A Field Guides Birding Tours Report

Winter Japan: Cranes & Sea Eagles 2024

January 12-27, 2024 with Phil Gregory & Jun Matsui guiding

Field Guides Birding Tours
The magnificent Steller's Sea-Eagle is one of the marquee birds for this tour, and this year they showed wonderfully for us at Rausu. Photo by participant Donna Pomeroy.

This was my eighteenth winter Japan trip, and we began as usual at Narita, where a Brown-headed Thrush was seen briefly at Tokko Creek not far from the hotel, Falcated Duck showed nicely, as did an Eastern Buzzard and Bull-headed Shrike plus a Common Kingfisher. We then heard about Baikal Teal at a pond near Ibanuma which was close by our route, and we eventually got some nice views fairly close by.

A single Taiga Bean Goose was here too, though we dipped on a Snow Goose seen earlier; ho hum for Americans, but would be a J-tick for me! This led to us not going to a site for Bean Goose but instead going to Mizumoto Park in Tokyo to try for a wintering Japanese Night Heron that was sporadically showing there. It had not been seen all day, but Jun relocated it and we had fabulous close views of this very difficult species, only my second ever, being gradually joined by sundry photographers when they realized we were onto something. A great result!

Karuizawa was not very snowy, so there were no ice hazards this time. , The next morning was nice, but small birds were largely absent, though we did get Hawfinch and a fine male Long-tailed Rosefinch, plus Azure-winged Magpie from the vehicle en route, and Japanese Woodpecker at the shrine. The Bird Forest area gave Brown Dipper and a flock of 40 Japanese Waxwings, initially identified by photos but seen again that afternoon. Our visit to Kaikoen Park gave the only Brambling of the trip plus Long-tailed Tit.

Our afternoon trip to Saku gave us our first Smew and the greatly flood-modified riverine habitat gave the only Long-billed Plover of the trip. Jun had a site near Karuizawa where two male Japanese Pheasants showed beautifully, but the Shiotsubo onsen trip produced little beyond a Eurasian Wren and a Japanese Squirrel. Copper Pheasant was a no-show; we could not access the forest road due to landslides and that was our best chance.

The Snow Monkeys at Jigokudani hot springs were a big hit as always, though this year with very little snow. Then it was back to Haneda and a very nice hotel near the airport, ready for the flight to Fukuoka next day. We went to a site for Saunders’s Gull and saw a couple of hundred of them there, plus 5 Black-faced Spoonbill and a lone Eurasian Spoonbill in a paddock by the car park, then it was 3-hour drive to Miyazaki and a Route Inn there.

Kyushu was nice for the next two days. We made a boat trip at Kadogawa near Miyazaki in quest of Japanese Murrelet, and we managed great looks at 3 of them, the first on this tour. Arasaki gave us a wonderful show of Hooded and White-naped cranes -- some 10,000 in the area this year -- plus 4 Sandhill and a Common Crane, and a marvelous bonus again of a lone Siberian Crane. An outbreak of avian flu again meant quarantine procedures were in place, with washing of vehicle tires with disinfectant; though, thankfully access to the sites was still allowed. Hen Harrier and Tundra Bean Goose on the Eastern Fields were a useful pick up, though I have great trouble believing this goose split, and Daurian Jackdaw showed well by the visitor Centre, as did Chestnut-eared Bunting in some dry grass fields here.

Saunders's Gull was back again this year at Yatsushiro, with about 15 distant birds on a high tide, and there was a big flock of Russet Sparrow. Mandarin Duck was once more at Kogawa Dam though nothing like as many as in 2023, also Japanese Oak Blue Butterfly, an Angled Sunbeam and a Dark Evening Brown, the first ever butterflies for the winter tour. Japanese Wagtail showed nicely on the Sendae River as we drove to Miike, but nothing much else this year. It was again a very poor year for buntings, with hardly any around; we only saw Masked Bunting pre-trip. Lake Miike, in nice weather, only gave us Eurasian Nuthatch, Grey Wagtail, Long-tailed Tit and Olive-backed Pipit.

