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Birdwatcher's paradise

Japan In-depth

Introduction to birds seen only in Hokkaido

Tancho (Red-crowned crane)
Order: Gruiformes; Family: Gruidae. Designated and protected as a Special Natural Monument. About 140 cm in length. The red color on the head is their trademark, and "Tan" in the Japanese name Tancho means "red" and "cho" means "crown of head". These cranes were once considered extinct, but the number has now recovered to about 1,000 within the country thanks to devoted feeding and caring. The best place to observe these cranes was always Kushiro-shitsugen Marsh, but now they also live in the Sarobetsu-genya Moor and Notsuke-hanto Peninsula. In Japan, cranes are considered to bring luck, which draws many tourists to the Kushiro-shitsugen Marsh. The Ainu refer to them as Sarurun Kamui or god of the marshes.
 
Ororon Birds (Common Guillemot)
Order: Charadriiformes; Family: Alcidae. The name Ororon Birds comes from the sound of their call. About 45 cm in length. These birds live on the sea, but during the breeding season they form colonies on rocky cliffs. These birds live only on Teuri-to Island in Japan and are in great danger of becoming extinct in the very near future.
 
Shimaaoji (Yellow-breasted Bunting)
Order: Passeriformes; Family: Emberizidae. These birds fly to wet grassy fields where common reed grass or Japanese silver grass grows, and their singing is lovely. They usually live in vast grass fields near large rivers such as the area along the Ishikari-gawa River. Their recent decrease in number is of particular concern.
 
Nogoma (Siberian Rubythroat)
Order: Passeriformes; Family: Turdinae. Summer bird breeding in Hokkaido. The male of this species is easily recognized by the red patch on his throat and the powerful beauty of his song. These birds are often seen in grass fields, wild flower gardens and bushes on the seashore.
(C) Nemuro City Tourist Association
 
Oojishigi (Latham's Snipe)
Order: Charadriiformes; Family: Scolopacidae. These birds breed in the meadows of the Yufutsu-genya Moor in Tomakomai and areas around the western part of Hokkaido. When winter comes, they fly south to Southeast Australia to pass the winter.
 
Shimafukurou (Blakiston's Fish Owl)
Order: Strigiformes; Family: Strigidae; Genus: Bubo. One of the largest owls in the world. Having decreased in number due to deforestation, they are now seen only in eastern and central Hokkaido. These birds are sometimes called the "Philosopher of the Forest" due to their appearance, and the Ainu call them "Kotan Koru Kamui (god overseeing the village)".
(C) Nemuro City Tourist Association
 

Main bird-watching spots (with overall map + access information)

Onuma Bird House (Wakkanai)
This log house is most suitable for observing waterfowl by Onuma Pond where several thousand swans fly in during the spring and autumn. There is a rental service for binoculars and telescopes.
(C) Wakkanai City
 
[Access]
20 minutes by taxi from Wakkanai Station on the JR Soya line
 
Maruyama Park (Sapporo)
This large park is very popular with Sapporo citizens. Primeval forests of Mizunara (oak) and Katsura trees spread out over the hills.
 
[Access]
Sapporo Bus Center > (7 minutes by Tozai line subway) > Maruyama-koen Station
 
Lake Utonai-ko Sanctuary (Tomakomai)
The Wild Bird Society of Japan manages this sanctuary where you can see more than 170 kinds of birds including swans and white-tailed sea eagles throughout the year. Ezo shika deer and Ezo red fox can also be seen here. On the bird-watching tours, rangers are available to provide information such as when the geese land in large numbers in March.
(C) Lake Utonai-ko Sanctuary
 
[Access]
Shin Chitose Airport > (15 minutes by Donan Bus to Tomakomai ) > Nature Center Iriguchi
 
Akan International Crane Center [GRUS] (Kushiro)
"Grus" is the Latin word for crane. The GRUS research facility situated in Akan is a famous habitat for the red-crowned crane. In the outdoor breeding farm, you can observe wild cranes and enjoy learning about the ecology of them.
 
[Access]
Kushiro Station on the JR Nemuro-Honsen line > (1 hour 10 minutes by Akan Bus to Akan-kohan ) > "Tancho-no-sato"
 
Mudflats at Mu-kawa Estuary (Mukawa Town, Yubutsu)
Mu-kawa River is 136 km in length and is the 5th longest river in Hokkaido. The estuary is well known among birdwatchers as a stopover spot for migratory birds such as curlews and plovers. Activities for the preservation of the estuary are promoted.
 
[Access]
Sapporo Station Bus Terminal > (1 hour 20 minutes by Donan Bus "Pegasus" to Urakawa) > "Shiki-no-yakata (House of Four Seasons)"
 
Shunkunitai Wild Bird Sanctuary (Nemuro)
Shunkunitai is a sandbank that lies between the Sea of Okhotsk and Lake Furen-ko. The main feature of this area is the diversity of nature that includes seashore, grass fields, wetlands and mudflats, where you might encounter not only wild birds but also various animals such as Ezo red fox, Ezo shika deer and seals. Rangers of "Wild Bird Society of Japan" are present at all times, and events such as Steller's sea eagle watch tours in winter are held on weekends.
(C) Wild Bird Society of Japan
 
[Access]
Nakashibetsu Airport > (1 hour 20 minutes by Airport Bus to Nemuro Bus Terminal) > Toubai
Nemuro Station > (15 minutes by Nemuro Kotsu Bus to Attoko ) > Toubai
 
Notsuke-hanto Peninsula Nature Center (Betsukai Town, Notsuke)
Red-crowned cranes can be seen here from early spring till late autumn. In the winter, you might see white-tailed sea eagles and Steller's sea eagles together, which is in itself a precious experience. From May to October, bird watching or forest walk nature tours are offered as a set with a cruise on a sightseeing boat. You need to book these tours in advance.
(C) Notsuke-hanto Peninsula Nature Center
 
[Access]
Kushiro Airport (45 minutes by Airport Bus to Kushiro) > Kushiro Station (2 hours 45 minutes by Akan Bus to Utoro) > Shibetsu Bus Terminal (20 minutes by Akan Bus to Hakuchodai) > Odaitou

Nakashibetsu Airport (10 minutes by Nemuro Kotsu Bus to Nemuro) > Nakashibetsu Bus Terminal (30 minutes by Akan Bus to Utoro) > Shibetsu Bus Terminal (20 minutes by Akan Bus to Hakuchodai) > Odaitou
 
Nopporo Forest Park Visitor's Center (Sapporo, Ebetsu, Kita-hiroshima)
This vast hillside forest is home to birds such as the black woodpecker and rare animals including the Ezo salamander and Ezo brown frog, despite its close proximity to urban Sapporo. There are wonderful nature trails here, ranging from 1 to 5 km long, so depending on how much time you have, choose the best one for an enjoyable walk.

The Visitor's Center includes a facility that introduces the history of Hokkaido's development. You will learn about the local people and their struggle to coexist with the harshness of nature. There is a 100-m-tall monument equipped with an observatory, the "Historical Museum of Hokkaido" and the "Historical Village of Hokkaido".
 
[Access]
JR Sapporo Station > (10 minutes by JR Chitose line to Shin-Chitose Airport ) > Shin-Sapporo Station > (15 minutes by JR / Yutetsu Bus) > 10 minute walk from Bunkyodai-minamimachi