On Monday the 3rd of June we drove to Helsinki-Vantaa during the day, parked to Autopysäköinti, ate in pizzeria, left our luggage to check in and then had still more than an hour to wait for our flight. Finally our Japan Airlines flight left towards Japan at 5:35 p.m. The beginning of the flight we were watching movies but then we tried to sleep as much as possible, but I couldn’t sleep much more than an hour.
On the 4th of June we landed to Narita airport, some 60 km east from Tokio. We had filled the papers ready and after a couple of queues we found our luggage soon. Then we had to walk from Terminal 2 to Terminal 3 from where we had our next flight.
Once we were in Terminal 3 we changed local money, Jeni and got quite a pile as 1000 Jenis is about 8 Euros. We also checked if we should take a local SIM-card or some kind of USB-modem, but after all decided to survive without internet. We were a little bit worried as Amazon had canceled our map-orders just a couple of days before the trip and only maps were in my phone which has really bad battery.
Then we waited for our next flight in Terminal watching out from a window. Luckily there was some kind of park outside and we saw Barn Swallows, Carrion Crows (orientalis), White Wagtails (lugens), an Eastern Spot-billed Duck, some Brown-eared Bulbuls and White-cheeked Starlings, Tree Sparrows, a Russet Sparrow and a beautiful couple of Blue Rock Thrushes (philippensis).
Out Jetstar flight to Hokkaido and New Chitose airport left at midday. And we landed to New Chitose, some 50 km south-east from Sapporo, less than 2 hours later. We found our luggage and soon we were searching for a ride to car-rental office. After some searching we were in a bus that took us to Budget-office.
We waited and waited for our turn in the office but nothing was happening, the numbers weren’t changing at all on the screens. When the number finally changed, it jumped a lot and was much bigger than our number. So all Japanese-speaking people had been served before us! I got a bit angry as we had been travelling already more than 24 hours and we still had a long drive in front of us – and it helped, we got service immediately.
But also the service was slower than ever. We had to watch videos how to drive car in Japan and to sign many papers and so on. But finally we were walking to our car which was small but good, but the GPS was completely Japanese. We managed to change the language to English, but still all the buttons and texts were in Japanese. So we had no idea how to use it. Luckily another officer was speaking some English and she decided to give us another car that had much better GPS. It also had all buttons in Japanese but texts were in English and she showed how to use it.
And finally more than an hour behind our hoped schedule, we hit the road. We managed to put our navigator to lead us to Kushiro marshes and found out that we had 320 km to drive, but the navigator counted that it’d take more than 9 hours! We had rent the car without a tag that made driving on toll-roads easy as we had planned to avoid these extremely expensive roads, but we had no idea that other roads could be this slow!
We were already tired, but what else we could’ve done than start driving. We wanted to be in Kushiro marshes before morning. Luckily the navigator seemed to be working and soon I was practicing to drive on the left side of the road. And soon we started to understand why it could take so long – Japanese roads were good, but speed-limits were ridiculous! In bigger roads the fastest we could drive was 70 km/h and often it was only 50 km/h. And in villages and cities it was 40 or even 30 km/h! And in cities there were lots of traffic-lights that were not synchronized at all – we had to stop almost in all of them! And there were lots of trucks and other traffic, so it was impossible to drive any faster.
The good thing was that while driving along smaller roads it was possible to see more nature and also make stops whenever needed or wanted. So we saw White-cheeked Starlings, Black Kites (lineatus), Tree and Russet Sparrows, Barn Swallows, White Wagtails, Rock Doves, a Goosander, Great Spotted Woodpeckers (japonicus), Carrion and Thick-billed Crows (macrorhynchos) and also the first Bull-headed Shrike which we stopped to see better and then saw also some Oriental Turtle Doves.
Later we saw Brown-eared Bulbuls, Asian House Martins and when we stopped in a couple of very good-looking places we found a Brown-headed Thrush, heard a Grey-headed Woodpecker (jessoensis), several Eastern Crowned Warblers, a Blue-and-white Flycatcher, Siberian Blue Robin, Black-faced Bunting (personata = Masked Bunting on some lists) and a couple of Sakhalin Grasshopper Warblers. It was already getting dark when we saw a Woodcock flying very high between a couple of mountains. Then it started to rain and got very dark and we tried to avoid hitting Sika Deers that were seen along the road.
Luckily our navigator was wrong after all and we managed to get to Kushiro marshes at 11 p.m. Hanna had taken prints from satellite-maps and we turned to a small road that ended next to a meadow. There we parked and soon were putting up the tent while Sakhalin Grasshopper Warblers were singing on the closest bushes. When we were ready, we still did a short walk along the meadow and heard a strange-sounding Latham’s Snipe, a Common Cuckoo, a Black-browed Reed Warbler, a Siberian Rubythroat and a Brown-cheeked Rail that was calling only very shortly.
Finally we had to get into our tent as it was already midnight and we had planned to wake up early.
On the 5th of June we woke up at 3:30 a.m., so before the sun was rising and Sakhalin Grasshopper Warblers were still singing very loudly. We felt surprisingly brisk even though we had’t been sleeping much in a couple of days. New places and new birds are making wonders.
We walked a little bit just around our camp and found plenty of Eastern Crowned Warblers, more Sakhalin Grasshopper Warblers, Coal Tits, Great Spotted Woodpeckers that sounded very much like our White-backed Woodpeckers, a Eurasian Nuthatch (clara) and a Japanese Tit. A Bull-headed Shrike visited a top of the closest bush and a flock of White-throated Needletails were flying on the sky. A couple of Japanese Bush Warblers were showing well and after the show also copulating, Common Cuckoos and Oriental Cuckoos were calling and a couple of Hawfinches flew over us.
We continued soon to the meadow and found Black-browed Reed Warblers, Siberian Rubythroats, Masked Buntings, Long-tailed Rosefinches, Stejneger’s Stonechats, a Reed Bunting (pyrrhulina) and a flock of about 10 Chestnut-cheeked Starlings that landed to a top of one tree. We also saw Carrion and Thick-billed Crows, Grey Herons, Black Kites and a couple of displaying Latham’s Snipes.
After we had packed our stuff back to the car, we drove to a nature-center nearby and found a path that was leading to the forest. Now there were also Sakhalin Leaf Warblers with Eastern Crowned Warblers. Thick-billed Crows were following us in the forest and they were almost disturbing noisy. From the forest we found Nuthatches, Olive-backed Pipits, Coal Tits, a couple of Marsh Tits (restrictus), Great Spotted Woodpeckers and a couple of Eurasian Treecreepers (daurica). Then we heard a strange song of a distant White-bellied Green Pigeon – what an amazing sound!
We walked along the path to a place where a big meadow opened in front of us. A Lanceolated Warbler was singing with Siberian Rubythroats and Black-browed Reed Warblers. Latham’s Snipes were displaying and again we saw a flock of 5 White-throated Needletails. Also Long-tailed Rosefinches and Masked Buntings were singing and Oriental Cuckoos calling. Finally we walked the same way back to the parking place where we saw a couple of Grey-capped Greenfinches which were surprisingly beautiful.
Next we drove to a big parking place where a big wooden path was leading to a meadow and a nature center nearby. Unfortunately then it started to rain very heavily, so we decided to go under a small shelter to cook. When we were cooking lots of local people joined us under the shelter which was funny as there was absolutely no-one before we went there. These people were laughing to our cooking, but for sure it was the best thing to do in that weather.
Finally the rain stopped and we headed to the path. Already on the first hillside we saw an Asian Stubtail briefly and a flock of Long-tailed Tits were flying by. Then we heard a funny song and found a Narcissus Flycatcher on the top of one tree – it was a beautiful bird! From the forest we found Treecreepers, Masked Buntings, an Asian Brown Flycatcher, a Marsh Tit and plenty of Sakhalin Leaf Warblers and so on. But when we got to the meadow, it started to rain very hard again. So after we had seen only some Japanese Bush Warblers and Stejneger’s Stonechats, we hurried back to the parking place.
The weather was so bad that we decided to start a long drive towards Cape Kiritappu. On the way the weather got better and we saw some Latham’s Snipes, Stejneger’s Stonechats and a couple of Hawfinches. When we reached the shore, we immediately stopped and found Japanese Cormorants, 4 Black Scoters and Slaty-backed Gulls. When we kept on driving we saw also a Mallard and some Pacific Swifts.
When we got to Cape Kiritappu it was early afternoon. Anyway we walked towards the cape while Latham’s Snipes were displaying and Siberian Rubythroats singing, one even on the wire. We also saw several Reed Buntings and Skylarks (japonicus) and from the rocks we found Japanese Cormorants but also some that we identified as Great Cormorants and also some Pelagic Cormorants.
