coquet nature lover

Tuesday, 17 April 2018

Head over heels in Hokkaido

I've just returned from the most amazing holiday in Japan and thought I would share some photos of wonderful wildlife encounters. 

Given that only on two occasions in my life have I ever ventured out of Europe, the trip was really special! To be accurate, perhaps I should say 'one' occasion as my holiday in La Réunion ten years ago should probably not be included as, although located in the Indian Ocean, this french territory is part of the European Union - in fact it is the outermost territory.

Kushiro Shitsugen National Park
In the mid 20th Century, it was thought that red-crowned cranes were extinct in Japan however small numbers were discovered breeding in the marsh land at Kushiro. Conservation measures have increased the population and they are given food daily in Winter at the Ito-Tancho centre which is in Tsurui.

The cranes roost on the Otowa river a few miles away and at dawn they fly back to the fields around Tsurui. (see photos at end of blog) They were quite difficult to photograph as they were several hundred metres from the bridge but in the fields you can get very close to them - especially where they are fed.

I believe cranes pair for life and you can see their dancing courtship display in the fields.

brown-eared bulbul, nuthatch and jay
The ability to simplify means to eliminate the unnecessary so that the necessary may speak.
Read more at:

Here is a quote by Hans Hofmann which can certainly be said about the excellent accommodation with Sachiko at Heart'n Tree in Tsurui.

"The ability to simplify means to eliminate the 
unnecessary so that the necessary may speak"
Great accommodation with Sachiko and her super friendly staff and delicious home made food including bread, cheese, jams and herbs. The caraway rolls are to die for!

Lake Kussharo
These whooper swans breed in northern Siberia and spend the Winter in Hokkaido. Lake Kussharo is mostly frozen however in certain places along the edge of the lake, geothermal springs prevent any ice from forming. It was very atmospheric and one of my favourite places in Japan.

I've heard that whoper swans are also called the "angels of winter" and it was amazing to see these beautiful birds paddling in the warm waters along the sandy beach. The swans were actually quite tame so you could walk right up to them and they were in no way startled. It was certainly an ethereal heaven for me - a moment in time I will always treasure.

In the next photo, the whooper swan is obscured by the rising steam but I think it makes for a great atmospheric shot.

I made visit to Yoroushi as I'd heard all about the Blakiston's fish-owls.  Yoroushi is inland and a very picturesque small village with a hot spring. It was however very cold and several of the roads were closed due to the amount of snow. Yes, just like back home in Northumberland!

The Blakiston fish-owl is the heaviest owl in the world and very rare, with only about 300 left in Hokkaido although there are also some in Eastern Siberia.  

The Youroushi onsen is a traditional Japanese hotel and here they put fish from the kitchens into a small pool to attract the owl. The owl is a regular visitor however you do need to be patient as you have no idea whether it will come at 10pm or 4am so if you go, you have to be prepared to wait up all night.  There is however a comfortable lounge and viewing area and the pool is just a few metres from the window.

Although it was marvellous to see the fish-owl, the visitor below was totally unexpected and actually much more exciting as it wasn't coming to feed on a 'feeder'. It was very difficult to get a decent photo in the dark as it was in the trees on the opposite side of the stream. This is a Ural owl - much smaller than the Blakiston's. If you look carefully, you can see it has a long tail extending below the branch and according to one bird guide, "a deceptively gentle face"!

Ural owl

Amongst all the excitement of the owls, a Japanese sable appeared looking for a free fish supper! This is a screenshot from the video taken with my iPhone!

great spotted woodpecker
Stop off at Odaito harbour en route for Lake Furen

Sika deer on the frozen lagoon
majestic white-tailed eagle looking out to sea
Lake Furen

Steller's sea eagles are native to eastern Russia and only breed in Kamchatka and the Russian side of the Sea of Okhotsk. In the Winter, many move south to Hokkaido and along with white-tailed eagles, they hunt for cod in the Nemuro Straits, Hokkaido.


At Lake Furen, the locals take a sledge laden with fish out over the ice at 9am every morning. For just 1000 yen (£6.50) you can stand by the fenced off area to watch them. It was an amazing sight to see so many eagles at close range, giving you plenty of photo opportunities.


Amongst the Steller's, there were also numerous white-tailed eagles and black kites eager to get a bite to eat. The Steller's are absolutely huge with a wingspan of 2 to 2.5 metres and can easily be identified with their distinctive yellow beaks. 

