Saturday 6 July 2024


 I was glad to finally leave the cruise ship and get over to Hokkaido, where it's much less humid. The cruise hadn't really panned out as i'd of liked, despite being a month later than i'd want to do it next year. My expectations were, I believe, not high My hopes of recreating a Pacific version of our Epic Cape Horn Cruise had failed but Japan is a blast and i've found it fascinating. So i'm definitely putting on a tour next year but i'd like to do something a little different...... You'll need to see the Zoothera website in a few days to see what i've come up with. 

Anyway, we reached Hokkaido in the early evening and got to a sort of weird hotel in Kushiro at around 7pm. As you know, i'm not a fan of fish or seafood in any way, so we bought some sandwiches and other snacks and took them to our room for dinner. 

The following morning I was up at 4am, about 15 minutes after sunset, and out the door a short while later on the 20 minute drive to Kushiro Forest Park. On arrival a White-throated Needletail was flying around the car park - nice start! Walking up into the forest along a wide track it took a while to get anything good, but for most of my visit I could hear a White's Thrush singing away from deep inside the forest, which was really cool. I really wanted to see Japanese Robin but for the first hour I didn't hear any singing. However, once the sun began to hit the trees in the valley a few birds began singing. I could hear various tits, Narcissus Flycatchers, a few woodpeckers and then suddenly the robins began to sing. I heard something like 6 different birds but all pretty distant. So I decided to take a narrow trail uphill and sure enough I had two different birds competing with their distinctive song either side of the trail, I sat down beside a big tree and waited to see what would happen, every so often playing  a snippet of song. Sure enough, the robin came closer and closer but I couldn't see it. I didn't want to move as by now it was damn close but decided to move my position slowly around the big tree to look down into the valley to my left. And there it was! 

Japanese Robin

It proved to be a rather confiding bird, and I watched it for ages as it moved between various dead branches and stumps singing its heart out. After a good half an hour at least I left this bird in peace and walked several more trails. A White-backed Woodpecker was my next good bird and it showed very nicely in a bare tree where it was joined by a second bird after a few minutes.

White-backed Woodpecker

I was loving just watching birds and not having to rush from species to species and in such beautiful surroundings. The forest was so lush and vibrant, and each tree had a subtly different shade of green. So next up was Sakhalin Leaf Warbler, another key target species on Hokkaido. It's a split from Pale-legged Leaf Warbler and as such I was looking for it in the undergrowth or lower part of the canopy. But the bird I saw was calling overhead and took some finding in the leafy canopy but eventually it showed really well. I also saw White-bellied Green-Pigeon, a flyover Oriental Cuckoo that had been calling all morning, a Brown-headed Thrush feeding on the path, Marsh, Willow & Japanese Tits, a very white-bellied Eurasian Nuthatch and a few Eastern Crowned Warblers. The latter's song proved to be in every wooded area I visited on Hokkaido. 

Narcissus Flycatcher

On the walk back to the car I finally had a close view of a singing Narcissus Flycatcher - another common sound in forests here. So, on my 20 minute drive back to the hotel I took a slight detour to Harutori Lake, just to check it out. It was a good move as I had my lifer Masked Bunting on the path down to the lake, as well as Black-browed Reed Warbler, several Oriental Greenfinches and not a lot else.

I made it back to the hotel just in time for breakfast - hotels in Japan are really punctual...! Anyway, from here we drove just over two and a half hours up to the Shiretoko Peninsula and the small seaside town of Rausu, where we were to stay for the night. Whilst Mrs B was in the supermarket I sea-watched from across the road and saw 200+ Rhinoceros Auklets, single Black-legged Kittiwake and Black-tailed Gull and many Slaty-backed Gulls. We were staying nearby and this hotel proved to be excellent. But boy I was a bit knackered, so once checked in I totally crashed out for an hour. This hotel had a policy of a 6pm dinner, but made an exception for me and I had mine at 5pm as I had an appointment with a certain owl tonight and had to be in the viewing hide well before sunset. As it turned out the owl site was just outside town, literally 5 minutes away and once there I was shown to my seat in what was more like a cabin than a hide. Several other people were already here, and I settled in for a long night. As the European Championships were in full swing I was scrolling through the football news when a Blakiston's Fish Owl flew in the first time at 19:40. Damn! I had a quick look in the bins before firing off a few shots with my trusty Nikon. And then it flew upstream and was gone. Luckily, it returned within minutes and spent a much longer time feasting on the fish that are put out for it every night. 

Introducing the fabulous Blakiston's Fish Owl

And what a bird this is. I know it's a regular feature of every Japan tour and as such 'old hat' to many world travellers, but I was extremely excited to see it. It's meant to be one of, if not THE largest owl in the world and it certainly was a brute. When it disappeared the second time I made my exit and was back in the hotel room by 8.15pm at the latest. What a day this had been.

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