I am back in Calgary now so one more post will finish off my Japan/Taiwan trip.  Picking up from Ruifang, I had one last biking day.  Ostensibly I would have a nice gentle ride down the Keelung River for about 50 km from Ruifang to Taipei mostly on bike trails.  In reality the river is very serpentine, the bike trails don’t really start until Taipei and the road crosses over some significant ridges which means the climbing and traffic were by no means finished with me.  I tried twice to connect onto bike trails, both resulted in nice rides along the river but both just stopped and I had to retrace back to the road again.  When I finally did connect with the trails within the city it was indeed lovely, with no end of people out enjoying all sorts of activities in the broad river valley which has been converted into one park after another, many with playing fields.  I had about 12 kms of this relaxed riding to get to my hotel and the stuff I had left behind.  I returned my bike that afternoon, leaving 6 nights, 5 days to get to know Taipei. 

The gal who checked out my bike on return worked with me for about a half-an-hour to connect to YouBike the Taiwan street bike rental network and then walked me a block to a rack of bikes to ensure that I could get a bike.  You wave your cell phone, now loaded with the appropriate app, over the bike you want, recite some Buddhist incantations, the bike jumps out of the rack and off you go.  When you get to your destination you find a rack, shove the bike into the dock and a charge appears in VISA.  I only used it four times, the longest for about 30 minutes each way to the Palace Museum. My total charge was less than $2.

I went to two museums.  The Museum of Modern Art was way too modern for me, but I enjoyed the Palace Museum.  It is said that it has the largest collection of Chinese art in the world.  Calligraphy, Jade and Wood Carving, Intricate wood boxes, are some of the things that I am interested in.  One famous piece is the jade Meat-shaped Stone, which does look more like a piece of meat than stone.  There was an exhibition from the Vatican Library which parallels in time collections from Chinese libraries, both numbering in the millions going back over 1000 years.  I was amazed at the number of pieces (millions) of both and how far back in time some come from. 

A high percentage of the museum’s collection came to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek’s Kuomintang (KMT) government, army, and many people in the time around 1949.   I will leave this history and the current situation to the readers who likely are better informed than I am.  At no time in my brief visit to Taiwan did I get any indication that people are concerned about the big red cousin, but of course that means nothing.

One day, in part to try out the metro system, I went to Da’an Park with my big lens.  It is one of the many good birding places around Taipei.  Going early is always the thing to do when birding.  Of course that is also when Chinese people hit the parks for their activities.  I always enjoy checking out these activities but it does mean that there are fewer birds.  The water birds do not seem to mind the crowds and so I got some good shots of herons and egrets.  A first for me was seeing cattle egrets during breeding season.  Normally they are a small completely white egret, but they have a lovely buff colour during breeding season. The fierce closeup is the egret concentrating on catching a fish.

But mainly I walked the streets of Taipei.  I had hotels in two different parts of the city and I wandered each day looking for things to see.  I was on the lookout for different foods to try or an interesting coffee shop.  I found one good second hand book store with a few English language books.  There are enough foreign people in Taipei that my different appearance didn’t draw much attention, and so I could enjoy the activity on the streets without disrupting things.  A few days I carried a camera and I include a few shots from the streets.

Night Market

It is hard doing interesting street photography; ideally it is planned out carefully and you take time to get the right action.  I don’t think I am diligent enough to get good shots but Ill include a few anyway.  I like the shot from inside a shrine looking out onto the street.  It captures carvings from centuries ago when horses were king, contrasting with motorbikes the king of the streets today.


My favourite shot is the old man crossing a market street that I walked many times.  This shot was done early, before the vendors flowed into the street leaving only a narrow people corridor.  Black and white seemed to suit the scene by muting the cacophony that colour brings to these sorts of street scenes.  Compare it to the night market scene, which seems frantic in comparison.

Market Street

So that is it for another trip.  My prime objective was to see cranes in Japan.  I now have photos of seven of the world’s fifteen species of cranes. 

Will I go to look for more? Possibly … Probably…

I particularly enjoyed spending some days with the cranes; observing them being fed, flying in and out, dancing, socializing, courting, squabbling.  I would love to repeat this with other crane species.  It would mean I would have to go back to Australia, South Africa, India or China.  In visiting these places in the past I was often there at the wrong time, but most often did not make the effort to find the cranes that are there, largely because they were not of specific interest at the time.  Or I might have to go to Bhutan or central Africa, where I haven’t been.   Wouldn’t that be too bad.  I have a little knowledge now of where to find these birds and I will be watching and waiting for the stars to line up.

I will certainly be looking for some sort of birding adventure soon, cranes or not.  And I could also do some more biking.  While I have lost some of my biking mojo, Taiwan has shown me that I can still get out there.  But no decisions have yet been made on longer trips.  Lots of short ones coming…

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On up the East Side of Taiwan

A few shots from my first week

I le­­ft you in Tainan on March 3rd.  I was pretty beat up, but I had had an easy and enjoyable day birding and cycling in Tainan.  A big part of the rejuvenation comes from spending two nights in one hotel and not cycling with a full load during the off day.  Also, in bigger cities it is easier to find a variety of places to eat, and so that lends itself to rejuvenation.

The second morning in Tainan I had two breakfast sandwiches and hot coffee from the same place I had found the first day.  This unpretentious place was jumping, but then it closes for business at 10:00; a perk of being so popular I guess.  I pushed my bike over to the station and bought a ticket for Kaosiung about 50 km down the road.  It was definitely ridable but my legs told me that they wanted another easy day.  This time the train was packed, and I stood holding my bike the whole way.  It is Saturday, rooms were tougher to find and I think many people, particularly the young ones, pay the few TWD to get to a different town, possibly even for the day.  My hotel let me in early, and I headed off on my bike.  Kaosiung I think, might be the biggest city on the west coast.  I rode down to the harbour area, took some pictures of the fancy architecture and then wound my way back through some small streets, one of my favorite city activities when I have a good bike.  Another good city type meal and early to bed, as usual.

Kaosiung waterfront

The hotel had a great breakfast; unfortunately most places I am staying do not provide breakfast.  It was Sunday as I left the hotel at 7:30 hoping for some respite from the big city traffic.  It was not to be, but at least the navigation was easy.  Most of my day I would be following the cycle route 1 on good bike trails alongside the main highway south as it wound through this never-ending city.  My target for the day was a train station about 60 km down the way and I hoped to arrive before 2:00.

Well into the day my progress was good enough that I could make a side-trip.  My two easy days did their job, I felt stronger, so I headed off looking for Qifeng Wetlands Park.  As soon as I left the main highway the tension seeped away.  I am doing well riding on these well-defined bike routes but the continuous traffic and in particularly the frequent annoyingly long red lights are great to get away from.

The ride to the park was just as nice as the park itself.  In the park I even pulled out my big lens for a few birds that are not new on this trip but the setting was nice.  There were even a couple other bird photographers at work.  Other that having to rejoin the highway for a large bridge I was able to stay away from the main highway ultimately finding a back way into Fanglian Station, which marks the southward extent of the train tracks on the west side of Taiwan.  I bought a ticket that would take me across the mountains to the east side of the island.

