This was my seventeenth winter Japan trip, and we began as usual at Narita, where a Brown-headed Thrush was at Tokko Creek not far from the hotel, with another later that day at Ibanuma. Falcated Duck showed nicely, as did an Eastern Buzzard and Bull-headed Shrike plus a Common Kingfisher and Green Sandpiper. We then heard about a very large flock of Baikal Teal at Ibanuma which was more or less on our route. Some 30,000 birds are estimated here, and we eventually got some nice views fairly close by, Don's number one want for the trip inside two hours!
Karuizawa was not very snowy, so there were no ice hazards this time, and our visit to Kaikoen Park in very dull conditions gave a surprise flock of Mandarin Ducks on the river and the only Japanese Woodpecker and Brambling of the trip. Next morning was unfortunately one of freezing fog with very bad visibility, and small birds were largely absent, though we did get a brief foggy view of Hawfinch and Japanese Grosbeak. Our afternoon trip to Saku gave us our first Smew, but the riverine habitat gave us a male Green Pheasant and Long-billed Plover.
The Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani hot springs were a big hit as always, though this year with very little snow. Later we had great views of Taiga Bean Goose and the usual distant Baikal Teal at Kamoike, several Eastern Buzzards, plus more Smew and great Falcated Ducks nearby. Hashidate Harbor gave us Japanese Cormorant plus Vega and Slaty-backed gulls and a single Black-tailed Gull.
Kyushu was nice for the two days. We made a boat trip at Kadogawa near Miyazaki in quest of Japanese Murrelet, which was sadly missing in action this year. I felt very sorry for the tourism people who were along to get publicity. Arasaki gave us a wonderful show of Hooded and White-naped cranes -- some 10,000 in the area this year -- plus two Sandhill and at least two Common Cranes with sundry hybrids, and a marvelous bonus of one or perhaps two Siberian Cranes which we got to see in flight. An outbreak of avian flu meant more than 1000 cranes had perished earlier, and quarantine procedures were in place with washing of vehicle tires with disinfectant, though thankfully access to the sites was still allowed.
Saunders's Gull was back again this year and showed well with some 92 birds, my highest count ever; Black-faced Spoonbills also showed nicely. We saw an astonishing 500 or so Mandarin Ducks at Kogawa Dam, by far my most ever. Heading down to Sendae next day we saw Japanese Cormorant and great Mandarins but it was again a very poor year for buntings, with hardly any around.
Russet Sparrow, Long-billed Plover, and Japanese Wagtail showed nicely on the Sendae River as we drove to Miike, but it began to rain hard and Miike really only gave us Eurasian Nuthatch, Long-tailed Tit, and Olive-backed Pipit. Jun got to hear of vagrant Ferruginous Ducks near Kagoshima, so we were able to twitch a pair in with Pochards and Tufted Ducks, a Japan-tick for Phil.
Hokkaido was gorgeous, with a fair bit of snow and sea-ice, and very cold temperatures. We commenced with wonderful Red-crowned Cranes in the snow, and we saw them again at dawn the next day at the famous scenic river spot before a great experience with more than 100 birds at Tsurui where they were flighting in, bugling loudly, and best of all dancing in the snow. Our old favorite Ural Owl was also still at the roost in the ancient tree in the forest, we have seen the species here since 2014, and the tree now has steel bands around it for support. This year the young Blakiston's Fish-Owl came in at 1910 hrs and sat for an hour before grabbing a fish, and a second bird appeared later.
The boat trip at Rausu was cancelled, and there were oddly hardly any Steller's Sea-Eagles around either there or at Notsuke; it was only at Furen that we finally got really nice looks at them, and with typical Japanese consideration the hotel owner there let us view without charge as numbers were quite low. White-tailed Eagles were around much as usual, so I don't know what was going on with the Steller's this year.
The lake at Teshikaga was good for Whooper Swans, who were hoping to be fed, Scaup and Eurasian Wren foraging along the edge, whilst Jun found the only White-backed Woodpecker of the trip and a Great-spotted Woodpecker also showed plus we had the first White-tailed Eagle of the trip.
Our onsen at Yoroushi gave good looks at Brandt's (Eurasian) Jay, Marsh Tit, the white-bellied race of Eurasian Nuthatch, Brown Dipper, and at last Crested Kingfisher. A stop at Odaito on the way to Furen gave us unexpected Asian Rosy Finch and Snow Bunting.
