We Look For The Worlds Biggest Owl At Rausu Japan 1 February 2020

The biggest owl in the world, just huge, Blakiston's Fish-Owl.

In the late afternoon we arrived in the small fishing town of Rausu and turned onto a track that followed a narrow valley with a stream running along the floor of the valley. Thick snow here but somehow the water in the stream was still flowing and two Brown Dippers bounced around on the rocks here. After a mile or so we reached a motley collection of shacks and Charley announced we had arrived, we all shot glances at each other, really? A old rotting bus added to the atmosphere of decay here but we tumbled out and Charley pointed to a bit of pool in the stream opposite the shacks, that is where the owl will come to fish. We stood looking at the tiny pond and thought it impossible for one of the rarest, and the biggest, owl in the world to come here, but so far on this trip what Charley said had all come true!

A pair of Brown Dippers were the day time occupants of the stream.

We were allocated our rooms, Glenn and I were sharing a Spartan room, no bed just a mattress on the floor no furniture but a view over the stream and that pool. We then went to another of the shacks where we ate dinner, surprisingly good hot food and chatted about the chances of us seeing the owl, Charley was upbeat and confident. We retired to our room, the flood lights were switched on so the pool was in good light and we waited, and waited and then waited some more. Nothing to see except snow, a lot of it, and the pool. But we were very thankful we were not in that derelict bus, it doubled as a hide for a group of Japanese photographers they must have been frozen, we had a heater in our room.

Rubbish photo but hopefully gives an idea of the size, two metre wing-span.

Then it was there! A massive brown owl, Blakiston’s Fish-Owl the biggest owl in the world! Oh wow! It was just superb, a little like European Eagle Owl on steroids a body builder of an owl! At first this “hay-stack” of a bird just sat and stared at the water allowing us plenty of time to soak up the views. It was one of those amazing birding moments that we will all remember for ever. The monster owl then took a fish from the pool and carried it off into the darkness, we were left stunned and elated! One of THE birds to see in the world had just given superb views from our bedroom. The strobe lighting made photos all but impossible for my bridge camera but Glenn got some super shots with his “proper” camera so we could relive the moment over breakfast.

We enjoyed a brilliant boat trip from Rausu harbour, note the guy wearing a mask!

Having enjoyed a good breakfast we headed down to the Rausu harbour and boarded a boat to look for more Steller’s Sea Eagles. We didn’t have to look far, from the boat still tied up in harbour we could see some twenty of these magnificent eagles in the trees above the town. In the harbour we had super views of more Harlequin Ducks, Scaup and plenty of gulls. We cast off and slowly moved out of the harbour as Steller’s Sea Eagles circled above and were joined by White-tailed Eagles, these birds knew the routine. Just out of the harbour we cut the engine and a crew member went to the front and began to throw fish. Instantly the eagles were diving down right next to us, wow! These huge birds are very agile, twisting and turning through the air and then deftly snatching the fish from the surface of the sea. We all tried to record the moment with our cameras but the grey light and the sheer speed of the birds made it a frustrating attempt!

It was better just to stand and watch these amazing raptors all around us, a dream come true! Glaucous-winged Gulls were also here for the free food and even a few Large-billed Crows flew out to the ship in the hope of some scraps. As we headed back a line of enormous Steller’s Sea Eagles were on the snow covered harbour wall – what a wonderful sight and a super end to our short boat ride. Steller’s Sea Eagles are simple awesome and we had enjoyed such close views of so many in the last few days, Japan was proving way better than I could have dreamed. At the end of the day we reckoned we had enjoyed over 180 Steller’s Sea Eagles!

We then drove to Shari Harbour, stopping to photograph more Steller’s Sea Eagles by the roadside, this time is sunshine! At the harbour there was thick snow everywhere and we had to wade through it to try and see the open sea beyond, and we did very few birds here! It looked like it had been a wasted journey then Charley spotted a small gull flying towards us, adult Ross’s Gull fantastic! The gull flew really close but didn’t stop sadly, we scanned the sea with renewed hope and picked up at least two more Ross’s Gulls this was crazy, a lifer for Charley a few days earlier!

At another headland we did some sea-watching, it was clam and sunny and our scanning again paid off with Pigeon Guillemot, Spectacled Guillemot and Ancient Murrelet, the first two were lifers, I had been lucky enough to see an Ancient Murrelet, an auk like tiny seabird, off Lundy Island in the UK.

A visit to a woodland added another wonderful owl, a Ural Owl, this beauty was roosting in a hole in an old tree and allowed superb views in the daylight. What an amazing days birding, again!

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