Wildlife on Teuri Island in Spring and the First Herring Spawn in 70 Years

>For information and tours of Teuri Island, click here!

On April 15, 2024, the first herring spawn in 70 years was observed on Teuri Island, Hokkaido. The islanders were excited to photograph and then harvest the herring. At an island inn, stewed herring and herring roe were served. No one on the island today knows what it was like in the heyday of the herring harvest.

Here is some of the wildlife we observed on Teuri Island in the spring.

On the route from Haboro Port to Teuri Island, black-throated divers (surprisingly common), ancient murrelets, rhinoceros auklets, and spectacled guillemots were seen.

Eight species of seabirds breed on Teuri Island: the common guillemot, spectacled guillemot, rhinoceros auklet, black-tailed gull, slaty-backed gull, Japanese cormorant (Temminck’s cormorant), pelagic cormorant, and ancient murrelet. By April, they have already begun their breeding season.

Black-tailed gulls are breeding and expanding their territory on the Kurosaki coast, and around April 20, mating (or pseudo-mating) has already started taking place throughout the area.

Black-tailed gulls mating (or pseudo-mating)
Kurosaki Coast, where the breeding grounds of black-tailed gulls are expanding

When I looked at the Japanese cormorant breeding site from the seabird observation hut, they were already feeding their chicks. The Japanese cormorant is a seabird that starts breeding early, and it seems to be getting even earlier. Slaty-backed gulls were breeding and mating on the upper slope of the bluff. There were many rhinoceros auklet nesting sites in this area as well.

Japanese cormorants nesting on a bluff. Most of the nests had chicks in them.

Red-breasted mergansers are seen near Maehama Fishing Port. Red-breasted mergansers migrate to Teuri Island as winter visitors. They will soon be heading north as well.

A Red-breasted merganser pair

And then there are the harlequin ducks. They are the most common ducks on Teuri Island. I often saw them near Maehama Fishing Port and Lombaba Beach. Harlequin ducks can be seen all year round on Teuri Island, but they are definitely easier to see—and more beautiful—during the winter months.

Harlequin ducks at Lombaba beach

On one morning when the wind had calmed a bit, we went out to the sea on the Keimafuri-Gou, a small boat operated by island photographer Takaki Terasawa. The view from the boat was that of Teuri Island in spring!

A steller sea lion we met as soon as we left the harbor. They migrate to Hokkaido from the Kuril Islands in winter. This young male was all alone. Teuri Island, where herring now spawn, attracts wildlife as well as people. It is a symbol of the richness of the sea.

Steller sea lions will soon be moving north.

From the boat, we observed the black-tailed gull breeding grounds on the Kurosaki coast and then headed in the direction of Akaiwa. We did not see any common guillemots at the breeding site, but we did see four common guillemots flying over the sea in the vicinity.

The reef was teeming with some very dry and fluffy spotted seals.

Spotted seals watching our boat

The beautiful sound of spectacled guillemots chirping at each other echoes out to sea. On a rocky shore, an adorable pair is seen in a courtship gesture.

Spectacled guillemot courtship
A flock of Spectacled guillemots at sea near nesting cliffs
Lovely spectacled guillemots showing off their red legs

Lastly, please take a look at this herring spawn, photographed on April 15 by the staff of Saiyu Travel’s Teuri Office (Teuri Island Naturelive).

The herring spawn turning the sea white and murky, viewed from Lombaba beach.

Spawning occurs in spring, when females lay their eggs on seaweed in shallow waters less than one meter deep, and males release sperm to fertilize the eggs. This spawning causes the seawater to become white and murky.

Pacific Herring laying eggs in seaweed

A herring dish served at the Yorozuya Ryokan( 萬谷旅館)where I stayed. The fresh herring was so tasty.

Simmered herring
Herring roe Kazunoko

I myself had just returned from a trip to Sitka, Alaska, in search of the wildlife that gathers there during the herring spawn. In Alaska, the “Herring Run” is a very popular wildlife tour where you can encounter humpback whales, gray whales, bald eagles, steller sea lions, and other creatures that congregate in the waters of Sitka.

Will Japan’s herring spawn one day be referred to as Hokkaido’s “Herring Run”? Before that, it is important to first restore the richness of the sea where herring come to spawn every year. I sincerely hope that the herring will return next year too.

Image & Text: Mariko SAWADA & Midori KUDO
Observation: April 2024, Teuri Island, Hokkaido

 

Photo & text : Mariko SAWADA

Photography of Herring spawning : Midori KUDO

★ Visit our web site of  TEURI ISLAND. ☜

Contact us to make arrangements for photographing seabirds on Teuri Island and Wildlife of Japan.

★Wildlife videos are also available on Youtube – we have the playlist as well.

 

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Birds of Eastern Hokkaido in Winter

During this winter, we were able to observe many birds, including red-crowned cranes and Ezo Ural owls. The number of photographers from abroad has also increased considerably—especially in Tsurui Village, where red-crowned cranes can be seen. Over 200 people gathered on the Otowa Bridge to photograph the birds sleeping in the river.

Near the Otowa Bridge, from January to early March, temperatures drop below -15°C, and on humid days, a phenomenon known as “Steam Fog” in which steam rises from the river, can be observed. The white breath of the red-crowned cranes as they chirp at each other is beautiful, and the large snowflakes that fall create a magical scene.

