Birdwatchers will be thrilled by eastern Hokkaidō. The area is home to three of Japan’s top four ornithological spectacles: red-crested white cranes (tancho-zuru) in the Kushiro and Kiritappu regions; whooper swans, also in the Kushiro region, and near Abashiri and Odaito towards the Notsuke Peninsula; and Steller’s sea eagles at Rausu on the Shiretoko Peninsula. The fourth must-see is cranes at Arasaki in Kyūshū. The best months to view all of these are January, February and March.
The red-crested white cranes, commonly called tancho, are a symbol of Japan and were once found all over the country. However, they became so rare in the twentieth century that they were thought to be almost extinct. Fortunately, the birds – designated a “Special Natural Monument” in 1952 – have survived and their population, living exclusively in eastern Hokkaidõ, now numbers around one thousand. Thanks to feeding programmes at several sites around the Kushiro Shitsugen National Park, it’s possible to see these grand but shy birds; with a 2m wingspan they are the largest in Japan.