(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.
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.
Fabulous. What an experience! The pictures are great. I hope your next train trip goes well. LillySent from my Galaxy
You’re amazing Ken. A bird.