Cape Nosappu is one of my favorites, and the first afternoon there was bitterly cold with very strong winds and rough seas and a seemingly locked hide so we couldn't shelter. Nonetheless we got a great view of a drake Stejneger's Scoter, lots of Black Scoter, an Eared Grebe, and Spectacled Guillemot. Onnemato bird hide was cold and quiet, though a Pigeon Guillemot showed briefly. Next morning at Nosappu was sunny and with little wind, lovely conditions which are rare here in winter, and the lady showed up to unfreeze the lock with a kettle of hot water after Jun had rung the council yesterday! Red-necked Grebe, Harlequin, and Long-tailed Ducks showed well, as did Spectacled Guillemot and Thick-billed Murre, whilst a Steller's Sea-Eagle flew in from the direction of Russian-occupied Japan carrying what seemed to be a Black Scoter, which it plucked on a nearby headland. A Sea Otter also showed briefly, and we had a fine view of a Russian rust-bucket trawler, identified by the appalling state of the boat, and quickly followed by a Japanese coastguard vessel as it must have been very close to Japanese waters!
We ended the tour as usual at beautiful bleak Kiritappu, again in lovely weather, where Harlequin showed well and we saw Arctic Loon offshore. A stop at the saltings gave Dark-bellied Brant amongst the Whooper Swans, and a quick look at Akkeshi harbor gave farewell views of both the big eagles and more than 1000 Whooper Swans. A final surprise awaited en route to Kushiro too, with a Short-eared Owl on roadside wires that gave good flight views.
Jun Matsui was once again my co-leader and our driver, and we benefited greatly from his patience, local knowledge, and interpretive skills. My thanks to the group for coming and enjoying the many varied aspects of the tour as well as the birds. Particular thanks to Jun for driving so well, organizing a wonderful variety of lunch stops, arranging the bags like a Tetris piece each day, and acting as our intermediary in all matters Japanese; thanks also to Sue and Rowan at Sicklebill Safaris for good internal logistics; and to Karen at Field Guides for the flights and being the general tour manager. Why not join us for an unforgettable birding and cultural experience in this wonderful country in 2024?
Our Itinerary in Brief
Jan 15 Tokko River outflow (Narita Creek) / Ibanuma / Kaikoen Castle Park/Komoro
Jan 16 Karuizawa area / Shiotsubo / Saku Reservoir and river.
Jan 17 Jigokudani Monkey Park / Kahokugata / Komatsu
Jan 18 Awara city fields Hashidate Harbor / Katano Kamoike/ Ouchigata near Kanazawa
Jan 19 JAL to Haneda / JAL to Kagoshima / Miyazaki
Jan 20 Kadogawa boat trip / Yatsushiro /I Izumi
Jan 21 Arasaki and eastern fields
Jan 22 Sendae Gawa / Lake Miike / Kagoshima
Jan 23 JAL to Haneda / JAL to Kushiro and then Tsurui cranes
Jan 24 Otowa Bridge, WBSJ Crane sanctuary, Ural Owl site, Teshikaga lake, Rausu harbor and Washi-no-Yado
Jan 25 Washi-no-Yado / Notsuke Sandspit / Yoroushi onsen
Jan 26 Yoroushi onsen then heavy snow and sleet and strong winds. Nosappu misaki in dire windy conditions, overnight
Jan 27 Onnemato bird hide, Nosappu misaki, then Kiritappu in horizontal snow and strong wind. Kushiro overnight.
Jan 28 JAL Kushiro to Haneda / Express bus to Narita and flights home.
KEYS FOR THIS LIST
One of the following keys may be shown in brackets for individual species as appropriate: * = heard only, I = introduced, E = endemic, N = nesting, a = austral migrant, b = boreal migrant
GREATER WHITE-FRONTED GOOSE (Anser albifrons)
200 north of Kanazawa at Ouchigata, but our wild goose chase did not yield the hoped for Lesser White-front that was here recently.
TAIGA BEAN-GOOSE (Anser fabalis middendorffii)
200 at Katano Kamoike, a reliable winter site for them.
BRANT (BLACK) (Branta bernicla nigricans)
About 200 were on the flooded saltings near Kiritappu, dwarfed by the accompanying Whooper Swans, an incongruous grouping. They are from the dark-bellied group.