I disembarked at Taitong where I would spend the night.  The east side of the island has a completely different vibe than the west.  Only two small cities, Taitong one of them.  From my perspective a big difference is the riding; it is hilly.  I began working on a train/bike strategy that would give me some riding with an avoidance of the big hills.  I do not have much confidence in my ability to ride hills.  One of the big climbs is right out of Taitong, so I planned to take the train two stations along, about $2 for me and my bike, saving 25 km of climbing.  I wanted to visit Taitiong so I spent most of the day riding into the main part of town, primarily to a park called Forest Park.  I took the train to Luye in the afternoon.

Orchids growing out of a tree

My first major goof of the trip showed itself when I arrived at my hotel.  I use my visa to book rooms but pay in cash when I arrive.  No wallet. For the next 45 minutes there was much teeth gnashing and phone translator conversation going on.  Finally the owner connected with the service desk at the train station in Taitong and they had my wallet complete with all the cash that I had just taken out, about $1,000.  The hotel owners had a taxi friend that drove me the 25 k down to the station and back, charging me about $20, much less than I offered.  This is just one of the many examples of honesty and kindness of the Taiwanese that I have experienced.

For the next two days I rode the highlands along the inland highway #9.  I left early, about 7:30, and rode steadily until around 12 to 1:00, by which time I had done first 65 km and then 80km and was surprisingly at my destination.  The hills were gentle on me.  I had one 7% hill and many long ones at 4-5%.  But it was pretty cool in the morning and I was certainly much stronger now.  When I arrived at my destination I had my major meal of the day and got on the train for another 25 km. I thought about just riding that extra leg the second day, but opted to keep from taxing all of my reserves.

March 7, Taroko Gorge

So, this has brought me to Xincheng, 25 km north of Hualien, and possibly my nicest guesthouse of the trip.  After a great breakfast I left, without panniers, at 7:30 heading to Taroko Gorge, possibly Taiwan’s major natural attraction.

It took close to half an hour to work my way through the two small ocean front villages at the foot of the gorge and into the climb.  Taiwanese, and sometimes their occupiers like the Japanese, have made many attempts to carve passages through the gorge.  The current version is called Highway #8 and is the site for at least one major cycling event: KOM (King of the Mountain) where cyclist come to test themselves against the 105 km climb to the summit at 3075 m.

I am not doing that.  I am cycling up the first 15 or so km to have a look at some of the dramatic parts of the gorge and to see some of the early efforts to build passage through the gorge.  My legs worked pretty well but I am glad that I started early, as it heats up fast.  The steepest parts that I hit probably were in the 10-12% range, but most of the time I was not working too hard.

I stopped at three places to view and walk parts of the original, or at least earlier versions of the passage.  The river has been cutting its path through the marble for 100 million years.  Taroko, and the efforts to build passage through it certainly lived up to its billing.

I was back down to my little guesthouse by noon to pick up my panniers and catch my last train ride, this time to Yilan.  In this case it is recommended that the leg of the journey north from Taroko be avoided because the road is narrow, without bike lanes and subject to rock fall. 

One of my Guesthouses

March 10, to Ruifan

This will be my last hard day, and it proved harder than I had expected.  In the round Taiwan bike trip one version has you riding over the mountains to Taipei from Yilan, but as I have a few extra days on my bike rental I am riding around the northern tip of the island to Ruifang where I will spend two nights before what is hopefully an easy ride into Taipei to finish my cycling.

This day was possibly the most beautiful part of my ride but only about 30% had the lovely bike lanes or paths that I have become used to.  The road hugs the coast the whole way and like many coastal highways it is quite rolling with some of the climbs quite long and steep.  On the longest of these I did jam my chain again.  I was helped this time by three young heavily laden walkers who seemed to know a lot about bikes.  A few of these climbs would then turn into a tunnel that would take me through a hill into a different bay.

A light headwind slowed me a bit but mostly I did very well stopping four or five times for water or convenience store refreshments.  What made the day very hard was the constant large truck traffic.  For some reason a large number of trucks rattle and bang as the whip by my elbow and they always seem to travel in groups of five or six.  Of course they catch me as I am huffing and puffing up-hill as well. Very stressful.

To get into Ruifang I left the coast highway and in 3km climbed about 100 m through a couple of tunnels that put me in town on the Keelung river that I am expecting to follow gently downhill into Taipei.

It might be obvious that I am riding much better than I indicated in my first post.  That has more benefits than just the comfort on the road.  I have more energy off the bike and as such I think I am taking a few more photos and getting to know Taiwanese food a bit better.  I still primarily use the convenience stores along the road while biking, but when stopped I have begun to find some other places to sample the wonderful food. Onto a few more days in Taipei

Posted in Birds and Animals, cycling, Taiwan | 5 Comments


Sorry, no photos this time

My transition from Japan to Taiwan went well.  Haneda Airport in Tokyo got me onto my plane without any people help, all electronic, in minutes.  A four hour flight landed me in Taipei around 2:00 pm.  I had to get Taiwan Dollars (TWD), a sim card, and then to my hotel.  I had an interesting exchange with the Information Centre.  I assumed I was landing at the Taipei International Airport which is about 50 km out.  I didn’t want to pay a taxi to get in so I was trying to get onto a shuttle bus that would take me to the Taipei Main station where I would then get a taxi the rest of the way.  What I didn’t realize was that I had landed at the old Songshan Airport in northern Taipei, and the IC people couldn’t figure out why I wanted a bus to the town centre and then take a taxi back north to my hotel.  I finally gave up and just got a taxi and realized as he started driving and I checked into Google Maps that the hotel is closer to the airport than the centre of town.  Unfortunately when I leave Taiwan it will be from the new airport.

My first night in Taipei I walked around the Shilin Night Market and ate street food, and savoured the dramatic change from Japan.  I got my bike the next day and rode around getting used to it and plotting my route out of town.  The bike is a bit smaller than my bikes, it also uses older shifters.  My panniers are a bit awkward, no handle bar bag, no mirror.  So it is taking some getting used to.  But it is a good old style bike.

The morning I left I knew I was going to be in for a rough day.  Bike familiarization, many hills, much navigation, poor conditioning, too far.  The bike paths through Taipei are great and I found my way onto them and on into the hills fine.  There was good signage even though there are a multitude of bike paths, for the first 30 km.  Once the trails ended I hit the first long climb on a moderately busy road.  There is almost always a good wide pedal/motor bike path so the traffic has never been an issue.  I would say the roads/paths for biking here are as good as I have experienced. 

The problem is that as soon as I hit the hills my strength disappeared.  I had to walk my bike a bit towards the top of my first not very long climb.  And then I found a bike path again.  I am using Google maps for my route finding and it is great. But the path soon stopped and I had to backtrack and follow a road for a while until I got back on.  And then I was into an area with hundreds of people using the trail.  Apparently it is a holiday and this is a particularly attractive place not far from Taipei.  As I was just about to hit a steep climb some other bikers came around the bend as I was shifting gears.  I panicked and jammed the chain and fell off my bike.  A few scrapes but the issue was the jammed chain.  I had to pull it out from between two gears and I just could not do it.  I was so tired that I am sure I wasn’t as effective as I could have been.  Finally an older couple stopped and asked if they could help.  The man went and got some better tools and some work gloves.  It took almost two hours to get moving again. 