On the place where we started seawatching there were some tame Slaty-backed Gulls and from the flock that was swimming below the steep cliffs there were also a couple of immature Black-tailed Gulls. On one rock nearby we saw 5 Harlequin Ducks with cormorants and a big Sea Otter was swimming in front of them. It looked very relaxed while it was swimming backstroke and floating behind the cliffs. On the sea we saw a few distant Rhinocerous Auklets, but soon we had to give up as we were too tired.
After sleeping a couple of hours in the car we were soon back on the cape and there were much more traffic on the sea. In short time we saw a couple of hundreds Rhinocerous Auklets, 2 swimming and 1 flying Spectacled Guillemot, an Arctic Skua, 5 Pacific Divers with 7 unidentified divers and a female Northern Pintail.
When it was already getting dark, we headed to Hattaushi (Hatsutaushi) bridge. On the way we saw a Raccoon Dog and almost hit a Sika Deer and saw plenty of them more, but finally we were on the bridge already before it was dark. Sakhalin Grasshopper Warbler was singing and a Woodcock flew over us, but soon Hanna heard distant hooting. Luckily I heard it too and there it was – a legendary Blakiston’s Eagle Owl!
We decided to walk closer to listen to the owl better. We walked some time along a small track in the darkness, but when we stopped the owl had moved even further. So we decided to leave the owl hooting by himself. Soon we were on one of the places that Hanna had chosen to a possible place to camp and it wasn’t a surprise that this place was OK to me. When we were in the tent, a distant Long-eared Owl-kind of call was heard a couple of times and Blakiston’s Eagle Owl was also calling somewhere very far. But soon we were in sleep.
On the 6th of June we woke up and when Latham’s Snipes were displaying and several Japanese Bush Warblers singing and Common and Oriental Cuckoos calling. Pretty soon we had packed our car again and driving towards Nemuro. But the forest along the road looked so good that we started to stop in good looking places. After we had heard the first Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler, we heard also a White-bellied Green Pigeon and soon another one was perched on a tree next to the road. We managed to get some pictures of it, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough light for good pictures yet. We also found lots of tits especially Coal Tits but also Marsh, Willow and Japanese Tits. Sakhalin Leaf Warblers were singing on the top of trees and also a Goldcrest (japonensis), some Wrens (fumigatus) and some Red-flanked Bluetails were heard too. We also found a Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker (seebohmi) that was climbing on branches with a flock of tits and soon after that we heard the first Japanese Robin. We made more stops and more loudly singing Japanese Robins were heard and we also saw some Jays (brandtii), a flock of Siskins, heard a Black Woodpecker and then found a couple of Bullfinches (griseiventris). Male Bullfinch had grey stomach but bright red throat. We still saw a female Japanese Thrush carrying food to the forest, before the forest started to get worse and we kept on driving towards the coast.
Seabirds in Ochiishi
We continued until Cape Ochiishi where we parked the car and immediately found a tame Skylark which was posing well for photographs and we saw also several White-tailed Eagles. Latham’s Snipe was again displaying right over us. After we had eaten, we walked along a broadwalk towards the lighthouse. The broadwalk was partly in pretty bad condition, but the vegetation along the path was very beautiful. There weren’t many birds though, some Wrens, Olive-backed Pipits and Masked Buntings. We also saw a Red Fox family with tiny cubs.
When we had walked to the lighthouse we started seawatching and immediately saw flocks of divers migrating. Most of the birds were Pacific Divers but also some Red-throated Divers and a couple of Black-throated Divers were identified. Then we noticed one bird migrating much higher than the others and it looked big – it was a stunning White-billed Diver! Some 20 Rhinocerous Auklets and a few Spectacled Guillemots were also seen and there were some flocks of Black Scoters swimmimg on the sea. Some gulls were flying over the sea and we found a 3rd calendar year Glaucous-winged Gull. Also a Peregrine (japonensis) was seen soaring over the sea and searching for prey.
But our schedule was tight and soon we had to walk the same way back to our car and drive to Ochiishi Nature office, from where we had booked a Nature Cruise with help of owner of Furen Lodge where we were going to stay later.
After we had filled again some papers that were once again very exact, we still had time before our cruise. But soon arrived a group of Australians, some Japanese photographers and finally also out local guide. And then after some more waiting we walked to the harbor where we climbed to the boat and while we were photographing 4 Greater Scaups that were swimming on the harbor the boat was already moving.
We had been given earpieces where we could hear our guide speaking Japanese, but when the first Slaty-backed Gulls were seen on their nests on the breakwater, also English names were used. So we decided to keep on listening to our guide.
When we got out to the sea we flushed some Rhinocerous Auklets but some stayed in the water but they always dived when we tried to get closer for pictures. Pretty soon we found the first small flock of Ancient Murrelets but they also always dived before we could get closer views. The boat was bobbing quite a lot too, so photographing wasn’t easy.
I had expected to see more bird on the sea but after all were hoping to see just a couple of species, the numbers didn’t matter. When the first Spectacled Guillemots were seen, they didn’t make the guide smile either, he also was searching for better species. But most of the others were shouting and pointing every single Rhinocerous Auklet or Black-tailed Gull. Then the guide told to them that were in the area where we were searching for Tufted Puffins. But every single bird we found was one of those we had seen already. After all we sailed around the area much longer than we had planned but we didn’t find any Tufted Puffins.
Next we continued to cormorant-rocks where on the first rocks we found Japanese and Pelagic Cormorants and a mother Sea Otter with a cub. Then from the second, bigger rocks we found also Red-faced Cormorants! They were quite far and the boat was moving a lot but surprisingly we got surprisingly good pictures of them too.
The rest of the trip we were searching for Pigeon Guillemots but even though we saw plenty of Spectacled Guillemots we found none of the better ones. Other birds seen during the cruise were a couple of Pacific Divers and a Red-necked Grebe (holbollii). But we had really hoped to see a Tufted Puffin, so after all we were a little bit disappointed.
Once we were back to our car, we woken up a Red Fox that had been sleeping on the shadow of our car. We photographed this tame “Hokkaido Dog” for some time and then continued towards Cape Nemuro.
To Cape Nemuro and to Cape Nosappu to seawatch
We continued next to Lake Chobushi and saw already on the way a big flock of Greater Scaups with one Tufted Duck and a female Common Goldeneye on one small lake. Also the first Sand Martins of the trip were seen. Lake Chobushi was quiet, just a distant flock of Greater Scaups and lots of Black-tailed Gulls coming to drink. The path that had once been good for forest-bird, was so badly overgrown that I just walked up the stairs that were in very bad shape and then back without seeing a single bird.
When we kept on driving I was just thinking when we might see one of our target-species when I noticed a couple of them right next to the road on the field. Luckily a car that was following us didn’t hit us when I stopped our car maybe a bit too quickly. And so we were photographing a stunning pair of Red-crowned Cranes that were feeding on the field. But there was too much traffic on this narrow road, so I had to move on and park the car to the next possible place. Soon we had walked back to the field but the cranes were missing. We walked a little bit along the track down towards the back of the field and there they still were. But soon another bird flew to a distant field. We decided to sit down and wait if the second bird would come any closer. The sun was shining and it was very hot but after all the crane came a little bit closer and we got some more pictures. But the haze was really bad, so the pictures weren’t very good.
When we were driving again, we saw a sparrowhawk-species flying over us and then on one small lake we saw again Greater Scaups but also a Northern Shoveler and some Eastern Spot-billed Ducks. A couple of spot-billed ducks had also ducklings.
Finally we parked to Cape Nosappu lighthouse and we knew it was the another possible place to see Tufted Puffins. On the rocks nearby we saw Japanese and Pelagic Cormorants, but also a few Red-faced Cormorants. We had planned to sleep a little before the evening seawatch, but we could see that there were already lots of birds moving further on the sea. It was only 4:10 p.m. but we had to walk to the cape and start seawatching.
Rhinocerous Auklets were moving all the time, first in smaller flocks but soon the flocks became bigger. In more than 3 hours we saw more then 10 000 Rhinocerous Auklets, but then only a few Spectacled Guillemots and one 2nd calendar-year Red-crowned Crane that was planning to go North to the sea but then turned back and when Hanna was calling “crane”, it flew right over us. So not many birds were seen but we saw plenty of mammals; porpoises, dolphins and both bigger and smaller whales, but the were all quite distant, so only an Orca was possible to identify.
Rhinocerous Auklets were moving until the dark, so in the end we could check only those flocks that we could first find with our bare eyes and soon we had to give up. No luck with Tufted Puffin. We were too tired to go anywhere anymore, so we decided to sleep in the car on the parking place.
