JAPAN: Hokkaido: Birds & Wildlife

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SCHEDULED TOURS

2023 :: February 10 - February 21
2024 :: February 4 - February 15

TRIP LEADERS

TOUR COST

From: $7,400 (See details)
Cost is per person, double occupancy from Tokyo, Japan (HND)

GROUP SIZE

3-4 Participants

AVAILABILITY

2023: 4 spaces available

PRIVATE TOUR OPTION

This tour is available as a private trip for any size group. The tour cost will vary with the number of people and any custom requests.

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Highlights of JAPAN: Hokkaido: Birds & Wildlife

  • Hands-on photo instruction for bird photography and snow landscapes with Tamron Ambassador, Alyce Bender
  • Photographing the iconic Red Crowned Cranes, Steller’s Sea Eagles and other wildlife.
  • Search for birds and exotic wildlife in an iconic winter wonderland of Japan
  • Photograph the endangered Red-crowned crane and the vulnerable Steller’s sea eagle against the backdrop of winter
  • Watch as Ezo red fox hunt the frozen seaside for their next meal
  • Visit the largest caldera lake (by surface area) in Japan where wild whooper swans overwinter in the geothermal waters
  • Learn special tips and trick to photographing in winter environments
  • Enjoy traditional Japanese foods and try regional specialties

Description of JAPAN: Hokkaido: Birds & Wildlife

Hokkaido, Japan – a magical place filled with stunning wildlife. The most northern island in Japan, Hokkaido holds some of the largest areas of wild lands left in Japan. The sparsely populated Eastern region hosts a wide variety of wildlife. Some, like the Steller’s Sea Eagle migrate to the area to overwinter while others, such as the Red Crowned Crane are year-long residents. Set against a landscape draped in snow, these creatures allow us to observe them as they go about their daily rituals in this frozen wonderland. Some behaviors we will see include the Red Crowned Crane mating display, Steller’s Sea Eagles fishing, and red foxes patrolling for their next meal. Join me as we explore these frozen wilds in Eastern Hokkaido and all they have to offer.

Species commonly found: Red Crowned Crane (Grus japonensis), Whooper Swans (Cygnus cygnus), Steller’s Sea Eagles (Haliaeetus pelagicus), White-tailed Eagles (Haliaeetus albicilla), Ezo Red Fox (Vulpes vulpes schrencki), Yezo Sika Deer (Cervus nippon yesoensis).

CLICK HERE TO REGISTER FOR THE OPTIONAL SNOW MONKEY/TOKYO EXTENSION

Length of Tour

12-days/11-nights

Brief Itinerary

Day 1 Arrive in Tokyo/Haneda International

Day 2 Fly to Hokkaido – Kushiro

Day 3/4 Kushiro – Red Crowned Cranes

Day 5 Kushiro to Lake Kussharo – Whooper Swans

Day 6 Lake Kussharo to Rausu – Whooper Swans

Day 7 Rausu – Sea Eagles

Day 8 Rausu to Nemuro – Sea Eagles

Day 9/10 NemuroSea Eagles, Swans, Cranes

Day 11 Kushiro – Red Crowned Cranes 

Day 12 Fly to Tokyo, end of main tour

Possible Snow Monkey Extension – 

Day 13 Train to Nagano – Yamanouchi

Day 14/15 Yamanouchi – Snow Monkeys

Day 16 Train to Tokyo

Day 17 Tokyo – Urban Birds

Day 18 Depart Tokyo for home

Detailed Itinerary

Day 1 Arrive in Tokyo/Haneda International

Try to plan a flight that arrives at Haneda International before 4pm local time. This allows plenty of time to get processed through customs/immigration and have transport to the hotel while still being able to have dinner at a reasonable hour. At dinner we will discuss what to expect, photography strategies, logistics, and winter wildlife photography protocol as well as some basic Japanese cultural customs. 

Day 2 Fly to Hokkaido – Kushiro

In the morning we make our way back to the airport to catch a domestic flight up to Kushiro on the island of Hokkaido, Japan’s northern most island and prefecture. Upon arriving we will get our first sight of the endangered red-crowned cranes as we visit the Akan International Crane Center. After the visit we will head into Kushiro to get checked in and settle down for the evening.

Day 3/4 Kushiro – Red Crowned Cranes

Up early we make the drive out into the rural countryside to photograph the red crowned cranes from several locations throughout the morning. Taking a break for lunch, we continue to focus on the cranes in the afternoon and evening these days.

Day 5 Kushiro to Lake Kussharo – Red Crowned Cranes and Whooper Swans

We pack out early, making a final stop in the morning to photograph the red crowned cranes before heading deeper into the interior of the island and up into the volcanic mountains to Lake Kussharo. This is the largest caldera lake in Japan and there is geothermal activity still to this day as evidenced by warm sandy spots and the hot spring outflows along the shore. Here several hundred whooper swans gather during the winter and we will take this time to photograph them in the evening this day.

