Cranes Galore In Southern Japan And Oh So Much More February 2020

One of the last species we enjoyed on the island of Hokkaido was the Red-crowned Crane.

The 4th of February was a travel day as we flew south from Hokkaido via Tokyo down to Kagoshima on the southern island and then drove to our hotel in Satsuma. Not an orange in sight but the name is the same place. No time for any birding but we did hear rumours of a flu starting to effect people in Japan and elsewhere in the world, little did we know then.

Up before dawn and out to the fields behind the sea-wall to witness an amazing spectacle.

Some preparations were required before the bird spectacle could begin.

We were up early on the 5th of February and after a basic breakfast at the hotel headed for the nearby rice fields behind a huge seawall just as the light was coming up. What a spectacle awaited us – thousands of cranes were on the fields between us and the seawall totally mind-blowing! I love cranes at the best of times but cranes on mass was just a wonderful sight and sound. The majority of the mass were Hooded Cranes and amongst them much larger and beautiful White-naped Cranes. We knew that somewhere in this mass of feathers, long necks and long legs were three more species of crane, all rarities here in southern Japan but how would we spot them with so many individual birds to check through! Tyler knew “Sandhill Crane!” he shouted and he was right a family party of these North American vagrants were fairly close to where we were watching the birds from, a pull-in by a minor road. Tyler was shouting again “Common Crane!” amazingly he had picked out the only Common Crane here amongst the thousands of regular two species. Seconds later Tyler was at it again shouting “Demoiselle Crane!” the man was on fire three rare species of crane picked out in a few minutes where we had thought our chances were slim to say the least especially of a clean sweep of all five possible crane species! Huge thanks to Tyler and his amazing crane spotting, we all enjoyed this amazing spectacle of birds on mass and what a sound scape too!

No sooner had the food been spread on the track the mass of Hooded Cranes came to feed.

Hooded Crane, one of five species of crane we enjoyed at this one site, fantastic!

Smaller numbers of these huge White-naped Cranes were amongst the vast numbers of Hooded Cranes.

A single Common Crane with Hooded Cranes, common is rare here in Japan!

Amazing to see North American Sandhill Cranes here in Southern Japan what a wonderful place.

We drove around the minor roads enjoying flocks of cranes all over the place, feeding, resting, dancing, flying-over; if a crane did it we saw it! At the very plush visitor centre we admired the artwork and yes watched more cranes in the damp fields. In the reed filled ditches nearby we heard two good birds but frustratingly neither the Eastern Water Rail nor Ruddy-breasted Crake would allow us a view. These ditches also held Common Snipe, Common Sandpiper, Masked Buntings, Common Reed Bunting, Meadow Bunting and Chestnut-eared Bunting along with many others.

This stunning male Meadow Bunting was in full song in the nearby fields.

Nearby wetlands gave us our first Black-faced Spoonbills a lifer for me and a much wanted one having missed them in Thailand on several occasions, a flock of 22 of these globally threated birds were enjoyed. Along with Eurasian Spoonbills, Great Egrets, Little Egrets and Grey Herons at the same wetlands.

The Saunder's Gulls were always distant over the hazy mudflats but great to see.

An area of mudflats was quite a long drive to reach but we did pick up some quality birds and the stars here were the Saunder’s Gulls another globally threaten species. Here the gulls were feeding over the exposed mud flying down and snatching food from the surface always quite distant but great telescope views. Reminiscent of large Little Gulls very exciting to see another so rare species, I had only seen them once before a long time ago in China.

We then headed back to our hotel after a superb days birding with some very special birds enjoyed and all in sunshine and warm temperatures such a contrast to the birding on Hokkaido only two days ago!

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