Many visiting photographers assume that the best birding in Japan can only be observed on a Hokkaido Photo Tour, and, honestly, I understand how people still building their experience behind the viewfinder could believe this. Across Japan, more than 600 bird species have been recorded in Japan to date. The majority are migratory, more than 60%. Roughly 60 species are endemic or sub-regional endemic. Hokkaido wildlife is internationally recognized for its abundance and diversity, so you can enjoy birding and experience encounter with the Blakiston’s Fish Owls, Glaucous Gulls, Whooper Swans, White-tailed Eagles, the sweetheart pure white bushtit, or in Japanese, the Shima Enaga, and the living dinosaur raptor, the Steller’s Sea Eagle. One feathered friend that I always enjoy to pay a special visit to while on a Hokkaido Photo Tour is the Red-Crowned Crane, Hokkaido’s Snow Ballerina.
In fact, while I was leading a private Kanazawa Photo Tour back in 2016, I got a call from a colleague while I was just 60 minutes away from his location. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. My first reaction was that it was a joke. Still, the opportunity to capture such a rare birding photo-op meant joke or not; I had to see for myself, and of course, I brought my clients along as well for a potential once in a lifetime photography experience. I had never seen one in the wild, only via internet articles or newspaper clippings. My group and I spent several magical hours photographing the Oriental Stork, and I thought to myself, “I wish the stork's population will keep growing so more people can enjoy them,” a sentiment echoed by a senior municipal official from Kazo in the Saitama Prefecture.
These birds have been reproducing in the wild of Japan since 2007, and their numbers are steadily growing. They are carnivorous birds, and one of the photos I captured on my 2016 encounter shows the Oriental Stork successfully hunting down, picking up, and tossing one of its preferred meals, small tree frogs, that are plentiful in the sea of Japan rice fields. If you seek a birding photography adventure of a lifetime in Japan in 2022, then please contact me, and I’ll be sure to take you to where I found the Oriental Storks the last time. I dutifully recorded their location on my Garmin, but still being considered endangered, so I can’t promise an encounter, but with so many other birding photo ops, you won’t be disappointed.