TUNDRA SWAN (WHISTLING) (Cygnus columbianus columbianus)
A single with Bewick's Swans near Komatsu, the mainly black bill had a small yellow patch at the base. This is a North American vagrant here.
TUNDRA SWAN (BEWICK'S) (Cygnus columbianus bewickii)
200 north of Kanazawa at Ouchigata, with a group of 5 near Komatsu earlier having a single Whistling Swan among them
WHOOPER SWAN (Cygnus cygnus)
This lovely bird was first seen coming up hopefully on the pond at Teshikaga, then small numbers at various sites before an amazing 1000 or so at Akkeshi Harbour.
COMMON SHELDUCK (Tadorna tadorna)
7 at Yatsushiro and 20 at Arasaki.
MANDARIN DUCK (Aix galericulata)
Another fine duck we got on the first day with 10 on the river at Kaikoen Park. Then Kogawa Dam had about 500 birds, by far my most ever and I was very pleased to be able to record the yelping quack they give. This is posted on the xenocanto and Cornell websites where most sound recordings are of captive birds.
BAIKAL TEAL (Sibirionetta formosa)
Amazingly we got this within 2 hours on day one, as there were a reported 30,000 birds wintering at Ibanuma! They very initially too far away to be sure, but later we got much closer for nice views and Don could relax already. Katano also had 200 as expected.
NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)
Only seen at Awara and Katano with 9 and 12 respectively.
GADWALL (Mareca strepera)
Very scarce, some saw a couple at Ibanuma and there were 2 at Saku.
FALCATED DUCK (Mareca falcata)
30 at Tokko Creek near Narita on our first outing, then 100 at Ibanuma and wonderful views of 30 at Awara pond, this really is a spectacular duck with the long falcate (sickle-shaped) tertials.
EURASIAN WIGEON (Mareca penelope)
Widespread but no big numbers, 100 being the maximum, and just a few on Hokkaido.
EASTERN SPOT-BILLED DUCK (Anas zonorhyncha)
6 at Tokko Creek at Narita, then 50 at Saku and Awara, with 100 at Sendae and 50 at Lake Miike.
MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)
Common at most wetlands, with hundreds at Kahokugata and Awara.
NORTHERN PINTAIL (Anas acuta)
300 at Ibanuma and 200 at Arasaki were the most, with none on Hokkaido.
GREEN-WINGED TEAL (EURASIAN) (Anas crecca crecca)
150 at Awara duck pond were the most, we saw small numbers elsewhere.
COMMON POCHARD (Aythya ferina)
We saw 50 at Ibanuma, 50 Saku, 50 at Lake Miike, 10 at Katano and 30 at Kogawa Dam. BirdLife states: New information suggests the population has declined rapidly across the majority of the range, and it has therefore been up-listed to Vulnerable.
FERRUGINOUS DUCK (Aythya nyroca)
Two vagrants at a wetland near Kagoshima were a very nice trip addition and my first in Japan. The male had a white eye, the female a brownish eye, and it's a scarce bird anywhere.
TUFTED DUCK (Aythya fuligula)
10 at Tokko Creek, 10 at Saku and small numbers from Lake Miike and then at Teshikaga.
GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)
Always scarce, we saw 3 females at Teshikaga, then had 7 fly past at Cape Nosappu and a few at Akkeshi Harbour later.
HARLEQUIN DUCK (Histrionicus histrionicus)
A few at Rausu and off Nosappu and Onnemato, always a lovely bird to see, and the two drakes off Kiritappu were positively glowing neon in the bright sunlight there.
STEJNEGER'S SCOTER (Melanitta stejnegeri)
A great look at a drake on the sea off Cape Nosappu in rough windy conditions on Jan 26th.
BLACK SCOTER (Melanitta americana)
Good numbers off Nosappu and Kiritappu with several hundred birds.
LONG-TAILED DUCK (Clangula hyemalis)
I thought we were going to miss it, but we saw half a dozen off Cape Nosappu on the last morning visit, and got Dayton onto it eventually!
COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)
Just a few in Hokkaido with 20 the most; quite small numbers again this year.
SMEW (Mergellus albellus)
A fine drake and a couple of redheads on the reservoir at Saku, and a single redhead at Katano Kamoike.
COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)
Nice looks at Saku, then a few on Hokkaido.
RED-BREASTED MERGANSER (Mergus serrator)
Small numbers from Rausu and Notsuke this year.
RING-NECKED PHEASANT (GREEN) (Phasianus colchicus versicolor) [E]
We saw Japanese Pheasant at Saku River with a skulking male, then a fine male stepped across the track at the Ferruginous Duck site. Now split from Ring-necked Pheasant too, and a Japanese endemic.
LITTLE GREBE (LITTLE) (Tachybaptus ruficollis poggei)
Three singles and one record of 2 birds from various wetlands in the south; this race has a yellow eye.
HORNED GREBE (Podiceps auritus auritus)
A single off Cape Nosappu, called Slavonian Grebe here and not something we see every trip.
RED-NECKED GREBE (Podiceps grisegena holbollii)
Two off Cape Nosappu were a good find.
GREAT CRESTED GREBE (Podiceps cristatus cristatus)
Some saw one at Ibanuma, then there were 3 at Kahokugata and 5 at Yatsushiro.
EARED GREBE (Podiceps nigricollis nigricollis)
4 at Kadogawa harbour were the only ones, called Black-necked Grebe in most of the Old World.
ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]
A few in the big cities.
ORIENTAL TURTLE-DOVE (Streptopelia orientalis orientalis)
Widespread, with 6 day records of very small numbers this year, with 10 seen at the Arasaki areas.
EURASIAN MOORHEN (Gallinula chloropus)
Just a single subadult at the Saku River.
EURASIAN COOT (Fulica atra)
Small numbers at Saku, Katano Kamoike and the Arasaki area.
SIBERIAN CRANE (Leucogeranus leucogeranus)
A great find near Arasaki, Jun learned the location and there it was with 3 White-naped Cranes, They got flushed and I was able to get some flight videos of this very rare species, I had not see it in flight before. The Japanese name is Black-winged Crane and it is well suited. We saw it or probably the other bird that is here in the Eastern Fields that evening. They are annual each year in Japan but usually just one or two and can be almost anywhere.
SANDHILL CRANE (CANADENSIS) (Antigone canadensis canadensis)
Two at Arasaki on the first day at the Eastern Fields, and one near the centre next day. Small numbers are regular here each year.
WHITE-NAPED CRANE (Antigone vipio)
Something like 2000 birds at Arasaki, one of the most striking of the family, a really beautiful large and exotic looking crane.
COMMON CRANE (Grus grus)
Singles at Arasaki, a regular here in very small numbers.
HOODED CRANE (Grus monacha)
Great view of the birds around Arasaki where over 7600 were counted this week. Don gets a countable one at last!
RED-CROWNED CRANE (Grus japonensis)
Wonderful views at Tsurui on the first day with about 9 birds seen at rest and in flight, then a distant flock of 30 at the famous bridge site next day and then 102 at the Tsurui feeding area. I got some very pleasing videos of them in flight, bugling and best of all dancing in the snow. Posted on FG Smugmug and my Facebook page.
BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)
About 20 at Yatsushiro.
NORTHERN LAPWING (Vanellus vanellus)
Good views at Arasaki and near Komatsu, a spectacular plover.
KENTISH PLOVER (Charadrius alexandrinus)
Nice views on the mudflats at Yatsushiro with about 50 birds.
COMMON RINGED PLOVER (Charadrius hiaticula)
A single at Yatsushiro which was I was amazed to discover my first in Japan!
LONG-BILLED PLOVER (Charadrius placidus)
Good views of one at Saku, then 3 on the Sendae River, video on the FG Smugmug and Cornell sites
RUFF (Calidris pugnax)
One at Arasaki was unexpected and a Japanese tick for Phil.
DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)
A big flock at Yatsushiro.
COMMON SNIPE (Gallinago gallinago)
I think some saw one at Arasaki, they seem to be scarce on this trip these days.
COMMON SANDPIPER (Actitis hypoleucos)
Two day records from Arasaki, with 2 on the first day.
GREEN SANDPIPER (Tringa ochropus)
One at Tokko Creek and some saw one at Arasaki.
COMMON GREENSHANK (Tringa nebularia)
Just a single at Yatsushiro.
COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge)
One off Cape Nosappu.
THICK-BILLED MURRE (Uria lomvia)
One off Cape Nosappu on the morning visit.
