Japan Winter Safari: Spectacular Crane Ballets

Ben’s Bulletin from the Japan Winter Safari:

We peered out eagerly this morning, wondering what the conditions would be like after yesterday … yes! Still stormy with strong winds and snowing heavily. Yay!

We grabbed our cameras and set off to photograph the Red-crowned Cranes.

But – where were they? We waited around for a while, but the conditions meant that the Cranes chose to remain at their overnight roosting areas.

OK … so off to Akan, then, where there is another feeding station.

We couldn’t have asked for better conditions for photography. We quickly forgot the -20degC cold as everything seemed to conspire for our most successful images.

First, with the wind and the resulting spindrift, and snow swirling all around against the dark reddish-brown background of the vegetation in the distance, the scene was set.

Hok 4 Cranes169-162

Secondly, the number of Cranes was amazing. They kept arriving – and arriving – and arriving. So with the multiple arrivals and take offs, we captured some fabulous action shots.

But possibly best of all was the way the Cranes used the wind to assist their always beautiful courtship displays. As the wind gusted, the Cranes leaped gracefully into the air, wings spread wide, and hovered there, twisting and rotating to make the most of the wind. They were like beautiful kites (not the birds) as they hung in the air for simply ages.

And the wind-driven snow added to the beauty of the scene, as it blew across, sometimes obscuring the birds completely, only to have them emerge magically from the whiteness all around.

There were many gasps, oohs and aahs as the never-ending scene unfolded breathtakingly before us.

Hok Akan Group

To totally complete our wondrous day, a herd of Sika Deer emerged shyly from the shelter of the trees in search of some of the grain that they could get from the hungry birds. A large, very handsome stag accompanied the females. We had seen him last year and named him Tripod because of a pronounced limp caused by a damaged foreleg. It was extra special to see him looking healthy and active, and leading his herd to their welcome meal.

During the afternoon fish feeding time, White-tailed Eagles and Black Kites arrived on cue. Within moments the battles on the ground and in the air commenced. And because there were so many Cranes, competition was fierce. Then a Steller’s Sea Eagle arrived – even more competition.

Suddenly all was quiet. The fish finished, the Eagles gone, and the Cranes took off for their nesting sites.

On the way back to our inn we thawed out somewhat in the bus, and decided to detour to the Tsurui Crane feeding site. Here we were in time for the afternoon frenzied feeding action. Most of us remained until it was just too dark for photography, and all the birds had disappeared.

Hok Ben Maybe with Wim

After an extra welcome warm onsen we are now all dressed in our colourful Kimonos and ready for our traditional 12 course dinner. Outside, the storm continues …