Two black kites
In the second photo below I have made a collage up featuring coastal harbours in north-eastern Hokkaido. The harbours which remained unfrozen attracted ducks including red-breasted merganser, scaup, black scoter and Harlequin duck.

 Red-breasted merganser (m) - Harlequin duck (f)
Black scoter (male and female)

There weren't many birds to be seen at Nemuro harbour (bottom right) as it was frozen over. The ship you can see is ice-bound! Such amazing sights..

Finally, here are a couple of pics of the Otowa river where the red-necked cranes roost. It was only minus 17C but definitely worth getting up early for to watch the cranes get ready fly off as the sun rose.

red-necked cranes roosting on the river

Then, back to 'Heart'n Tree', nestled on a hill in Tsuirio, for a delicious Japanese breakfast.

Hokkaido is beautiful, blissful, wild, compelling....

Yes, I must return one day - so much more to see!

Monday, 29 January 2018

Winter wildlife on Islay

Whooper swan

The winter months may not be a popular time for tourists visiting Islay but it certainly is for waterfowl, with approximately 50,000 geese visiting in this season. Now the peak period for us humans is April to October - apparently due to the numerous distilleries' extended opening times and of course the longer daylight hours and warmer weather!

Greenland white-fronted geese

From the photos below, you will see on my recent visit, there were no problems with the crossing from the mainland to Islay - in fact the sea was as calm as a millpond (well, not quite!) and as we sailed passed the eye-catching snow-capped Paps of Jura, I knew it wouldn't be long before I heard the geese honking. If you are on the search for geese, my tip is to use your ears first, not your eyes!

West Loch Tarbert - taken from Kennacraig where the ferry leaves

 The ferry to Islay at Kennacraig on the west coast of Scotland

Blue skies with mainland in the distance

On the crossing from Kennacraig to Port Askaig, Islay, there were numerous black guillemots, shags and three species of divers (red-throated, black-throated and great-northern). It was also exciting to see otters and common seals swimming in the sea loch which the ferry travels down to reach the open sea. 

 Serene seas with the unmistakable conical snow-capped Paps of Jura

The Barnacle geese that are found wintering on Islay breed in Greenland. Take a look at my January 2017 post from The Solway Click here with photos of Barnacle geese which come from Svalbard.

Barnacle goose

Greenland white-fronted geese

The Greenland white-fronted goose in the photo above, known as ACC, has an orange neck collar and ring. After a bit of research, I found out it was caught at Aoradh farm on Islay in February 2017. It has returned this winter to the same small area with its mate and six young geese. Maybe I'll need to plan a trip up to Islay next winter!

I spotted this hen harrier (in the centre of the photo) hunting over RSPB Loch Gruinart. It certainly caused some alarm amongst the flocks of teal and wigeon!

Close-up of hen harrier
Despite the declines elsewhere in the UK, it was good to see this bird on Islay where there is still a healthy population.

I think these are roe deer although there are larger red deer found on Islay.

The cattle pictured here had climbed up a very steep slope in the field and were all huddled together.

These are red-billed choughs that breed on Islay. We don't see this bird on the the east coast of Britain and it was the first time I have ever seen one.

Earlier in the year I spotted lots of the smaller Alpine choughs in Switzerland. They have smaller yellow beaks but have the same bright red feet.

The next photo shows you the location of these choughs. As you can see, they enjoy the high altitude, the sun and the snow just as James Bond did on his visit here in the 007 film On Her Majesty's Secret Service!

Three famous mountains in Switzerland
 Eiger (3967 m), Mönch (4,107 m) and Jungfrau (4,158 m)

Close up of chough on the roof of the cafe in search of left overs!

These beautiful whooper swans have long thin necks with a large triangular patch of yellow on their black bills also winter on Islay. They breed in Iceland and travel south as a family group. 

Islay, also known as the 'The Queen of the Hebrides', has a relatively mild climate as it is quite sheltered from the open sea and has the advantage of the gulf stream warming its waters. Although it's unlikely you will get snow, it could be windy and quite wet but that wasn't the case on my recent visit. Don't let the weather put you off just check the forecast before you head off!

Apart from birds, the main thing Islay is famous for is its whisky - not a tipple of mine!

As I write this post, the latest series of Winterwatch is on the TV (BBC2) and coincidentally, Islay is being featured this week.  If you missed it tonight and have access to catch-up or iPlayer, you might want to watch it. I know I do!