Steam Fog
red-crowned cranes
red-crowned cranes
red-crowned cranes
Otowa bridge in early morning

Ezo Ural owls are usually found in the trees they’ve chosen for their fixed nest sites, but they may change their location from year to year. We speculate that this may be due to changes—precipitated by the amount of snowfall in a given year—in their rodent-hunting spots. In the month of February, at the nests we observe every year, we can see the owls stand side by side in pairs—for them, this is courtship season. In some nests, we could not see the pair line up together, perhaps because one of the two had disappeared.

Ezo Ural owl
Ezo Ural owl
Ezo Ural owl
Ezo Ural owl

The long-tailed tit is the most popular wild bird in Hokkaido nowadays. In winter, they look like snowmen when viewed from the front, puffing up their feathers to ward off the cold.

Long-tailed tits are only about the size of a ping-pong ball and usually hang from branches at the top of trees, pecking at insects and winter buds. If you are lucky, they will come down to a lower branch to catch their food, and you may even be able to photograph them at eye level.

Food is scarcest from February to March, and in addition to the food they normally eat, they strive to eat really small plant seeds to sustain themselves.

In April, insects appear, ensuring that the long-tailed tit will be well nourished. By May, we can expect to see new chicks.

Long-tailed tit
Long-tailed tit
Long-tailed tit
Long-tailed tit

Red-crowned cranes, Ezo Ural owls, and long-tailed tits are all difficult to observe from mid-March onward, as their activity patterns change dramatically for the breeding season.
Mid-February, when they are actively courting, is the best time to observe these three species.

Photo & Text: Kaito IMAHORI
Observation: Tsurui Village, East-Hokkaido

*Contact  us, Saiyu Travel for more information about wildlife and bird watching in Hokkaido. We can make various arrangements for your trip. We have a guesthouse, Shiretoko Serai, in Rausu, Shiretoko Peninsula.

*Youtube : Wildlife of Japan

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Reasons Why Teuri Island Became a Sanctuary for Seabirds

>For information and tours of Teuri Island, click here!

Teuri Island is a small island with a circumference of about 12 km, and as of 2024, it has a population of approximately 250 people. Despite its size, Teuri Island is considered a “paradise for seabirds,” with an estimated breeding population of around one million birds. Such a sanctuary for seabirds is unique within Japan, as even the neighboring Yagishiri Island, which is about 3 km to the east and of similar size, lacks a significant seabird population.

The reason behind this phenomenon can be attributed to the maritime climate around Teuri Island, particularly during winter when it is influenced by the Siberian high-pressure system from the continent. As a result, the island is continuously exposed to northwestern winds. Over millions of years, these prevailing winds have shaped the landscape, forming cliffs predominantly on one side of the island.

from Google Map

The red lines indicate the original location of the island.

from Google Map

The arrows indicate the direction of the wind. Cliffs were formed on the northwest part of the island where the wind directly hits.

Cliffs, which are among the most challenging terrains for mammals, including humans, become easily accessible for birds capable of flying. Consequently, seabirds, which primarily reside at sea, are not well-adapted to terrestrial life, leading them to choose cliff habitats for breeding where their predators find it difficult to access.

The slaty-backed gull, which breeds on cliffs.

The pelagic cormorant and the black-tailed gull, which breed on cliffs.

The most abundant breeding location for rhinoceros auklets on Teuri Island is on land with soil situated atop the cliffs. Rhinoceros auklets choose to nest on land, despite the presence of many predators, as it becomes harder for predators to spot them during the evening twilight when they return to their nests all at once at sunset. If there were tall trees around the nesting area, they would be at a higher risk of colliding with them in the dark. Therefore, they prefer nesting in areas without tall trees.

Thanks to the island’s strong winds, which prevent the growth of tall trees, Teuri Island provides the ideal conditions for rhinoceros auklets. They have a habitat where approximately 400,000 breeding pairs thrive, making it the world’s No. 1 breeding site for these birds.

Rhinoceros auklets return to their nests by diving into treeless grasslands.

In this way, a miraculous convergence of ideal conditions for seabirds has resulted in the creation of Teuri Island, where numerous seabirds breed. During the seabird breeding season, boat tours are also available, allowing visitors to observe seabirds and geological formations from beneath the cliffs.

Photo & text : Wataru HIMENO

★ Visit our web site of  TEURI ISLAND.

Contact us to make arrangements for photographing seabirds on Teuri Island and Wildlife of Japan.

★Wildlife videos are also available on Youtube – we have the playlist as well.

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The Nocturnal Creatures of Teuri Island (Hokkaido)

>For information and tours of Teuri Island, click here!

Teuri Island is located at 44 degrees north latitude, so during the period from spring to summer, the daylight hours are long, and the sky becomes completely dark around 21:00 (9:00 PM). In the morning, it starts to get bright around 3:00 AM, which means that the nocturnal creatures are spending super busy throughout the night.

Speaking of nocturnal creatures, one  cannot fail to mention the owl family. In the year 2023, the breeding of the Long-eared Owl (トラフズク Torahuzuku in Japanese) has been confirmed on the island.