Because of the people and the hills I biked and walked for another hour before I got off of the trail and onto the roads again.  I jammed my chain twice more, but not as badly.  Finally I had a lovely 45 minute downhill on a quiet road through rice paddies, but I was still not close enough to my destination to be able to enjoy it much.  I had not made a reservation and the daylight was fading fast.  I stopped a couple times searching on google for a hotel and trying to ask.  One guy suggested heading for a train station that was close by and that worked.  I stumbled into a great hotel not on any of my maps.  10 hours to go 80 km, in incredibly bad form.  Not a good day for my self-esteem nor my confidence.  I had not stopped all day.  This was a very scenic day and I knew that I had to keep pushing or I would not have made it.

The next day was the beginning of what has been pretty flat riding since.  My body felt destroyed; everything hurt and when I walked it felt like my legs would collapse.  I booked a place 50 km away and left about 9:30.  It did not take long to clear the city and begin riding along the west side of Taiwan heading basically south.  Much of the way I have been following Cycle Route 1, and it is well marked.  Sometimes there is a nice bike route away from the highway, but usually it is a wide lane marked for bikes.  When I have left the marked route google has also given me some nice quiet rides.  The next two days I started earlier, at least by 8:00 and did 80 km by about 2:30, by which time I am bagged.  I do alright until about 11:30 and then the heat contributes to my general fatigue, and I begin needing more refreshment stops.  I think I am getting stronger, but without the hills I can’t really say.  My legs are always stiff and sore when I stop for a while.  While pedaling on the flat they feel fine.

My accommodations have been good.  I have been paying $Cdn 40-75 a night.  I usually get close to where I want to stop and then use to choose and find a place.  Most of the food I have eaten so far has been from convenience stores.  This is a big thing in both Japan and Taiwan.  Family Mart and 7/11 are common in both places.  In Japan Lawson’s might be the biggest.  There ae other smaller chains as well.  They are more than convenience stores.  They are often open 24 hrs, they have good coffee, hot food and packaged food they will heat for you.  Most have tables to sit at.  It is also where I get my money; they have ATMs.  Without these chains I am not sure how I would get on.  Traditional roadside eateries like I used when I was in China seem hard to find.

Yesterday, after having done my 80 km, and thinking about how I would pass the time until 3:00 which is the earliest you can get into a hotel or a guest house I passed the train station in the town I had just got to.  I hadn’t looked for a place to stay yet, and I really would rather have been 50 km down the road at Tainan where I had planned on spending a day birding.  I slipped into the station to see what would be involved to get my bike on a train.  Fifteen minutes later we were on the way to Tainan.  It cost me less than $10 Cdn.

While on the train I booked a place beside the train station.  The next morning I was out a little after 6:00 in Tainan Park looking for birds.  The first thing I saw were 100s of old people, singly and in small groups, doing their activity.  The range of activity includes tai chi type stuff, hard running and exercise, dance, ambling along paths, singing…  I was right, this is more China than Japan, my first notion when I arrived in Taipei. I was the only bird photographer.  They probably wondered why I was working so hard to capture the birds they see in the hundreds every day.  But the Bulbuls and the Night-Herons I got are exotics for me.

After a slow breakfast and a second coffee I got on my bike and headed to the water front.  I did a long river bank bike trail, crossed the mouth of the river as it flows into the ocean and found a few more birds in Jiang National Park.  This took the better part of the day.  I rode about 25 km and walked a small amount, hopefully it will do as a recovery day, but it was more than I had planned.  My legs are still pretty stiff.  I am thinking about taking the train another 50 km tomorrow to see if I can get some bounce back.

My troubles might seem to mean that I am not enjoying myself, until you understand that a prime reason for this biking part of my trip is to drive the recovery from two years of inactivity, and it sure is doing that.  There is no doubt that I was in far worse shape than I expected and so the riding is just that little bit harder than I had hoped.  But I am back on my bike in Asia, where I have spent so many good days over the years, I am having to work hard so almost all is good. The downside is the lack of birding that I have been able to do so far.  The places I had hoped to bird haven’t panned out.  Maybe that will change.  Over half of the load I am dragging with me is camera equipment necessary for birds.  Right now it has been mostly ballast which is something that I do not need.

All for now…


Posted in Birds and Animals, cycling, Taiwan | 5 Comments

Himeji and Tokyo

That’s it for Japan, at least until next time.  From Nikko I took the train out of the mountains, through Tokyo, three Shinkansen hours south to Himeji, where it is warmer and no snow.  I finally had nice views, at 130 kph, of Mt Fuji both going south and then on the return.

On my 2010 trip I visited Himeji on a Sunday during the height of Sakura.  Thousands were out having Hanami, their cherry blossom celebration and possibly even more were in line to get into Japan’s most significant remaining castle.  I remember walking for about three hours in a slowly moving line up through the perimeter walls into Himeji Castle, up the five or six flights to the top and then back down again, always in a line of people.  It is a beautiful thing from every view and the interior, all wonderfully crafted woodwork, anxiously protected in numerous ways from fire that has caused the demise of many of these mediaeval masterpieces.  I did the visit again.  The grey winter day could not compete with my celebratory blossom filled first visit, but I could wander at will as there were a fraction of the people visiting.

It was pleasant spending a few days in Himeji, mostly walking the streets and eating.  I am finally getting into a number of the small street restaurants, each offering a specialty of some sort.  I never know what that specialty is, but I just point at a picture and the meal has always been great.  I am paying about $8-12 and usually have a good sized bowl of rice or noodles with vegetable a meat or fish done in a tasty way.  This will often be accompanied by a separate bowl of miso soup, always with some differentiating taste.  If I was fussier I could be using my translator to ask about the ingredients before I order, but they have all been so good that I haven’t bothered.

After three nights in Himeji I moved on to Tokyo where I booked into a hotel a few minutes by metro from the Haneda Airport where I will be flying from.  I am staying for four nights.  Getting to the hotel was the challenge.  I arrived by Shinkansen getting off at Shinagawa, one of the many major Japanese Railway stations in Tokyo.  My other experiences, always involving a train transfer had been at Tokyo Station.  At these stations there are many lines intersecting at up to three levels.  Signage is great, but you have to concentrate and be careful because there are many people levels, kilometers of connecting passages and thousands of people.  In transferring through Tokyo station I usually had about 15 minutes to find my ongoing platform.  It was usually plenty, but I didn’t make any mistakes either.  This time I was transferring onto the metro system.  Much more complicated.