Hokkaido was gorgeous, with a fair bit of snow and sea-ice, and very cold temperatures. We commenced with a handful of Red-crowned Cranes in the snow which took off not long after we got there. We saw them again at dawn next day at the famous scenic river spot, but it was too warm to be misty and we think we will drop this outing next year. Then, came a great experience with over 100 birds at Tsurui in the falling snow, where they were flighting-in, bugling loudly and with a few 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 them here since 2014 and the tree now has steel bands around it for support.

A stop at Teshikaga in deep snow gave a surprise Crested Kingfisher and Whooper Swan but it was too snowy to walk by the lake this year. At Washi-no-Yado the Blakiston’s Fish Owls had been coming in at 0400- groan- but the first showed up at 1930 and came back again for an hour around 2015, so we had great views and went to bed with one sat out there!

The boat trip at Rausu was the best I’ve ever done; we had the boat to ourselves, and the weather was calm and sunny. I was amazed they ran it for us, but I think we are long-standing customers, and they wanted the publicity. A pod -maybe 2 pods- of Orcas were offshore and we had superb close views of them, complete with exhaling and tail slapping, just fantastic, then the Steller's Sea-Eagles along with the White-tails were fantastic too, against a marvelous backdrop of lightly snowed hills.

Our beautiful onsen at Yoroushi gave good looks at Great-spotted and Japanese Pygmy woodpeckers, Marsh Tit, the white-bellied race of Eurasian Nuthatch, amazing white-headed Long-tailed Tits in the snow, Brown Dipper and another Crested Kingfisher which we got for the VENT group again this year. Blakiston’s Fish Owl turned up both nights around 1830-1900, once when we were eating, and I was able to bag pole position for an i-phone video! Brandt’s (Eurasian) Jay was absent for the first time ever here, and the Solitary Snipe stayed out of view. We got stuck here for an extra day due to heavy snow (not a bad place to be stuck), then followed a snow plough out next day with the VENT group in something of a panic about getting to the airport…..

Notsuke was bleakly magnificent, with close views of Sika, Red Fox and a flock of 15 Asian Rosy Finch that showed nicely, with a bonus Short-eared Owl and good looks at Spectacled Guillemot and Red-throated Divers in calm seas offshore, along with a Slavonian (Eared) Grebe and distant Stejneger's Scoter.

Cape Nosappu is one of my favorites and the afternoon there was, as ever, bitterly cold with very strong winds and rough seas and very little bird activity, just Black Scoter, and 2 Red-necked Grebe and a distant Spectacled Guillemot for some. Onnemato bird hide was cold and quiet, then it was time to head back for Kushiro, with no trip to Cape Kiritappu this year due to the day lost to the blizzard.

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 good company, good spotting and good humor whilst enjoying the many varied cultural aspects of the tour as well as the birds. I learned a lot about i-nat and the e-bird compendium was very useful, thank you. Thanks to Jun for driving so well, organizing a wonderful variety of lunch stops, 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.

Sicklebill, Topaz, March 2024

—Phil Gregory

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

Anatidae (Ducks, Geese, and Waterfowl)


Just a single at Hachoike Pond on the first morning.

Red-crowned Cranes are another great bird we see; they gather in numbers at Tsurui, where we were able to watch them dancing and hear their wonderful bugling. Video by guide Phil Gregory.

TAIGA BEAN-GOOSE (Anser fabalis middendorffii)

One at Hachoike Pond on the first morning was the only record, had we not seen one here we'd have tried elsewhere and not gone for the Japanese Night Heron!

TUNDRA BEAN-GOOSE (Anser serrirostris)

5 at the Eastern Fields were a nice pick up of a scarce species, though I remain dubious about the split as some birds seem hard to assign.

TUNDRA SWAN (WHISTLING) (Cygnus columbianus columbianus)

One at Hachoike Pond on the first morning, a rare annual visitor to Japan.

