I don’t usually like winter but I braved the cold temperatures this year to go try to spot the Japanese Red-Crowned Cranes (Grus japonensis), also known as Tancho「丹頂」.
The Japanese crane is considered to be sacred and is also seen as a symbol of fidelity, love, good luck and longevity. It is also the second rarest crane species in the world. These tall, graceful birds are mainly white in colour with black lower wings. In male Japanese cranes, the cheeks, throat and neck are also black, whilst in females they are a pearly-grey. Adults have a bare patch of skin on the crown of the head, which is bright red in colour. The bill is an olive-green colour and the legs are black. Juvenile Japanese cranes are similar in appearance, although they lack the red crown and have black-tipped outer flight feathers.
Outside of Japan, approximately 1400 Japanese cranes live in the Amur River basin in Russia and north-eastern China. Within Japan, these cranes are usually found at the Kushiro Shitsugen in Hokkaido, but they will emerge from the forests during the winter to gather around feeding stations, so this is the best season to spot them! Of the various species of cranes, this is the only one that breeds in Japan! These cranes were designated as a special natural monument of Japan in 1952.
There are several places where you can go to view them in Hokkaido, but some are actually kept in aviaries, which in my opinion takes the fun out of wildlife spotting.
I’m listing some of the places which I’ve visited, so read on to find out which is my favourite of the lot! (click on the links below to read more about each of the locations)
In order to preserve the country’s largest wetland and marsh habitat which supports the only known population of the endangered Japanese Cranes in Japan, this marshland in Hokkaido was designated as a National Park in 1987. Do note that the cranes are best seen in winter when they gather at the winter feeding sites, otherwise they retreat deeper into the wetlands during the non-winter months. We did go through the marshlands by train and also by bus but both modes of transportation moved too fast for us to take any decent pictures, although we did see Sika Deer and Japanese Cranes along the way.
If your visit coincides with the time of the year when the seasonal sightseeing trains run, I would recommend that you try to book a seat on these trains as they move at a slower speed and will allow you a better chance of spotting the wildlife.
Tsurumidai is a feeding ground with no facilities, but there is a cafe/restaurant and gift shop located across the road.
Japanese Crane Reserve「釧路市丹頂鶴自然公園」
This is more of a breeding sanctuary for the cranes and visitors can observe the birds which are in fenced enclosures.
Akan International Crane Center「阿寒国際ツルセンター」
The Akan International Crane Center is a museum, breeding center, and sanctuary where cranes can be seen year round. It has a good exhibit about crane history and ecology with English explanations.
In my opinion, this is the best spot for viewing these beautiful birds!!
However, if viewing birds in their natural habitat is not your thing as nature is unpredictable so you may not spot any wildlife on some days and you’d prefer to see other animals too, the other places in Hokkaido where Japanese Cranes can be found are:
Due to a packed tour itinerary, I didn’t have time to go check this place out, but they do have a Japanese Crane enclosure.
I quite enjoyed this zoo as I got to see many animals that I had previously only seen on TV/internet/magazines/books. The pictures below are of the Japanese Crane enclosure:
Now that I’ve seen this endangered crane species both in the wild and in captivity, I can strike one more item off my bucket list! ^_^