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Craning and Crowing: Part V of our Winter Trip to Japan

The reason people go to Kyushu for winter birding is a place called Izumi, where numerous species of Cranes feast on open fields of grains. There is an extensive Crane Observation Center, and a few well-known spots to check out these majestic and noisy birds. The large number of the two basic species - White-naped Crane and Hooded Crane - attracts a handful of rarer species each year, and this season was no exception. On January 20th we headed out to the Crane Center, and saw the gathering birds in their vast numbers. But the parking lot revealed another family of birds well-represented here - Corvids! Rook and Daurian Jackdaw, Carrion and Large-billed Crow. Donna had studied the differences ahead of time, and ran circles around me in her ID confidence with them!

Crane Road Sign; Crane Observation Center; Daurian Jackdaw

But back to the main show. The White-naped Crane has a very handsome arabesque of black along its long neck line, while the Hooded Crane contrasts a dark gray body with an ivory white neck line.

<-- Hooded Crane (with one youngster) White-naped Crane (below)

Mostly Hooded Cranes visible here, but on the left center, you can see a White-naped with the arabesque neck

White-naped Cranes in flight

At the Crane Center, these were the only Crane species we saw - and that was good training for our eyes, since these were lifers for us. And at the next spots we visited, we'd be playing "Where's Waldo?" looking for rarities amongst them.

At the Kana Community Center stop, we added two of the rarities - and the Tundra Bean Goose, which completed this pair of tricky geese! There were three visitors from North America - Sandhill Cranes. There was also one lone Common Crane. As with the Japanese Night-Heron, I found myself falling in love with the Common Crane. The strength of the Black/Gray contrast, with that shock of white feathers in the back of the head, gave the bird a sombre appearance. I fancifully thought of it as a philosophic vagrant, that had sought to undertake the Plotinian "flight of the alone to the alone" but had instead ended up in this massive flock of strangers.

Top Row: Tundra Bean Goose; Common Crane (top) with a Hooded Crane

Bottom Row: Common Crane; Sandhill Cranes; the two on the right are showing their best side (as Americans are wont to do).

When we got to the justly famous East Reclamation Fields, the rarest of all the Crane species awaited (we had intel on this): The Siberian Crane is critically endangered - note on the range map the small area in northern Siberia where it breeds. It is a stunningly white bird, tall and proud.

Siberian Crane (range map from eBird)

After a Joyous lunch, we went to our first forest area on Kyushu - which made me love this island even more. This time we went to Takagawa Wildlife Sanctuary, where the main goal was Mandarin Duck. We saw them in abundance! This is a duck whose feathers and plumage anticipate origami - edges and kaleidoscopic color patterns. My picture does not do it justice.

The next morning, January 21, we revisited the Crane areas, then wended our way to Lake Miike. This was a magical stop for me, as we saw some new passerines, and got a range of habitats and life forms. I could iNaturalize here more readily than almost anywhere else - and thus were we treated to Toads and Butterflies! The Olive-backed Pipit was a highlight, and the Gray Wagtails here were most obliging.

Top row: Powdered Oakblue; Western Japanese Common Toad; Phil and Peggy

Bottom Row: Donna and Phil; Daurian Redstart; Western Japanese Common Toad

Gray Wagtail; this Mite be Exciting; Olive-backed Pipit

I didn't want to leave Lake Miike, nor did I want to leave Kyushu. But greater adventures awaited us in Hokkaido. So on the morning of January 22, we flew from Kagoshima to Haneda, then had a long enough layover for some real sushi at Haneda, before going onto the subject of the next entry...Koshiro, Hokkaido!

Our plane at the Kagoshima airport. Scenery enroute to Haneda

Scenery on landing in Tokyo. Haneda Sushi Bar. We did not eat enough sushi on this trip! Problem is that for me, an all-you-can-eat 24-hour sushi bar would have been what I wanted.

Hokkaido next!


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