Long-eared Owl トラフズク(Torahuzuku)

During the early spring, we confirmed the presence of three chicks, but from the first half of July onwards, we could only find two. It is suspected that one of them might have died at some point. This experience made us realize the true harshness of nature.

Furthermore, the Kiwi of Japan is called a “ヤマシギ” (Yamashigi), which refers to the Eurasian Woodcock, also inhabits Teuri Island.

The life style of the Eurasian Woodcock is similar to the Kiwi of New Zealand, it is a nocturnal creature and preys on worms and other creatures found near the ground. However, the Eurasian Woodcock has the advantage of being able to fly, which allows it to have a broader range of habitats. It has numerous holes in its beak with nerve endings, enabling it to sense movements and detect prey while inserting its beak into the ground.

Eurasian Woodcock ヤマシギ (Yamashigi)
Eurasian Woodcock ヤマシギ (Yamashigi)
Eurasian Woodcock ヤマシギ (Yamashigi)

Additionally, on warm nights, the only snake species found on Teuri Island, the Japanese Mamushi Viper (マムシ: Mamushi,  also known as the Japanese pit viper), also becomes more active.

Japanese Mamushi Viper, Japanese pit viper  マムシ (Mamushi)

The snake, often referred to as a nocturnal creature, on Teuri Island, might also be quite active during daytime, especially in the cooler seasons like early spring. Despite being a reptile, it gives birth to live offspring instead of laying eggs. This adaptation might be what allowed it to efficiently reproduce in the fluctuating temperatures of Teuri Island, making it the only snake species on the island.

The Japanese Mamushi Viper is the most well-known venomous snake in Japan. The image of “Mamushi = danger” is deeply ingrained, and this might be a reason why drivers tend to be less aware of avoiding them compared to other creatures. As a result, during the season, I witnessed numerous instances where these vipers were hit and killed by vehicles.

Japanese Mamushi Viper, Japanese pit viper  マムシ (Mamushi)

Also, the Japanese tree frog (ニホンアマガエル  Nihonamagaeru), the only amphibian species found on Teuri Island, becomes active during the night.

Japanese tree frog ニホンアマガエル (Nihonamagaeru)

Due to its small size, approximately 12km in circumference, Teuri Island has limited sources of stable freshwater, making it challenging for amphibians, which constantly require water, to find suitable habitats. However, despite the scarcity of such environments, numerous individuals of the Japanese tree frog  can be found breeding near locations such as rainwater accumulated in abandoned ships and in small springs close to the coastline.

Furthermore, after observing the nocturnal activities, one can enjoy the breathtaking sight of a beautiful starry sky. On clear nights, shooting stars can be observed almost without fail.

Marhama Fishing Port at night

When you visit Teuri Island, please make sure to look up at the night sky before you leave.

 

Image & Text: Wataru HIMENO

★ Visit our web site of  TEURI ISLAND.

Contact us to make arrangements for photographing seabirds on Teuri Island and Wildlife of Japan.

★Wildlife videos are also available on Youtube – we have the playlist as well.

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Seeing the Ryukyu Robin of Okinawa’s Main Island and Amami Oshima

There are two subspecies of the Ryukyu Robin (Akahige in Japanese):
Larvivora komadori komadori which inhabits Amami Oshima Island, and Larvivora komadori namiyei which is found on the main island of Okinawa. These are two species that are considered a subspecies at the moment, but I heard that an announcement to make them two separate species will occur in the near future.
This is a report about a 5 day, 4 night tour conducted in early April.

Day 1   Starts from the main island of Okinawa. First we stop by the Triangle Pond (Sankaku-ike) , a famous birding spot. The usual Eurasian spoonbill (Herasagi) was seen amongst the flock of the usual flock of Black-faced spoonbills (Kurotsura herasagi).

Black-faced spoonbill  Photography by Hiroshi KAWADA

We saw Black-winged Stilts (Seitaka shigi) here and there, and Greenshanks (Aoashi shigi) flying by.  In the distance, Temminick’s sStint (Ojiro tounen) and a Long-toed Stint (Hibari shigi) are present. On the power lines, the Light-vented Bulbul (Shirogashira) and the Jungle Crow (Ryukyu hashibuto garasu, Corvus macrorhynchos connectens) were calling loudly.

From the Triangle Pond, we headed north to the Yanbaru Area. We waited for the Ryukyu robin (Akahige, Larvivora komadori namiyei) and the Okinawa rail (Yanbaru kuina). We could hear the Ashy minivet (Ryukyu sanshoukui,Pericrocotus divaricatus tegimae), and the Warbling white-eye (Ryukyu mejiro, Zosterops japonicus loochooensis), but we did not hear a sound from the target species. The day was completed after confirming the call of the Yanbaru Rail.

 

Day 2. A chilly morning, for Okinawa. We set out in the early morning, before sunrise, to see the Yanbaru Rail. We were able to see two rails crossing the road, as well as 4 Ryukyu wild boar.
After breakfast, we went to Akahige Point. Before I could see anything else, an Okinawa woodpecker (Noguchigera) flew to the dead tree right in front of us! We were so lucky!  It seems like they were nest building, and we could hear the knocking sounds “kon-kon, kon-kon” coming from inside the hole…In order to prevent disturbing them, we kept our distance and observation time short.