PIGEON GUILLEMOT (Cepphus columba)
One was off Onnemato, the large white wing patch and pale head showing.
SPECTACLED GUILLEMOT (Cepphus carbo)
A couple seen at Cape Nosappu on both visits, with good views in the much better weather on the morning visit.
SAUNDERS'S GULL (Saundersilarus saundersi)
A very good count from Yatsushiro where we hit it at just the right rising tide, and counted 92 birds, my highest ever. They feed like delicate terns along the tide edge, catching small crabs. A rare species with something like 5000 in total, mostly breeding at a handful of coastal sites in China.
BLACK-HEADED GULL (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)
Don saw one at Ibanuma, then we had 10 at Yatsushiro and surprisingly 25 a Rausu, a very high count there and with one bird having the black head of summer plumage! Then one at Akkeshi on the last day.
BLACK-TAILED GULL (Larus crassirostris)
Hashidate harbor gave us our first, with one nice close bird, then there were about 5 at Yatsushiro and 2 at Kadogawa on the murrelet quest trip; a very attractive, dark-mantled yellow-legged gull.
COMMON GULL (KAMCHATKA) (Larus canus kamtschatschensis)
Small numbers of this rather distinctive taxon from coastal Hokkaido starting at Rausu, I am sure it is a split from Common Gull as per the recent Princeton Gulls book.
HERRING GULL (VEGA) (Larus argentatus vegae)
The common, pale-mantled pink-legged Herring-type gull, with 15 at Hashidate, half a dozen seen at Yatsushiro and a couple at Rausu. Large gull taxonomy remains vexatious and HBW/BirdLife class this with American Herring Gull, whilst IOC split it as Vega Gull.
SLATY-BACKED GULL (Larus schistisagus)
One at Hashidate harbor, then the default large dark mantled gull on Hokkaido with several hundred most days.
GLAUCOUS-WINGED GULL (Larus glaucescens)
Just a few from Notsuke and Nosappu, the adults with the grey-tipped primaries, and a few of the rather distinctive greyish immatures.
GLAUCOUS GULL (Larus hyperboreus)
Just a handful around Rausu and Notsuke, and a few near Furen, with one or two off Nosappu misaki. Several very nice, really white looking birds were fun to see too.
RED-THROATED LOON (Gavia stellata)
One flew by off Nosappu and there was another briefly at Kiritappu as I was looking at the Steller's Sea-Eagle on the sea stack.
ARCTIC LOON (Gavia arctica)
Three on the sea off Kiritappu looked good for this species, not one we usually see on the tour.
PELAGIC CORMORANT (Urile pelagicus)
Good numbers off Nosappu (100+), with lovely greenish iridescence when seen on the rocks.
GREAT CORMORANT (EURASIAN) (Phalacrocorax carbo hanedae)
Seen at Saku Reservoir, very white-headed looking.
JAPANESE CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax capillatus) [E]
Seen at Hashidate harbour and then on the Kadogawa boat trip, I was surprised at how badly the Lynx Japan Field Guide deals with separating these two.
GRAY HERON (Ardea cinerea)
A few at Ibanuma, Saku, Arasaki and Kahokugata, max 5 birds.,
GREAT EGRET (EURASIAN) (Ardea alba alba)
Seven day records, usually singles but 7 at Arasaki on one day. It looks somewhat bigger and leggier than the Australasian taxon.
LITTLE EGRET (WESTERN) (Egretta garzetta garzetta)
I at Ibanuma and up to 4 at Arasaki.
BLACK-CROWNED NIGHT-HERON (Nycticorax nycticorax)
One at Saku was a surprise and the only one of the trip.
BLACK-FACED SPOONBILL (Platalea minor)
A single at Yatsushiro, and 6 at Arasaki, a rare bird. For once they were awake and you could see the black face clearly. An immature flying away at Yatsushiro was most likely this species too.
OSPREY (HALIAETUS) (Pandion haliaetus haliaetus)
Four day records with 4 at Yatsushiro the most.
EASTERN MARSH-HARRIER (Circus spilonotus)
One at Ibanuma was a good find of a species we seldom see on the tour.
EURASIAN SPARROWHAWK (Accipiter nisus)
One flew over at Kogawa Dam.