TUNDRA SWAN (BEWICK'S) (Cygnus columbianus bewickii)

Lovely looks at about 300 at Hachoike Pond where they were very vocal.

WHOOPER SWAN (Cygnus cygnus)

Only seen at Teshikaga (3) and Rausu (4) this trip.

COMMON SHELDUCK (Tadorna tadorna)

180 at Hibashiyota-Higashi near Fukuoka and about 20 at Arasaki.

MANDARIN DUCK (Aix galericulata)

Kogawa Dam came good again, with nice looks at about 45 birds; a splendid exotic-looking duck.

BAIKAL TEAL (Sibirionetta formosa)

70 at Hachoike Pond on the first morning, and 20 Kogawa Dam, unexpected there. This species is always a highly-prized trip addition and has got easier in recent years.

NORTHERN SHOVELER (Spatula clypeata)

Just 3 at Saku Reservoir; it's always scarce on the trip.

GADWALL (Mareca strepera)

One at Saku and a male at Sendaegawa Bridge, always sparse.

Field Guides Birding Tours
This rather grumpy-looking Japanese Night Heron was a surprise addition to the tour list. It was wintering in a park in Tokyo, and we went to see if we could find it. Jun was able to track it down, and we enjoyed a great view! Photo by participant Donna Pomeroy.

FALCATED DUCK (Mareca falcata)

A really spectacular duck with the long falcate (sickle-shaped) tertials; we saw 11 at Tokko Creek and 3 at Saku, quite low numbers.

EURASIAN WIGEON (Mareca penelope)

Widespread but no big numbers, 60 being the maximum, and none on Hokkaido.


7 at Tokko Creek at Narita, then 50 at Saku with 120 at Lake Miike and small numbers elsewhere in the south.

MALLARD (Anas platyrhynchos)

Common at most wetlands, with hundreds at Hachoike and Arasaki.


Some good counts, with 1000 at Hachoike Pond and 200 at Arasaki.

GREEN-WINGED TEAL (EURASIAN) (Anas crecca crecca)

Small numbers on 4 days, with 10 at Hachoike and 9 at Saku. Split by IOC as Eurasian Teal, Green-winged is the American species.

COMMON POCHARD (Aythya ferina)

10 at Hachoike, one at Saku and 10 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.

TUFTED DUCK (Aythya fuligula)

Six day records but only small numbers.

GREATER SCAUP (Aythya marila)

Just a single female at Yatsushiro was it this trip.

HARLEQUIN DUCK (Histrionicus histrionicus)

25 at Rausu and 10 off Nosappu and Onnemato, always a lovely bird to see, a really beautiful species and one of my favourites.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Whooper Swans were seen in small numbers this year. Participant Donna Pomeroy got this lovely shot of one of them.

STEJNEGER'S SCOTER (Melanitta stejnegeri)

A single male off Notsuke was pleasing; this species is never easy.

BLACK SCOTER (Melanitta americana)

90 off Notsuke and 15 off Nosappu.

LONG-TAILED DUCK (Clangula hyemalis)

15 off Notsuke then 6 off Onnemato and Nosappu.

COMMON GOLDENEYE (Bucephala clangula)

Just a few in Hokkaido with 12 the most; quite small numbers again this year.

SMEW (Mergellus albellus)

5 drakes and 4 redheads at Saku were the only sighting.

COMMON MERGANSER (Mergus merganser)

Nice looks at Saku, then a few on Hokkaido.


Seen at Yatsushiro, then small numbers from Rausu and Notsuke.

Phasianidae (Pheasants, Grouse, and Allies)

GREEN PHEASANT (Phasianus versicolor versicolor) [E]

Great looks at 2 fine males in fields near Karuizawa, always a welcome trip addition.

Podicipedidae (Grebes)

LITTLE GREBE (LITTLE) (Tachybaptus ruficollis poggei)

Small numbers -max 3- from various wetlands in the south; this race has a yellow eye.

HORNED GREBE (Podiceps auritus auritus)

Nice views of 2 off Notsuke on a calm sea, uncommon on this trip.

