Wildlife Sightings for January in Eastern Hokkaido

February is generally the peak season in Hokkaido’s eastern region, but what is it like in January? In this blog, we would like to introduce the wildlife that you might see in East Hokkaido (Kushiro, Notsuke Pennisula, Rausu) in January.

Short-Eared Owl (Notsuke Peninsula)

During this period, short-eared owls migrating from Siberia and other places, could be observed (depending on the year). This grassland owl is a rarity in Japan, but when you visit the open grassy fields in the evening, you might observe them flying around looking for mice. After that, as the weather gets colder, many of the owls migrate to other places around the main island of Japan (Honshu), so Hokkaido in January might be the best time to photograph the snowy landscapes with short-eared owls.

Ural Owl (Eastern Hokkaido)

The ural owl, is an endemic species that inhabits Hokkaido as a resident year around. It is easy to spot these birds in the leafless trees.

Blakiston’s Fish Owl (Rausu)

The Blakiston’s fish owl can be seen from a facility along the Chitorai River in Rausu. It is a very rare species that inhabits only eastern Hokkaido and Far East Russia (Kunashir Island).

White-Tailed Eagle (Rausu, Notsuke Peninsula, Nemuro)

In eastern Hokkaido, there are wildlife that migrate here to overwinter, and there are also resident birds as well. They are most abundant in February, and can be easily seen flying around Lake Furen and Rausu.

Steller’s Sea Eagle (Rausu, Notsuke Peninsula, Nemuro)

The Steller’s sea eagles, which breed in Far East Russia such as in the Kamchatka Peninsula, migrate to eastern Hokkaido in the winter. February is the most common, month they start arriving, but I was able to confirm their appearance in January as well.

Red Crowned Crane (Tsurui Village)

In January, the red-crowned cranes are preparing for the breeding season. I was able to see the paired couples singing and dancing together, and a young bird practicing alone. From February to March, the breeding season is in full swing, the number of couples increase and the time they spend doing their displays goes on for longer periods of time.

Red Fox

The red fox, a subspecies that inhabits the Sakhalin, Hokkaido and its surroundings, is also approaching their breeding season as well. During this period, males will walk large areas in the deep snow searching for females, so the muscles of the upper body are said to be very developed, and this one here is a good example, showing very developed pectoral muscles.

One fox approached us with the Kunashir Island in the backdrop, and if you look closely at its tail, you can see some small hair loss. Scabies is spreading among the red foxes, and is seems to be causing a population decline.

Ezo Sika Deer

These are some Ezo Sika Deer with the Kunashir Islands in the background. At this time of year, they have winter fur and are very cute, but they have a voracious appetite and are highly successful at reproduction, so in some areas they are being exterminated due to damage to agricultural areas. At Shiretoko Sarai, the venison is added to the menu so it is not wasted.

In addition, you might see kestrel and a group of long-tailed tit.

January was a fulfilling time to encounter wildlife in eastern Hokkaido for a 3 nights and 4 days stay in January.

Photo & text: Wataru HIMENO

Observation: Jan 2023, Eastern 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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Raising The Next Generation of Blakiston’s Fish Owl; Observed in Rausu

Two chicks were born in 2022

Usually, the Blakiston’s fish owls will mate in February and lay two eggs in March. The female warms them for 35 consecutive days, without rest. However, for the Blakiston’s fish owls it is very challenging with various factors influencing the results: like the extreme weather and cold temperatures during breeding; the physical condition of each owl itself; and their past experience of raising chicks. On average only one bird survives until fledging.

At the Blakiston’s fish owl Observatory in Rausu (Washinoyado), the birds can be observed throughout the year, and in June 2022, the pair were able to fledge both chicks for the first time in 15 years! The young birds practiced flying near their nest, and then eventually around August, they would come down to the river with their parents to learn how to catch the fish. Around September, they learned how to hunt for themselves, becoming more independent.

Mother bird showing how to hunt

The mother taking the food to the chicks

Sometimes, there are young birds that cannot fish successfully, and end up on the roadsides to try to eat roadkill. However, they might end up getting hit by cars due to the dark conditions. Thankfully, our two chicks at the Observatory have been safe from this kind of accident so far.