BLACK KITE (BLACK-EARED) (Milvus migrans lineatus)
Widespread and fairly common; they sure look different from Black Kite, and some lists (not IOC) do split them.
WHITE-TAILED EAGLE (Haliaeetus albicilla)
Some great views, they are at least were around at Rausu and Notsuke, and we saw them well at the Furen feeding station.
STELLER'S SEA-EAGLE (Haliaeetus pelagicus)
Oddly we saw just one at Rausu, they have not yet come north so the usual spectacle around the harbour and above the town was not happening. Notsuke is usually also a good bet, but again we saw just one flying away, so the pressure was on! Happily we saw an adult flying as we came away from Yoroushi, then had lovely views on the ice at Lake Furen, again at Nosappu and Kiritappu. One at Nosappu came in off the sea carrying something black, which looked to be a Black Scoter when we watched it plucking the hapless bird on a headland nearby. One of the great charismatic species for sure, and a truly magnificent bird. Classified as Vulnerable, with just 3600-3800 individuals, mostly wintering in Japan and breeding in Russia and Korea. it was bird of the trip for most folks, tied with Red-crowned Crane.
EASTERN BUZZARD (Buteo japonicus japonicus)
5 day records starting at Tokko Creek with 5 at Katano Kamoike and Awara pond the most. One bird was soaring and coming in close to a perched individual at Katano, video on Cornell.
BLAKISTON'S FISH-OWL (Ketupa blakistoni)
A fabulous creature, arguably the world's largest owl. Classified as Endangered with population estimates of just 1000-2500 birds, it is a hard species to survey in its remote forest habitat in Russia and Japan. The Hokkaido population is estimated to be just 150 birds.
URAL OWL (Strix uralensis)
The roost site near Tsurui came good again, with a bird in perfect winter morning sunlight, just fantastic and a trip highlight. We have seen them here since 2014, and the venerable old tree now has steel bands around it for support!
SHORT-EARED OWL (Asio flammeus)
The last trip addition was one perched on a power line by the road on the last day near Akkeshi. Luckily it then flew around and we had good flight views and saw it perched up on a wire again, I think the first time I've ever seen one do this. It's scarce and not a species we see every trip.
COMMON KINGFISHER (Alcedo atthis)
Three singles from Tokko Creek, Saku and Kogawa Dam.
CRESTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle lugubris)
Dayton and I saw one flying and calling high over the photographers at Otowa Bridge, my first sighting there, then Jun found us one sat up at Yoroushi as we were about to leave. We were able to show it to the VENT group as well which was nice.
JAPANESE PYGMY WOODPECKER (Yungipicus kizuki)
This lovely little chap showed well at Kaikoen Park, then at the Bird Forest in the freezing fog before 2 at Miike.
WHITE-BACKED WOODPECKER (WHITE-BACKED) (Dendrocopos leucotos subcirris)
A great find by Jun was this one on a tree out in the pond at Teshikaga, it's an elusive low density species we only see it once or twice per trip. The pinkish under tail coverts showed quite well, and the lack of a big white scapular patch distinguishes it from Great-spotted.
GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER (GREAT SPOTTED) (Dendrocopos major japonicus)
Surprisingly few, seen at Karuizawa and Kaikoen and also at Teshikaga, but not as forthcoming as normal this trip.
JAPANESE WOODPECKER (Picus awokera) [E]
Just one or maybe two at Kaikoen Park, it's a low density Japanese endemic and this is a good site for it.
EURASIAN KESTREL (Falco tinnunculus)
Just 3 day records of singles from Honshu.
BULL-HEADED SHRIKE (Lanius bucephalus)
First at Tokko Creek at Narita,
EURASIAN JAY (BRANDT'S) (Garrulus glandarius brandtii)
Nice views of a couple from Yoroushi, where one was sat with a piece of bread in its beak for a long time. This taxon has a dark eye and much richer coloration than the southern birds, and is surely a split in waiting.
EURASIAN JAY (JAPANESE) (Garrulus glandarius japonicus)
This pale -eyed taxon was seen as we walked into the Snow Monkey Park, and heard scolding at Karuizawa.
DAURIAN JACKDAW (Corvus dauuricus)
Very nice at Arasaki where we saw a pied adult and 4 or 5 of the dark immatures that were calling loudly. They get in among the Rooks but are far smaller.