I found my way out of the JR system and onto the correct metro line but then made one screw-up.  On each metro line not all trains stop at all stations, so at first I overshot and had to find my way back to the stop I needed.  The next day on my wanderings I spent a little longer to figure out how my metro line worked.  On that day I went to the Nikon Museum, which just happened to be in the Shinagawa area, which is one of the dozens of cities that makes up Tokyo which, at 31 million, is by some measures the world’s largest city.

On my second full day in part to minimize transportation complexity I again went back to Shinagawa Station. I found my way back onto the JR system as it was the last day of my JR Pass, and went to Ueno Park, which is where a number of the important museums are.  I spent much of the day in a family of three museums under the umbrella of the Tokyo National Museum.  I browsed through Japanese and Asian history as represented by the over 100,000 items cataloged in these museums.  There was also attention paid to early Japanese Arts and Crafts.  My day wandering the Shinagawa area was beset by a cold wind that whistled through the cavernous streets lined with high-rises.   Ueno Park was much nicer as the day was sunny with little wind and the park had drawn many people, including a baseball team having a practice.  Nice day.

My final day was spent in the Haneda area, where my hotel is.  I basically walked the small streets.  I was doing a major wash so after two hours I went back to the hotel and emptied the machine that both washed and dried my clothes.  Back out in the neighborhood my final Japanese experience was to indulge in one of my travel treats: I had a two hour haircut and shave.  My hair was washed before and after the cut.  My face was heated with a number of hot wet washrags and I was massaged from the top of my head down to my shoulders.  My barber was an elderly woman whose father had started the business.  Her husband and middle-aged son were both working on customers as well.  And her English was pretty good. Great treat.

My Barber

My eating experience in Tokyo followed that of Himeji.  Each day at least once, but sometimes twice I went into a little eatery.  I was sometimes the only one, but there were never more than a dozen other customers.  All of my meals were good.  I had a reasonable breakfast each morning at my hotel so there was no reason to eat more than one other meal, but I began ordering small portions so that I could go to another place that day.

I am leaving Tokyo without doing much formal touristing by design. I think that I get more pleasure out of walking the quiet streets and sitting in the simple parks than I do visiting prime tourist sites.  I had also been to some of these in 2010 when I had a bike and was much more mobile.  Tokyo at night is a great attraction for the younger visitors, but is of little interest for me, and so that further simplifies things.

This has been a very different trip for me than my 2010 cycle trip or my 2018 walking trip.  Travelling by train, even in the wonders that are the Shinkansen, is not as attractive to me, but it has added an experience that was good as well.  It sure is an efficient and pleasant way of getting around.

Tomorrow I’m off to Taiwan.  I am expecting a very different kind of place, but mostly I am anxious to see how I do on a rented bike.  Until then…

Posted in Himeji Castle, Japan, Tokyo | 1 Comment

Sapporo and Nikko

After spending five nights around Kushiro, on the east coast of Hokkaido, including the night in Rausu, it was time to move on.  I had now seen the birds I had come to Japan to see and I had two weeks to visit a few other places. I decided I had to go to Sapporo, while on Hokkaido.

I walked on mostly icey sidewalks about six blocks to Kushiro Station, expecting to have time for breakfast but was put on a train leaving immediately.   I had booked in for three nights at a pretty high-end hotel in Sapporo. I was hitting the last few days of their Snow Festival, so I was paying about $400 for the three nights, much more than I have been paying.  I arrived at the main Sapporo Station about 11:30, ending up in a Mr Donuts for a surprisingly nice soup, coffee and two donuts. I was thinking about buying day passes on the subway but would leave that for the two full days in town.

I figured out how to use the subway, three stops to my hotel, Sapporo Park Hotel.  I came up out of the subway into a nice park and walked around a bit until Google got me to the hotel entrance.  They let me into my room early. My cough had persisted and so my only interest was to get warm and lay down. The hotel was not providing breakfast which annoyed me, forgetting that it was still loads cheaper than anywhere else.  I hunkered down trying to keep warm.  About 7:00 I went down to the lobby not really expecting a simple restaurant or even a kiosk with anything to eat.  I wasn’t up to going out yet.  At a souvenir type kiosk I bought some fancy snacks and a beer which got me to sleep.

In the morning I dressed with everything I have and headed out sometime around 9:00.  I was using my monopod expecting even more packed snow and ice on the sidewalks than in Kushiro.  A couple of blocks on I came to the first Ice Sculptures on a boulevard down the middle of the busy street.  It went on for a three or four blocks.  I had pancakes and coffee in McD, still finding it hard to pick out restaurants that are open.

In a pedestrian mall that also went on for a number of blocks I found an optometrist and bought clip-on sunglasses to fight the intense glare.  Even with a grey day my pupils were closing with the snow everywhere.  The beige glasses meant I could see a little definition in the snowy parts of the walk.  More and more as I got closer into the centre of Sapporo the sidewalks and often a one metre band along the road were heated and clear of ice.  Still the snow/icy parts were often a step up or down.  I was glad I had my stick.

Wearing my glasses more now as the clip-ons made the glare less intense I took to wearing my mask less often, as the mask clouds my glasses in the cold temperature.  There is close to universal mask use here unless people are eating or drinking.  But no one has every indicated concern when I do not have one on, even when I am hacking away trying to cover my face.

A couple more blocks and I was into one of the Festival’s Ice sculpture areas, although now I would call it more packed snow carving.  There were a number of building size pieces, very professionally done and dozens of car sized pieces, some more amateur like.  I think many of these may be in competition for awards.  Tomorrow is the last day of the Sapporo Snow Festival.  Many families were out enjoying activities and buying souvenirs offered at many kiosks along the way.

Gradually I started making my way back not following the same route.  I ended up farther east and had to use Google to help me.  I never was tempted to go looking for something else to do.  I guess I was starting to feel a bit better.  Near my hotel I found a funny little café filled with books and kitsch.   It was run by an old woman who took about half an hour to make coffee for me.  While there an elderly man and then a woman came in and had similarly laboriously prepared meals.  I thought that I should come back when I was ready to eat.  I never did.

I did come out again that night looking for a meal and ended up in a place that specialized in barbecued offal.  I had jumbo shrimps and veggies that I did on a hibachi and filled up with rice.

My second day in Sapporo, now Saturday was similar.  I headed out following my route yesterday.  I went into a Mr Donut hoping for the same soup I had when I arrived, but I guess it was too early, so my breakfast was coffee and donuts. In the big snow sculpture area there were now thousands of people, mostly young families enjoying the snow.  Many of the little sculptures were small slides for the very little ones to play on. 

I now noticed more attention to the snow and ice conditions. Obviously the young people just hustled on as if there was no problem.  But some older people with canes had spikes attached and those in wheel chairs had skis under the front small wheels.  I also saw a child’s strider with skis attached under the wheels.  This is big snow country.

At noon there were lineups at many restaurants.  I ended up in a Yashino, a chain I had used before.  I just pointed at something and it was great and reasonable.  Back in my hotel I worked on my Steller’s photos a bit and tried to make bookings for down the road.  The best I could do was three more nights, including two in Nikko.  Getting there, I know will be more complicated that I have had it so far.  I also booked for hotel breakfast, as I plan on leaving Sapporo early afternoon and will have time in the morning.  I have been unsuccessful finding minshuku type accommodation on booking sites.   My Nikko place will require at least one non-JR train and quite a bit of walking.  That’s ok, but my spots of interest are all in snowy areas and I do not handle the icy sidewalks with as much alacrity as the agile Japanese of all ages.