One of the chicks born in 2022

In December, the two will become independent, and then around 2024 they will mature and find their own partners and live somewhere in Shiretoko. I am praying that they can both survive the trials of winter to live long lives.


Image & text: Kaito IMAHORI

This report is based on observations till Oct 2022

*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.

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East Hokkaido Wildlife Photography Tour in Early Summer (Part 2)

birds photography tour Japan Northern Fulmar

This is part two of a report of the Wildlife Photography Tour lead by Gaku Tozuka, wild bird photographer (conducted from June 11-16).

East Hokkaido Wildlife Photography Tour in Early Summer (Part 1)

June 14 (Tuesday) Cloudy, then Sunny
Despite the cloudy and foggy weather, we boarded the ship in the morning. As soon as we set sail, the announcement over the intercom announced “We will go look for Minke Whales,” and we made our way to the ocean. In fact, Minke whales will appear out here, but it often seems like when they do come out, it always is just a flash of dorsal fin and then they hide immediately. They are not like the killer whales which take their time around you so we can enjoy watching them for some time. It can be so frustrating with the Minkes. After that, we had three boats searching for killer whales as well, but we did not have even one sighting.

We also couldn’t find any large flocks of Short-tailed Shearwaters, only sometimes seeing a Rhinoceros Auklet and the Northern Fulmar to photograph. Then, out of nowhere, a large flock of Fulmars started following our boat, as the rode the waves that the boat was creating! In a rush, I went to tell the tour participants, so they could get photos of the flock. They were able to get photos of them.

Pine Grosbeak

In the afternoon, it cleared up and was perfectly sunny, so we went to Shiretoko Pass for the Pine Grosbeak. I had heard from others that the grosbeak was not coming out lately, so it was just going to be up to luck if we did get to see it. Then, while we were chatting and eating our lunch, the driver shouted out at me, “Hey, Mr. Tozuka, isn’t that the Pine Grosbeak?” As he was pointing at the Siberian Dwarf Pine very near to us. Sure enough, just in the spot super close to us, was a brightly colored male sitting on the branch!

At 3:30 PM, we wrapped things up there and headed to the Rausu Visitor’s Center, then we returned to the lodging. Same as the previous night, we had some free time until dinner time. In the evening after dinner, we headed back to the Blakiston’s Fish Owl Observatory for photos.

Blakiston’s Fish Owl

Similar to the night before, one bird arrived at 7:50 PM. At around 8:50, it returned and before I could realize it, the other bird had arrived and we could get photos of the pair together. Then, again like the previous night, they left and did not return. We left there around 11PM.

Blakiston’s Fish Owl
Blakiston’s Fish Owl

June 15, (Wednesday) Sunny
I was awakened by a phone call at 6:50 AM, it was the chartered cruise boat company. “Today we are seeing high waves so we will cancel the cruise for today.” I was speechless. It was really sunny and seemed like perfectly good weather…but there was nothing we could do. I explained the situation to the guests over breakfast, and agreed to change the plan to try again for photos of the Pine Grosbeak. We retuned to the same place we saw it yesterday, and I searched around for it here and there but to no avail. Then as I was walking around, I saw a group of cameramen… “There is the red male!” they pointed it out. So, I ran to get my group participants and we all waited patiently for him to reappear. While we were there, the male came out 4 or 5 times again. Everyone’s photos were so-so but at least they could capture the red clearly on the male.

In the afternoon, we went to photograph the brown bears that appeared on the coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula. I was so worried because the morning cruise had already been canceled on us, but the Captain gave us the “Go” sign and we hurried to the wharf.

Our cruise for this tour is using a small boat, so we were able to get quite close to the shoreline when the bears appeared. First to come out was a young bear and we were able to get him at a pretty close distance. After that, we kept encountering bears one after another, and at the tip of the cape, we were able to see a mother and her two cubs. It is quite a rare thing to see bears at the end of the peninsula like that, so we were pretty lucky with this sighting!

