18th February: Hokkaido – Kushiro to Lake Kussharo

As for the previous morning, we went to Otowa Bridge before dawn but this time the conditions were not as good.  It was not as cold, not below the dew point and the fogginess was not there.  So we decided not to stay.  The image is of trees on a nearby snow-covered hill.

Trees at the side of the road from the bus

Central Hokkaido landscape from the bus

After breakfast we then headed off in the bus inland towards Lake Kussharo.  The two images above give some idea of the landscape we traveled through.

17th February: Hokkaido – Akan International Crane Centre (Day 2)

Red-crowned cranes (tancho)

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Red-crowned cranes (tancho)

After our pre-dawn start at Otowa Bridge, we returned to the hotel for breakfast and then went to the Akan International Crane Centre, which opens at 9AM.

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Red-crowned cranes (tancho)

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Red-crowned crane (tancho)

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Sika deer

The Sika fawn turned up again.  Here you can see the spots on the coat which are unobtrusive in the Japanese sub-species.

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Red-crowned cranes (tancho)

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Red-crowned cranes (tancho)

Counting from an image I took the previous day, I was amongst about fifty photographers at the crane centre, behind a low fence on an L-shaped enclosure.   This is part of the conservation project because unrestricted access to the cranes is most undesirable.   A few years ago, someone climbed over the low fence to get a better view.  All the cranes left and didn’t return for another three months.

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Red-crowned cranes (tancho)

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Whooper swans and Red-crowned crane (tancho)

With all this courtship display going on around them, a couple of whooper swans decided to get into the act as well.

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Red-crowned cranes (tancho)

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Red-crowned cranes (tancho)

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Whooper swan and red-crowned crane (tancho)

It’s one minute past three and in the image above, the swan and crane are waiting patiently for the 3PM feeding time.

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White-tailed sea eagle (Ojiro-washi)

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White-tailed sea eagle (Ojiro-washi).  This one appears to have a blind eye.

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White-tailed sea eagle (Ojiro-washi)

And when the fish arrives, the sea eagles turn up.

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Black kite (Toba)

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White-tailed sea eagle (Ojiro-washi) with fish, red-crowned crane (tancho) and Japanese raven (karasu)

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White-tailed sea eagle (Ojiro-washi) with fish

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Red-crowned crane (tancho)

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17th February: Hokkaido – Dawn at Otowa Bridge

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Red-crowned cranes and river mist

We turned up at Otowa bridge before dawn to photograph red-crowned cranes as they woke up for the day.  The temperature was -26˚C  (-15˚F) and the dew point was -18˚C  (0˚F).  I had known what temperatures to expect before leaving for Japan so I was comfortable except that my fingers got a bit cold because it is not possible to operate a camera while keeping heavy over-gloves on.

Because the air temperature was lower than the dew point, the air was unable to absorb water vapour, which formed as fog over the water.  So we got nice foggy effects but because it was so cold, the birds weren’t moving much.
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Sun at dawn through branches


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Red-crowned cranes and river mist

Sometimes the fog was very heavy and we could hardly see the birds.  Many of these images are quite delicate.  I have prepared them on my monitor which is profiled with a hardware device called a colorimeter.  Most people viewing will have unprofiled monitors which might give the images an appearance different from my intentions.
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Branches in snow with the backlight of dawn.


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Red-crowned cranes and river mist

This is a rare moment in the early morning when the fog was relatively clear.
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Whooper swans and river mist


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Whooper swans and river mist

The cranes were quite a long way away.  Fortunately, there were a few whooper swans closer to us.  The youngsters would have to be sygnets (young swans).  Curious that they should be there in late winter, though.
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Red-crowned cranes and river mist

Very occasionally, one of the birds would fly a short distance.
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Whooper swan and river mist


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Whooper swans and river mist

All shots in this post were taken at an effective focal length of 600mm.   The action was a long way away.
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Whooper swans and river mist


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Whooper swans and river mist

There came to be quite a few people on the bridge.  We were there before dawn and amongst the first to turn up. Yet there were quite a few people who had turned up the night before and left a tripod to reserve a prime viewpoint.  I thought that was quite unethical and that it would have been only fair if one of the first people to turn up had moved all those tripods out of the way.
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Whooper swan flying out of the river mist


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Red-crowned cranes and river mist

A magical way to start the day.

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