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Ice Birds and Palms, Winter in Japan. (1 Viewer)

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
Birds in the rain...

Ryukyu Minivet
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker


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Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
...15 March continued.

Remarkably, a mere 5km beyond Mi-ike the weather was indeed better – whilst remaining heavily overcast, it was at least dry. Even more remarkable, another 10 km on, I stumbled across a very fine flock of birds: stopping to check birds on roadside wires, I was quite impressed to find no less than 80 Russet Sparrows feeding in small fields aside the road, about 25 Oriental Greenfinches with them. And then, a flash of a larger bird dropping down to the verge alongside. Stone me, a Japanese Grosbeak! Then another, and another, and then a whole flock of them! I was staggered …after trudging around in the rain all morning looking for them, I was now watching a magnificent flock of about 45 Japanese Grosbeaks!!! I truly had not expected to find them in agricultural areas, nor for that matter a large flock of them, even less with Russet Sparrows, themselves quite a localised species.

Well that was good! Now early afternoon and with no real plan for the remainder of the day (other than a flight out in the evening), I decided to randomly select a coastal site near Kagoshima Airport and see if I could notch up a last species or two, perhaps a Barn Swallow or Asian House Martin I thought. Looking at the map, a stretch just south of Kirishima City looked interesting – not only was it the closest patch of accessible coast, but it also appeared to consist of several pools adjacent to the sea, clustered either side of a rivermouth ...

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
(March 15...)

Almost as soon as I reached the coast, I understood I was onto a good thing – initial drainage ditches held Moorhens and Common Snipes, both new species for the trip, the river held assorted gulls and dabbling ducks. However, peering over the seawall, I could really see that I had hit the jackpot! Dozens of Temminck’s Cormorants on small rock outcrops, 40 or so Grey Herons on the mudflats, a selection of waders including a Far Eastern Curlew and, an exquisite centrepiece, seven superb Black-faced Spoonbills preening at the water edge. I had not expected this, a wonderful finale to my Japanese experience I thought, as I clicked my last photograph of the trip.

Watching the birds for a while, I spied a very distant bird flying over the sea …’hmm’, odd I thought, ‘I could swear that is a booby!’ This species was not on my radar at all, but as I squinted to get detail, two cracking Brown Boobies flew directly over my head! Wow, I really couldn’t get better that that – Brown Boobies over the top of Black-faced Spoonbills!

With my time running out, I continued along the seawall a little further. A few Buff-bellied Pipits, several Dusky Thrushes, one Red-bellied Rock Thrush …and yet more surprises! With the original flock still in view, the first birds I found were five more Black-faced Spoonbills, these roosting on a reed-fringed pool. I had now encountered as many as 24 Black-faced Spoonbills in this trip, quite stunning! Just nearby, an Eastern Water Rail appeared at the edge of reeds and, my last unexpected bird of the trip, a female Hen Harrier quartered rank meadow beyond. Barn Swallows zoomed along the seawall.

With that, I turned and drove to Kagoshima Airport. Leaving the rental car, I checked in for my domestic flight back to Tokyo. On time departure at 7.30 p.m., two hours later I was in Tokyo.

16 March.

With no real need to be at the airport for my flight back to Europe before 10.00 a.m., I had possibility to nip into a local park or patch of woodland for a last quick session of birding in Japan – many birders visit parks in Narita very close to the airport where Brown-headed Thrush is possible. However, I quite fancied Black-faced Spoonbills with Brown Boobies flying above them as my final memories of the country, so I opted instead for a lazy morning catching up with notes. From the airport windows, Tree Sparrows scrubbing about, Large-billed Crow flying over. Boarding my flight in Tokyo at midday, by the magic of time zones, I was back in Europe in time to go to work the same afternoon. Oh joy!

Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
Many thanks, good to hear it was appreciated.

The full report is also on my website now - more photographs and a full systematic list of birds and mammals. CLICK HERE to read.

Will post up a few practical details and costs in the next day or so for anyone interested.


Registered User
Another wonderful and inspiring trip report! Many thanks for a fun read.
Even better, it is a trip to locations featuring good food and modern conveniences.
I've booked a visit for next January, same general itinerary and am hoping Jos continue to see the virtues of traveling soft. o:D


Once a bird lover ... always a bird lover
Superb report, and photos Jos of your trip :t:

Love the photo of the bird 'on part of the road'. Is it a Large billed Crow?