On the 7th of June we had slept surprisingly well and it didn’t take many minutes from awakening to seawatching. Surprisingly there weren’t many birds moving on the sea and from 4 to 5:15 a.m. we saw “only” a thousand Rhinocerous Auklets, 7 Ancient Murrelets, a Spectacled Guillemot, 2 Common Guillemots and 10 migrating and 15 swimming Harlequin Ducks. Black-tailed Gulls were flying over us for whole morning so Hanna tried to get pictures of them.
After seawatching we drove along the northern road towards Furen. We saw about 10 White-tailed Eagles, a couple of flocks of Greater Scaups and in one harbor we saw a Black Scoter sleeping on a breakwater. Hanna tried to get closer to get pictures of the scoter but once it noticed us, it flew in the middle of the dock. We also saw a stint-species flying over us, but we didn’t see it very well. Red-necked Stint was the most probable option. Along the road we saw some Chestnut-eared Starling and one White-cheeked Starling on some piles of soil. And in one small lake we saw Mallards with one Common Teal and in a couple of fields we saw couples of Red-crested Cranes and one pair had a chick with them. Also some Black Kites and Russet Sparrows were seen.
We stopped to one parking place and found out that there was a broadwalk where to watch some plants. We walked around the path and met some very curious horses. One of them had been making too close companionship with a Brown Bear too, as it had scars from bear claws on its butt.
Once we were in Furen, we headed to Furen Lodge from where we had booked a room in advance. We had been contacting the owner “Take” who had helped us with participating to Ochiishi cruise too. We met Take and his wife and soon we were able to carry our luggage to our room. But we didn’t loose much time as it was still good time for birding. We walked to Primeval path that was nearby. It was nice walking in the forest where Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Nuthatches, Treecreepers, Sakhalin Leaf Warblers and a Narcissus Flycatcher were seen. We even managed to get pretty good pictures of the flycatcher. Along the coast we saw 3 Red-crowned Cranes and heard a Little Grebe (poggei).
Then we walked to Shunkunitai broadwalk where we first took a path to the forest. When we were crossing the bridge a couple of Red Foxes walked towards us. The male was shy and turned back and jumped down to the ground but the female was very brave and passed us only from some tens of centimeters when we were quiet and still. But of course also pictures were taken. The forest was quiet, only a distant Red-flanked Bluetail was heard but we could see that there was a big flock of ducks closer to the end of another path.
So we were soon walking along this “Fox-path” where we met a group of Japanese Fox-photographers. They asked if we had seen any foxes and we told about our two foxes but unfortunately they were long gone. One big man was introduced as the most famous fox-photographer of Japan or maybe the whole World.
We walked until the end of the path and I started to check the ducks with my scope. Surprisingly there were Falcated Ducks – and lots of them! I counted 300 Eurasian Wigeons, 78 Falcated Ducks, 8 Northern Pintails, 2 Northern Shovelers and 2 Mallards.
Then we decided to sleep a little in our nice and dark room before we continued to the forest of Tobai. We walked along the road for a few kilometers and found familiar forest-species. Better birds were 5 Japanese Robins, 3 Red-flanked Bluetails, a White-bellied Green Pigeon and Eastern Crowned and Sakhalin Leaf Warblers. We also saw some Red-crowned Cranes which one couple had a nice chick again.
Then we had a dinner in Furen Lodge and met a group of Malaysian birders that was also staying there. They were very nice people who were speaking very good English – they were all doctors. We enjoyed our dinner, even though I had no idea about most of the food that I was eating – and I just couldn’t use Japanese chopsticks. Only oysters were really bad and I shouldn’t have eaten them at all, but I had made a decision to eat everything that is offered. Take and his wife were told in advance about Hanna’s allergies, so finally Hanna also got good food to eat.
The 8th of June. After well slept night we headed early in the morning to same Tobai forest. We walked again the same part but found almost the same birds as in the evening. So we continued by car and stopped always in good-looking places. Several Brown-headed Thrushes were heard and seen and then a beautiful White’s Thrush passed us extremely close! And after a lot of trying we finally managed to see and photograph a Japanese Robin, which was one of the ten we heard. We also saw a couple of Japanese Squirrels that were climbing on a tree next to the road. From the lake that was in the middle of the forest we found a female Goosander and a Red-crowned Crane was feeding on the shore.
Finally we had to hurry back to Furen Lodge to have breakfast. Breakfast was again almost art. It was strange to eat so many different kind of food early in the morning.
After the breakfast we headed to Shunkunitai broadwalk where we saw a few Red-crowned Cranes, same ducks again and heard 4 Lanceolated Warblers and a distant Wryneck (japonica). We also saw a couple of Red Foxes again and soon the same group of fox-photographers arrived and we photographed on of the foxes together with them.
Also in Primeval forest-path the birds were almost the same than on the previous day, but we heard and saw briefly a singing Warbling White-eye (japonicus).
During the day it came pretty hot, about 26 degrees. So we went to rest a little bit. I didn’t manage to sleep, so I went jogging and ran one and half hours and saw a flock of White-throated Needletails, a couple of Red-crowned Cranes and so on.
In the afternoon we headed to Cape Nemuro again. We had heard that on the same pool that we had found some Eastern Spot-billed Duck families there had been a Chinese Pond Heron hiding for some time. We tried to find it but without luck. There were lots of people fishing on the shore, so it was probably somewhere else. From 3 to 8:15 p.m. we were seawatching in Cape Nosappu and the last hour or so the Malaysians accompanied us. We were hoping for one single Tufted Puffin and again checked at least 10 000 Rhinocerous Auklets without luck. Or we did have luck as we saw a couple of Pigeon Guillemots which another one was a Snowy Guillemot, quite distinct subspecies. Also 5 Common Guillemots, 22 Spectacled Guillemots and a male Red-breasted Merganser that was migrating with a flock of Rhinecerous Auklets, some Harlequin Ducks and Pacific Divers and a single Arctic Skua were seen.
Finally we had to give up even though the auklets were still going. We had to hurry to have dinner. This time all food was really good but again I had no idea what I was eating mostly. We had good conversations with Malaysians and after the dinner we gave Take a T-shirt with Finnish raptors for all the help we had got.
Late in the evening we still did a short walk around the block and heard 3 Sakhalin and 2 Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warblers. When we were back at the Lodge we found out that the doors were locked. Luckily Take’s wife was still awake and let us in.
On the 9th of June we slept long as we knew we were going to have an extremely long day. Some Japanese had been quite noisy in the late evening so we couldn’t have fell asleep as early as we had hoped. When the breakfast was ready the Malaysians told that they had seen a Grey-tailed Tattler in the shore of Shunkunitai. The breakfast took some time again but then we hurried to see this wader but the water-level was rising and there wasn’t really places for waders anymore. And we couldn’t find it anywhere near, so we had to satisfy to a tame White-tailed Eagle that was posing on the top of a post.
Then it was time to pack the car again and start driving towards Rausu. Also Malaysians left to same direction with Take as their guide. So we made many stops in same places on the way.
First we headed to Notsuke Nosappu, a long cape where we found immediately some Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warblers that we managed to photograph well together with Malaysians. From the cape we didn’t find anything else except lots of Sika Deers and one Red-crowned Crane. The place looked so good for waders, but it was strange to check so many empty mudflats.
From Notsuke we continued towards Rausu and stopped in every good-looking river on the way. We met again our friends on almost every bridge and saw together some trip-ticks like a Grey Wagtail, a Common Kingfisher and then finally a Long-billed Plover. Unfortunately this shy plover wasn’t showing very well and soon flew up along the river behind the bushes. Some Brown-headed Thrushes were also seen and heard.
We still saw a Harlequin Duck couple in one streaming river, but soon after that we were in Rausu. There we found again our friends along the river and they told us that they had just seen a family of Japanese Wagtails. While talking we heard a promising call and saw a male Japanese Wagtail flying down the river. We followed it and found the rest of the family, a couple and 2 fledlings and Hanna managed to get some pictures even though these birds were extremely mobile. Soon we followed Take’s group uphill towards Mt. Rausu.
Just above Rausu-onsen camping we found Take and Malaysians again and of course we’d have known to stop in this place anyway. We followed Take uphill and soon found what we were searching for – a couple of Brown Dippers. After we had seen these birds Takes group continued uphill, but we went down back to our car as we knew this was the place for Crested Kingfisher.
