getting much harder to blame the equipment these days. The compact camera system I’m toying with the idea of getting at some stage is the Fuji Pro-1.

      Like

  4. […] 16th February:  Hokkaido – Akan International Crane Centre […]

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  5. […] Red-crested cranes in a mating ritual in February in Japan. […]

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