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. 

About kenmyhre

I am a retired educator, computer professional. Now I like to travel the world by bicycle, on foot and periodically on skis
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3 Responses to Crane Hunting – Kyushu

  1. lmirtle says:

    Good going. You are back in travel mode. You did not mention how your hip is behaving. Obviously it’s not stopping you.  Are you managing solely on auto translate or do some people speak some English? Is the weather ok for birding? Rain, snow , wind? We love the updates. Take care, Lilly.Sent from my Galaxy

  2. Julie Funk says:

    AMAZING – I wonder as well about the hip but you sound to be totally back in form!!~!

    • Anonymous says:

      My hip is good for about an hour. Birding walking is good for it. I would love to have my nice camp chair with me, but travelling minimally has many sacrifices. I find a place to rest a bit then go again.

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