Since we were all the way at the far end of the Cape, we were about to go over time with our cruise, but on the way back, there was another sighting and the Captain of the boat said “There are two bears.” Perhaps they were a young pair of siblings, but they let us get their photos as well. On this day, we observed a total of 9 bears, for me this was the highest encounter rate I had ever had! Even though we went over time, the captain’s gracious attitude made it very unforgettable cruise.

This evening’s lodging is in Shari, and it will take some time to get down there, so we had a plan not to make any stops along the way. But right when we left, we saw a baby fox who was quite a character, so we started a photo session, right out the gate. This charming little fox did not run away, and even when we stepped out of the vehicle for photos he did not run. He let us get loads of photos of him playing by himself and even stopped to strike a pose for us now and then!

As we started making our way, the driver asked me, “So, Neboku Pass or Shiretoko Pass?” Since the weather was pretty good and clear, I decided to catch the beautiful evening vista of Shiretoko for our drive.

June 16 (Thursday) Light Rain and then, Sunny
Finally we are on our last day of the tour. It was a soft rain in the morning, but as soon as we left, it lifted. Today our goal is the Koshimizu Wild Flower Garden for the small birds.

Perhaps it was the low temperatures, but the little birds were pretty quiet today. However, as the temperatures rose, we started to hear the calls of the Lanceolated Warbler which sounds like the chirping of insects. We were not so fortunate as the birds, like the Locustellidae were making calls but they just would not make any appearances! It was so frustrating! LOL…Only the Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler showed itself. This year, due to the colder weather, the flowers were blooming late, so the sightings were not so good. But still at least we could see the Black Lily Fritillaria camtschatcensis.

Reed Bunting
Reed Bunting
Siberian Rubythroat
Siberian Rubythroat
Siberian Stonechat
Siberian Stonechat
Pacific Swift
Pacific Swift

Since the time hit 10 AM, we moved from here to the final leg of the tour. We explored the lakeside paths, and looked for creatures to photograph. We could see and photograph different species like the kingfisher, little ringed plover, and the yellow-bellied kingfisher.

I wish to thank all the participants who came on this tour, I appreciate the good times during our long tour for 6 days and 5 nights!

Birds Photographed:
Japanese Cormorant / Pelagic Cormorant / Red-faced Cormorant / Grey Heron / Northern Fulmar / Short-tailed Shearwater / Red-crowned Crane / Common Cuckoo / Pacific Swift / Little Ringed Plover / Latham’s Snipe  / Slaty-backed Gull / Common Guillemot / Spectacled Guillemot / Rhinoceros Auklet / Horned Puffin / Tufted Puffin / White-tailed Eagle / Blakiston’s Fish Owl / Treecreeper / Great Spotted Woodpecker / Marsh Tit / Great Tit / Middendorff’s Grasshopper Warbler / Black-browed Reed-warbler / Chestnut-cheeked Starling / Siberian Rubythroat / Siberian Stonechat / Japanese Pied Wagtail / Oriental Greenfinch / Long-tailed Rosefinch / Pine Grosbeak / Black-faced Bunting / Reed Bunting / Chestnut-cheeked Starling

Birds Observed:
Eurasian Wigeon / Mallard / Greater Scaup / Himalayan Cuckoo / Black-tailed Gull / Pomarine Skua / Black Kite / Common Kingfisher / Black Woodpecker / Bull-headed Shrike / Marsh Tit / Jungle Crow / Varied Tit / Eurasian Skylark / Barn Swallow / House Martin / Brown-eared Bulbul / Eurasian Nuthatch / White-cheeked Starling / Tree Sparrow / Grey Wagtail / Eurasian Bullfinch / Chestnut-eared Bunting / Common Merganser / Oriental Turtle Dove / Himalayan Cuckoo

Birds Hear Calling:
Japanese Robin / Brown-headed Thrush / White’s Thrush / Lesser Cuckoo / Japanese Bush Warbler / Sakhalin Leaf-warbler / Lanceolated Warbler / Gray’s Grasshopper-warbler / Oriental Reed Warbler / Narcissus Flycatcher

Other Mammals:
Brown Bear / SeaOtter / Minke Whale / Ezo-sika Deer / Raccoon Dog / Ezo Red Fox /Chipmunk

Photography & Text: Gaku TOZUKA (Bird photographer)
Visit: 2022, 11-16 JUN, Eastern 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 our guesthouse Shiretoko Serai in Rausu on the Shiretoko Peninsula.