My morning was spent at the hotel buffet breakfast rather than the set Japanese restaurant, which I will have in Nikko. I took the 1:27 train back to the Hakodate Shinkansen station that confused me when I first got to Hokkaido and cost me a $60 taxi ride into central Hakodate.  This leg is to get me to the fast trains down into Honshu where I will spend the rest of my time.  There is also a very inexpensive hotel at the station.  I need to catch up a bit after my Sapporo splurge.

Onto Honshu.

I got onto the Tokyo Shinkasen from Hakodate-Hokuto at 6:30, too early for the free hotel breakfast.  This train goes under the ocean passage between Hokkaido and Honshu the largest and main Island in Japan.  I never noticed the passage as I worked on my compute, finally writing a bit about what was happening here.  Up until now it has all been about bird photography and sharing those photos.  The trains on Hokkaido have been difficult to do computer work because of the tracks. The cars are nice but the rails are still clackity-clack type.  On the shinkansen the clackity-clack is gone and the ride is silky smooth.


In 2010 when I was cycling south towards Tokyo Nikko was to be my last major place to spend some time, but it was completely booked.  It has long been an important holiday spot for Japanese.  It is important both for its nature and for its history.  I had booked two nights in the Nikko area on the edge of Nikko National Park near a place called Kawaji Onsen, in large part because the hotel had an onsen and provided breakfast and dinner. 

My route  involved a non-Shinkansen JR train for about half-an hour, a twenty minute walk to a non-JR station and then two trains and about two hours waiting to get about 50 km into the mountains.  It became more and more obvious that I had not picked out my spot very well.  Off the last train I walked on icy roads through a mostly deserted little town to get to a high rise hotel set amongst other places of the same sort.  There was lots of nature around but not much history and no temples, which fill the Nikko I had read about.  One of the dozen hotel workers spent some time going over the Japanese only sheet I was given.  He was explaining, not that I understood much at this time, onsen times and places and meal times and places and processses.  I found my way to my room; no windows as I laterdetermined the room was actually below ground.  I headed out and found my way to the men’s 12th floor onsen.  There was also a women’s and a mixed one.  There were two large pools, washing stations for about 20 people, and a separate cooling down area.  The hot water immersion was part of what I hoped would drive my cough away.

Breakfast and dinner each of the two days were in a big room with about a dozen tables of Japanese fare.  I don’t think it would be called high end, but there was lots there that I enjoyed.  In the evening there was beer and saki you could have as much as you liked.  The hundred or so people who were also eating went back many times selecting their favourite items.  On my full day in the area I walked around the little town and up a river for a while.  I enjoyed the day because walking around this unpretentious area reminded me of my Shikoku Walk

I got back on the web and did a better job finding two more nights in the Nikko I wanted in the first place.  I had a similar two hour three train ride to get out of these hills and then back up a parallel valley to the real town of Nikko, where I spent two more nights

Nikko reminds me in small ways of Banff.  A mountain town with lots of tourist accommodation.  At this time of year it is not fully operational because it is very cold.  I took a long bus ride to the far end of the attractions, close to 1500 m high and all I could do there was have a bowl of ramen to try to warm up.  Back down in Nikko it was a bit better, but the main attraction for me was the hot sento in my little ryokan.  I did have my best meal so far in Japan in a small restaurant where I was the only client.

My full day in Nikko was a temple walk.  My Garmin says I walked 19,000 steps.  My hip agreed. The first temples were built here around 700 AD.  My walking companion Kobo Daishi from Shikoku helped set up Shingon Buddhism here and is credited with naming the area Niiko which means daylight.  The main character in establishing the importance of Nikko was the most important Japanese Shogun, Tokugawa.  His mausoleum, Toshogu, is reputably the most ornate shrine in Japan.  The area abounds with other temples and the forest in which they sit are wonderful walking, even when a cold wind whistles down the still snow and icey walks. 

Nikko was also the fifth station on Basho’s Narrow Road to the North.  It marked, at the time, the barrier between the settled world of Edo and the wild north.  Basho was one of the inspirations for my first trip to Japan. I was happy to finally get to Nikko, even if it took a little trial and error.

Posted in Japan, Nikko, Pilgrimage, Sapporo, Snow Festival | 2 Comments

Steller’s Eagles

Still dark at 5:00 as I was picked up from Minshuku Marumi Shokuu taken 10 minutes to a small wood shack out of the brittle cold and asked for money; I paid.  I was in Rausu, a small fishing village five bus hours further north and east from Kushiro. Drift ice flowed in overnight much closer to the harbour, that was good, not so far to go.  I was struggling with a body wracking cough that made my ability to handle the small rocking boat even worse than my normal abysmal balance allowed for.  The railing around the boat deck was covered in ice, but that was not my main issue; it was only mid-thigh high on me.  I like my railings around chest high.  We were given life-vests but as I was told on another water trip years ago ‘Don’t worry, if you fall in you aren’t coming out alive.’  I dove down into the small cabin and held on.

In all things your mind can really play games with you, but you try to persevere.  Once the boat stopped and I saw the eagles rising in the morning sun my apprehension dissipated.  I was here to see and photograph Steller’s Eagles and there they were.  I headed out onto the deck to get to work.

Steller’s Eagles are by some measures the world’s largest eagles.  They weigh up to 20 pounds and have wingspans up to 8.2 ft.  I have read about them for years and they were a contributing factor in this trip.  They are a fish and seabird eating raptor whose range is now down to the north east coast of Asia.  Their primary breeding territory is the Kamchatka Peninsula.  Some migrate in winter as far south as Hokkaido.  Most do not migrate.  There are about 4000 left, possibly 300 get to Hokkaido.   My little group were privileged to watch about 20 of them, enticed by the fish thrown out a few at a time by one of our guides over the next two hours.

At first the rising sun was the spectacle and trying to get photos into the sun took a bit more skill than I have. A Japanese couple: he with a basic SLR and small zoom, she with a cell phone were snapping away into the sun.  The other paying customer, an experienced Indian was alternating between three cameras, two with enormous lenses.  We would all hope for the best.  Possibly the most pronounced feature of the Steller’s is the prominent yellow beak.

The Steller’s were joined by a few White-Tailed Eagles, only slightly smaller, about the same size as our Bald Eagle. Note difference in bill size. Unlike the Steller’s they are fairly numerous across the top of Eurasia.  There were also some Slaty-backed Gulls and some Large-billed Crows.

As the sun slowly rose, the harbour behind us began to show.  The snowy mountains in the background and the drift-ice we were sitting in occasionally took my attention away from the birds.  I was also now able to focus on a few flying shots as birds seemed to be coming and going all the time

Drift-Ice at Rausu

It was all pretty frantic as this is a one-time shot, and any shots that I missed I would not be getting.  It was too cold on the deck to do much checking the quality of my photos.  I could only hope that my technique was solid enough that there would be some good pictures.

