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.
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.
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 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.
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.
A few black kites also turned up, a much smaller raptor than the White-tailed sea eagles.
There is a certain amount of competition for the fish.
The cranes get some …
… and the eagles get some….
Meanwhile, a quartet of whooper swans flew by overhead. We will see more of these in a couple of days.
Also, the parents of the sika fawn turned up. This of course is the male.
Occasionally, an eagle will plummet from the sky in a dive for fish. Unpredictable and hard to capture.
No-one seems to have the fish here.