Please see other article related “Birds Photography in East Hokkaido”

Bird Photography : Steller’s Sea Eagle and White-tailed Eagle (Rausu, Hokkaido)

Spectacular View! Rausu Drift Ice Cruise at Dawn (Rausu, Shiretoko Peninsula)

Rausu’s Drift Ice Cruise and the Drift Ice in the Port of Rausu・The Steller’s Sea Eagle and White-tailed Eagle

Icy Lake Furen: Steller’s Sea Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle (Lake Furen, Hokkaido)

Long-tailed Tit : Winter Photography Tour (Nemuro, Hokkaido)

East Hokkaido Wildlife Photography Tour in Early Summer (Part 1)

This is a June field report on the tour conducted by Gaku Tozuka, a photographer, when we toured Eastern Hokkaido during the early summer.

Winter Photography Tour of Red-Crowned Cranes, Tsurui Village -Part 1

Winter Photography Tour of Red-Crowned Cranes, Tsurui Village -Part 2


June 12 (Sunday) Cloudy with Heavy Rain
We started with taking photos around Lake Furen, early in the morning. Typically, on good weather days, we would start the morning around 4:30 to 5am, but on this day, it was dark and cloudy so we gathered in front of the lodging to begin shooting.

hokkaido wildlife

A pair of Red-crowned Cranes were in the marsh.

The yellow flowers of the Thermopsis montana in the foreground help to frame the pair off in the distance.

hokkaido wildlife

I was loading the bags in the car after breakfast when I saw a bright red male Long-tailed Rosefinch just on the opposite side of the road. Everyone started clicking away.

hokkaido wildlife

We head to the Ochiishi port, and on the way there were a pair of White-tailed Eagles perched on a large tree. We approached quietly and slowly and showing no signs of wanting to fly away, we could get photos of them from the bridge.

hokkaido wildlife

I was honestly a little worried about the rough seas and being able to get out for the cruise in Ochiishi, but we were able to leave safely.

The Rhinoceros auklet was the first thing we saw, appearing now and then. But the real challenge is taking photos with the waves rocking the boat…it was really swaying. Such difficult conditions to get a good photo!

hokkaido wildlife

So I happened to look up just as a bird was flying over us…(It was stubby and plump, but flew higher than a puffin…!) So I blurted out “Tufted Puffin!” and luckily or unluckily by the time everyone looked up, the bird had flown so close, but all they could see was the tail as it flew away. These recent years have seen a decrease in the number of sightings, so we were just lucky to see it at all!

*Side note: In Japan, these species are so rare to be seen but they do breed on Yururi Island and Moyururi Islands.

hokkaido wildlife

After that, our guide spotted a young Horned Puffin which we photographed. The other tour participants seemed to have trouble getting a good photo of it that was in focus. But this bird is rarely seen in Japan and on top of that, it was in its summer plumage, which is even more rare!

There was some information going around that many Red-faced Cormorants were around this year, so we went to the rocky outcrops. It is very challenging to photograph from the rocking ship, but the tour members did a pretty good job.

hokkaido wildlife

We then made our way to the rocky area where we could observe the Sea Otters, and the first ones we saw were a baby with its parent. Soon after that we encountered a raft of sea otters, maybe 10 or so who were wrapped in kelp. It was like we transported to California! For me, this was the first time to see such a scene and I was super excited! In Hokkaido the sea otters only breed in the Nemuro area (Cape Kiritappu and the Moyururi Islands) so again, we were so lucky to see this many at once.

hokkaido wildlife

The otters wrapping themselves in the kelp beds. Sea otters found in Hokkaido are subspecies, Enhydra lutris lutris. It had at one time disappeared from the wild in Japan, but it was confirmed to be breeding since 1980.

hokkaido wildlife

There were some Spectacled Guillemots in the area so now and then we could grab some photos of them as well. Just before entering the harbor to alight, the Arctic Skua also made an appearance. I could not get a good photo of them, but typically they live offshore, so again, we had a fortunate chance to get to see some so close to the port.