Okinawa woodpecker Photography by Yuji TSUKAMOTO

The Ryukyu robin was the main attraction, but it didn’t make an appearance for a while. But there was one participant saw a male and female, and even captured some photos of it bathing.

Ryukyu Robin, Larvivora komadori namiyei (male) Photography by Hiroshi KAWADA
Bathing Larvivora komadori namiyei (male) Photography by Hiroshi KAWADA

After eating lunch, we went to photograph the Pacific swallow (Ryukyu tsubame), perched along the roadside. Other tourists who saw the scene of us gathered around asking “What is that?” After I answered them, they pulled out their cell phones also and started to snap photos as well! (Lol).

Pacific swallow  Photography by Hiroshi KAWADA

After that, we went to the nearby rice field in search of shorebirds and other waders. Unfortunately, the area had changed so much, that it no longer seemed like a place for the shorebirds to hang out.

In the morning, some people had missed the Red-winged woodpecker and Okinawa woodpecker, so we headed back to that point. Sadly, however, we could not see much and ended up running out of daylight.

 

Day 3    This is the last day of the tour on the main island of Okinawa. However, we did not have much time, so we started from before dawn to look again for the Okinawa Rail. We waited in a certain spot for a long time, but they did not appear there. I did, however see some on the road several times.

After breakfast, we only had one hour. At Akahige Point, we managed to see one individual male. We also got a good look at the Ashy minivet (Ryukyu sanshoukui, Pericrocotus divaricatus tegimae.

Ryukyu Robin Komadori komadori namiyei (male) Photography by Kayo TSUKAMOTO
Ashy Minivet Pericrocotus divaricatus tegimae   Photography by Hiroshi KAWADA

We arrived at Naha Airport to head to Amami Oshima. Although it was a little chilly in Yanbaru, it was so hot in Naha! Our plane took off heading to Amami Oshima.

It was windy in Amami Oshima, so we gave up on birdwatching along the coast, and went for a walk through the forest sanctuary instead. While we didn’t have much time there, and the sky looked suspicious as well, we got to see the White-backed Woodpecker (Ooaka gera, Dendrocopos leucotos owstoni).  And we were really hoping to see a  White’s Thrush subspecies, the Amami Thrush (Ootoratsugumi, Zoothera dauma major). However all we saw was the Amami Jay (Rurikakesu), and then we were out of time.

After checking into the hotel and we had finished our dinner, we set out for a nightwalk. Accompanied by a local guide, we drove along the forested roads. As a result, we could see many Amami woodcocks (Amami Yamashigi) and the Amami Rabbits (Amami Kurousagi). Also, we could see endemic species such as the Amami Woodcock, Amami Rabbit, Amami Ishikawa’s frog (Amami Ishikawa gaeru), Okinawa pit viper (Himehabu), and the Amami spiny rat (Amami togenezumi),making it a very special night.

Amami Woodcock Photography by Hiroshi KAWADA
Amami Rabbit Photography by Yuji TSUKAMOTO
Amami Ishikawa’s frog Photography by Kayo TSUKAMOTO
Ryukyu scops owl Photography by Hiroshi KAWADA

 

Day 4   We were a bit worried about the weather, but we set out in search of Amami thrush, Amami jay, and other thrushes. Unfortunately, we had a little rain, on and off. We broke the participants up into two search groups, one for searching for the Ryukyu robin, and one searching for the Amami thrush. The Ryukyu robin group could end up seeing a few. The Ryukyu thrush group, could see one, but no one could catch a photo of it.
Then, after lunch, we split up into two groups again, and we were all able to see the target species and get photos of them both, fortunately. We also had some good opportunities to photograph the Ryukyu jay.

Ryukyu Robin Larvivora komadori komadori Male)Photography by Yuji TSUKAMOTO
Ryukyu Robin Larvivora komadori komadori (Female)Photography by Kayo TSUKAMOTO
Amami Thrush Photography by Hiroshi KAWADA
Amami Jay   Photography by Yuji TSUKAMOTO

 

Day 5    Last day of the tour. The weather forecast is not looking good. Unfortunately it looks like rain until the end of the tour.

First, we set off before dawn to listen to the calls of the Ryukyu thrush. On the way, we saw an Amami woodcock and heard the calls of a Ryukyu scops owl. As we parked the car, we had a light rain, but we could hear the calls of the Ryukyu thrush.

After breakfast, we didn’t have much time. But it would have been nice just to see the White-backed woodpecker (Austin Ooakagera), so we searched for it on the way to the airport, but we could not spot it. Finally, we went to a rice paddy, where some migratory birds, might be around. Despite the rain, we were able to see the White-Breasted Waterhen (Shirohara kuina) and the White Wagtail (Houjiro hakusekirei, Motacilla alba leucopsis), the Black-winged Stilt (Seitaka shigi) and other species.

White-Breasted Waterhen Photography by Hiroshi KAWADA
White Wagtail Motacilla alba leucopsis Photography by Hiroshi KAWADA

This tour was a hyper-focused tour just for the hardcore birders, with the aim of seeing both subspecies of the Ryukyu robin on the main island of Okinawa and on Amami Oshima, and I can say it was a success. I wish to thank all the participants, who made the most of their precious time, over the course of 5 days, to intensely help search for birds, from early morning until late at night.

