In search of cranes, eagles and endemics!


Tour date:
November 19 – December 06, 2016


Ed Michels


Minimum group size:
4 plus 1 leader


Maximum group size:
6 plus 1 leader


2015 Tour price:
$4.380 /€3.870 /£2.800


Plus flights estimated at:
€ 750,- / £ 620,- (from London)


Single room supplement:
none available

Japan is an island nation in East Asia comprising a stratovolcanic archipelago along the Pacific coast of Asia. The country exists out of 6.852 islands, with us visiting the 3 largest islands: Honshu, Kyushu and Hokkaido also sometimes called ‘the home islands’. For every birder a visit to the land of the rising sun is a ‘must do’ once in there lives, and this exploration takes in the very best of what Japan has to offer. Visiting Japan in winter offers so many wonders one of them is probably the greatest avian spectacle on earth; the dancing cranes in Arasaki, every year thousands of White-naped- and Hooded Cranes winter here occasionally joined by Common- and Sandhill Cranes. Other spectacles are the magnificent Steller’s Sea Eagles on the pack ice at Lake Furen/Hokkaido or searching for endemics such as Copper and Japanese Green Pheasant in the Japanese Alps at Karuizawa forest! Needless is to say that the photographical opportunities during this tour are splendid

Japan is naturally endowed with more than birds, the rich culture and great food are other features that make this trip such a highlight. During this tour we will let ourselves overwhelm by the Japanese hospitality and fantastic cuisine. The combination of birds, culture and food makes this arguable the best trip ever designed!

November 19, Day 1: Travel to Tokyo

The group will meet up with the Rubythroat Birding Tours leader in Tokyo. All participants need to be present at 09h00 – 20 November on Narita Airport. We schedule for this time the introductory meeting with your tourleader. This will give your leader the chance to introduce you with your fellow participants, give you the latest information on this trip and to tell you more about the daily routines.


NIGHT: On aircraft.


November 20, Day 2: Tokyo - Karuizawa

After arrival at Tokyo Narita airport we take the train to the Tokyo central station where we board our 2 hour Shinkansen (bullet train) to Nagano, an experience in itself. From here we drive towards the Karuizawa Forest Lodge where in the neighborhood we will do our first birding. The area is sometimes romantically called the Japanese Alps! Good birds might include the endemic Japanese Green Woodpecker, Brown-eared Bulbul, Rustic Bunting, Meadow Bunting and also endemic Japanese Accentor. In the evening we have our first great Japanese dinner!


NIGHT: Karuizawa forest lodge, Karuizawa.


November 21-22, Day 3-4: Karuizawa

The coming two full days we will be birding in the forests near Karuizawa. We will make walks along the main track, along the Yukawa River. Here we hope to find attractive forest species such as Japanese Waxwings, Elegant Bunting, Grey-bellied Bullfinches, Pallas’s Rosefinches and Dusky Thrush and along the river also Brown Dippers occur. The area also harbors several endemics which we will do our utmost best to find; hopefully we will see the Copper Pheasant, Japanese Green Pheasant, Japanese Wagtail and Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker. At the feeder of our lodge common birds like Goldcrest, Coal Tit and Nuthatches are accompanied by Japanese Grosbeaks and Varied Tits.


NIGHTS: Karuizawa forest lodge, Karuizawa


November 23, Day 5: Karuizawa – Snow Monkeys - Kaga

After some great birding in Karuizawa we leave the forests behind us and drive back towards Nagano where we will be visiting the Snow Monkeys at Yudanake. The site is known as the home of a group of some 200 Japanese macaques who live in and around the onsen bath. The monkeys will give some splendid photography options. We head for the west coast and in the evening we will arrive at Kaga.


NIGHT: Hotel Kanko, Kaga.