It was over all too soon.  We headed into the harbour, I was bundled into a little car and taken back to my minshuku where breakfast was on the table waiting for me.  I started eating and was told, sign language of course, that the bus would be stopping outside in 30 minutes.  OK, and then that changed to 15 minutes and I would be driven to the bus station for the ride back to Kushiro.  By 9:00 I was on my way back to Kushiro.  The whole Rausu adventure lasted 16 hours.  I had hoped also to find a little place where the Blakiston Fish-Owl turned up from time to time.  I guess that turned out to be a no-go.  I’m not sure if they were begin super supportive of what they assumed I wanted or if they just needed me out of there.

Oh well. This was my last Japan birding effort.  Now I will, in the next two weeks, change gears a bit.

Posted in Birds and Animals, Japan | 4 Comments

Red-Crowned Cranes – Tancho

(Don’t forget to touch images you wish to look closer at)

As I approached my first Red-Crowned Crane viewing area I was initially disappointed.  There were no other cars in the parking lot and I couldn’t see where the birds might be.  I expected that the feeding time might have passed but I hoped to see some left over activity, like at Izumi. But then I walked around the corner and there they were.  Only about twenty but resplendent.  Tall, black neck, head and long skinny legs and most prominently the black bustle, almost unique in birds that I have seen.  But most importantly they are snow white.  The visage so in keeping with this wonderland of stark black leafless trees and deep snow that covers Hokkaido in winter.  The red crown on top of the head is not at all prominent but is the eponymous feature that I worked hard to capture.  While not as impressive as the mammoth number of birds in Izumi, the incredible beauty of the Red-Crowned Crane more than makes up for it.  It is no wonder that it has so captured the imagination of the Japanese people.  The black bustle comes from the black secondary wing feathers.  Most white birds, when they have black accents, choose to have them at the end of the wing on the primaries.  Look at the shots where the wings are extended, flying, dancing and squabbling and pay attention to the black secondaries.

I had arrived in Kushiro, on the Northeast coast of Hokkaido after two days of riding high speed trains, Shinkansen, from bottom to top of Japan.  I spoke with the Information Centre staff about using public transportation or tour buses to get to the viewing areas, but I decided that having a car would be best for my purposes.  My pickup time to get my car was 8:00 and it took 45 minutes to find my way to my first stop.   Hence the reason I thought I would be late for feeding. In Izumi it would be all be said and done by this time.  My first stop is called Tsurumidai Plain.

The situation with the Red-Crowned is quite different than on Kyushu with the Hooded and White-Naped.  One hundred years ago Red-Crowned, like our Whooping Cranes, were down to between 20 and 30 individuals.  They would migrate in winter down into Japan from the steppes of Russia and China to the fast disappearing wetlands.  A few people started feeding them to stave off extinction.  The wetlands around Kushiro are the largest remaining wetlands in Japan and they are now protected as part of Kushiro Shitsugen National Park.  Over time the feeding program spread around the park to a number of locations and the Tanchou, as they are called here, quit migrating.   About half of the world’s 3000 Red-Crowned still migrate from Siberia into China and North Korea and back for breeding.  So the numbers here, around 1500, are far less than in Izumi, and they are not concentrated in one area. 

As I was taking my first few shots at this first stop more Tanchou began arriving a few at a time.  This gives the opportunity to get flying shots (BIF –Birds in Flight).  BIF is not great at Tsurumidai because of trees and power lines, but it was fun trying.  After about half an hour; more cars and a bus had brought many more people; now as many as the cranes we were all here to wonder at.  And then a farmer came out from his barn and began throwing seed around by hand and the birds chased him around the field.  Again very different than Izumi where feeding of 15,000 birds necessitated a different approach, but similar in that the birds knew when the food was coming.

There is some safety in having different migration paths or living environments.  The other large white crane, the Siberian, also has about 3000 members left but because about 95% breed in Siberia and winter on Lake Poyang in China they are considered more at risk than the Red Crowned or even the Whooping Crane with less than 1000. Any environmental or climactic disaster could wipe them out.

I stayed at Tsurumidai until after most of the other birders had departed and I was able to get photos and video of the Tanchou squabbling and performing their courtship dance.  This courtship dance shows wonderfully their athleticism in a graceful ballet involving leaping, chasing and leg and neck contortion. 

I have inserted a video with some apprehension. Firstly I do a poor job of taking them and can’t edit them. They are also laborious to upload. The reason I have done so this time is that my efforts to describe the dance is pale with the video. I hope it works

Courting Dance

I drove down to the next site called Otawa Bridge, famous for getting atmospheric shots on a river.  My shots here were of a few birds swimming in the river and a Whooper Swan.  The next morning I was back earlier to get distant shots of birds on the river as the morning steam was still rising from the river.  It got to about -12C at night while I was here, never getting above 0C during the day. As the whole time I was here the days were bright sunlight the dreamy fog filled shots were not to be.

Early morning on the River

The next stop was another feeding site, Tsurui-Ito Sanctuary, in the village of Tsurui.  I also had lunch and stopped in at two potential places to stay.  Everything is booked. Kushiro is a city and I would much rather stay where the birds are, but it is less than an hour’s drive.  Keeping my itinerary open means that I am not always going to get ideal place to stay. The birds at Tsurui were less active so mostly I just enjoyed their beauty.

As afternoon progressed I went exploring in the always well-plowed back roads.  I did see one Red-Crowned family of three birds in a field, but never did stumble on where they went when they left the feeding areas.  My drive back to Kushiro took me on the gravel roads through the park.  I was hoping to see some of the little deer which I did and some foxes which did not surface for me.

The next day, earlier, I repeated much of my first day, but then I headed west to the Akan International Crane Centre.  This has more of a Nature Centre vibe to it with displays, videos and educational material.  There were also about fifty birds in a field centered by a small pond.  I enjoyed having my own vehicle to get me to these sites and just driving around the quiet country roads..

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Crane Spectacle at Izumi

(To get a larger image of the photos click on them)

My days at the Shin Tsurumi Tei were each the same.  I was up and out at 6:30, still dark, and climbed the outside staircase of the Crane Observation Centre.  When I first arrived I donated 3000 Yen, about Cdn 30, to Crane Conservation.  This allowed access to the Centre, including roof access before the Centre opened at 9:00. 

The sun was giving hints as to the day’s weather over the mountains in the east but we could not see out onto the field where the cacophony had been underway for some time.  Our cranes were hungry, but then I think they always are, as they seem to eat all day.  Soon, in the lightening sky swarms of Rooks began. Thousands have moved in to take advantage of the efforts to save the cranes.

And then streams of cranes began to arrive in groups of a few to maybe 100.  By now it was possible to see the feeding grounds where there were already a few thousand.  As they came in they would circle a bit, looking a place to land.  There about 13,000 Hooded Cranes in the world and about 3000 White-naped Cranes.  90% of each spend the winter at Izumi.  In addition there are herons, egrets, ducks, black kites and of course the rooks that are down in the fields at this time.  It takes close to an hour for all of them to find their way in for breakfast.  There always are a few coming in late.  I guess periodically cranes sleep in as well.

