Monday, 19 March 2018

Return to the Kingdom of the Great Ice Eagles

Whenever I see any wild eagle my heart becomes like that of a small child playing barefoot in a garden, holding out a plastic dinosaur with one eye squinted-imagining it is real.

Not that I ever did that.

 In February 2006, I realised dreams from my childhood in undertaking a cruise by the kind people of GOZIRAIWA SIGHTSEEING or Their English Website and Japanese: Pension Rausukuru (Your cruise is discounted if you stay at the Inn). We returned to join them again, 12 years to the day, to again behold one of the greatest sights within this solar system. Where else can any of the world’s space agencies travel to find such wonders? This time we also stayed at their beautiful Canadian log-house, Pension Rausukuru, and feasted on delicious fresh food and went on two cruises into a kingdom unseen in any other known world.

We're also grateful to Stuart Price of Hakodate Birding for advice when we were making our plans. Stuart really helped me with the owl. Thanks, Stu. Check out Stuart's magnificent blog and brilliant pictures!

The Greatest Eagle in the World

I still remember black & white TV. I especially remember it on rainy Sundays. It always seemed so cruel for the day before a new week of school to be rained out. I remember getting up, turning on the tele, and swivelling the channels; “O”, “2”, “7”, “9”. I’d be scorned by a wooden-faced man, then fidget watching a cowboy movie. I’d give up by the time they’d hurry off to lynch someone. If I was really lucky there would be an Elvis movie on after lunch. In the meantime I’d draw a picture, or make some kind of craft. I’d try to reinforce the idea of my freedom being a non-school day by having a bowl of ice-cream and decorate it with a couple or four spoons of Milo. I did like finding a documentary to watch. Especially on something like eagles. Once I saw a documentary about Golden Eagles in Scotland.  The only other eagles I knew were the Bald Eagle in America, and my Wedge-tailed Eagle in Australia. I got it into my head to find out which one was the biggest. I pulled every book out off the shelves in my search. Eventually I decided to look into a really old set of encyclopaedia. It was so old that even the gold trim was brown. I looked up the word, “eagle” and was so excited to find that it had a chapter especially about the greatest eagles on earth. Bonus! The pages were dull with only a few colour plates here and there. Finally I found the page I was looking for and was kind of let down by small sepia and black and white photos. No big wedge-tail’s wings spanning over two pages. I began to read and became even more perplexed. It went on about a monkey-eating eagle in the Philippines, and a great harpy in the jungles in South America. It went on further to claim that the most massive eagle on earth was actually off the icy coasts of eastern Russia, Korea and Japan. I’d never heard of such a thing. I peered into a small sepia picture of a big fat bird sitting on what looked like a rock. It looked pompous; almost imperial. It’s white shoulders reminded me of the clothes worn in those old portraits of Napoleon and Henry the Eighth. It’s head and beak were were huge in proportion to it’s body. It didn’t look like what I thought an eagle should look like and I had no mental image of icy coasts anywhere. What a crappy Sunday.

For years, I would think about eagles again. I would search for pictures in bookstores and libraries. Such images of wild eagles were very rare. I often went back to look at the small old pictures in that book. I had many questions. Who had taken the pictures? How did they find the eagle? How did they get there? Through the 70s, 80s, and 90s, finding such pictures was a great challenge. Now we can find anything with the internet. Type in a name and there a thousands of pictures. I only hope that we don’t become complacent, and disregard such subjects as something unimportant because of the ease with which we find them. I hope there are still little girls and boys who are inspired, and dream of standing in the presence of a wild eagle.


Pension Rausukuru

Tuesday, 13 March 2018


Red-crowned Crane

(Grus japonensis)


Tsurumidai, Kushiro, Akan-gun, Hokkaido, Japan

February 23, 2018

We are very grateful to Mr Tetsuji Hidaka of Poroto Guide Lodge for picking us up from Kushiro Airport and taking us on a guided tour to see Tancho. Tetsuji-san is very patient and kind and genki and taught us many things about the area and its birdlife. I hope one day to stay at his lodge in the warmer months and see many wonderful things. Website: Poroto Guide Lodge

First, we went to Tsurumidai and witnessed many Tancho feeding and displaying. The end of February is the best time and we were thrilled to see them dancing in the the white landscape.

Then we visited the famous Otowa Bridge. It was already late morning and all the cranes had gone out for the day, but we saw some nice ducks and swans and Tetsuji-san set up his scope for us to peer at a Steller’s Sea-eagle sitting in a tree far off. The landscape is truly stunning.

Our final venture took us to Tsurui-Ito Tancho Sanctuary. We witnessed more Tancho grazing in serene settings and we were humbled, yet enthralled by a presentation about Tancho by Harada-san of the Wild Bird Society of Japan.  We are very grateful and impressed by the effort by all to help us in English. The story of Tancho teaches us about the power of an inspired community. Overall, the tour was a special introduction to Japan for my friends, and together, we were thrilled by this special way to arrive in eastern Hokkaido.

My blog is already 9 years old and it seems absurd to have had a nature blog claiming to present natural wonders of Japan and not have any posts about Red-crowned Cranes. Designs of Red-crowned Cranes are still pretty typical images in Japan.  For centuries they were hunted as trophies to be presented to Shogun. They were perilously close to extinction in the last century but a desperate effort to save them has stabilised them and it is hoped they will spread farther afield. Mr Harada said to me that I may see them in Niigata in the next 30 years. I hope so. I think the law declaring them as National Living Treasures has given them a greater profile of national importance than a simple law protecting an endangered species. If you seek out Tancho, you are not simply “bird-watching”, you are learning about the heart of the nation. I wish Australians would designate the Koala as a National Living Treasure before their numbers are too small. 

Young Tancho

On the night I first arrived at Narita, Larry showed me how to buy a train ticket to get into Tokyo. It is still in my mind. I took out a freshly exchanged one thousand yen note and fed it into the ticket machine. It was a beautifully unique piece of money, with the design of two dark-green, Red-crowned Cranes dancing with each other on its back. I was to feed many of these notes into the train machines around Tokyo in the months to come. The note has since faded into history but is still in my mind.

If you search on the internet you can find many descriptions of how “Tancho”, the Red-crowned Crane, along with turtles are symbols of longevity. I’m sure you’ve heard of the story of “Sadako”. ;(Click link to Wikipedia)

Below are some pictures of paper cranes displayed as decorations. 

Below: 1000 paper cranes made by school students in Niigata for their homeroom teacher who was ill and admitted to hospital. 

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Keep Our Villages Safe

Blakiston's Fish Owl
(Bubo blakistoni)

Japanese: Shima-fukuro

Ainu: Kotankorokamui - ("God who protects villages")

Rausu, Shiretoko, Hokkaido, Japan

February 24, 2018

Time flies. Already a week ago I enjoyed birding in Hokkaido with friends from home. I really owe a big thanks to my wife. She planned the itinerary, made the bookings, drove us 604kms between birds, translated and communicated for us, she cleared the skies and calmed the sea. I am eternally grateful.

Waiting for this monstrous owl was an intriguing experience. We only saw it the once. Though only once, it is not likely to fade from our memories.