November 24, Day 6: Katano Kamo-Ike – coast near Komatsu – Tojinbo headland

After breakfast we bird near our luxurious hotel here along the shores of Lake Shibayama, we have a good chance of finding large groups of Falcated Ducks and some Bewick’s Swans. Other birds might include the lovely endemic Japanese Green Pheasant, lovely Black-faced Buntings and the interesting Japanese Buzzard. At Katono Kamo-Ike we hope to find the difficult Baikal Teal also Mandarin Ducks are seen regularly. When birding along the coast of the Sea of Japan we will see Red-throated-, Black-throated- and Pacific Divers, Temminck’s and Pelagic Cormorants, plus the graceful Ancient Murrelet and gorgeous Rhinoceros Auklet. In the evening we return to our hotel and enjoy a tasty dinner.


NIGHT: Hotel Kanko, Kaga.


November 25, Day 7: Komatsu – Fukuoka – Yatsushiro - Arasaki

From Komatsu we fly in the morning to Fukuoka on the southern island of Kyushu. From the airport we drive in southern direction towards Arasaki which is famous for the thousands of Cranes coming together. Along the way we will make an extensive birding stop at the estuary of Yatsushiro here we try to find the endangered Black-faced Spoonbill and Saunder’s Gull. Daurian Jackdaws and Chestnut-eared Bunting are also possible to discover. In the dark we will arrive at the Arasaki Nature Reserve where we will lodge in the minshuku.


NIGHT: Minshuku Shin Tsurumi-tei


November 26, Day 8: Arasaki

In the morning we will wake up by the sounds of thousands of cranes just outside of the minshuku, when opening our curtains we will witness an astounding spectacle of Hooded- and White-naped Cranes. Among these thousands of cranes also the extremely endangered Siberian Crane and more common Sandhill Cranes are possible. We will spend most of the morning photographing and simply enjoying this wonder of nature. Next to cranes also the common Japanese Skylark, Japanese White-eye and Buff-bellied Pipit are seen. Japanese Bush Warbler, Russet Sparrow and Chinese Penduline Tit are not that common and need more time before they are found. The rest of the day we bird along the Takaono River where we hopefully see the much desired Long-billed Plover, Crested Kingfisher and Fan-tailed Warbler.


NIGHT: Minshuku Shin Tsurumi-tei


November 27, Day 9: Arasaki – Satsumo – Mi-Ike - Hyuga

We bird the morning around Arasaki after which we visit the city of Satsuma where we bird along the Sendai River where we hope to find the illustrious and endangered Scaly-sided Merganser. We are likely to come across such splendid species as more Falcated Ducks, Japanese Woodpecker, Bull-headed Shrike, Varied Tit, Asian House Martin, Dusky Warbler, Red-billed Leiothrix, White-cheeked Starling, Pale Thrush and pleasing Daurian Redstarts. Onward we drive to Lake Mi-Ike where Ryuku Minivet and Grey Bunting are our targets. We arrive in the early evening at Hyuga where we check in to our hotel and enjoy as always in Japan a tasty dinner!


NIGHT: Verfort hotel


November 28, Day 10: Hyuga – Kadogawa – Mi-Ike - Kirishima

At dawn we arrive at the Kadogawa harbor where we will wait for some absolutely stunning endemic  Japanese Murrelets flying in to the harbor. Here we find Osprey, Peregrine Falcon and naturally several species of gulls; Black-tailed-, Vega- and Slaty-backed Gull all occur. After birding here for most of the day we continue our drive to Kirishima where we will stay in a luxurious spa where we will relish a Japanese buffet dinner.


NIGHT: Resort/spa Kirishima castle


November 29, Day 11: Kirishima – Mi-Ike

We’ll spend the morning around Lake Mi-Ike, a circular lake about a kilometer in diameter surrounded by lush broadleaf forest, fast-flowing streams, and mountains. Many of Japan’s more common woodland birds occur here plus interesting specialties such as Copper Pheasant, White-bellied Green-Pigeon, White-backed Woodpecker and Varied Tit. The lake may have a number of waterbirds possibly including Great Crested Grebe and large numbers of Eurasian Wigeon. If we are really lucky a Mountain Hawk Eagle will cross our path. In the evening we return to our spa resort for dinner.