It is the keenest birders that are here for this show.  A few old hands leave at this point.  They have their scopes out scanning the masses for rarities.  This year there are between 2 and 4 of each of Sandhill, Common, Demoiselle, and Siberian.   One guy pointed out a Siberian to me through his scope, but as I was getting my longer lens mounted the stamped began and the Siberian was lost.  The spotters might leave the show because finding rarities in the stampede is fruitless.  I was hoping to pick my guy’s brains but, like the Siberian, he was gone.  I never did get a better look at any of the rarities.

For the rest of us the show continues.  The feed trucks have arrived.  Some people are out spreading feed along the roads from small trucks and others are stirring up the standing water with tractors, which I think might bring up little water being, but I am not sure of that.  The eruption is incredible.  Cranes run, albeit kind of slowly, or fly low to the ground to where they begin their gorging.  Now they are packed tightly together in clusters of more than 1000.  The dark almost black of the smaller but more numerous Hooded predominates, but the bigger slight grey of the White-Naped obvious in their contrast.   You do not see their heads, white in each case, busy on the ground vacuuming the feed.  Somehow they keep honking.

At about 8:00 I would walk next door to have my Japanese breakfast.  Each morning with different birders who were lucky or smart enough to find my little minshuku. 

Minshuku Breakfast

I would head back out at about 8:30 to watch as the birds began to spread out a bit across these fenced off fields.  Before long they would start to fly off to their day time feeding fields, usually in family groups or possibly with a couple of families.  Never more than six or seven.  I would have got my flying pictures at first light on the roof, but I also tried at this time down while walking on the road.

By 10:00 most birds, about 75%, had left for further fields and I would go walking for a couple of hours.  I probably missed out on finding the rarities by not having a car or hiring a guide.  I think those in the know knew where all of these hung out each day.  I could have done that, but I also enjoy just the process of ambling around by myself seeing what I could find.  I am ambivalent on this.  I would like to find more birds, but I did pretty well on my own as well. I walked (birding walking is nothing like hiking walking) about 10 kms each day.  It was so reminiscent of my 2018 Shikoku walk that I really was not tempted to get a car.

By mid-afternoon it was time to relax with a snack and tea or coffee.  One day I got a ride into Izumi to make train reservation.

While in my room or in the minshuku dining area I could look out on the fields, much depleted but still mesmerizing.  There seemed to be a small cluster of birds of all types that hung out in the same  spot each day.  They jumped and squabbled with the larger ones dominant and the small daring in and out.  Strange, because all around the vast majority were head down feed non-stop.

 I had dinner with the other guests at 6:00, and then it is time for a bath.  Ideally the minshuku or ryokan has a public bath (sento).  The process is to have a shower, washing thoroughly; who wants to bathe in dirty water.  Then you get into the tub.  Most, in small minshukus like Tsurumi Tei, are about big enough for two people, but in practice you just take turns.  The water was held through continual heating at 41C.  In this cold birding weather and having walked quite a bit I still get very stiff from my operation and lack of conditioning.  I again already addicted.

I spent five nights in Izumi and was consumed by the spectacle, humbled by the hospitality and completely immersed in the Zen-like experience.  On to Hokkaido and the Red-Crowned Cranes.

Posted in Birds and Animals, Japan | 2 Comments

Crane Hunting – Kyushu

Travel in Asia is wonderful.  Or at least it is for me.  It is not filled with wildlife as Africa or as comfortably familiar as Europe, but the cultural complexity and the diversity of cultures make it so intriguing.  Travel in Asia is tough, but I guess that is why I am so attracted. It is probably inevitable that my first foray into travel after three frustrating years of what felt like confinement would lead to Asia.  I need to wake up, Asia will do that.

I have been to many, not all Asian countries, but three have drawn me back a number of times.   First I was drawn to China.  I had been twice while working and those trips kindled a need to delve deeper.  Two long bike trips and two more trips as part of multi country adventures.  Business trips also stimulated interest in Thailand, which lead to two bike trips and a tourist visit.  My first time to Japan was in 2010 a south to north bike trip following Japan’s Cherry blossoms (hanami) was meant to be my one big trip to Japan.  I have since learned that, for me any way, a little leads to a desire for more.  2018 found me back in Japan following in the footsteps of Kobo Daishi, set 2000 years ago, on his Shikokoku 88 temple pilgrimage. 

During these adventures I have learned to love travelling in rural Japan.  I like the small towns with their neat houses and infrequent tourist facilities.  I like finding the small guesthouses, usually not mentioned on any internet site.  These ryokans or minshukus as they are called can provide wonderful breakfasts and dinners if you make the proper arrangements.  So I am back for more, this time focused on Southern Kyushu and Eastern Hokkaido, winter birding meccas.  

I’m staying for a few days in a small minshuku, Shin Tsurumi Tei, in a field close to the East China Sea on the south coast of Kyushu, Japan’s southern most of its four major islands.  Tsuru is one of the Japanese words for Crane.

 In three hectic days I came directly from Calgary, not the usual tourist itinerary.  Getting here was an adventure in itself.  Buying a Japanese rail (JR) pass while in Canada took three weeks.  I had to be approved before I could apply and pay for a voucher, which arrived by FedEx from London, England.  When I got to Tokyo I had to find my way to a specified JR station where I waited in line for two Hours to trade in the voucher for a ticket that is the pass, which will not kick in until I make an actual reservation. If I lose the ticket my pass ($900 for three weeks) there is no recourse. My train travel is done.  So much of the Japanese way of doing things is perplexing, and traipsing around Tokyo worrying about missing my plane to Kyushu wasn’t a good start.

Getting through Tokyo, finding my transition hotel, getting my cell sim card working, flying on to Kagoshima on Kyushu, getting a bus to this small town of Izumi, and then a taxi to my little Minshuku, Shin Tsurumi Tei, are all part of the challenge that I maintain I like to do.  Those three days made me question my penchant for independent travel.  But I am here and now I can get to work.

I am looking for cranes.  The ones that fly, not the ones used on high buildings.   There are fifteen species of cranes in the world.  All but four are endangered.  The most endangered are the Whooping Crane that breed in Northern Alberta and winter on the Gulf in Texas.  The other North American crane is the Sandhill Crane, one of the not endangered species and of which I have hundreds of photos culled down from thousands.  I have photos of the Saurus Crane from India and the Blue Crane from South Africa.  I want more cranes.  Japan has recorded seven species of crane, two of which spend the winter in Izumi and are too many to count as I look out my window.  Four more crane species apparently turn up here in onesies or twosies.  What the birding world calls rarities, but I am unlikely to find those needles in this haystack of 15,00 cranes, plus egrets, herons, ducks to name a few.  The seventh will take me to Hokkaido.