We had a great experience with Harlequin Ducks at Rausu, and guide Phil Gregory got this video of a raft of 25 of them.

RED-NECKED GREBE (Podiceps grisegena holbollii)

Two off Nosappu were the only sighting.

GREAT CRESTED GREBE (Podiceps cristatus cristatus)

Four day records with 4 the most.

Columbidae (Pigeons and Doves)

ROCK PIGEON (Columba livia) [I]

A few in the big cities.

ORIENTAL TURTLE-DOVE (Streptopelia orientalis orientalis)

Widespread, with 8 day records of very small numbers this year, with 9 seen in the Arasaki area.

Rallidae (Rails, Gallinules, and Coots)

EURASIAN MOORHEN (Gallinula chloropus)

One at Saku was the only sighting.

EURASIAN COOT (Fulica atra)

Four day records with 10 at Kogawa Dam the most.

Gruidae (Cranes)

SIBERIAN CRANE (Leucogeranus leucogeranus)

A great find near Arasaki. Jun learned the location and there it was with 3 White-naped Cranes, a mega trip bird. They are annual each year in Japan, but usually just one or two, and can be almost anywhere. A Critically Endangered species.

SANDHILL CRANE (CANADENSIS) (Antigone canadensis canadensis)

Four in the Eastern Fields showed nicely, annual here in very small numbers.

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)

Just a single in the Eastern Fields at Arasaki.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Brown-eared Bulbuls were common in the south. Photo by participant Donna Pomeroy.

HOODED CRANE (Grus monacha)

Great view of the birds around Arasaki where over 7600 were counted this week.

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.

Charadriidae (Plovers and Lapwings)

BLACK-BELLIED PLOVER (Pluvialis squatarola)

25 at Hibashiyota-Higashi mudflats.

LONG-BILLED PLOVER (Charadrius placidus)

Only one this year, on the river at Saku.

NORTHERN LAPWING (Vanellus vanellus)

Small numbers from Arasaki.

Scolopacidae (Sandpipers and Allies)

EURASIAN CURLEW (Numenius arquata)

A high count of 106 at Hibashiyota-Higashi mudflats.

COMMON SNIPE (Gallinago gallinago)

Just a single at Arasaki, sorry you missed it Peggy, they are scarce on the tour now.

COMMON SANDPIPER (Actitis hypoleucos)

Seen at Tokko River and Arasaki.

COMMON GREENSHANK (Tringa nebularia)

10 at Hibashiyota-Higashi mudflats.

DUNLIN (Calidris alpina)

2000 at Hibashiyota-Higashi mudflats.

Field Guides Birding Tours
There wasn't much snow at the Snow Monkey Park, but we still had a good experience viewing the Japanese Macaques as they lounged in the hot spring. Photo by participant Donna Pomeroy.
Alcidae (Auks, Murres, and Puffins)


Excellent looks on a flat calm sea off Notsuke, one of the big wants of the trip, and seen briefly in rough conditions off Nosappu.

COMMON MURRE (Uria aalge)

One or two off Nosappu.

JAPANESE MURRELET (Synthliboramphus wumizusume)

Our boat trip near Miyazaki paid off nicely this year after a bit of a search, with nice views of 3 of this rare species with the terrific scientific name!

Laridae (Gulls, Terns, and Skimmers)

SAUNDERS'S GULL (Saundersilarus saundersi)

An astonishing 350 at the wetland near Fukuoka, by far the most I've ever seen, and near 10% of the world population; then 15 at Yatsushiro next day on a very high tide.

BLACK-HEADED GULL (Chroicocephalus ridibundus)

Six day records with 10 at Rausu the most.

BLACK-TAILED GULL (Larus crassirostris)

Only seen at the harbour near Miyazaki this trip with about 10 birds.

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.

GLAUCOUS GULL (Larus hyperboreus)

A handful around Rausu and Notsuke, and a few near Furen, with some off Nosappu misaki. Several very nice, really white looking birds were fun to see too.