Mike Kilburn
Hong Kong
A wonderful final day to a great trip - combining woodland endemics, the king of East Asia's wetlands (BFS with crests blowing in the wind are unbeatable) and a couple of random pelagics - plus the priceless discovery that Jos's "kryptonite" is wet bushes and muddy paths!


Jos Stratford

Beast from the East
Practical Details

Urban myths, Japan is an extortionately expensive country, Japan is a difficult country to visit as an independent traveller.

As someone requested, a few practical details to assist potential visitors to Japan ...on the issue of costs, please do bear in mind I essentially do not eat very much and my idea of luxury/comfort is probably a little below that of many others ;)

Spending twelve days in the country, during which time I rented cars, took domestic flights and a enjoyed a long-distance ferry, I have to say I was thoroughly impressed with the country – navigating and organising tickets and car rentals, etc, was extremely easy and, at least in my style of travelling, I can not say it was particularly expensive.

Car Rental:

I used the local company 'Times Car Rental' and found them to be very good. On both Hokkaido and Kyushu, it took mere minutes for the very friendly operatives to sort out the paperwork when collecting the cars and even less when returning them.

1. with car rental companies in Japan, if you do not opt for 'zero excess' on the insurance, then you can be responsible for not only damage to the car, but fees to cover loss of use of the car whilst it is repaired!
2. An international driving license (1949 Convention IDP) is compulsory in Japan – you can not drive or hire a car without this. In the UK, any main post office will issue these for £5 to UK license holders. If you live in a country that does not issue the IDP (for example Lithuania), you are stuffed! The widely available ones advertised for sale on the internet are not accepted - they need to be official IDPs. The local Japanese embassy in some of these countries will provide official translations, but I'm not sure car rental companies will accept them.
3. Road signs are in both Japanese and English, so easy to follow. Both cars had sat nav, but even when set to English, inputting destinations had to be in Japanese! For getting in and out of cities I used sat nav on my mobile phone (downloaded before trip, no roaming costs).

Oarai-Tomakomai Ferry:

There is no possibility to book tickets online – the ferry company's website provides only a telephone number for advance bookings (and almost certainly whoever answered would not speak English). Without expecting any reply, I sent an e-mail to the parent company to ask if there was any possibility to reserve a ticket and was very impressed when they telephoned me in Europe to happily informed me that they had made a booking on my behalf and the ticket would be waiting in the terminal.
As it turned out, the ferry was half empty and there would have been no problem obtaining a ticket on arrival. Travelling on the late night ferry, the cheapest ticket includes a good bed (with all bedding) in a four-bunk room ...but I was given a whole cabin to myself. A microwave and water boiler is available free of charge if you carry food on board.
There are two ferries daily in either direction – one leaving about 6.30 p.m. and the other at 01.45 a.m. As the ferries take about 17 hours, the latter gives the greatest number of daylight hours at sea.


While Japan is not a cheap country, it really did not hit me as really expensive. No doubt helped by a falling currency and years of deflation, the country was no more expensive than most European countries (except car hire). All costs given in British pounds.

International flight: £370 (very good deal!)
Domestic flights: ANA, Hokkaido-Tokyo (2 hours)/Tokyo-Kagoshima (2 hours): £60 each flight.
Vanilla Air, Kagoshima-Tokyo (2 hours): £55
Car rental (2 cars, seven days): £238 (plus £56 with zero excess insurance)
Petrol (for 1235 km on Hokkaido & 920 km on Kyushu): £89
Oarai-Tomakomai ferry: (including cabin): £66
Train: Tokyo-Oarai: £12, Tomakomai-Kushiro (incl reservation fee): £51
Hotels: I only stayed one night in a hotel (in Tomakomai), £23! However, similar price hotels were seen near Narita Airport in Tokyo, in Kushiro, at Kagoshima, etc. The usual birder accommodation at Furen Lodge is just under £40 including meals, the lodge at Washinoyado apparently similar.
Food: I don't eat very much and bought food exclusively at Seven-Elevens (salads, sausages, pasta dishes etc available, as well as yoghurt and normal shelf stuff). Total food bill was about £35 for whole trip, another £20 going on my heavier dosage of coffees, milk and fruit juice.
Entry fee: only applicable at Akan Crane Centre – £2.70.

No other costs. So basically, travelling alone, my costs for this trip were as above. Obviously, travelling as a group would cut the car rental and petrol costs ...but if you are a normal person, you could probably multiple my food and accommodation bill by a factor of ten or twenty :t:
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