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Japan Wildlife photo Tour

Our Final Day with the Red-crowned Cranes …

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Ben’s News from Rausu in Hokkaido on the Tusk Japan Wildlife Photo Tour:

Today dawned sunny and bright, which meant that our time in the glare with the Red-crowned Cranes would be rather limited. There is a small window of opportunity early in the morning when backlighting creates a fabulous effect through the birds’ plumage, and another while in the afternoon when the sun is less harsh on the sparkling pristine white snow.

After photographing the cranes this morning we left the glare and went in search of a Ural Owl. One of these owls is known to frequent a specific area, but there was no sign of her at her usual roosting spot.

The afternoon session with the cranes turned out very well. Clouds blew up again during the course of the day, and by early afternoon the light was diffuse and soft from over our shoulders, and we made the most of our final afternoon on our tour.

Tomorrow we pack up to leave Hokkaido and the fantastic experiences we have enjoyed so much here. Then, after our farewell dinner tomorrow evening, our tour will be over – but the next exciting photographic safari awaits …

Courtship Displays of Red-crowned Cranes …

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Ben’s News from Rausu in Hokkaido on the Tusk Japan Wildlife Photo Tour:

We were up way before sunrise to visit the Red-crowned Cranes at a famous viewing site. It is a crane roosting site that is overlooked by a road bridge that crosses a river. The bridge is quite high, and the water in the river reflects the beautiful colours in the sky to create rather breathtaking scenes. The river twists and turns, forming a number of s-bends and the banks are covered with snow and ice. It is well worth including the spot on any itinerary not only for the birds but also for the magnificent views.

Several cranes flew along the river from their roosting sites and passed very close to where we stood waiting, cameras ready.

We returned to our hotel for breakfast and then went to the crane site we visited previously. Being a very sunny day, the light was bright and we photographed the cranes as they fed and out on their dignified balletic displays. It really is special to watch the birds as they perform their elegant dances.

When the light became too glaring and bright we returned to the hotel for lunch. During the middle of the day clouds rolled in and covered the sky, obliterating the harsh light and with perfect results for photography.

Once again the cranes were very active and we used different techniques to capture their beauty. The High-key shots turned out particularly well with the stark white background and the black and red colouring of the birds.

The courtship displays continued until late afternoon when the cranes left the area to fly to their roosting sites. As they flew we captured the moments with panning shots. Slow panning with fill in flash worked well.

We are delighted to have more time with the cranes again tomorrow …

We Arrive at Tsurui to Photograph the Elegant Red-crowned Cranes …

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Ben’s News from Tsurui in Hokkaido on the Tusk Japan Wildlife Photo Tour:

We returned to our hotel for a brief rest after photographing the Blakiston’s Fishing Owl in the early hours. Then it was time for breakfast and our reluctant departure from Rausu. We drove to a small village named Tsurui, which is one of the best places to see and photograph the beautiful and stately Red-crowned Cranes.

The day was sunny and bright and at first it was a little sharp for photography. We waited until later in the afternoon when the light improved and then spent a few hours until sunset enjoying the activities of the beautiful birds. They always look even more spectacular with their white plumage in the snow that contrasts with their black markings and the red colour on their heads that gives them their descriptive name.

As we are here for two days we plan an early night, and then want to visit the Cranes in the early morning to photograph them as they feed and to hopefully see one or two of their beautiful, graceful mating dances …

A Dramatic Pack Ice Experience After a Storm …

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Ben’s News from Rausu in Hokkaido on the Tusk Japan Wildlife Photo Tour:

(Photos from back of Bens Camera )

We had a brilliant day out in the pack ice with the Eagles. A storm blew up during the night with two rather dramatic effects. First, it blew the pack ice far further from the shore than it had been. It was no longer just a couple of minutes away by boat. This had a knock-on effect. When the ice was close to the shore, some of the shore birds, notably the local coastal crows flew to the ice with ease, where they interfered with the Eagles, tried to pinch their fish, and created quite a nuisance for photography as they kept swooping into scenes wherever there was action. So yesterday, with the ice far away, the crows could not easily fly the extra distance.

Secondly, the storm was still active in the early morning when it was time for us to set out, and the sea was too rough to venture out. The wind howled, and we had to wait for the wind and the sea to quieten before it was safe enough to venture onto a still rather choppy sea.

We eventually left the harbour at around 10:30 and we found the pack ice, but with far fewer eagles than before. The Eagles were very hungry, and as the setting, the ice, sky, and background were all perfectly beautiful, we had the most ideal setting possible to photograph both White-tailed and Steller’s Sea Eagles.

Not only was the action fierce as the birds fed hungrily and tried to grab fish from another another each time there was a successful catch, in addition the wind was still very strong and it buffeted the birds from all angles. There was plenty of banking, and abrupt turnabouts as the Eagles struggled to balance and combat the force of the wind. It looked spectacular.

