At the very start of 2012 my brother Will and I visited Hokkaido.
Will is an ornithologist and wanted to go to Hokkaido to see unique Japanese birds, in particular the red-crowned crane.
On the first morning after arriving – literally 1 minute out of the house – we saw an entire field of the tanchōzuru, and many in flight. We went to a nearby sanctuary and saw even more.
It was so easy!
What was not so easy was seeing the シマフクロウ (“shima fukurou”) that I talked about yesterday.
To see this giant owl took some care and quite some luck.
At our second lodging (a “minshuku”), our Japanese host had talked to my brother at length (in English) about birds, as they are both keen birders.
inn (or, in this case, a “bed and breakfast“)
The minshuku owner had revealed where was a good place to see the shima fukurou.
One evening, quite late, we set out to the location!
I am not much of a bird-watcher myself, but there is something about going on a “twitch” with my brother that makes it a lot more fun. He is highly knowledgeable and skilled at knowing where to look and listen.
We parked the car on a road beside some woodland and began to wander around a little bit.
Will started to get comically annoyed, with a huge grin on his face.
“I can hear it, but I can’t see it!” he kept saying.
I’m not sure if “it” in this particular case was the Blakiston’s fish owl or another bird Will had wanted to see, but his ears guided us down the road we had just driven on, and back to a bridge that we had just driven over.
There we waited, peering into snow-covered forests as every 6 minutes or so a car passed behind us. We waited a long time!
There was a tenseness about doing this because the advice about the location from our host had also included the warning that there was a ranger who worked that area, who was particularly strict and scary, and might not be very keen on us busybodying around the patch looking for the rare bird.
We had been warned to be cautious and respectful!
After a fun while watching and listening we alas hadn’t found what we came for, and headed back to the car.
As we were walking back up the road we saw a huge silhouette of a man, gesturing at us.
My brother is a fair bit over six foot, and Japanese men are typically shorter than that, but this guy was taller and heftier than my bro.
Will and I were both preparing ourselves to get an absolute bollocking from who we assumed was the ranger, angry at us for casually parking on his road and bimbling around owl-watching in the dark.
As he ran towards us he was saying “gaijin! gaijin!”
outsider, foreigner, “alien”
He had a stern look on his face, but as he became more closely in ear shot he said “owl is on post! look!”
My brother picked up immediately what was going on and ran towards the ranger to a spot not far from a telephone line that was being pointed to.
I caught up a bit more slowly, thinking that if I was the one who “scared away” the owl then that would not go down well.
The ranger pointed again to a post, on the very top of which was the enormous owl.
I don’t know quite how it could balance on there!
The image of its silhouette is very vivid in my mind and I did get a closer look with my brother’s telescope.
Later in the year I may have a go at drawing the silhouette. It looked incredible.
My brother said “Jim, tell him thank you very very very much!”
So I did.
ども ありがとう ございます
“domo arigatō gozaimasu”
Thank you very much!
I said it two or three times.
To this day, we are very grateful to the ranger for his kindness.
Today’s post went up this evening rather than the usual 3.30pm. I needed a bit more time to write it up, even though there is very little Japanese language in it. The image above is from somewhere else in Hokkaido that we visited on the same trip. Tomorrow I will reveal where!