ROOK (Corvus frugilegus pastinator)
Several hundred at Arasaki. Yet another potential split.
CARRION CROW (EASTERN) (Corvus corone orientalis)
Small numbers on Honshu and Kyushu, but hardly any on Hokkaido this year. Another potential split.
LARGE-BILLED CROW (LARGE-BILLED) (Corvus macrorhynchos japonensis)
This large heavy-billed species with the domed forehead was also widespread throughout, and another likely split as Japanese Crow; they are vocally unlike mainland Asian birds in the complex.
COAL TIT (CONTINENTAL) (Periparus ater insularis)
Just a couple seen at Karuizawa, This race has a small crest.
VARIED TIT (Sittiparus varius varius)
Great looks at Kaikoen and i got a couple of good recordings which are now on Cornell and xeno-canto. Also seen at Karuizawa, Kadogawa, Kogawa and Miike, a good year for what can be an uncommon bird.
MARSH TIT (Poecile palustris hensoni)
Great views at Yoroushi and a nice photo on Smugmug and Cornell, framed in a snowy conifer.
WILLOW TIT (WILLOW) (Poecile montanus restrictus)
The first were along the forest road near Karuizawa, then great views from Shiotsubo, the pale wing panel and large head quite apparent.
JAPANESE TIT (Parus minor)
Seen well at Narita, Komoro and Shiotsubo, then at Yoroushi; the former Great Tit is quite nicely coloured when seen well. I do lament the loss of what was Great Tit Parus major minor though.....
EURASIAN SKYLARK (FAR EASTERN) (Alauda arvensis japonica)
A few were seen around Arasaki; they do not call or sing like Eurasian Skylarks, and I think they should be split as they once were.
ZITTING CISTICOLA (Cisticola juncidis)
One at the Eastern Fields was unexpected, with scope views too as I was checking for buntings!
BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)
Half a dozen near Miyazaki, with pale underparts.
BROWN-EARED BULBUL (Hypsipetes amaurotis amaurotis)
Widespread and vocal, seen every day on Honshu and Kyushu but only a few on Hokkaido. They were eating bread at Yoroushi.
JAPANESE BUSH WARBLER (Horornis diphone cantans)
One briefly at Arasaki and heard at Kadogawa.
LONG-TAILED TIT (EUROPAEUS GROUP) (Aegithalos caudatus trivirgatus)
Nice looks at Kaikoen, Karuizawa and Miike, this is the stripe-headed version not the lovely white-headed one that is now such a marketing icon on Hokkaido. I got a nice recording from Shiotsubo which is on the Cornell and xenocanto websites.
WARBLING WHITE-EYE (Zosterops japonicus)
Small numbers at half a dozen sites including Arasaki, formerly Japanese White-eye but now split into several very similar forms.
RED-BILLED LEIOTHRIX (Leiothrix lutea) [I]
One in the hills above Kadogawa, then 3 at Kogawa Dam where this a new and invasive arrival.
EURASIAN NUTHATCH (WHITE-BELLIED) (Sitta europaea asiatica)
Great view at Shiotsubo tapping at sunflower seeds, video on Cornell and my Facebook site, a very pale taxon with white underparts.
EURASIAN NUTHATCH (BUFF-BELLIED) (Sitta europaea amurensis)
Seen around Karuizawa, this one has some reddy buff on the underparts.
EURASIAN NUTHATCH (BUFF-BELLIED) (Sitta europaea roseilia)
This is the one from Miike with the pinkish hind flanks.
EURASIAN WREN (EURASIAN) (Troglodytes troglodytes fumigatus)
A bad view at Shiotsubo, then seen again at Teshikaga and Yoroushi, working along the edges of unfrozen water. It is a very dark taxon, far more so than in the Lynx book by Otani.
BROWN DIPPER (Cinclus pallasii)
Good views from Washi-no-Yado and again at Yoroushi, video on Cornell and the FG Smugmug site.
WHITE-CHEEKED STARLING (Spodiopsar cineraceus)
Small numbers on Honshu and Kyushu, and even a lone hardy bird with Dusky Thrush at Nemuro.
BROWN-HEADED THRUSH (Turdus chrysolaus)
Tokko Creek came good once again with a nice view of a perched bird, then one at Ibanuma on the Baikal Teal twitch.
PALE THRUSH (Turdus pallidus)
Seen well at several sites around Izumi.