Day 6 Lake Kussharo to Rausu – Whooper Swans

We will take this morning to again photograph the swans along the lake while keeping an eye out for long-tailed tits and wood nuthatches. After a morning of shooting we will collect our belongings and make the trek off the mountain and towards the northeastern coastline to the small fishing village of Rausu. Located on the UNESCO Natural Heritage site and on the boarder of the Shiretoko National Park, Rausu is a hub of natural wonders.

Day 7 Rausu – Sea Eagles

Depending on the weather conditions, we will either be up very early or just early to catch out boat out onto the Nemuro Strait where we will be able to photograph the vulnerable Steller’s sea eagles and White-tailed sea eagles amongst the drift ice. Out for several hours, we will return to warm up at the hotel. Early afternoon we will head out to explore further looking for the endemic species of fox – the Ezo red fox. Sika deer, short eared owls, and more eagles can potentially be seen as well.

Day 8 Rausu to Nemuro – Sea Eagles

Depending on the weather conditions, we will either be up very early or just early to catch out boat out onto the Nemuro Strait where we will be able to photograph the vulnerable Steller’s sea eagles and White-tailed sea eagles amongst the drift ice. Out for several hours, we will depart Rausu for Nemuro, another port city further south. On the way we stop to look for more wildlife along the coast in several places.

Day 9/10 NemuroSea Eagles, Swans, Cranes, Foxes, Deer

Each morning we will gather and head out to the frozen lakes to watch eagles (and maybe fox) come to scavenge the leavings of ice fishermen. Beyond that we will continue to search for fox, swans, owls, and deer.

Day 11 Kushiro – Red Crowned Cranes 

We pack up and head to Kushiro for one last night in Hokkaido, having made a complete circuit of this rural and beautiful land. We will have the option to either stay in Kushiro and explore the town or we can photograph the cranes one final time.

Day 12 Fly to Tokyo, end of main tour

We board domestic flights back to Tokyo/Haneda International 

  • For those ending the tour here, you will want late return flights to account for any weather delays between Hokkaido and Tokyo.
  • For those continuing on, we will take a breather here for the evening. We will proceed from Haneda Airport to Shinjuku via train. This will deposit us in the world’s busiest railway station – Shinjuku Station. We will make our way from the station to our lodging for the night before taking the evening to explore the local area as much or as little as you’d like.

Day 13 Train to Nagano – Yamanouchi

We gather again in the morning to make the trip back to Shinjuku station where we will board one of the famed Japanese bullet trains bound for Nagano. Arriving in Nagano, we switch tracks to Snow Monkey Express, a direct limited express train that will take us into the historic onsen (hot spring) resort area of Yamanouchi.

Day 14/15 Yamanouchi – Snow Monkeys

We will spend our mornings taking the trail to the entrance of the Snow Monkey valley on the edge of Joshinetsu Kogen National Park. There we will be able to observe the famous Japanese snow monkeys (Japanese macaques) as they come out from their nighttime huddles to partake in the geothermic waters that run through the valley. A man-made onsen pool is located at the center of the valley and much of the interactions and play along with relaxation to warm themselves takes place here. Mid-morning we will hike back through the forest and partake in a lunch at a nearby café before returning again to the park for more photographic opportunities with the monkeys.

Day 16 Train to Tokyo/ Shibuya City

Saying good by to the old world onsen village of Yamanouchi, we retrace our train route back into Tokyo, this time taking it Shibuya City. Here we check in to our lodging before exploring the local parks through the evening or potentially braving the urban environment to visit the famed Shibuya Crossing, the world’s busiest pedestrian crosswalk. 

Day 17 Tokyo/ Shibuya City – Urban Birds

We rise early to beat the crowds and take the local trains into a residential ward not far from where we are staying. Here we will find hundreds of plum trees blooming and the birds that come with the signs of spring. Brown-eared bulbuls, Japanese white-eyes, and oriental doves are just a few of the species we have the chance to photograph in this quiet are tucked away from most tourist maps.

Day 18 Depart Tokyo for home

We say goodbye to the land of the rising sun as we make our way back to Haneda International for afternoon flights home.

Cost

Cost is $7,400 per person, based upon double occupancy, from Tokyo, Japan (Airport code HND.
This trip ends in same as arrival city (Airport code ).

The price includes the following:

*all accommodations per double occupancy (single supplement is available)

*all meals from dinner on the first day until breakfast on the last day

*the internal flight from Tokyo to Hokkaido

*Rental car and transportation within country

*Boat Fees for Eagle Photography

*Entrance fees to Akan International Crane Center

 

Single Supplement

If a single hotel room is preferred, or we are unable to find a suitable roommate for you, a single supplement fee of $600 will be assessed.

