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, to the north-east Honshu and most of the remainder of Japan, but to the south lie the Nansei Shoto (southwest) islands. Kyushu’s natural history shares links and similarities with both the majority of Japan to the north and the Nansei Shoto  to the south.

Kyushu's early human settlement and its fertile soils have turned the island 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 (in the Mt Aso and Mt Kirishima areas) 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.

Kyushu has numerous tourist attractions that include Sakurajima, the smoking volcano that sits across the bay from Kagoshima City, the delightful concentration of hot springs at Beppu, Oita Prefecture, and Kumamoto Castle, but for birders nothing can beat the amazing concentration of birds at Arasaki.

Each winter one of the greatest spectacles in Asia occurs here in Kyushu.  More than 13,000 cranes of four species 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. The diminutive, sooty grey and white Hooded Crane forms 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 join them each winter 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.

© 2020 Mark Brazil & Chris Cook

Last updated: 20200507