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. An adult at Rausu had a lightish mantle with dark wing tips and extensive head streaking. In California I'm told it would be a G-w x Western Gull, here it's presumably G-w x Slaty-backed or Vega, one for the gull experts.

SLATY-BACKED GULL (Larus schistisagus)

The default large dark-mantled gull on Hokkaido, with several hundred most days.

One Siberian Crane was found at Arasak; here, guide Phil Gregory has some video of this rare bird with two White-naped Cranes.
Gaviidae (Loons)

RED-THROATED LOON (Gavia stellata)

8 off Notsuke were a surprise as we usually only see one or two all trip, and there was one off Nosappu.

Phalacrocoracidae (Cormorants and Shags)

PELAGIC CORMORANT (Urile pelagicus)

One at Kadogawa harbour near Miyazaki, identified when we looked at photos later, then a few seen on Hokkaido with about 30 off Nosappu.

GREAT CORMORANT (EURASIAN) (Phalacrocorax carbo hanedae)

Seven day records, this is a white-headed form in breeding dress, most were at Yatsushiro.

JAPANESE CORMORANT (Phalacrocorax capillatus) [E]

The cormorant of rocky coasts, we saw 10 at Kadogawa, by no means easy to tell as some of the books are quite confusing, e.g. the Lynx Guide.

Ardeidae (Herons, Egrets, and Bitterns)

JAPANESE NIGHT HERON (Gorsachius goisagi)

Having seen Taiga Bean Goose, we went for one of the birds of the trip, one that had been wintering in Mitsumoto Park in Tokyo and was being seen sporadically. It had not been seen all day when we got there mid-afternoon, but Jun found it walking about quite openly after about 20 minutes there. We soon gathered a crowd but had terrific close looks at this rare species, one I had only seen once before.

LITTLE EGRET (WESTERN) (Egretta garzetta garzetta)

Five day records, with 4 at Arasaki the most.

GREAT EGRET (ALBA) (Ardea alba alba)

Four day records, usually singles but 9 at Arasaki on one day. It looks somewhat bigger and leggier than the Australasian taxon.

GRAY HERON (Ardea cinerea)

Six day records, max, 10 at Arasaki.

Threskiornithidae (Ibises and Spoonbills)

EURASIAN SPOONBILL (Platalea leucorodia)

A single in fields by the car park at Hibashiyota-Higashi gave lovely views, and showed the prominent isolated eye, lacking in the smaller sibling.


5 at Hibashiyota-Higashi, the dark face showing nicely for once (this species is often sleeping when we see it!). Phil saw a single fly over at Arasaki too, another rare and Endangered species with seemingly 6162 in existence.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Participant Donna Pomeroy got this image of one of the Japanese Murrelets we saw on our boat trip near Miyazaki.
Pandionidae (Osprey)

OSPREY (HALIAETUS) (Pandion haliaetus haliaetus)

A single at Hibashiyota-Higashi and 3 at Yatsushiro.

Accipitridae (Hawks, Eagles, and Kites)

EASTERN MARSH HARRIER (Circus spilonotus)

One at Notsuke was a surprise addition, one we seldom see on the trip.

HEN HARRIER (Circus cyaneus)

A great view of a ringtail at Arasaki, it appeared right in front of us just as we had been talking about the chances of seeing one.

JAPANESE SPARROWHAWK (Accipiter gularis)

One close by in the hills above Kadogawa was unexpected, a brief look but good enough.


Three sightings of singles, the first at Hachoike pond.

BLACK KITE (BLACK-EARED) (Milvus migrans lineatus)

Widespread and fairly common, with 50 around Saku the most; they sure look different from Black Kite, and some lists (not IOC) do split them.

STELLER'S SEA-EAGLE (Haliaeetus pelagicus)

A great experience at Rausu again this year, we saw one on the way there, then next day had up close encounters with some 75 on the Evergreen Boat trip, snatching fish off the water and loafing on the sea wall. Then 6 around Notsuke and Onnemato. One of the great charismatic species for sure, and a truly magnificent bird. Classified as Vulnerable, The total population is around 3,200 breeding pairs. Wikipedia states that possibly, up to 3,500 birds winter on Kamchatka, and roughly 2,000 may occur on Hokkaido, only breeding in Russia and Korea.