Text : Kenji YANAGAWA – Bird concierge
Photos are courtesy of all the participants of the tour

Observed: Beginning of April, 2023, Okinawa main island, and Amami Oshima

*Contact  us, Saiyu Travel for more information about wildlife and bird watching in Okinawa & Amami Oshima. We can make various arrangements for your trip.

*Youtube : Wildlife of Japan

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Common Guillemot observation update 2023

>For information and tours of Teuri Island, click here!

Teuri Island is the only breeding site of the Common Guillemot in Japan.
At one time the birds’ population was reduced to 13 birds, but their numbers are now recovering.

This year again, Common Guillemots are seen bringing food back to the nest. Bringing food back to the nest means that chicks are born, and the circle of life continues for these species, which is a very comforting thing to know! The first confirmation was made on 8th of July, so it seems that the Common Guillemot’s breeding season is the same as in previous years.

A project was underway on Teuri Island to use decoys to entice them back to the island due to a decline in their population.

This year, the caves that have been used as breeding grounds have become very cramped with decoys and real Common Guillemots, like a crowded train in Tokyo.

This may be why Common Guillemots have been frequently seen perched on rocks other than the breeding caves since the beginning of July this year.

Pelagic Cormorants also breed on this rocky area and congregate in large numbers in the adjacent hollows. This spot is not visible from land, and can only be observed from a seabird watching boat.

Observation of Common Guillemots went well, as they have been seen flying in groups and floating in the sea in numbers of up to 50.

Common Guillemots fly in flocks
Common Guillemots floating in a flock

The Common Guillemot population, which was reduced to 13 birds in 2002, has been steadily increasing and now exceeds 100 birds. However, there is only one breeding site in Teuri Island so far and no increase in breeding sites has been confirmed, so we hope that the number of breeding sites will increase next time, as there is concern that the population may plummet if there is only one site and natural enemies appear.

 

Photo & text : Wataru HIMENO

Observation : May-Jul 2023, Teuri Island, Hokkaido

★ Visit our web site of  TEURI ISLAND.

Contact us to make arrangements for photographing seabirds on Teuri Island and Wildlife of Japan.

★Wildlife videos are also available on Youtube – we have the playlist as well.

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The key highlights for three most popular sea birds on Teuri Island (Spectacled Guillemot, Common Guillemot and Rhinoceros Guillemot)

>For information and tours of Teuri Island, click here!

We have summarized the features of three species of birds in the Auk family that are popular amongst birders visiting Teuri Island: Spectacled Guillemot, Common Guillemot and Rhinoceros Auklet!

(1) Carrying caught fish with their beaks.

The main part of the observation is watching birds bringing fish into their beaks to feed their chicks. This is a common feature of the Auk family, as they are able to swallow fish while swimming in the water and cannot spit out the fish once swallowed to feed the chicks. Hence they fly with several fish in their beak to bring the catch back to the nest.
On Teuri Island, night tours are held every evening during the season (from end of April to the end of July) to observe the 800,000 Rhinoceros Auklets returning to their nests in the evening.

Common Guillemot flies with fish in its beak.

Unlike many other species, Rhinoceros Auklet feed their chicks only once a day, when they finally return home in the evening. Therefore, there are several fish for them to bring into their beaks!

 

(2) Their wings are short and they need to run on the surface of the sea to fly away

When diving in the sea, the Auk family swim by flapping their wings underwater. For this reason, their wings are shorter and smaller than those of other birds of the same size, so that they do not create resistance in the water.

Spectacled Guillemot’s wings

The size of a Rhinoceros Auklet’s wings clearly differs when compared to the size of a Black-tailed gull’s wings.

Due to smaller wings, the Auk family birds do not have high flight capabilities and flap their wings more frequently in the air than bird species of the same size. They also need to run on the surface of the sea to gain momentum in order to take off from the sea into air.

Among the most beautiful is the red-footed Spectacled Guillemot, which runs along the surface of the sea. You can only see this view up close from aboard a small seabird-viewing boat. Please come and see this beautiful moment when you visit Teuri Island!

Close-up seabird photography from the observation boat.

A sea birds observation boat in the ‘Teuri blue’ sea.

 

Photo & text : Wataru HIMENO

Observation : May-Jul 2023, Teuri Islaand, Hokkaido

★ Visit our web site of  TEURI ISLAND.

Contact us to make arrangements for photographing seabirds on Teuri Island and Wildlife of Japan.

★Wildlife videos are also available on Youtube – we have the playlist as well.

 

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Japan’s Largest Crane Migration Site – from the Ariake Sea to Izumi (2)

There were two tours conducted in December 2022. This is the first tour report that took place Dec 12-16, 2022. Reported by bird guide, Yoshinori Toshitake.

Day 1

We gathered at Kagoshima Airport and headed to Izumi by private car. We arrived at Izumi in the afternoon and started looking for the cranes. First, I saw the Sandhill Cranes, but it was far away on this day, so I decided to look for the Common Crane and a Siberian Crane, while of course observing and photographing the White-naped Cranes and the Hooded Cranes.