We returned to the shore in the afternoon tired and exhilarated after such an exciting day at sea, and with plenty of outstanding photographs again in our growing collections.

We rested for a few hours in preparation for a very special nocturnal photographic experience – an attempt to spot the rare Blakiston’s Fish Owl.

We set up our cameras at a known feeding spot that one of the owls visits – and we were in luck again. The owl swooped down silently four times while we were there between 03:00 and 05:00.

Our wonderful experiences at Rausu have come to an end and after a short rest and breakfast we move to our next destination to see the elegant Cranes …

Eagles on the Pack Ice as far as the Eye Can See …

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Ben’s News from Rausu in Hokkaido on the Tusk Japan Wildlife Photo Tour:

(Photos Courtesy Of Anton van Langelaar, final image – eagle looking straight down – from Sue van Langelaar )

We were out extra early this morning to catch a most spectacular sunrise. The black and white of the Sea Eagles contrasted beautifully with the sky and the stark white ice, and once again our cameras hardly paused.

We photographed directly into the east until the sun was well and truly up in the beautiful sky, and that was when we switched to aim westward. We photographed with the light as hundreds of Eagles provided nonstop action again.

There is a very long stretch of pack ice that has drifted all the way here from the Kamchatka Peninsula in Russia. And on the ice there are so many birds roosting that it is difficult to describe the impact of the sheer numbers. When one sails close to the pack ice the first thing to strike one are the countless black dots that cover the white ice from one end to the other. And then, moving closer the dots develop into two species of Eagles – the huge Steller’s Sea Eagles and the smaller, equally beautiful White-tailed Eagles.

The birds are scattered as far as the eye can see. It is a sight that imprints in one’s mind and the area should appear on the bucket list of all serious wildlife photographers. We really feel so privileged to be here and to see the birds in person and to capture those iconic images.

And of course as mentioned before our Tuskphoto group has a boat not only to ourselves but also for at least six hours. And each and every photographer utilises each and every special moment here at the floating pack ice. We again amassed hundreds of photographs during the course of the morning.

Tomorrow the weather forecast is for a cloudy day which should be beautiful because the clouds act as a soft box, and the diffused light can really add a special dimension to our photography …

Hectic Action With Steller’s Sea Eagles …

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Ben’s Update from Rausu in Hokkaido on the Tusk Japan Wildlife Photo Tour:

(Photos from back of Ben’s Camera)

So this morning, as planned we left really early to take the short trip to the harbour to board our chartered boat. We wanted to reach the pack ice close to Rausu before sunrise, and wow! – what a sight greeted our eyes as we sailed towards our destination. A few minutes on the sea took us to where hundreds of Steller’s Sea Eagles could be seen on the ice floes that almost surround the town.

There was so much non-stop action! Eagles chased one another, asserting their dominance, and some amazing tussles broke out when a bird caught a fish and competitors tried to grab the tasty prize.

We did portrait shots, action shots, chasing shots, flying shots, fighting shots, and hardly a moment passed without something to capture. Everyone collected a really awesome array of images. Sometimes it became a bit difficult when there were just so many Eagles that it was difficult to focus and to track a dramatic moment. But it was exhilarating!

Only our group was on the boat as we chartered it exclusively for our use for a full six hours, unlike other groups who went out for one hour at a time or sometimes even less – and boats were shared. It makes such a difference to have a private boat!

Tomorrow we are planning to start with a sunrise cruise as the weather report predicts clear skies. We would like to photograph the Eagles against the rising sun …

Busy Swans, Red Foxes, and Sika Deer …

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Ben’s News from Rausu in Hokkaido on the Tusk Japan Wildlife Photo Tour:

(Photos with thanks from Sandra Clayton)

Today was really phenomenal and gave us a glimpse of what lies in store for us …

We started with a final visit to the Whooper Swans. It was clear, sunny and bright, but the temperature remained at -10c – and yes, that is a minus! So it is very cold here. But it is worth every beautiful, inspirational moment.

A mist hung above the ice and water at Lake Kussharo, once again creating a very ethereal, soft light. It was so serene, and we barely spoke above whispers in the early tranquility that bathed the entire area. The mist is caused by the warm water springs that feed the lake and create the warm edges of the lake for the birds to feed and rest during the day. The contrast between the warm water and the icy cold air creates that eerie mist that is so very lovely.

There were plenty of Swans, and they looked magnificent against the clear hills in the background. When they arrived from their overnight roosting places on the ice they created quite a tumult that contrasted sharply with the serenity. Birds greeted one another, jostled for a good place in the water, and occasionally a fight broke out among them as some tried to assert their dominance.

