Birding Kyushu

Japan’s southern main island of Kyushu has a pleasant temperate climate for much of the year, only in the high mountains is snow frequent, and in summer the island is almost sub-tropical.  To the north-west lies the Korean peninsula and to the north-east Honshu and the remainder of Japan.  Kyushu’s natural history shares links and similarities with both, and with the Nansei Shoto islands to the south.

Its early settlement and its fertile soils have turned this in to Japan’s “market garden” region, but nevertheless nature survives here in the forested mountains, in the coastal wetlands and on the offshore islands.  Intensely volcanic, Kyushu has distinct highlands and there one can find unique azaleas and other shrubs and flowers known from nowhere else in the world.

Along fast-flowing mountain streams the enormous Crested Kingfisher can be found, while during summer in the humid montane forests of the south one can still find Japan’s most colourful bird, the Fairy Pitta or Yairocho (literally eight coloured bird).  On migration, the wetlands of Kyushu are crucial resting and foraging sites for large numbers of shorebirds travelling between Siberia and south-east Asia.

Each winter one of the greatest spectacles in Asia occurs here in Kyushu.  More than 10,000 cranes gather from their breeding grounds in north-east China and Russia to spend the winter feeding in safety in the low-lying fields of Arasaki, near the city of Izumi in Kagoshima prefecture.  It is the diminutive, sooty grey and white Hooded Cranes that form the bulk of the flock, but inter-mingled amongst them are good numbers of the taller, more elegant White-naped Cranes.  A handful of Sandhill Cranes and Common Cranes usually join them and occasionally individuals of rarer species, such as Demoiselle and Siberian cranes, appear from further west.  The stirring sight and sound of this enormous flock of birds as it gathers at dawn and dusk at the feeding and roosting grounds is a never-to-be-forgotten experience.

© 2012 Mark Brazil & Chris Cook

Last updated: 20120727