WHITE-TAILED EAGLE (Haliaeetus albicilla)

Some great views, with around 90 at Rausu and 3 at Notsuke and Nosappu, an impressive bird but outshone by its huge sibling.

EASTERN BUZZARD (Buteo japonicus japonicus)

Three records of singles, with the first at Hachoike Pond and with one on Hokkaido near Nemuro.

Strigidae (Owls)

BLAKISTON'S FISH-OWL (Ketupa blakistoni)

One of the great stars of the trip. We got lucky at Washi-no-Yado with a fine bird coming in at 1930 and again at 2015 and staying for an hour. Then at Yoroushi we saw it on two nights, with one arriving as we were eating dinner and giving point blank views from the reception area window,;see my video on my FB site, Smugmug and Cornell. A fabulous creature, arguably the world's largest owl. Classified as Endangered with population estimates of just 2500-4000 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.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Blakiston's Fish-Owl is another fantastic bird we seek on this tour, and we had two great experiences with these impressive creatures. Participant Donna Pomeroy got this great image of one of the owls just catching a fish!

URAL OWL (Strix uralensis)

The roost site near Tsurui came good again, with an aesthetically pleasing bird showing in a snowstorm, 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)

A nice view of one at Netsuke, seen perched and in flight. It's not a species we see every trip.

Alcedinidae (Kingfishers)


This was seen at Tokko Creek and Kogawa Dam.

CRESTED KINGFISHER (Megaceryle lugubris)

A nice surprise at Teshikaga, where one was calling and flew through for a nice look, then another seen at Yoroushi onsen.

Picidae (Woodpeckers)


A good trip for this diminutive species; we saw one or 2 or some 7 days, the first at the park in Tokyo.

GREAT SPOTTED WOODPECKER (JAPONICUS) (Dendrocopos major japonicus)

Six day records starting at Mitsumoto Park in Tokyo, with great views at Yoroushi onsen.


Seen at Nagakura shrine and the bird forest, at Karuizawa, it's a low density Japanese endemic and this is a good area for it.

Falconidae (Falcons and Caracaras)

EURASIAN KESTREL (Falco tinnunculus)

Just two day records from Izumi and then Sendae.

Campephagidae (Cuckooshrikes)

RYUKYU MINIVET (Pericrocotus tegimae) [E]

Two at Kogawa Dam were a good find, and there was one briefly at L. Miike.

Laniidae (Shrikes)

BULL-HEADED SHRIKE (Lanius bucephalus)

Five day records, with 3 birds at Tokko Creek and Hachoike Pond.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Red-crowned Cranes were voted one of the Birds of the Trip after our wonderful time viewing them in the snow at Tsurui. Photo by participant Donna Pomeroy.
Corvidae (Crows, Jays, and Magpies)

EURASIAN JAY (JAPANESE) (Garrulus glandarius japonicus)

Seen well around Karuizawa; this race has a pale eye.

AZURE-WINGED MAGPIE (JAPANESE) (Cyanopica cyanus japonica)

7 seen as we were coming in to Karuizawa, always elusive.

DAURIAN JACKDAW (Corvus dauuricus)

Very nice at Arasaki where we saw a pied adult and 3 or 4 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.

Paridae (Tits, Chickadees, and Titmice)

COAL TIT (CONTINENTAL) (Periparus ater insularis)

Only at Yoroushi this trip, a late pick-up too.

VARIED TIT (Sittiparus varius varius)

Five day records of one or two birds, best at Mizumoto Park.

MARSH TIT (Poecile palustris hensoni)

Excellent at the feeders at Yoroushi; the pale bill base is a useful character to separate from the similar Willow Tit.

WILLOW TIT (WILLOW) (Poecile montanus restrictus)

Only seen at Karuizawa this trip.