While we were searching for a safe place to get down towards the river, we heard a whistling song from the hill nearby. I had a feeling that I knew what it was. I took my mp3-player and the speaker and played Japanese Grosbeak and that was it! I played the song a little bit more hoping to see the bird but it stayed singing on the same place. So when we found a path that Sika Deers had been using to get down, we used the same path. And right then we saw the Japanese Grosbeak flying across the road towards another hill.
When we were carefully landing towards the river, Hanna heard an Asian Stubtail singing. The song was so high that I had to get much closer to hear it too.
When we were along the river we found out that there were several small streams. We managed to get over a couple of them and then heard a Crested Kingfisher calling somewhere on the other side of the whole river. I still managed to get over one stream but Hanna’s shoes were lower. We still heard the kingfisher calling but it was impossible to get any closer. It was still behind a big island. I was already walking back towards Hanna when I noticed 3 big raptors on the sky. I shouted to Hanna, but found out that she was already photographing them. First we had no idea what they were, but then realized that they were Japanese Hawk Eagles (still subspecies of Mountain Hawk Eagle).
We had seen the project-species pretty well so we decided to keep on driving up towards Shiretoko Pass, the highest point of Mt Rausu along the road. The weather seemed to be pretty good too. We stopped a couple of times in places where was lots of Dwarf Bamboo and hoped to see or hear Grey Bunting but we didn’t find any even though we played some tape. On the top we found Malaysians again and they had just seen a Japanese Accentor and a Pine Grosbeak. The had a long way back to Furen, so they left almost immediately. But now there on the top, on Shiretoko Pass there was quite thick fog and only about 100 meters visibility, so finding birds was difficult.
There were also some local photographers on the top and buses full of tourists were stopping to this big parking place all the time. We walked around the parking place and tried to find any birds from the junipers. We also played the mp3-player for Japanese Accentor but all we could find were an Olive-backed Pipit and a Masked Bunting. Finally we realized that we had to hurry back towards Rausu.
On the way down we visited Rausu-onsen camping and paid for a tenting place. Then we hurried downhill until Rausu and a little bit more towards North and soon turned to famous Washi No Yado Blakiston’s Eagle Owl photographing place.
Washi NO Yado
Take had booked us to Washi No Yado already before our trip as the keeper of the place didn’t speak any English. We somehow managed to communicate with him and understood that we had to be in hide and on our places at 7 p.m. We still had some time so we cooked in the parking place and while eating we saw a couple of Brown Dippers flying up and down the stream.
Then we went in the restaurant-building that was also the hide. There was also an old bus a little bit closer to the feeding place, but a couple of local photographers were going there. One of them kindly told Hanna about the best camera-settings and showed amazing pictures that he had got on the previous night.
Finally everything seemed to be ready. There were 2 Japanese women with their cameras with us and two photographers were already in the bus. Fresh fish had been put to a small pool in the middle of the river, so it was time to start waiting. All photographers knew how to be quiet but the owner was impossible! He was walking in and out from the building and talking a lot and very loud! And when it was already completely dark the worst possible thing happened! A big bus parked to the parking place and at least 30 local tourists walked into our hide! They were of course noisy, but the noisiest was again the keeper of the place. He was again shouting and walking in and out and slamming the door all the time! And of course the local tourists hadn’t got enough clothes, so they were moving all the time and soon they started to walk to get coffee and tea from the machine.
I was extremely frustrated and when the owner was once again shouting and walking around I asked him, if we were in a circus? I really thought that I had paid to see wild animals. Then he finally got silent and actually disappeared for some time. Also the tourists understood to stay more quiet.
But then, after an hour or so waiting, the leader of the tourists decided that they have to leave. And this big group packed their stuff and started to walk out from the hide. And some walked right to the feeding place and took pictures and selfies with their phones! And when the bus had finally gone, the owner arrived and started to close the windows in that part of the building where the tourists had been. He also moved all the seats and did everything he could to be once again as noisy as possible!
When the owner had finally gone, the weather that was already slowly changed worse, got really bad – it started to rain. We were waiting and waiting, but all we saw were a Red Fox and a Sika Deer. We kept on waiting patiently until the midnight when these 2 women had got enough and they left – luckily very quietly. The weather was again getting a little bit better, so we waited for one more hour, but at 1 a.m. we had to give up too.
I have to say that this Washi NO Yado was the worst ever nature-experiment in my life. I hope I never have to experience anything like this anymore. The facility in this place was good, but the owner was the most incompetent person I have ever seen anywhere! I know there is another place to go to see Blakiston’s Eagle Owls in Hokkaido and I really hope it is better than this!
It was 2 a.m. when we had finally put our tent up in Rausu-onsen camping. The rain had finally stopped but we had to go to sleep very disappointed – we hadn’t seen a legendary Blakiston’s Eagle Owl.
Still in Mt Rausu
On the 10th of June we woke up after a couple of hours sleeping and we felt extremely tired. Brown-headed Thrush was singing loudly right above our tent. Anyway we had to try to keep on the schedule, so soon we had packed our tent and headed to a nature-center parking place nearby. Immediately we heard a bunting song and found a couple of Meadow Buntings singing on the wire. And soon we were walking along the trail where we found a beautiful couple of Blue-and-white Flycatchers and managed to get some picture of them too. Some more Brown-headed Thrushes, a couple of Narcissus Flycatchers and many Asian Stubtails were heard. Some of the stubtails were singing right next to the path and their high song really hurt ears! When we were walking back towards the parking place, Hanna managed to pass Rausu Geyser exactly when it was erupting! And of course Hanna had her camera ready. Later we found out that this geyser was erupting about once in an hour.
We still continued to the same river-place where we had been on the previous day. Again we heard a Japanese Grosbeak, a Blue-and-white and a couple of Narcissus Flycatchers singing, but found nothing else. While we were back to our car, a car stopped and driver was this kind local photographer who had stayed in the bus. He told that they had been waiting for the owls until morning but they hadn’t arrived at all.
Then it was time to climb up to Shiretoko Pass again. On the way we stopped many times and hoped to see or hear Grey Buntings. We even walked a little bit along one really good-looking path with lots of Dwarf Bamboo, but didn’t found buntings. Again when we were getting close to the top, we found out that there was really thick fog. And on the top there were several local photographers again and they were talking very loud. So we stayed as far as possible from them and tried to find Japanese Accentors, but still we had no luck. One of the photographers showed us a picture of a Pine Grosbeak that he had just taken. We actually saw him taking the pictures, but when we walked towards him, there was no bird anymore – just fog. So after we had seen only a flying Hawfinch and heard an Oriental Cuckoo, we decided to keep on going.
Again we made several stops in good-looking places but found no Grey Buntings. It really started to feel that luck had abandoned us totally!
Meadows, fields and lakes
Our next place was Shiretoko 5 lakes and it was one more disappointment. The place was totally a tourist-place. After we had paid the parking fee, we walked to the nature center where we found out that it was possible to walk only to see on of the lakes without taking a guided tour.
We had no interest joining a slowly-walking group that had a Japanese-speaking leader, so all we could do was to walk along a road-like broadwalk to see this one lake. There were lots of people on the broadwalk and then on the platforms that were around the lake, so it wasn’t a surprise that there wasn’t a single bird. Some Meadow Buntings were heard and seen along the walk and the landscape was very beautiful. The whole broadwalk had electric fences to keep Brown Bears away.
Pretty soon we were on the road again and driving towards Lake Tofutsu. On the way we stopped along some fields and finally found a single singing Chestnut-eared Bunting. Soon we were on the lake and found some Gadwalls, Eastern Spot-billed Ducks and also a funny-looking leucistic Grey Heron.
Then we had some driving again before our next destination which was Mt Io. Inland all the roads were as narrow as on the coast but they were also in very good condition and there were almost no traffic. So we could drive normally as did most of the locals too – even though the speed-limits were still ridiculous.
Mt Io was a touristic place but there were some nice forests around it. So first we went to see volcanic area with bad sulfur-smell. There were many different colors on the hillside while most of the piles were beautifully bright yellow and some of them were smoking. The surrounding of the mountain looked like Lapland with trees like downy birch and flowering marsh labrador tea.
The day was getting hot so we decided to cook on the parking place and after lunch we walked along the broadwalk through the meadow and then took a tiny path to the forest. Over the opening we finally saw an Eastern Buzzard. In the forest we found typical forest-birds like Wrens, Treecreepers, Goldcrests, Nuthatches and heard several Black Woodpeckers, pretty Finnish birds but the forest was very different.
