The Japanese archipelago lies at the eastern edge of Eurasia and includes a very diverse range of habitats. Japan is a surprisingly mountainous and wooded land, with beautifully varied coastlines and heavily populated lowlands, where tiny rice fields dot the landscape amidst the rural dwellings.
Winter birding here is one of Earth's great avian spectacles, and three areas in particular are essential for our tour: the Hooded and White-naped crane sanctuaries of Kyushu in the far south, the Red-crowned Crane reserve in southern Hokkaido, and the wintering grounds of magnificent Steller's Sea-Eagles on the ice fields around Lake Furen in the far north. Wintering wildfowl (including Falcated and Mandarin ducks, Smew, and Baikal Teal), thrushes (Dusky, Brown-headed, Scaly, and Pale), finches (Asian Rosy-Finch, Long-tailed Rosefinch, Hawfinch), and alcids (including Spectacled Guillemot), the challenge of the large white-headed Asian gull complex, the world's largest owl--Blakiston's Fish-Owl--and a useful sprinkling of endemics (Ryukyu Minivet, Japanese Green Woodpecker, Green and perhaps Copper pheasants) on the main islands add to a truly memorable visit.
Japanese culture is also a feature of the trip, as some of our lodgings are in traditional Japanese guesthouses, or minshuku, with tatami rush matting, futon bedding, and wonderful deep hot springs (onsen). The food is also distinctive, with a fantastic selection of sauces for the fish, rice, and vegetable dishes that make up the traditional cuisine. This tour also has strong appeal to photographers as several of our birding sites offer good opportunities for photography and video, with beautiful scenery and large, spectacular species at close range. And we should have a chance to see the famous Snow Monkeys (aka Japanese Macaques--the most northerly non-human primates) bathing in the hot springs surrounded by deep snow as well, an amazing spectacle.
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