JAPANESE TIT (Parus minor)

Seen well at Narita, Komoro and 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.....

Alaudidae (Larks)

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.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Participant Donna Pomeroy also got this nice portrait of the lone Siberian Crane at Arasaki.
Hirundinidae (Swallows)

BARN SWALLOW (Hirundo rustica)

The hirundine Donna saw near Miyazaki is likely this species.

Pycnonotidae (Bulbuls)

BROWN-EARED BULBUL (Hypsipetes amaurotis amaurotis)

Widespread and vocal, seen every day on Honshu and Kyushu, but only at Yoroushi on Hokkaido.

Scotocercidae (Bush Warblers and Allies)

JAPANESE BUSH WARBLER (NORTHERN) (Horornis diphone cantans)

One seen well at Hachoike Pond, and briefly at Kogawa Dam.

Aegithalidae (Long-tailed Tits)

LONG-TAILED TIT (CAUDATUS) (Aegithalos caudatus caudatus)

A star at the Yoroushi feeders where we saw up to 7 birds of the delightful white-headed northern nominate race which is now a serious marketing icon on Hokkaido.

LONG-TAILED TIT (EUROPAEUS GROUP) (Aegithalos caudatus trivirgatus)

Good views around Karuizawa and Komoro where we had flocks of 10 and 12 birds.

Zosteropidae (White-eyes, Yuhinas, and Allies)

WARBLING WHITE-EYE (Zosterops japonicus)

Small numbers around Narita and Mizumoto Park. This was formerly known as Japanese White-eye but is now placed in something called Warbling White-eye.

Leiothrichidae (Laughingthrushes and Allies)

RED-BILLED LEIOTHRIX (Leiothrix lutea) [I]

5 at Kogawa Dam where this a new and invasive introduced arrival, now well-established.

Sittidae (Nuthatches)

EURASIAN NUTHATCH (WHITE-BELLIED) (Sitta europaea asiatica)

Wonderful views at Yoroushi where they were in and out of the feeders, strikingly white below.

EURASIAN NUTHATCH (BUFF-BELLIED) (Sitta europaea roseilia)

One at Lake Miike, this one has pinkish hind flanks.

Troglodytidae (Wrens)

EURASIAN WREN (EURASIAN) (Troglodytes troglodytes fumigatus)

Singles of this dark-looking taxon at Shiotsubo, Teshikaga and Yoroushi.

Cinclidae (Dippers)

BROWN DIPPER (Cinclus pallasii)

Good views from Karuizawa, Washi-no-Yado and again at Yoroushi, video on Cornell and the FG Smugmug site.

Sturnidae (Starlings)

WHITE-CHEEKED STARLING (Spodiopsar cineraceus)

Small numbers on Honshu and Kyushu.

On our boat trip out of Rausu, we were at one point nearly surrounded by a number of Orca, which came close enough that we could hear them exhaling as they surfaced! Video by guide Phil Gregory.
Turdidae (Thrushes and Allies)

BROWN-HEADED THRUSH (Turdus chrysolaus)

One unobliging bird at Tokko Creek at Narita.

PALE THRUSH (Turdus pallidus)

Seen well at several sites around Izumi. and at Tokko Creek.

DUSKY THRUSH (Turdus eunomus)

The default widespread winter thrush, with 5 day records, the most being 9 out in the bleak wilds of Notsuke.

Muscicapidae (Old World Flycatchers)

DAURIAN REDSTART (Phoenicurus auroreus)

Five day records, with showy males at Saku and Lake Miike.

Bombycillidae (Waxwings)

JAPANESE WAXWING (Bombycilla japonica)

A flock of 40 along the creek at Karuizawa, initially distant and identified from Donna's photos, but seen much better that afternoon with scope views. Irruptive and hard to connect with, we see it on maybe 20% of trips.

Passeridae (Old World Sparrows)

RUSSET SPARROW (Passer cinnamomeus)

A large flock of 120 at Yatsushiro, and a single next day near Arasaki, it seems to be increasing as it used to be quite hard to find.