A family of White-naped Cranes drinking water
Foraging Hooded Cranes

 

Day 2

We arrived at the reclaimed land while it was still dark, and first observed the sunrise and cranes. The cranes flying in against the backdrop of the sunrise was beautiful, and the participants were engrossed in getting their photos of the scene.

Sunrise and the cranes
The Cranes as they forage

After the sunrise, I was aiming to see the Daurian Jackdaw, which was perched on the electric wires. On this day, I could see the white-colored one, known as “Shiromaru.”

Rook(Right) and Daurian Jackdaw (two birds on the left)

After that, while I was watching cranes from the roof of the Observation Center, I found some Black Cranes hiding in the shadows of the road. I waited patiently, moved to a position where I might see the whole body of the cranes without the other cranes blocking it. This year, the number of cranes is a bit less than normal, but it is all a matter of timing if you can see them or not.

A Black Crane

While I was waiting for this crane to come out from the flock, a Perigrine Falcon also appeared, and the ducks that were foraging in the farmland got pretty riled up by it.

The Peregrine Falcon

Then, we tool a walk along the river, where we aimed to find the European Peduline Tit and the Chestnut-eared Bunting. We could first, hear the calls of the tit, out on the reed bed, but they appeared pretty close by eventually. It is a very small bird, but it didn’t sing at all while observing it, so it took quite a while for everyone to be able to spot it.

Eurasian Penduline Tit

The Chestnut-eared Buntings were perched on the concrete embankment, and an Osprey was observed bathing in the river. Ospreys are often only seen in flight, so it is quite rare to see them in the water.

A bathing Osprey

In the afternoon, we went into the mountains and looked at the dam and along mountain streams. The Mandarin Duck were still very cautiously avoiding us, and the Mallards, Eurasian Wigeons, and Common Pochards were seen in the water near the dam. While I was scanning for Mandarin Ducks in the darker areas of the edges of the water, I saw a Mountainhawk Eagle gliding, for just a moment. And as I approached the area of the Crested Kingfisher, I found one perched on some driftwood. The kingfisher flew away and then landed on a dead tree, so I tried to put it in the scope while informing everyone, but it flew off again immediately. Also, on the way back, when crossing the bridge, I heard the call and saw the flight of the kingfisher. Surprisingly, there were two that flew together in the upstream direction of the river. In the evening, we returned to the reclaimed land and observed Eurasian Spoonbills and Northern Lapwing.

Flock of Eurasian Spoonbill
A Northern Lapwing

Day 3

We arrived at the reclaimed land while it was still dark, but unfortunately the clouds were so thick that we could not see the sunrise or the moon. I was waiting in the car, regretfully thinking that it would be useless to try to observe anything, but a Siberian Crane appeared. The Siberian Crane was easy to observe last year, but it was rare to see them this year.

A White-naped Crane (behind) and Siberian Crane (in front)

We left Izumi early to catch the ferry before noon and headed to Kumamoto. The ferry heading to Shimabara was bustling with the Black-headed Gulls looking for snacks from the passengers even before our departure. I don’t know how many there were, but after the ship left the port, many of them continued to follow the ship.

The Black-headed Gulls as they follow the ferry

After leaving the port, we observed a large flock of Brown Boobies resting on the embankment, and that day, there were also some flying near our ship.

Brown Booby flying above the waves

The Isahaya Reclaimed Land has vast cultivated farmlands and reed beds. In the field of reeds, there were various species we observed, such as the Hen Harrier and Common Reed Bunting. The Common Starling and Common Kestrel were seen and photographed in the farmland areas.

A Juvenile Hen Harrier
The Common Starling

Day 4

In the morning, we visited the Isahaya reclaimed land again. Birds of prey such as the Common Kestrel and Common Buzzard can be seen around the reed bed. The Merlin was also observed targeting hunting the small birds on the edge of the grass.

Common Kestrel
Eastern Buzzard

In the afternoon, we moved to Higashiyoka in Saga Prefecture, and observed the mud flats at high tide. On this day, the tide level was much lower than normal even, though it was high tide, and the mud flats were dotted with shorebirds, Common Shelducks, Saunder’s Gulls, and other species of birds.

The mud flats dotted with various shorebirds
Saunder’s Gull

On the way from the mud flats back to the hotel, we found a magpie, which I rarely see anymore. It was observed perched on a powerline, and then on the roofs of the houses.

 

Day 5

Since we saw the magpie yesterday, I changed the plan and headed to the reservoir first instead. We could see the thousands of Bikal Teal, very alive and well, and the large flocks of them were spread across the open water.

A large flock of Baikal Teal taking flight

Here, we took a walk on a paved road, less than 3km, and enjoyed watching the large flocks of Baikal Teal, as well as being able to see birds of prey, such as the Northern Goshawk and smaller birds, such as the Common Reed Bunting. After that, we went up the river and observed Common Kingfisher, Long-billed Plover, Brown Dipper, etc. in the stream with clear water. Then we headed to Fukuoka Airport, and ended our tour there.
(99 Confirmed Species)

Photo & Text: Toshitake YOSHINARI
Observation: 12-16 Dec 2022, Ariake Sea, Izumi

*Contact  us, Saiyu Travel for more information about wildlife and bird watching in Hokkaido. We can make various arrangements for your trip.