Cranes are water birds.  Most breed in the far north in remote wet lands, and migrate south to warmer winters where they can get access to shallow wetlands where they can spend the night somewhat protected from predators.  Water can warn them of approaching predators. By day they fly out to fields looking for grains, snails and small water creatures.  Wetlands and prairies are the two habitats that man has been most diligent in destroying.  Hence the endangered status of most crane species, along with many other species that depend on those environments.

In part because of the high esteem that cranes hold in many civilizations man has made efforts to protect them.  In North America we have brought the Whooping Cranes back from sure extinction by protecting their breeding grounds and creating a winter haven for them.  Sandhill Cranes, even though still hunted in places, have reserves created to protect them and to provide winter feed.  At least one place in India provides tons of grain each day to feed Demoiselle Cranes that migrate over the Himalayas each year.  The largest concentration of cranes might aggregate each year at Poyang Lake in China and they are protected there as well.

In Japan, as the wetlands were being converted to farmer’s fields and shopping centres the cranes that figured highly in literature, poetry and art were disappearing.  In Hokkaido they did such a good job looking after the Red-Crowned Cranes that about a half of them stopped migrating.  The ones I hope to see and photograph are now non-migratory, like a small flock of Whooping Cranes in Louisiana.  In Izumi significant sacrifice has been made within the region to protect the Hooded Crane and the White-naped Crane.  These birds all spend the winter in Siberia where they breed.  The whole community grain behind this effort.  They chop up feed of various sorts, add grains, stir up the wet fields to raise little water creatures that add protein and more to sustain the roughly 15,000 birds that aggregate here every year. By negotiating with farmers to let the birds fly out each day to forage in the wet fields and feed on the second growth grains the cranes that formally spent winter in dozens of  wetlands around Japan have learned to make their way to Izumi.  And to be a bit redundant that is why I am here.

From here I will train all the way across Japan to Hokkaido, the Red-Crowned Crane and a few other birds that find cold snowy Hokkaido to the liking.  While it is cool here right now it is generally quite temperate, but Hokkaido is in the throes of winter.

I’m going to sign off now. No pictures to include because I am just in the process of taking them, and the even bigger job of sorting through them.  I hopefully will have a few days after Hokkaido to try something else, before fly on to Taiwan to go for a bit of a bike ride. 

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In Between Dances

I am doing a post at this time primarily to brush up my posting skills after such a long hiatus. This in preparation for future travels.

It is almost three years since my last posting; Bangkok to Singapore.  Since then the world fell into the grip of covid and the panic that accompanied it.  I also began to suffer the ravishes of time.  An old rugby hip injury that had plagued me for 25 years finally would not let go, as it always had.  So I joined the queue for a hip replacement.  In 2021, thanks to my two wonderful nieces I was able to celebrate my 80th at the Stanley Mitchel Hut in the Yoho. I hobbled in lightly loaded, while those friends and family who could join me carried food, equipment and sometimes me along the gnarled trail into my favourite part of the Rockies. 

As winter approached, progressed and finally passed and my new hip failed to materialize I imagined my final years of mobility slipping away.  Finally in April of 2022 I got a nice new titanium hip, and my recovery began.  My mobility slowly returned.  It took six weeks before I could drive my car, and then I was able to cycle a bit.  Walking has been much slower, but I worked at it and it is coming.  In June, pushing the recovery a bit, Rich King and I drove across Saskatchewan to Thompson and took the train into Churchill on the Hudson’s Bay.  We both had been wanting to see the town and the Bay, but it was birds that dictated the time.  June is a good time to see migrating birds that we don’t see in our neck of the woods.  Next I drove up to Grand Prairie in August to see my son, and to look for more birds.  In September I spent two weeks driving to and visiting Victoria on Vancouver Island.  I biked up to 100 kms each day on my new electric bike (sorry you purists), and saw a few more birds.  My final driving trip was in November, leaving Calgary in our first big snow storm, to the Rio Grande Valley in Texas to attend their annual birding conference and to visit the winter refuge for Whooping Cranes.  So, 2022 has been “all about birds” to steal a tag from Cornell Labs. 

In 2022 I managed to capture photos of just over 100 species of birds.  About half of them were new birds to my collection.  I hope it is of interest to some of you, as I would like to share some of these birds with you.

Sea and Water Birds.

I captured five kinds of Terns this year: Common, Forster’s, Arctic, Caspian and Sandwich.  The most sought after was the Arctic Tern, one of the target birds for my trip to Churchill.  The Arctic Tern makes arguably the longest migration of any bird, travelling continually from the Arctic to the Antarctic each year.  We were able to fully appreciate the Arctic’s mastery of the air from a boat in the Churchill River.  I have also included a shot of the Caspian, The largest of the Terns.  This shot is taken on my trip to Texas and shows the fading black crown that happens to many black headed Terns and Gulls out of breeding season. 

Another Churchill target was the Common Eider, which I guess has always been of interest because I have spent a lot of money on high quality down from these ducks.  The Long-Tailed Duck was another nice addition from Churchill.  The other duck that I have included is the Black-Bellied Whistling Duck from Texas.  Great name and wonderful cackling on the pond by 100s made on my visit.

I love Grebes.  I have included a pair of Western Grebe from Saskatchewan and the smallest ones, a Pied Grebe and a Little Grebe from Texas, both new for me.

Cranes have become a new interest for me lately.  My trip to Texas was in part to visit Whooping Cranes who migrate from Wood  Buffalo Park to a reserve on the gulf.  As you likely know we have brought them back from the edge of extinction, around 30 birds, to a healthy 7-800.  This is still very threatened but much better than 30.  I made an early morning 200 km drive from “the canyon” (ie. Rio Grande) and only just caught the boat charter at 9:00 that took about 20 of us out to look for cranes.  Not many have made it down from Alberta yet, but we did see about six.  My photos were of a family of three, often what you see in all crane species apparently.  Not great pictures but still an important check-mark.

2022 was great for shore birds.  I saw Lesser Yellowlegs everywhere I went.  This photo is from Grande Prairie.  The Short-billed Dowitcher and the Hudsonian Godwit are from Churchill.  I have good photos of six other shore bird species.

My Texas visit was great for the big Waders.  All these photos come from the coast areas.  The Brown Pelicans are not really waders but I added them in here. I love the yellow feet and black legs. The Tri-colored is all shook up one minute and the next silky-sleek.

Roseate Spoonbill

The rest are land birds taken on my Texas trip.  I have included shots of the Loggerhead Shrike, the Belted Kingfisher and the Merlin, just because I love these birds.  The Gambel’s Quail I found on my way down in New Mexico.  The big black spot of the chest differentiates it from the California Quail I shot in BC

Most of these birds are Central American birds that are only found in “the valley” in the US. The gorgeous Green Jay was my most sought after and is very common. I am familiar with the Great Kiskadee from Colombia.

The Pauraque, very strange to us Northerners, sleeps most of the day, as he is doing in my shot. I have seen Caracaras before and they are always striking.

I close with a sunset on the gulf with many bird species putting on a final show.

Sunset on the Gulf

My next trip is soon…

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