Widespread with flocks of 20 and 40, but only a few on Hokkaido.

Motacillidae (Wagtails and Pipits)

GRAY WAGTAIL (Motacilla cinerea)

Singles from Saku, Arasaki and Sendae.

JAPANESE WAGTAIL (Motacilla grandis)

This striking near-endemic showed well at Tokko Creek, Hachoike, 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 numbers most days on Honshu and Kyushu, and heard at Notsuke on Hokkaido.

Field Guides Birding Tours
We saw a few Daurian Redstarts, including this colorful male photographed by participant Donna Pomeroy.

OLIVE-BACKED PIPIT (Anthus hodgsoni)

6 under the pines at Miike, a good site for them.

AMERICAN PIPIT (JAPONICUS) (Anthus rubescens japonicus)

Two at Hachoike and seen at the Eastern fields too, seemed scarce this year. Expect a split here in due course as this taxon is quite distinct from the American birds, and called Buff-bellied Pipit here.

Fringillidae (Finches, Euphonias, and Allies)

BRAMBLING (Fringilla montifringilla)

The only ones were 6 at Karuizawa and 8 at Kaikoen Park.

HAWFINCH (Coccothraustes coccothraustes)

Seen well at Nagakura shrine, Kaikoen, L. Miike and Yoroushi.

LONG-TAILED ROSEFINCH (Carpodacus sibiricus)

A colorful male at Nagakura Shrine was a pleasing find of an elusive bird.

EURASIAN BULLFINCH (Pyrrhula pyrrhula)

A female at Mizumoto Park in Tokyo was a nice surprise, they are quite difficult to find.

ASIAN ROSY-FINCH (TAWNY-NAPED) (Leucosticte arctoa brunneonucha)

Lovely views of a flock of 16 on Notsuke, always a treat to see this bird.


A good year for them with flocks of 40 and 30 around Nagakura Shrine and Arasaki and small numbers elsewhere, with just 3 on Hokkaido.

Emberizidae (Old World Buntings)


Seen well at Arasaki on two dates.

MEADOW BUNTING (Emberiza cioides)

Good views from Karuizawa and Saku, this is a striking species.

REED BUNTING (Emberiza schoeniclus)

This was heard in the reeds near Arasaki and some may have seen it.

RUSTIC BUNTING (Emberiza rustica)

Good looks from Narita, Saku and Karuizawa.

Field Guides Birding Tours
Here's our happy group at the dock in Kyushu. Photo by participant Donna Pomeroy.

MASKED BUNTING (Emberiza personata)

This was seen pre-trip by the Nikko Narita and at Tokko Creek.


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.


One of these nice-looking squirrels at Shiotsubo onsen, and another at Yoroushi, usually called Japanese Squirrel, I have no idea why Mark Brazil was calling it a Eurasian Red Squirrel!

RED FOX (Vulpes vulpes)

One near Tsurui and a couple out on Notsuke, nice looking with the pale orangey fur - there is a disease here which often makes them very sickly looking.

HARBOR SEAL (Phoca vitulina)

Just one off Nosappu this year.

SIKA DEER (Cervus nippon)

Quite common on Hokkaido, with some big-tined stags at Notsuke.



Unexpected on the winter trip, but on a mild day at Kogawa Dam we saw Junonia almana, Dark Evening Brown, Angled Sunbeam, Curetis acuta, and what is either Powdered Oak or Japanese Oak-Blue Arhopala bagalus or japonica. Phil also saw a white sp.

Lake Miike had 2 Japanese Oak-Blue, Arhopala japonica.

Toads at Kogawa Dam are Japanese common toad, Bubo praetextatus

Birds of the trip were Japanese Night Heron, Blakiston's Fish Owl, Steller's Sea-Eagle and Red-crowned Crane, though Phil also chose the wonderful white-headed Long-tailed Tits at Yoroushi.

Totals for the tour: 139 bird taxa and 5 mammal taxa