NIGHT: Resort/spa Kirishima castle


November 30, Day 12: Kirishima – Tokyo – Lake Furen

A travel day awaits us when we move from the southern island of Kyushu by way of Tokyo the northern island of Hokkaido, arriving in the late afternoon. From the airport we drive straight to our minshuku at Lake Furen.


NIGHT: Lake Furen Lodge


December 01, Day 13: Lake Furen – Washino Yado

The first day we go out after breakfast and immediately search for the enchanting Steller’s Sea Eagle – this mighty bird is high on the wish list of every birder. We will take our time to admiring these immense birds. On the Notsuke peninsula we will try our luck for Asian Rosy Finches. We continue our day with a drive to Rausu where along the way we will stop for Harlequin Ducks, Long-tailed Ducks, American and Stejneger’s Scoters and Buffleheads. After dinner we will go to our rooms and stay calm – after some time an owl will start to hoot! Blakiston’s Fish Owl! It happens that the owl hunts for fish in the stream next to our hotel and so gives splendid views!


NIGHTS: Washino Yado


December 02, Day 14: 

After breakfast we drive to the harbor of Rausu where we will board a large boat which will bring us close to the pack ice. The captain will dump here fish and we will witness close views of feeding Steller’s Sea Eagles together with White-tailed Eagles and Large-billed Crows. On Hokkaido twenty percent of the world population of Steller’s Sea Eagle winter. This is an absolute guarantee for amazing pictures! In the afternoon we try again at Nemoro for the Asian Rosy Finches. In the evening we return back to Lake Furen Lodge.


NIGHTS: Lake Furen Lodge


December 03, Day 15: Lake Furen – Washino Yado

Today is another wonderful day as we make a boat trip from the harbor of Ochisii on the Pacific Ocean. During the trip we hope to see many alcids; Ancient Murrelet, Least Auklet, Crest Auklet, Pigeon Guillemots, Spectacled Guillemots and Common Murre. After this spectacle we bird around Cape Nosappu in the hope to find a Red-faced Cormorant and to find more Steller’s Sea Eagles. In the afternoon we drive back to Lake Furen.


NIGHT: Lake Furen Lodge


December 04, Day 16: Lake Furen Lodge – Tancho no Sato –Tokyo – Ferry to Hachijyo-Jima

We say goodbye to Matsuo San and drive towards Tancho no Sato for our last target on Hokkaido; dancing Red-crowned Cranes! These elegant dazzling cranes give a real show with a fanciful dance. In some parts of its range, the Red-crowned Crane is known as a symbol of luck, longevity and fidelity. From Kushiro we fly to Tokyo where we bird the ferry in the evening for our pelagic trip to Hachijyo-Jima.


NIGHT: Ferry to Hachijyo-Jima


December 05, Day 17: Hachijyo-Jima - Tokyo

In the early morning we wake up and on deck we search for seabirds; we have good chance on coming across 3 species of Albatrosses; Black-footed-, Laysan- and Short-tailed Albatross. In the morning we arrive at Hachijyo-Jima where we have little time to go ashore to check for the endemic Izu Thrush here also Japanese Woodpigeon is possible! The rest of the day we enjoy our pelagic in search of Albatrosses and other seabirds such as Streaked Shearwater. After arrival in Tokyo we depart to Narita Airport where we have a final overnight in the airport hotel.


NIGHT: Narita Airport Hotel


December 06, Day 18: Departure to home from Tokyo Narita airport

In the morning we depart from Narita Airport in Tokyo back towards Europe after an unforgettable holiday in Japan.



*** Please note: depending on the weather we may choose to keep a different schedule, visiting certain locations on different dates. This will not affect the quality of the tour***

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