NOTE: For boat-based tours, see pricing options for single cabins. Single cabin cost includes the single hotel cost above.

 

Minimum Number

If fewer than the minimum number of required participants are registered, we may still be able to run the trip by adding a small-group supplement fee, per person, determined by the number of participants registered.

 

Deposit Requirements

A $1,500 deposit per person is required to hold each space on this tour. Deposit may be made online by clicking the "Book Your Trip Now" button and using any credit card. If you prefer, you may call us at 888-875-9453 to pay by phone. You may also mail us a check, however, remember that all space is held on a first come-first served basis as deposits are received.

How to Book

In order to hold your space, click the "Book Your Trip Now" button above and complete the deposit process, including payment of the deposit through our Paypal portal using ANY CREDIT CARD. Upon completion of deposit, please visit our secure, online CLIENT INFORMATION FORM to complete your registration.

Final Payment

For all land-based tours: full payment by check is due 120 days prior to the departure date.

For all boat-based adventure cruises of 7-days or longer: full payment by check is required 180 days prior to departure.

NOTE: If you prefer to use credit card for final payment, a 3% fee may be added to cover the credit card merchant fees we incur.

This trip includes standard hotel rooms.

Activity Level Rating: (Note: 1 is easy and 5 is difficult)

(Hokkaido) Intermediate – no long walks but exposure to freezing temperatures for extended periods of time, footing will be snow and ice with slipping hazards, and standing on the deck of a boat in motion.

(Tokyo) Easy but requires lots of urban walking each day (est 6+ miles over the course of a day).

(Snow Monkeys – Extension Trip) Intermediate – must be able to carry gear and winter hike of 4 miles round trip (3km each way) on maintained trails of mud/snow/ice/concrete with some stairs and inclines.

Since this tour focuses on the wildlife specifically, telephoto lenses are going to be key to achieving the best images that require little cropping. Feel free to bring wider lenses but understand the majority of images created will most likely be between 300-600mm. Here are my suggestions:

  • Your longest telephoto for wildlife and birds – I use the Tamron 150-600mm G2 and highly recommend it if you are looking for a lens in this range. Anything 500mm or longer is going to be great for photographing the various wildlife, from cranes to fox.
  • A shorter telephoto such as a 70-300mm or 100-400mm for wider environmental shots and intimate portraits when we are with the snow monkeys – I typically carry the Tamron 18-400mm or Tamron 100-400mm for covering this range.
  • A lightweight wide to midrange variable lens (24-70, 18-400, 16-300, 18-70) would be great to have for when we come across landscape or street scene photo opportunities.
  • A Macro lens – such as the Tamron 90mm Macro – can be helpful when we are photographing the urban birds as this lens will give you the ability to also capture the delicate beauty of the plum blossoms up close.
  • Tripod/monopod for extra support of long lenses and for when we are waiting for action and want to put our hands in our pockets for warmth.
  • Microfiber towels/lens cloths for cleaning lenses – with snow prevalent you want something to wipe lenses off if we end up shooting into the wind or in a heavy snowfall.
  • Gear and trip insurance – because you never know what might happen. Working out in the elements, I always highly suggest having gear insurance as, should the worst come to pass, you want to know that at least you can replace what’s been damaged when you return home.

To register for the optional JAPAN: Snow Monkey Extension click here.

Purchasing Flights

Do not purchase your flights until the trip has been confirmed to go.

Detailed Trip Information

Upon notification that final payment is due (120 days prior to departure for land based tours / 180 days for boat based tours), you will receive a trip package of detailed information for your tour.

Any additional information about the trip, including lodgings, contacts, participants, meeting locations, etc., will sent about 2 weeks prior to the trip departure, or after final payment is received for late registrants.

Travel Insurance

As with all tours, we highly recommend purchasing Travel Insurance to cover your investment. Please see our section on Travel Insurance.

Passport & Visa

US Citizens may require a visa to enter certain foreign countries. See above for any required visa information.

Participants arriving to the USA from a foreign country may need to get a travel visa to enter the United States. Be sure to check the requirements for your country of origin.

Itinerary Changes

The trip itinerary is developed many months ahead of time. Occasionally, despite our best planning, changes may occur during the trip, or we may be forced to alter our plans. Changes may occur because of weather, road conditions, safety concerns or other circumstances. In these situations, it is the leader(s) responsibility to carefully consider and implement appropriate alternatives. Any additional costs incurred because of changes will be the responsibility of each individual participant. Refunds will not be issued as a result of itinerary changes.

Location Map