We tore ourselves away reluctantly at around 09:00 and after breakfast it was time to travel to Rausu.

On route we took a short detour, knowing that we would see Sika Deer. There were many to see, and to our delight we also saw Red Foxes. One of the foxes was totally indifferent to our presence, and we were able to approach close enough for some good photography.

Tomorrow we plan to leave extra early to reach the pack ice by boat to see and to photograph the Steller’s Sea Eagles …

In a Heavy Snowfall with Whooper Swans …

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Ben’s News from Lake Kussharo Hokkaido on the Tusk Japan Wildlife Photo Tour:

(Photos from Ben’s mobile phone)

We had a very early start again this morning for our day with the Whooper Swans. The morning was overcast, and the whole area around the lake looked quite monochromatic and still. That was until shafts of light broke through the clouds and lit up a section of the beautiful scene sometimes gently and at other times with a dazzling brilliance. It was magical.

The lake is frozen over, with small warmer patches of water around the edges. One of the patches was very close to our hotel and we arrived to find about five Swans already there. The birds usually roost on the open ice toward the centre of the huge lake overnight and then arrive soon after dawn in search of warmer water and food.

We waited and very soon Swans arrived in pairs or groups numbering up to about fifteen that arrived at a time. There was plenty of calling, displaying, and showing off, and the time whizzed by as we photographed the nonstop action right in front of us.

After breakfast we visited a different spot with many more birds and far less open open water. We photographed the Swans as they flew in and out, or swam back and forth, and strutted about looking very important.

As we arrived back at our hotel for lunch, snow started to fall. So after a very hasty meal we dashed out again to capture images of the Swans in the snowfall. The snow fell heavily until night. We remained in the snow and used our wide angle lenses with fill in flash. We then mounted our cameras on tripods that we stuck in the water among the Swans and stood back. The birds investigated and soon ignored our photographic equipment, while we fired the cameras with remotes. It was spectacular, and we remained at the shore until we could barely see our hands in front of our faces.

Back at the Lodge our hosts (Ainu People) who were the original inhabitants of this island, are professional musicians and they put on a most beautiful music show with traditional dancing. We all loved it!

We plan to visit the lake for a final quick session in the morning before breakfast, and then it will be time for our next stop at Rausu where we hope to see many Steller’s Sea Eagles.

A Delightful Afternoon with Whooper Swans …

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Ben’s News from Lake Kussharo Hokkaido on the Tusk Japan Wildlife Photo Tour:

(Photos: Courtesy of Nicolas Devos)

We left Jigokudani and our wonderful encounter with the Macaques at 06:00 and drove through to Tokyo for our domestic flight to Hokkaido.

We arrived in Hokkaido at noon and drove through stunningly dramatic scenery to our delightful Japanese Inn on the shores of the very beautiful Lake Kussharo.

On arrival we went straight to the lake shore to photograph the Whooper Swans that gather in the warmer waters along the edges of the lake. We used our wide angle lenses with full flash, while exposing for the background to capture the vivid colours in the late afternoon sky.

The flash illuminated the swans perfectly, and our cameras filled rapidly with images from all angles.

We had less than two hours of light before it was simply too dark to remain at the lake, and we returned to our inn, delighted with our afternoon photography.

Now, as we settle down to another delicious Japanese dinner, we are weary, but looking forward to our meal and even more to a full day with the swans tomorrow …

Our Final, Very Different Day at Jigokudani …

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Ben’s News from Jigokudani on the Tusk Japan Wildlife Photo Tour:
(Photos from back of Ben’s Camera)

Unlike yesterday, today turned out to be sunny and surprisingly warm. This gave us totally different lighting and we certainly capitalised on every bright moment. On the down side, however, the effect of the weather on the Macaques meant that they did not need to seek the warmth of the pools, and in fact there were far fewer of them in and around the hot springs. Instead they could be seen in a large area around the pools, soaking up the direct warm rays of the sun.

However, the monkeys moved around non-stop, giving us plenty to concentrate on, and a small number could be seen in the warm waters at any time. In addition, many scampered around the edges of the springs while others leaped from branch to branch or from tree to tree, and some simply sat quietly and sunbathed.

In addition, excitement erupted from time to time when youngsters challenged one another. Grimacing, threats, and chases looked and sounded extra dramatic in the peaceful surroundings, and of course the photographic opportunities were endless.

Once again we returned to our hotel In the evening, tired and very pleased with the outcome of our stay here. Our evening onsen lasted a little longer than usual – probably because we all realised that the first leg of our Japanese venture was drawing to a close. Then with our kimonos tucked around us, we were more than ready for another delicious traditional meal.

In the morning the bus is due to pick us up after an early breakfast to leave this beautiful area and to travel to our next exciting destination …