Then we had only a short drive to Lake Kussharo where we were well before the dark. We still checked in a couple of places if there were any birds on the lake but saw just some Goosander-families. Meadow Buntings were singing here and there and then we headed to a place where we had planned to camp. But the road had a barrier so we had to search for another suitable place. It took some time but finally we found a good place along one tiny field-road. In Japan there is no everyman’s rights like in Finland where it is OK to camp anywhere, so we had to wait for the sunset before we could put up the tent so nobody can see us. And because of the Brown Bears that seemed to be everywhere, at least different kind of “Beware of bears” -signs were seen a lot, we tried to stay in field-areas and not in the forests.
On the 11th of June we woke up when Latham’s Snipes were displaying over our tent and soon we had packed everything and were driving again. We had planned to drive along the eastern shore of Lake Kussharo where were nice forests. We made some stops and heard lots of Narcissus Flycatchers and Asian Stubtails, several Brown-headed Thrushes, a couple of Japanese Robins, Common and Oriental Cuckoos and also one possible hybrid cuckoo and a few White-bellied Green Pigeons.
But when we saw a smaller road turning inside the forest, we decided to turn there. Right away on the first stop we found a couple of Japanese Grosbeaks that were alarming for some reason. They were very mobile, so we did see them pretty well but couldn’t get any pictures before they disappeared. Also one White’s Thrush was flushed from the side of the road but we didn’t hear any of them singing, we should have been there much earlier when it was till dark.
We noticed a small volcano that was next to the road and went to see this tiny smoking hill. We also followed a small path to a small but very beautiful lake where a couple of Siberian Blue Robins were singing on the shore. There were also 2 tiny ducklings swimming on the lake but their mother wasn’t there, so we couldn’t identify them and they somehow disappeared before we got any pictures.
Along the road we still heard several Black Woodpeckers and saw the first Spotted Nutcracker of the trip but when it seemed that these forests hadn’t got anything new to offer, we decided to keep on driving towards our next destination that we knew would take more time.
Along the road there were lots of really good old coniferous or mixed forests. So we stopped a couple of times on the way and on one stop next to a mountain-forest we heard a flock of Common Crossbills and saw a Dark-sided Flycatcher. Some Black Woodpeckers and Japanese Robins were heard even through open windows while driving.
When we were already driving a smaller road towards Mt Meakan we saw a beautiful turquoise lake and its name Lake Onneto sounded familiar. I had probably read some bird-observations from this lake but I hadn’t got idea that it’d be on our route. Unfortunately it was cloudy weather so Mt Meakan wasn’t visible behind the lake – it’d have been really photogenic scenery! On the shore we stopped and walked to a dock and soon I found a duck swimming on the opposite side of the lake. I ran to get my scope from the car and soon I was watching a beautiful male Mandarin Duck! There was also a Mandarin Duck couple perched on one trunk that was floating on the water and we of course tried to get closer to get some pictures of these colorful birds. But the female duck was very shy and once it saw us, this couple flew in the middle of the lake.
Once we had parked to the other side of the lake to Mt Meakan parking place, we started to walk towards the mountain. Hanna had once again her huge back full of cameras with her, so I offered to carry it.
After a couple of hundreds of meters walking the path started to climb up and very steeply! The forest around us was really good and there were Red-flanked Bluetails singing everywhere. Also many Goldcrests, some Sakhalin Leaf Warblers and a single Northern Hawk-cuckoo were heard and a couple of Bullfinches and Nutcrackers and a female Goshawk (fujiyamae) seen.
As we had already noticed locals seemed to be afraid of Brown Bears almost hysterically, but only now we saw the first hikers with huge bells that they were playing all the time while walking. We have been living a long in Eastern Finland and we are pretty used to see bear-footprints and other marks in forests and I have also seen bears several times, so we weren’t afraid of them at all. There are much more dangerous animals both in Finland and Japan like ticks and Ural Owls.
Climbing was very hard at least when carrying Hanna’s full battle kit. Finally we were on the tree line where only juniper was growing. We hoped to hear or see Japanese Accentors and stayed for a long time in this habitat but heard only once a promising song, but there were also some Olive-backed Pipits singing pretty similarly, so we just weren’t sure. Also Red-flanked Bluetails were singing even above the treeline and estimated that we had heard and seen about 40 bluetails in this 3 kilometers climb!
When we were climbing even higher we surprisingly saw and heard at least one Buff-bellied Pipit and also a Grey Wagtail seemed to be in a bit strange habitat in rocky hillside. Then we finally heard a promising call and saw a bird landing to a top of a juniper – finally a Japanese Accentor! But the bird stayed visible only for a couple of seconds before disappearing again.
When we were getting close to the top of volcano a thick cloud covered the visibility. Soon we could hear the hissing sound of the volcano and we still climbed higher to the place where should have been best view to the volcano, but we couldn’t see much. We waited for some time for the cloud to move away but we weren’t lucky. A couple of times we could see part of the volcano but not even half of the area. Finally we had to give up and start walking down, we had already spent more time than we had expected.
Getting down was luckily much faster even though there were some almost dangerously steep parts. We still tried to get a better observation of Japanese Accentor but had no luck. Lower down we heard another Northern Hawk-cuckoo but finally after 5 hours hiking we were back at the parking place.
When we were driving again we soon saw a female Hazel Grouse with at least one chick. Then we had a long drive ahead and on the meadow-areas we saw Meadow Buntings and Bull-headed Shrikes and on rice-fields more than 10 Eastern Spot-billed Ducks. We chose to drive along the northern roads where were almost no cities and it was a really good choice! Roads were almost empty so we didn’t have to drive as long as our strange navigator had counted. Finally we passed Tomakomai and turned towards Lake Shikotsu. When we were already close to the lake, we saw a female Japanese Thrush next to the road.
We were exhausted when we were searching for a good place to camp and after all just stopped along the main-road to a widener where we could get a little bit behind the trees. We hoped that the traffic would stop in the evening, but we were wrong – trucks were driving all night long.
While Hanna was cooking I went jogging and about 1 km from our camp I heard an Oriental Scops Owl (japonicus) calling, but it was quiet when I passed the place again later. Once I was back at the camp Hanna told that she had heard a Grey Nightjar shortly. After we had eaten we were ready to go to sleep, but luckily we didn’t fall asleep immediately as the Grey Nightjar came back and burred shortly right above our tent.
On the 12th of June we woke up before 4 a.m. and soon we were driving towards a hotel that situated close to the shore of Lake Shikotsu. We knew there were several nature-paths and also hides for photographing the birds. We turned to a wrong road first but it didn’t matter as we saw a couple of male Japanese Thrushes along the road. We noticed that along this road there would have been really good camping places.
Luckily we soon found the right road and then parked on the parking place of the park and hotel. While we were packing our bags we saw a local photographer hurrying to the path. Once we got to the hide we understood why he had been running, there was already one photographer who had taken place in front of one photographing-hole and this second photographer was now taking his place in front of the second and last hole that had some kind of visibility to the pool in front of the hide. These holes were wide enough for two photographer, but these men were really doing their best to take as much space as possible.
This photographer who had ran in front of us was completely amateur. He was rattling his tripod for more than 10 minutes and still he wasn’t happy. When we were sure that these people weren’t giving any space for Hanna, she had to climb to a bench and start photographing through a hole that was between the wall and the roof.
When everyone else were ready this one man still kept on rattling his equipment. When he finally was happy to his position, he started to talk loudly with this another photographer. And they really were noisy! We could hear that the first birds were already coming to visit the pool but these men were so noisy that they didn’t come visible. We could hear thrushes and some bunting calling but nothing was showing up. And of course these locals didn’t pay any attention to calls around us.
After some waiting the first Asian Stubtail came to drink and wash up and Hanna could start testing the right camera-setting. It was really dark as the pool was in the shadows of thick vegetation. Soon came an Eastern Crowned Warbler but we could easily find out that these birds weren’t those that the locals were hoping as they just checked what Hanna had started to photograph and then started to talk again and scared the birds away.
Hanna kept on photographing standing on the bench and I tried to look through one of the holes that had almost no visibility to the pool as there was bushes in front of the hole. Locals were still moving all the time and only checking what bird had arrived when they noticed that Hanna was photographing. After several Asian Stubtails, Eastern Crowned Warblers, Coal Tits, a Marsh Tit and a Japanese Tit, a female Narcissus Flycatcher came to wash up. And soon came also a couple of female-plumage Siberian Blue Robins and then also locals started to take pictures, or at least the one who know how to use a camera. The second man seemed to miss every single bird as he was always messing up with the tripod or just doing something else. Then a beautiful male Siberian Blue Robin arrived and locals were really excited – finally the colorful bird that they had been waiting for! But right away when the robin had gone, they started to talk loudly again.