*Youtube : Wildlife of Japan

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Japan’s Largest Crane Migration Site – from the Ariake Sea to Izumi (1)

There were two tours conducted in December 2022. This is the first tour report that took place Dec 7-11, 2022. Reported by bird guide, Yoshinori Toshitake

Day 1
We gathered at Fukuoka Airport and headed to the Ariake Sea in a private car. On the way, we had lunch at the service area of the highway, and started birding at the reservoir. Last year there were only a few birds, but this year more than 5,000 Bikal Teal were there. It was an overwhelming amount of birds!

The huge flock of Bikal Teal

With so many ducks, we were able to enjoy the appearance of birds of prey such as the Hen Harrier and Northern Goshawk. But when returning to the car, I was happy to hear the cry of the Eurasian Magpie. Magpies inhabit Fukuoka, Saga and Nagasaki Prefectures, but especially around Saga, their numbers are declining so there are times when I can’t even see them. So carefully, we approached them, and this time could even observe them, luckily. I was able to take photos of the birds catching food on the ground and in the trees.

Magpie foraging for food in the trees

After that, we went to Higashiyoka higata (shoreline), and since it was low tide, we could see the vast tidal flat before heading to the hotel.

Day 2
In the morning, we went to the same Higashiyoka tidal flats to observe waterfowl, such as sandpipers and plovers in the high tide. Unlike yesterday, the birds were all so close, and we were enjoying observing the flocks of Dunlin, Eurasian Curlew, Common Redshank, Common Shelduck, Saunder’s Gull, and many other waterfowl. Then, suddenly the flock of Dunlins all took off, all at once. They synchronized their movements, and I enjoyed the murmuration, as they shifted their direction in unison. This is exactly why the Higashiyoka mud flats are a great example of Japanese shorelines, a truly vast and wonderful environment.

A Dunlin flock taking flight all at once
Eurasian Curlew and Common Shelduck

On this day as well, we had lunch on the highway service area, and in the afternoon, we headed to the Isahaya reclaimed land area. In the reed beds, we observed the Hen Harrier, Eastern Marsh Harrier and the Merlin as they were hunting. In the agricultural areas there were Northern Lapwing, Common Starling and Chestnut-eared Bunting, and in the waterways we saw a Green Sandpiper. We also could enjoy seeing some wild mammals, a Japanese racoon dog ‘tanuki’ in the reed beds, and wild boars ‘inoshishi’ in the farmed areas.

The Eastern Marsh Harrier
A Rook & Common Starling

Day 3
In the morning, we visited the reclaimed land again and observed the Black-winged Stilt, Common Kingfisher and a Common Kestrel. I also saw a wild boar in the farmland area. Yesterday, it was only showing its tail, as it ran away, but today I was able to see it nearby.

The Wild Boar on cultivated land

After that, we took a ferry from Shimbara, and watch the birds from the boat. As soon as the boat departed, a flock of Black-headed Gulls, gathered in front of us to catch food thrown by the passengers, and we enjoyed watching them fly around with the beautiful backdrop of Mt. Unzen.

A Black-headed Gull and Mt. Unzen’s Peak

Then, just before entering the port, about 600 Brown Boobies were also observed on the embankment. I was amazed at just how many of them were gathered there.

Brown Boobies resting on the embankment

We got off the ferry, went to Izumi, even though it was early in the evening, we observed the cranes on the reclaimed land. Of course we saw the Hooded Cranes and White-naped Cranes, but I was feeling like I was missing something, so I searched hard and found a couple of Sandhill Cranes also mixed into the flock.

A Sandhill Crane

Day 4
Cranes are most active in the early morning hours, as they are fed in the morning. On this day, we arrived while it was still dark, and aimed at shooting the cranes flying against the backdrop of the sunrise and the moon. We were lucky that the weather was good, and the moon was almost full. While it was still a bit dark, a Short-eared Owl appeared as it was being attacked by a crow.

The moon and the cranes
Sunrise and the cranes

Once the cranes settled down, my next target to see was the Daurian Jackdaw. Just at this timing, a group of rooks gathered on the electricity wires above and there was a jackdaw mixed in with them as well. I could see the white type of jackdaw (commonly called a Shiromaru), from a distance, so I was able to photograph it capturing the entire body, without any difficulty.

On the left, the Daurian Jackdaw and a Rook

It seems that the sole purpose of this same electric wire is not just to pass electric currents, but to give a flock of Cinnamon Sparrows a perch also. Unlike the common sparrows where both sexes have the same patterns, these Cinnamon (or Russet) Sparrows have different patterns for males and females, making it a very cute bird to watch. After watching them for a while, we tool a walk along the river to aim to see the European Penduline Tit and Chestnut-eared Bunting. Although I could hear their calls, I could only visually confirm it once we returned to the car. Other species seen along the river included the Dunlin, Osprey, Eastern Buzzard and Common Reed Bunting.

The Cinnamon Sparrows

In the afternoon, we headed up the mountains to target the Crested Kingfisher and the Mountainhawk Eagle. We saw Mallards, Eurasion Wigeon, Common Pochard, etc, resting on the open water. The Mandarin Duck, which prefers dark places near the water’s edge, is the most cautious one, so even if we are far away, if it senses we are within a certain range, it will fly away to hide. Unfortunately, we were not able to see the Mountainhawk Eagle or the kingfisher, but we were able to hear the cries of the Eurasian Jay and Japanese Grosbeak. In the evening, we returned to the reclaimed land to observe the White-naped Cranes and Hooded Cranes for a while.

