Hokkaido - November/December 2014

30 November 2014 – 04 December 2014

Alex Holt

Hokkaido has a wealth of spectacular wildlife to offer, but on a limited budget this was an attempt at getting some highlights in in a short window as a bit of a break in the middle of a hectic trip to Tokyo.  We flew into Kushiro airport and stayed in the centre of the city, a short walk from the train station and depot, but spent little time there - getting trips out via public transport. 

As of the time we visited, public transport was more scant than we had realised, and each of our trips only had a few journies per day in either direction, and particularly as this is to more remote locations, I would strongly advise getting your own transport.

Visited Sites

General Travelling Information

The following information was accurate at the time of our visit, but may have changed.

Kushiro is really not a good destination by most normal metrics.  It is a very industrial town, with an oddly American feel in the outskirts in an odd way compared to other places in Japan, perhaps because of the more open terrain allowing it more room to sprawl.  Primarily associated with fishing, this does provide a second reason other than birding to visit however - the Washo market provides about the freshest sushi possible as it is only a few hundred meters from where the ships come in, and you can select a bowl of the fish you want to your personal preference.  If you like sushi and are in Kushiro, this is probably the star attraction.

Otherwise, Kushiro was as of our visit an almost eerily desolate feeling place - very few people about most of the time and announcements (in Japanese, which neither of us speak) going on over an old loudspeaker in the city kind of made for an almost post-Apocalyptic vibe at times.

Once you do get out of the city however, Eastern Hokkaido has some beautiful remote feeling countryside that is full of atmosphere.

Akkeshi

Akkeshi on the first day was very much a plan B - thick mists had rolled in over night in Kushiro itself, so we just decided to get the train there as it seemed interesting.  It's a small town, and birding isn't really a priority (though I did meet a gentleman on the train who had been taking photos of a crane nearby) but the bay itself was filled with waterbirds, plus a Spotted Seal, even through the mists.  For us, it was particularly good for Whooper Swans and Gulls.  We also saw several White-tailed Eagles from the train over.

For those following the seafood theme, the "Akkeshi Fishery Direct Sales Shop" near the bridge across the bay was well worth a look.

How to get there

There are several trains per day between Kushiro and Akkeshi stations.

Other wildlife observed

A spotted seal was lounging out in the bay.

Akan International Crane Centre

Akan International Crane centre is a site really dedicated to a single species and it's conservation; the Red Crowned Crane.  As of our visit at least, dozens of these incredibly charismatic birds could be seen at fairly close range - often making preliminary fragments of their iconic mating display.  Much of the most iconic footage of this species is taken here, although usually in the New Year when the ground is covered in snow - we visited right at the beginning of the feeding season and so were seeing them in the much less glamorous muddy field.

Target species

  • Red-crowned Crane Grus japonensis

    Probably one of the best sites globally for this species at the time of our visit. Unfortunately for birders, I believe they have stopped feeding them subsequently to avoid the risk of bird flu.

  • Steller's Sea-eagle Haliaeetus pelagicus

    Later in Winter, these vast eagles come down to join in the feeding, but at this point in the year we only saw them fly overhead,

How to get there

At the time of our visit there were three busses per day in each direction.  For practical reasons, it was only feasible to go out on the first and come back on the last and you should be aware that it is VERY cold after dusk when you have to wait for the return bus.

Facilities & accommodation

The centre is primarily a small musuem dedicated to cranes, with some other wild species in adjacent pens in a small zoo, and some viewing areas for the wild birds.  On the opposite side of the road, there is a hotel with a restaurant that serves hot lunches - a very welcome facility indeed!

Shiranuka

This is not a site that I had seen mentioned in any birding literature going in, but a small harbour town to the West of Kushiro next to the mountains seemed like a potentially picturesque trip out.  It's not necessarily a birding hotspot, but provided some lovely close up views of Harlequin Ducks in particular.  Given our time there was short, I didn't get to explore fully, but expect the River further into the town might turn up some nice species too.

We looped back round up towards a shrine and encountered a small flock of woodland birds at close quarters in a lovely atmospheric setting.

How to get there

Several (slow) trains per day from Kushiro.

Other wildlife observed

A stunning Hokkaido Red Fox was seen in the edge of the woods.

Species List

Order: systematic | alphabetic | highlights first
Published: 20 November 2019
Last updated: 20 November 2019
Orniverse: Hokkaido - November/December 2014 (30 November 2014 – 04 December 2014)