After a couple of hours we really lost our nerves. We had asked politely them to be quiet for several times, so we both told them to shut up! We had still been hearing thrushes and buntings that weren’t shown up because of the constant noise. Finally they understood to be quiet at least for some time. And almost immediately a male Narcissus Flycatcher arrived, then a male Japanese Thrush and then a group of 3 extremely shy Brown-eared Bulbuls. It seemed that at least the better photographer realized that it was possible to see more birds while being quiet so the atmosphere got a little bit better. But the second man was still walking in and out the hide. So it wasn’t a surprise that he missed the situation that we had been waiting for whole morning – first we heard ticking calls and then a male Grey Bunting came to drink! Finally we saw this species that we had been searching for in so many places.
The rest of the 5 hour photographing session was really good. Even the locals understood that we preferred to photograph birds that empty pool – we had been watching empty pools enough during this trip. So Hanna still managed to get pictures of Warbling White-eyes, a Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker and more pictures of all birds that were coming to drink or wash up again. All birds came to visit the pool at least twice except the Grey Bunting.
After we had left from the hide, we walked a little bit around the area, but it seemed that other paths were very overgrown and most of them completely closed. So we walked a little bit in the garden where we saw same species that we had seen by the pool. We also went to check the lake but there were no birds at all. So soon we decided to drive to a more remote place to pack our luggage and clean our car.
While packing our stuff we heard a drumming White-backed Woodpecker (subcirris) and saw a couple of Japanese Grosbeaks flying over us. Finally we started to drive towards New Chitose and there we managed to leave our car to Budget easily.
We got a bus-ride to the airport from where we walked to a railway-station that was underneath the airport. There we bought tickets to Tomakomai and soon we were in a train. And it didn’t take long to Tomakomai where we took a taxi to the Tomakomai West ferry-terminal.
Long-waited ferry trip
In the harbor Hanna went immediately to Tokai Kisen office to make sure that our reservation was OK and she got our tickets to Tomakomai-Oarai ferry, more than 18 hours ferry-trip between Hokkaido and Honshu.
We still had a long wait before our ferry was leaving, but at least I managed to sleep several hours on the bench. Luckily we got to the ferry early and there weren’t many passengers, so we got a cabin for 4 persons to ourselves. So we were asleep already a couple of hours before our Salvia-Maru called ferry left at 1 a.m.
The 13th of June. We slept extremely well and woke up once again at 3:30 a.m. And soon we had climbed up to the deck and were ready see seabirds!
And soon we started to see birds. In the beginning it was still quite dark, so identifying was very difficult and it took some time to realize that dark, petrel-looking birds that we had had been seen were actually Fulmars – they were surprisingly dark around here, even though we were quite south. We also saw several dark shearwaters but they were quite distant so we couldn’t identify them. We knew there were Short-tailed, Sooty and Flesh-footed Shearwaters around and we had experience only on Sooty so we really needed to see these better.
It didn’t take long until we saw the first albatrosses too, they were also all dark-looking and far. But some got loser we got them identified and they all were Black-footed Albatrosses. We also saw single storm-petrels and the first 2 we identified as Leach’s Storm-petrels, then 2 birds were seen too far and the last one was a Band-rumped Storm-petrel type of bird. Also shearwaters were finally coming closer and the light was getting better too, so we managed to identify 6 Short-tailed Shearwaters, 3 Sooty Shearwaters and 2 Flesh-footed Shearwaters.
We had been sailing for a long time already when we saw the first Streaked Shearwater and soon after that we saw a stunning pink-billed Short-tailed Albatross! This species was close to extinction in the past but recently the numbers have increased. Soon we saw also another pink-bill which came closer to the ferry and Hanna managed to get some pictures of it. Later I still saw an adult Short-tailed Albatross when I was checking the other side of the boat – it was swimming with wings funnily open.
In the first half of the ferry-trip we still saw 6 South Polar Skuas, a flock of 5 Red-necked Phalaropes, one Rhinocerous Auklet and some Black-tailed and Slaty-backed Gulls. We had also counted 33 Fulmars, 21 dark albatross sp:s and 11 dark shearwater sp:s.
The sea was getting very calm and there were long periods with almost no birds at all. Then suddenly we saw amazing 70 Black-footed Albatrosses swimming, more than 30 in the biggest flock! So our Black-tailed Albatross number was more than 130 birds! We also saw some mammals: Steller’s Sea Lions, dolphins, whales and porpoises.
On the second half of the trip we saw Streaked Shearwaters – lots of them, and finally also some Wedge-tailed Shearwaters were identified too. Only a couple of single dark shearwaters were also seen and finally we saw the only Laysan Albatross of the trip too. But after all we were almost bored to see only Streaked Shearwaters and when there was once again pause that there wasn’t even them visible, we decided to go to rest. There was no restaurant on the ferry, but there were lots of different kind of machines where to buy noodles or other warm food. I had taken noodles with me, so I just went to get hot water from coffee-machine.
We rested from 3:30 to 5:10 p.m. and then climbed back to the deck to watch Streaked Shearwaters. After all we estimated that we had seen more than 1000 of them. When we were already getting close to Oarai we still saw an Intermediate Egret, a Pelagic Cormorant, a cormorant species and an Osprey.
Finally we were in Oarai harbor exactly on the schedule at 7:30 p.m. We had planned to take a bus to Mito, but we should have been waited for the bus for more than 30 minutes, so we decided to take a taxi. Taxi wasn’t cheap (actually most of the prices in Japan were about the same than in Finland), but at least we got to Mito much faster now.
So soon we were in Smile Hotel that Hanna had booked beforehand, and it felt good to have a shower! We also went to eat to McDonalds nearby so also Hanna got something good to eat. Then it was time to go to bed.
On the 14th of June we slept long and we didn’t keep hurry at all. We went to eat again and then came back to pack our luggage. Then we took a taxi to Lake Hinuma Nature Park. Lake Hinuma was a place that Hanna had found in Googlemaps when she had been searching for a suitable place to stay for a couple of days. We had planned to stay there and do birding without a car.
From the taxi we already saw some familiar species but almost all of them were now Honshu-ticks, we had seen only a few species in the airport. We saw a Russet Sparrow, Oriental Turtle Doves, lots of Brown-eared Bulbuls and so on. Pretty soon we were on the gate of the camping area and luckily we could see that at least the park was open. Not the young worker of the camping place nor our taxi-driver spoke any English, so it took some time to understand if also the camping area was open or not. Soon our taxi left and we tried to deal with the worker. Hanna was once again drawing, speaking languages and mimicking and somehow everything was soon clear. We knew exactly where to put our tent and every other practicalities.
Soon we had our tent up and everything hidden inside. So we started to get familiar with this nature park that was owner by the city. On the Southern side of this park was Lake Hinuma that we knew was a really good place for wintering ducks and the northern side had lots of broad leaf woodlands.
Right away we started to see birds around our tent, with several Black Kites there were 2 Grey-faced Buzzards soaring on the sky, a family of Green Pheasants ran across the grassy camping area, White-cheeked Starlings were making noise, a Meadow Bunting was singing, Grey, Intermediate and Great White Egrets were flying on the sky, a Bull-headed Shrike was perched on the top of the nearest bush and a Little Ringed Plover (curonicus) flew over us. On the closest trees there was sap flowing and several big butterflies enjoying sugar.
We decided to walk to Lake Hinuma first but there weren’t many birds, very distant Common Tern (longipennis) and one Greater Scaup. On the southern shore we found some reed-beds and there we saw a Little Grebe and an Osprey flew over us. We also saw a couple of dragonfly-photographers there.
Pretty soon we walked through the Nature Park gate to the forested part of the park. There was a small pond where we saw plenty of different kind of colorful butterflies. An info-board told about a rare small damselfly, but we never found this species.
Day was getting hot so there weren’t much bird-activity, but Warbling White-eyes (japonicus) and some Oriental Greenfinches were on the top of trees and a couple of Eastern Spot-billed Ducks flew over us. When we were walking back towards our tent we saw a family of Mute Swans, a Common Kingfisher was perched on one small board and finally we saw a Japanese Sparrowhawk that flew over us.
After a short rest we headed to forests that Hanna had seen in satellite-pictures. There were a couple of paths outside the park which the first one looked very promising. This path was very overgrown but there was small opening on the left side of the path and then really good-looking forest on both sides. It was already afternoon so only Brown-eared Bulbuls were active, but after some walking we heard calls of female Lesser Cuckoo and soon saw a male flying over us. Also a flock of Long-tailed Tits and a couple of Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers (nippon) were seen. The second track was actually a road and it lead to a small village where the first building was some kind of temple and there were barking dogs in the village. So we didn’t plan to come back there in the next morning.