DUSKY THRUSH (Turdus eunomus)
The default widespread winter thrush, with flocks of 30 at Kaikoen and 20 at Nemuro.
RED-FLANKED BLUETAIL (Tarsiger cyanurus)
A brief view of a skulking bird in the hills above Kadogawa.
DAURIAN REDSTART (Phoenicurus auroreus)
A few records of singles starting at Saku, then at Kogawa Dam and the Crane God temple.
RUSSET SPARROW (Passer cinnamomeus)
Seen around Arasaki with a flock of 50 sat on the wires near the Crane Centre, then 6 at Sendae.
EURASIAN TREE SPARROW (Passer montanus)
Just 4 day records, max. 40 birds at Saku. A big flock of 100+ sparrows near Kagoshima as we drove past was most likely this species too. We saw none at all on Hokkaido this year.
GRAY WAGTAIL (Motacilla cinerea)
Singles from Saku, Arasaki and Sendae.
JAPANESE WAGTAIL (Motacilla grandis)
This striking near-endemic showed well at Saku and Sendae, see the video on Cornell, it's always a low density species but quite widespread.
WHITE WAGTAIL (BLACK-BACKED) (Motacilla alba lugens)
Small numbesr most days on Honshu and Kyushu, and just one at Akkeshi on Hokkaido.
OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT (Anthus hodgsoni)
7 under the pines at Miike, a good site for them.
AMERICAN PIPIT (JAPONICUS) (Anthus rubescens japonicus)
Just a couple at Arasaki and one at Sendae River in a poor year for them. This taxon is a likely split as Buff-bellied Pipit.
BRAMBLING (Fringilla montifringilla)
The only ones were 12 at Kaikoen Park, a bad year for them.
HAWFINCH (Coccothraustes coccothraustes)
The only one was in the freezing fog at Nagakura shrine, Karuizawa. We usually see them at Yoroushi but not this year which was so poor for passerines overall.
JAPANESE GROSBEAK (Eophona personata)
One in the fog at Nagakura shrine, Karuizawa, then 2 sat distantly at Miike, a very poor year for them.
PALLAS'S ROSEFINCH (Carpodacus roseus)
Don and I got a very brief view of a passerine at Otowa Bridge, and I think it was this species as it had a plain face and two obvious wing-bars, but it shot under the bridge and I was unable to relocate it. I've only seen this once before on this trip, what a shame it did not linger.
ASIAN ROSY-FINCH (Leucosticte arctoa brunneonucha)
A flock of 60 in larches near Nakashibetsu, flying about and perching briefly, then a big flock of 70+ out on the frozen shingle from Odaito viewpoint.
ORIENTAL GREENFINCH (Chloris sinica)
Again, hardly any this trip with 8 at Kaikoen and odd singles from the Arasaki area.
SNOW BUNTING (Plectrophenax nivalis vlasowae)
At least ten out on the frozen shingle ridges viewed from the tower at Odaito, only my second sighting in Japan and a very pleasing find.
MEADOW BUNTING (Emberiza cioides)
Three day records, best at Saku and Kogawa Dam, it was a remarkably poor year for buntings.
REED BUNTING (Emberiza schoeniclus)
Heard at a couple of sites, and one at the Eastern Fields.
JAPANESE MACAQUE (Macaca fuscata)
Wonderful views of these at the Snow Monkey Park again this year, albeit with very little snow, it was still a great experience.
RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)
A lovely pale orange coloured one at Odaito out on the ice, and another skinny one near Furen. Dayton saw one at Washi-no-Yado too, they are a pest there as they can frighten off the Fish Owls.
SEA OTTER (Enhydra lutris)
A brief look at one off Cape Nosappu.
HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina)
A couple off Cape Nosappu, popping up in the icy sea.
SIKA DEER (Cervus nippon)
Quite common on Hokkaido, with some big-tined stags even in Akkeshi town.
A White Pelican has been at Ibanuma for the past ten years and is well known to the local fishermen, we saw it waiting by the boats, a lovely rosy pink flush to the plumage. It escaped from some local collection.
Birds of the trip were much as expected, with Red-crowned Crane and Steller's Sea-Eagle the front-runners, with Mandarin Duck, Baikal Teal and White-naped Crane also up there.
Totals for the tour: 142 bird taxa and 5 mammal taxa