June 13 (Monday) Rainy and Remained Cloudy after the rain
We headed to the Nosuke Peninsula in the early morning. There, the deer had already finished off the grass in the most easily accessible areas for photography. This is usually the place that the birds go for collecting nesting materials, but due to the overgrazing, the bird’s numbers are decreasing, and we could not see them. We moved on to some spots where we could see some flowers blooming, but it was quite cold there, so the birds were not feeding near the flower blooms. This is because when the temperatures are cold, the bugs stay close to the ground.

hokkaido wildlife

The Ezo deer in their summer coats.

hokkaido wildlife

However, the Common Cuckoo was flying around in the area. We could see some other small bird species that were nesting in the area as well.

This day’s lodging in Rausu was the Shiretoko Serai, an inn run by our Saiyu Travel Agency. The dinner was so elaborate and presented to nicely, that I could not believe I was in Rausu. Then at night, we were off to see the Blakiston’s fish owls…if only we could have stayed to relax and enjoy the meal a little longer! lol

This year, the pair of fish owls had 2 chicks, so the parents were at the feeding spot often to catch food for them. They came at 7:50pm, then again at 8:50, but we did not see them again after that. We finished our evening birding activities as planned around 11PM. (If the Owls had not made any appearance, we would have stayed until midnight, just in case.)

Photography & Text : Gaku TOZUKA (Bird photographer)
Visit: 2022, 11-16 JUN, Eastern 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 our guesthouse Shiretoko Serai in Rausu on the Shiretoko Peninsula.

Please see other article related “Birds Photography in East Hokkaido”

Bird Photography : Steller’s Sea Eagle and White-tailed Eagle (Rausu, Hokkaido)

Spectacular View! Rausu Drift Ice Cruise at Dawn (Rausu, Shiretoko Peninsula)

Rausu’s Drift Ice Cruise and the Drift Ice in the Port of Rausu・The Steller’s Sea Eagle and White-tailed Eagle

Icy Lake Furen: Steller’s Sea Eagle and White-Tailed Eagle (Lake Furen, Hokkaido)

Long-tailed Tit : Winter Photography Tour (Nemuro, Hokkaido)

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Blakiston’s fish owl that lives in the forest of Shiretoko

A mother Blakiston’s fish owl teaches her chicks to hunt

Our Guesthouse in Rausu, Shiretoko Serai’s nature guide, Kaito Imahori, sent us a report from the 2021 season!

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In 2021, I was able to see one chick and a parent bird next to each other at the Rausu’s Fish Owl Observatory for the first time in several years.

Only about 160 owls live in Japan, and it is difficult to find Blakiston’s fish owls in the wild. In Rausu, there is an accommodation called “Washi no Yado” (Fish Owl Observatory) where you can observe the fish owls visit the river through the night, and where bird watchers also gather and can see them every night.

The pair of Blakiston’s fish owls that came here, have failed to breed for many years. From the fall of 2019, a different female started coming around. No one knew where this new female came from, like where she was born or raised and she was much more fearful of people and now they come to the river more rarely.

The Blakiston’s Fish Owl pair (Top one is the male, lower one is the female)

In June of this year, when we were observing the male, the female suddenly appeared on a dead tree stump with the male, and they stayed for 30 minutes fishing at the river, and then left. After this day, the female started to appear more at the river, and from August, the long-awaited chicks appeared with the parents. The chicks were taught how to feed on the fish swimming in the river by the mother owls.

A Blakiston’s Fish Owl chick
A female Blakiston’s fish owl hunting
The male Blakiston’s fish owl carrying fish to its chicks

The number of chicks found in this year’s survey was at a record high of 37 chicks. I hope that many more owlets can be born and live in the forests of Shiretoko.

Photo & text: Kaito Imahori (Shiretoko Serai)
Observation: Summer 2021, Rausu, Shireoko 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.

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