When we got back to camping area, it was completely empty. Only an old guardian came to “talk” with us. Once again we understood a local much better than he understood us. He was worried how we would survive without a car as there was no shop nearby. We tried to tell him that we had everything we needed. He offered us a ride to a shop but we managed to refuse.
In the evening I decided to go jogging because I had somehow managed to get my back in really bad condition. Usually moving is the best medication. I ran around the forest-part where were lots of up- and down-hills and surprisingly found a Japanese Scops-owl that was calling actively and flying around the play-ground.
Once I was back at the tent, Hanna told that she had heard some partridge-like calls and also a distant Japanese Hawk-owl from the forest that was behind the camp-building. She had also heard very low bittern-like hooting from the pond. We checked our book and wondered if it could have been Japanese Night-heron and right then we heard a couple of Black-crowned Night-herons flying over us.
So we walked towards the pond and soon heard really low hooting. I started to record it and soon we sneaked closer. Once we were on the shore of the pond we could see that there were a couple of huge frogs that were hooting.
We soon continued to the playground where was absolutely silent. I played some Japanese Scops Owl sound and after some waiting we saw this quite bid scops-owl flying over us. But it didn’t say anything anymore and we didn’t see it again later. We also went to listen to Japanese Hawk-owl but we didn’t hear anything, so soon we were going to sleep.
On the 15th of June we woke up early and were planning to go to walk along the forest-path but then it started to rain. So we kept on sleeping. And it really rained! During the day Hanna woke me up and told that we had to move the tent. The grass-area was flooding but we managed to find a dry enough spot next to a ditch. And soon we were asleep again.
We were sleeping like babies and I had my back in really bad condition again so I really didn’t want to move at all. Somewhere in the afternoon we went to cook under one shelter and then slept again. In the evening the rain stopped shortly and I decided to go to run again. It had felt good in the previous evening so I decided to run more. I ran along Lake Hinuma to the northern end of the lake where on reed-beds I heard 8 Oriental Reed Warblers and saw a Zitting Cisticola and a Yellow Bittern, I also saw a couple of Mute Swan families, a female Green Pheasant with a couple of chicks, a Little Ringed Plover and a few Eastern Spot-billed Ducks. Hanna was sleeping about 20 hours during the day and it was late evening soon.
It was already dark when we heard a Ruddy Crake calling a couple of times from the reeds and finally we heard the “partridges” again and they were Chinese Bamboo Partridges. We went to try to listen to Japanese Hawk-owl too and after some tape-playing it responded once. And then we went to sleep once again.
On the 16th of June we woke up at night a couple of times when a couple of Ruddy Crakes were extremely noisy. I also heard a Japanese Hawk-owl calling a couple of times and when I woken up Hanna too it was quiet but then we heard a Ural Owl calling from different direction. It sounded almost ridiculous if comparing to Finnish Ural Owls but the rhythm was exactly the same.
We woke up when it was still dark and heard several Black-crowned Night Herons from the sky. We soon headed towards the forest-paths but it was clear that the vegetation was too wet so we couldn’t get into the forest at all. So we just walked along the roads but luckily there were some birds on these forests too.
We heard at least 4 Green Pheasants and saw a few more, some Lesser Cuckoos were calling and finally we heard some Chinese Bamboo Partridges well. We really tried to find some tits but all we found were Japanese Tits. But after some walking we heard a promising hoarse tit-call and found a couple of Varied Tits! These birds weren’t the most beautiful individuals because of they were completely wet but finally we had found this long-waited species.
When we had walked back to the park we headed towards the pool. I decided to play a little bit Varied Tit call and soon we had 2 more Varied Tits flying on the top of trees. It seemed to work, so I decided to play also Japanese Paradise Flycatcher song and after some seconds we heard a promising call behind us and then saw a female-plumaged Japanese Paradise Flycatcher flying over us. This bird was extremely mobile and always flew inside the tree, but once it stopped for a couple of seconds so we could see its beautiful blue eye-ring. We also heard another Japanese Paradise Flycatcher calling distant but unfortunately it never came visible, maybe it was a male which would have been really beautiful bird. But these birds disappeared soon and we couldn’t get any pictures of female either.
When we were back at the camping place we saw a couple of Grey-faced Buzzard soaring on the sky. We had to start packing our stuff, but they were all very wet. Luckily sun was now shining from the blue sky and we managed to get everything dry amazingly quickly. There were now many locals arriving to the camping area for picnic.
Finally we had packed everything and even our tent had been completely dry. Then we walked to the office to order a taxi with help of this funny worker. We had been communicating with him better and better all the time and now he started with Finnish “Moi”. And when the taxi arrived he said “Kiitos, moimoi! which means Thanks, goodbye!. While this comic-like man was waving his hand, the taxi left towards Mito railway-station.
In Mito we bought tickets to Tokyo and soon we were sitting in a train. From the window we saw a Common Kestrel (interstinctus) and some Little Egrets as a trip-tick and also one Green Pheasant.
Finally we were in Tokyo where we carried our luggage to a bench next to one park and rested a little bit, then we did some shopping and then continued to Takeshita harbor.
On the harbor Hanna went again to check that our reservation was OK and then we had again several hours to wait for our ferry. The harbor-area was very nice so we both went outside to take pictures during the day and also in the evening-light. Finally 15 minutes before the ferry was leaving we marched with other passengers to the ferry.
Hanna had booked a cabin for us beforehand but we were escorted to a big room with about 16 mattresses on the floor. Hanna had thought that we had something better booked but I had read somewhere that this was what a cabin looked like in this ferry. But luckily there weren’t many other passengers so soon we realized that we were in this big room alone. Hanna still looked at the Tokyo lights and harbor views when the ferry left but I was already sleeping.
On the 17th of June I slept extremely well even though I sensed that the sea was rough and the ferry was almost jumping. Waves were big and sharp so the bow was rising up and then crashing down. Luckily I had taken medication in the evening, so I wasn’t feeling sea-sick at all.
Alarm was waking us up at 4 a.m. and 15 minutes later we had climbed to the deck to seawatch. Surprisingly we already saw Miyakejima in horizon and not too far. There were lots of Streaked Shearwaters flying on the sea but we saw nothing else. And soon we had to go to pack our luggage as we arrived at Miyakejima already at 5 a.m. about 30 minutes early.
Endemic species on volcanic island
From the harbor we found Noda, the owner of Snapper Inn. We and a couple of local tourists got into his car and soon we were driving slowly and curvy roads towards the opposite side of the island. We saw immediately some birds along the road, after Tree Sparrows and Thick-billed Crows we saw the first Izu Thrushes and it really seemed to be a common bird as trushes were passing the road here and there. Now wonder why Izu Thrush (Akakokko) is the symbol-bird of Miyakejima. Also Warbling White-eyes (stejnegeri), Brown-eared Bulbuls and Oriental Turtle Doves were seen.
In Snapper Inn we carried our luggage to our room where were mattresses on the floor which is Japanese style. Luckily the room was big, so we could finally spread our stuff so that everything was easy to find. We had now 2 hopefully more relaxed days on this volcanic island. In history of this island has been several destructive eruptions. These eruptions have occurred about every 20th year and the latest eruption was 19 years ago, so it was about the time to visit this island. During the latest eruption the local people had been evacuated and they had been allowed to come back after 5 years! Still on the top of the island is a big area where it is not aloud to go, volcano is erupting deadly dangerous sulfur-gas.
Soon we had packed our equipment and from the back-yard we found the car that we had rented for 2 days. It was one of those funny box-like cars that were very common on Japanese roads. While we were packing the car we observed a couple of Lesser Cuckoos and first heard Chinese Bamboo Partridges and when we were driving we finally managed to see a couple of them.
We headed first towards Tairo-ike, the only lake on the island. On the way we saw Pacific Swifts, Japanese Bush Warblers, a Black Kite and Oriental Greenfinches. When we were driving down along the small road to Tairo-ike, we heard several endemic Izu Robins (split from Japanese Robin on most lists) and lots of Ijima’s Leaf Warblers.
When we had parked next to the lake we walked to a dock and saw 3 Great White Egrets on the shore and an Osprey flying over the lake. Warbling White-eyes were calling everywhere.
Soon we started to walk around the lake along Tsubota-rin path and we also made a couple of short walks in the forest. Several Wrens were singing and one tame bird came so close that Hanna got good pictures of it – and it really was dark one. Japanese Wood Pigeons were calling on the tree-tops on the hillside, but it took some time before we saw some of them flying over the lake. This species occurs in Japan only on small islands.
A couple of Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers (matsudarai) were found, one was drumming and another calling and these both sounds are ridiculous. And soon we found also family of endemic Owston’s Tits and managed to get some pictures too – unfortunately the parents of this family stayed on the top of trees but youngsters came low down.
