Japan Winter Safari: In Between the Arctic Storms

Ben Reports from the Japan Winter Safari:

This morning we were delighted to wake up and find that the storm had passed at last, and it was a still, clear morning. So we hurried our breakfast and clambered onto the bus, ready for our first cruise into the pack-ice.

But the snowfall had been so heavy that the roads to the harbour were impassable and we had to wait until the snow ploughs had cleared them enough for us to continue. And at the harbour, our boat was barely visible under a thick blanket of snow. When that had been cleared we were on board in just a second, ready for action. While we had waited for the snow to be removed from the boat, dozens of Steller’s Sea Eagles and White-tailed Eagles flew around us, clearly hoping that we were a fishing boat.

When we finally set out, it was a little disappointing to find that the storms had driven the pack-ice into Russian waters, and we have no access to those areas. So our skipper turned the boat and kept us close to the shore. The problem when there is no pack-ice is that the Eagles have nowhere to land, and therefore they remain on the mainland.

But because of of our really good skipper, photography was good. Eagles came to inspect us, to do some fishing close to the shore, and to put on their wonderful aerial displays.

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(Photograph by Ben Cranke)
When we returned to the port at lunch time,  we saw that pack-ice had been trapped in the harbour, and dozens of Eagles were roosting there. What a fabulous opportunity for really superb portrait shots. And now and again one or more would take off to scout the area, returning a few moments later – wonderful opportunities for flying images.

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This afternoon we spent a few more amazing hours out on the boat, photographing the Eagles again.

Then this evening we had a wonderful surprise. On our way back to the inn we received a call from Minshuku to say that people were unable to access the area from further south and that we would be welcome to visit the Blakistons’s Fish Owl spot if we wished.

Did we ever!

And again, we were lucky enough to see the male owl twice. At present he is courting a female in the area, so when he arrives at his fishing spot he catches one fish which he consumes and then he returns for a second which he offers to the lady as part of the courtship ritual. And we photographed him at both visits to the fishing hole – plus numerous fly-byes.

We are feeling ultra lucky!

Tomorrow we are hoping to cruise into some pack-ice if it has shifted closer, and tomorrow evening we plan to head south to the Red-crowned Cranes earlier than planned – to avoid another massive storm that is predicted for Thursday before dawn …