An Osprey
White-naped Cranes
Hooded Crane

Day 5
This morning, again, we arrived at the reclaimed land before dawn and observed the cranes into the morning. On this day, the moon was hidden by the clouds, and the sunrise was different from yesterday, so we could experience the daily changes of the weather. There were fewer cranes this year, but the density of the foraging in the morning is quite impressive. They started eating the food scattered far away and gradually approached us.

The scene during the morning foraging

After returning to the hotel and checking out after breakfast, we observed the cranes some more and saw some Eurasian spoonbills on the reclaimed land. Izumi is a famous wintering ground for the cranes, but there are also many other species of birds. The Eurasian Spoonbills are astonishing as they sit right next to the road or forage in the three-sided channel.

The urasian Spoonbills

After enjoying, the birds of Izumi until the very last minute, we headed to Kagoshima Airport, where we ended the trip. There were fewer cranes this year, due to the influence of bird flu, but I was able to enjoy the smaller birds and raptors, besides the cranes. It was a photography-focused tour, but Kyushu in the winter has a lot to photograph, and I think everyone who participated, took a lot of photos.
(99 Confirmed Species)

Photo & Text: Toshitake YOSHINARI
Observation: 7-11Dec 2022, Ariake Sea, Izumi

*Contact  us, Saiyu Travel for more information about wildlife and bird watching in Hokkaido. We can make various arrangements for your trip.

*Youtube : Wildlife of Japan

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<Red-crowned Crane> Report for FEB, 2023 Eastern Hokkaido Wildlife Tour in the Winter

For 6 days from February 17、I traveled to Eastern Hokkaido. This article introduces the Red-crowned Cranes in the village of Tsurui.

Over the course of two days, I visited Otowa -bashi, a famous spot for observing the roosting cranes. On the first day, it snowed and the lowest temperature that morning was about -6℃. It was forecasted to have an ice-fog at below 15 degrees Celsius. Perhaps due to these bad weather conditions, when we arrived at the bridge at 4am, there were only 3 tripods lined up when we arrived. After 5:30am, the sky brightened and the cranes began to appear even though it was still snowing, and we were able to see them at a short distance away, only about 50 m from the bridge.

From snowy Otowa Bridge
Photographer waiting at Otowa Bridge

On the second day, the lowest temperature was minus 15℃, and when we arrived at 4am, there were already 30 tripods lined up, and in the end, there were so many people crowding to see the cranes, that we had to form two lines for the tripods. The red-crowned cranes were several hundred meters away, because it was sunny, but the morning glow was a golden hue, coloring the crane’s roosting area, making it a very magical sight.

Scenery from Otowa Bridge in the morning sun
Otowa Bridge is full of photographers

At the Ito Sanctuary, which is the feeding ground for them during the winter, many people had already reserved their photo-taking positions from an hour beforehand. On the first day, perhaps because the wind was really strong, the cranes flew from behind us observers, passing directly above us. Even the photographers with the big camera lenses, were using their cell phones to shoot cause the distance was too close. Also, due to the snow, the ground was covered with a fresh coat of snow, making their courtship displays very elegant and fantastic.

Flight of the red-crowned crane
Red-crowned cranes take off in flight
Courtship of red-crowned cranes

On our second day, there were so many people gathered there from an hour before the feeding time. This time, in the parking area of Ito Sanctuary, there were people who had gotten stuck in the snow, causing lots of confusion in the parking lot. Driving in eastern Hokkaido takes some getting used to, so if you do drive yourself, please be careful not to waste precious photography time and get there early. On this day, it was a particularly beautiful day to observe cranes flying in with the clear blue skies as the backdrop.

The bright blue sky and the red-crowned crane
Red-crowned cranes coming to Ito Sanctuary
Active red-crowned crane movements
People gathered at Ito Sanctuary

Then, at noon, we took a break at the shop that has bird feeders out for the Long-tailed tits “Shimaenaga.” Tourists are there eating the pasta flavored with locally grown basil and Hokkaido’s famous ice cream while observing the small long-tailed tits that were attracted by the birdfeeders.

Observing long-tailed tits from a cafe
Pasta using local basil

In the evening, we observed the cranes going to roost. Due to the fact that they all return at once from the feeding site to the roost, we waited for the photo opportunity by waiting along the route. Over the 2 days, we saw a large number of cranes flying overhead. On the second day in particular, the sunset was a beautiful hue, so many people were able to get photos with a magical atmosphere.

Red-crowned crane in the evening light
Red-crowned cranes on its way to the roost
Red-crowned cranes on its way to the roost

Photo & Text: Wataru HIMENO
Observation: Tsurui Village, East-Hokkaido

*Contact  us, Saiyu Travel for more information about wildlife and bird watching in Hokkaido. We can make various arrangements for your trip. We have a guesthouse, Shiretoko Serai, in Rausu, Shiretoko Peninsula.

*Youtube : Wildlife of Japan

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