Ijima’s Leaf Warblers were very common along the path but also more Izu Robins, Owston’s Tits and Japanese Wood Pigeons were found. Also some Izu Thrushes were singing their simple song on the hillside bushes.
When we had walked around the lake we drove to Akakokko Station that was nearby. It is local bird association office named after Izu Robin. But surprisingly the office was closed on Mondays. From the garden we found several tame birds so we tried to get some pictures. There were also a couple of local photographers and at least a young woman seemed to know what she was doing. She was the first local we saw listening calls, using binoculars to find the birds and then wait patiently the bird to come closer.
Hanna was photographing birds by the pool that was on the back-yard of the office: Izu Thrushes, Owston’s Tits, Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers and an Izu Robin. Also Ijima’s Leaf Warblers, Wrens and Japanese Wood Pigeons were heard.
We soon continued along the road towards Toga Misaki cape but stopped to one parking place that had some information-boards. While parking we heard a promising song and soon were watching a Styan’s Grasshopper Warbler! This species occurs only on a couple of small Japanese and also Korean islands. We also saw a couple of Meadow Buntings and heard several Lesser Cuckoos. In this place there had been a lake that had dried during one of the eruption in the past and was now completely overgrown.
In this island there were lots of parking places and information-boards both in Japanese and English along the roads. All paths were pretty well marked and there were lots of maps everywhere along the main-road showing the closest places. There were also shelters and toilets along the road and these toilets were shining clean and local toilet-seats were quite an adventure with warmed seat and many buttons that I didn’t dare to test.
In Toga Misaki we saw a Slaty-backed Gull and heard at least 3 Styan’s Grasshopper Warblers. On the fence next to the lighthouse we saw also a female Blue Rock Thrush briefly and the sea was full of Streaked Shearwaters.
When we continued driving around the island we saw some Barn Swallows and another Blue Rock Thrush and then we made next stop in Yakushi-do temple-forest. Day was getting hot and suddenly I started to feel extremely tired. So we just laid down on the road next to the temple and listened to same forest-birds that were common on this place too. Pretty soon we continued again.
In Izu Cape we cooked on the shadow of the lighthouse and saw again lots of Streaked Shearwaters. 5 Styan’s Grasshopper Warblers were singing around us. One of them was singing openly and we managed to get really good pictures of it. Also some Pacific Swifts and a Great White Egret were seen.
Finally we had driven around the whole island and it was good to rest a little in our dark and air-conditioned room. Hanna tried to sleep a little while I went jogging and I saw some pretty good endemic species.
In the evening we had agreed to do a short trip with our host. Also a Japanese couple joined us and soon we had driven to a parking place that was under the hillside where were many dead tree-trunks standing.
It was already completely dark when we walked to the forest and soon Noda showed us what we had been came to see – glowing mushrooms. These tiny mushrooms were growing on the holes on tree-trunks especially under fallen trees and we found them a lot. We were photographing these mushrooms for an hour or so while a couple of Japanese Hawk-owls were calling actively nearby.
On the 18th of June we drove early in the morning to Toga Misaki to seawatch but pretty soon we were bored to see only Streaked Shearwaters. We saw a couple of thousands of them and only other bird seen was an Osprey. So soon we drove to Akakokko Station but for some reason there were less birds now and the only ones were high on the tops of trees. Only Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers were showing well.
We decided to have a more touristic day and soon we were walking on the shore of Kamakata where we saw a small volcano, walked on a black beach and also then we headed to Ako path that went around a school that had destroyed on the lava-stream in 1980. During the walks we saw and heard plenty of Lesser Cuckoos but these birds were extremely difficult to see well. We never got a single photograph of this species. We also saw lots of different kind of big butterflies which some species were photographed.
On the second visit of the day to Akakokko Station the information center was open, but the guide didn’t speak any English. She showed us a way to see the pool from the other side than we had been earlier but there weren’t many birds visiting. We also followed a video about the latest eruption that the guide showed to a local group of tourists. It was of course all Japanese. Then we continued again to Izu Cape to cook while Styan’s Grasshopper Warblers were singing and sea was full of Streaked Shearwaters.
When we were back in Snapper Inn we slept a little but then drove once more to Izu Cape to see more Streaked Shearwaters and listen to Styan’s Grasshopper Warblers. One dark shearwater was also seen but too distant.
It was already dark when we still did a short walk near Snapper Inn and we photographed frogs and heard a couple of Japanese Hawk-owls and a call of a Grey Heron.
On the 19th of June we slept longer and during morning we just walked nearby. We found out that all the target-species could be found in this small area, even a Styan’s Grasshopper Warbler and a couple of Izu Tits and an Izu Robin were found.
After I had been running we cooked along one small road and then went to pack our luggage. Then Noda drove us and a couple of Japanese women to the harbor and pretty soon our ferry arrived and then left towards Tokyo.
We of course climbed to the deck to seawatch. The sea was very calm so maybe that was the reason why we didn’t see any storm-petrels, petrels or albatrosses. But Streaked Shearwaters were seen enough, again one single dark unidentified shearwater and then one Bulwer’s Petrel. All the floating things were checked but we didn’t see any Japanese Murrelets, just plastic bottles and other rubbish. The best observation was one big shark that was slowly swimming next to the ferry for some time. Still in Tokyo-bay we saw some Streaked Shearwaters and when we were already in the harbor-area we saw a Black-crowned Night Heron and an Osprey.
When we were in the harbor, we walked to the same railway-station and tried to buy tickets to Narita. It seemed to be very complicated but luckily one very kind local man helped us. He escorted us to another company’s station and helped us to buy the tickets. He told that with the first company we should have changed train 4 times and it would’ve cost more than this one that was going straight to Narita.
So soon we were in a full train where we had to stand with our huge bags. On several stations there was an empty seat freed but locals were running to sit before us. And it really wasn’t easy to stand and control all our bags. Luckily when we got further from Tokyo city we got empty seats and the rest of the trip was easier. After an hour we were in Narita and walked to Welco Hotel that Hanna had booked. It was very close and actually really nice hotel. In the evening we went to eat to McDonalds so Hanna got some proteins too and I must say that I was pretty bored to noodles too.
Twitching in Sasagawa
On the 20th of June we woke up early and soon walked to another railway-station. We had checked in the evening that there was the earliest train leaving to Sasagawa. After some waiting our train arrived and then an hour and 15 minutes later we were in Sasagawa. There we started to walk through the village towards the river.
When we reached the river we first went to a small boat-harbor but didn’t hear any of our target-species. We did see Black-crowned Night Herons, Little Terns, a Green Pheasant and heard several Oriental Reed Warblers and Zitting Cisticolas. But after we had followed the road towards east for a couple of hundreds of meters we heard the first Marsh Grassbird. And soon we heard more of them and also saw a couple of them flying display-flight up and down. But they were all pretty far. So we had to satisfy to take recordings. We walked a little bit down and closer to the reeds and then flushed a female Japanese Reed Bunting from its nest. We of course backed away immediately and then walked to record the next Marsh Grassbird.
We still heard a couple of singing Japanese Reed Buntings too but saw only two males very briefly. Altogether we heard 10 Marsh Grassbirds in very small area. Also a Black-browed Reed Warbler was seen and heard singing on the top of one bush, Meadow Buntings were also singing and one Mute Swans was seen. It had been windy whole morning but it was getting even windier and there were big dark clouds on the horizon. So we decided to start walking back to the railway-station.
Train back to Narita took an hour and then the rest of the day we took easier. We did a couple of hours walk in the city where were lots of small shops and big temple-area. Hanna even found some souvenirs. We also ate a couple of times but in the evening we had to pack everything well. And we went to sleep early, we had an early wake up again.
On the 21st of June we took the first train to Narita airport Terminal 2. Most of the shops were still closed and after check in we had to wait for some time before the security-check opened. After that Hanna still bought some souvenirs but I really found nothing. Then we changed the rest of Jenis to Euros and went to gate to wait for our flight,
Our flight left a little bit late at 10 a.m. and first we were watching movies and then tried to sleep as much as possible. Finally we landed to Helsinki-Vantaa 30 minutes before the schedule at 1:20 p.m. When I opened my phone I got a message that a Red-headed Bunting had been found in Salo only 10 minutes earlier. So our journey got still one more turn. Luckily we got our luggage and a ride to Lentopysäköinti really smoothly. So soon we were driving towards Salo. But after all we managed to get back home to Parikkala early enough, so we still went to put up the mist-nets to our ringing place and after a couple of hours sleeping we were ringing birds…