Karuizawa

Karuizawa, in Nagano Prefecture, is a favourite destination for both local and visiting birdwatchers as in both summer and winter it offers quality birdwatching. 

Now only about 75 minutes from Tokyo Station by bullet train (shinkansen), it can be visited either on a day-trip or as an overnight trip.

Karuizawa's claim to fame is that it is both a summer resort and a winter playground: cooler, less humid weather during the summer offers a very welcome respite for people living in hot and humid places like Tokyo and Yokohama, and in the winter, Karuizawa offers ski slopes and ice-skating rinks.

As you travel around the area you'll see, much the same as in the Mount Fuji area, a host of weekend cottages and second homes, which attests to Karuizawa's popularity. Consequently, for those who do not have their own place in which to stay, the town offers a wide variety of accommodations, from luxury resorts to tourist hotels and small, family-run pensions. There are also many restaurants, although a large number of these are seasonal, open for the tourists who flock there from early summer until late autumn, but closed for the rest of the year.

The main birding area is the Wild Bird Forest (Yacho no Mori), adjacent to the 5-star Hoshino Resort. It is about 2 km north of Naka-Karuizawa Station, on the east side of Route 146. It takes about 30 minutes to walk from the station to the forest. 

This area of forest – a mixture of both deciduous and coniferous – has been protected for many decades, and consequently is an important habitat for the many species of birds, animals, flowers and insects that live in the area. 

There are several paths around the forest, and the main entrances (and signboards/maps) are along Kose forest road and close to the ice-skating rink.

Kose-rindo, the forest track, runs for about 3 km between Hoshino Resort and Kose Onsen, and it is always worth walking along the valley, especially in late winter when flocks of Japanese Waxwing and Bohemian Waxwing – can sometimes be found feeding on the mistletoe which grows profusely on some of the trees.

Because of the number of species there – cuckoos, minivets, thrushes, flycatchers, warblers, etc. – it is a popular birding place in late May through mid-July, especially so soon after daybreak when the dawn chorus begins.

The Wild Bird Forest is also a well-known place to see the endemic Copper Pheasant, but even though they are resident, they can be very hard to find. Hitting the trails at the crack of dawn is perhaps the best way to find them, and in winter, it is not uncommon to come across their tracks in the snow: proof that they are there, somewhere.

IMG_0602.JPG In spring and summer the males give themselves away with their wing-drumming displays, and in the winter, they are pushed into snow-free areas – making this season the best time to look for them.

With such an extensive area of woodland, there is no shortage of woodpeckers, and four species can be found: Japanese Green Woodpecker, White-backed Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Japanese Pgymy Woodpecker

Other species to look for during the summer include Crested Kingfisher, Brown Dipper, Japanese Thrush/Grey Thrush and Brown-headed Thrush, Blue & White Flycatcher, Asian Brown Flycatcher and Narcissus Flycatcher, Siberian Blue Robin, Ashy Minivet, and Black-faced Bunting and Japanese Yellow Bunting (though the latter seems now to be on the verge of extinction here). If you are lucky, Oriental Honey Buzzard can sometimes be seen flying high above the forest.

During the winter, various buntings and finches can be seen, including Siberian Meadow Bunting and Rustic Bunting, and Pallas' Rosefinch and Long-tailed Rosefinch, Japanese Grosbeak and Hawfinch as well as Japanese Accentor.

Nearby Hanareyama (the large dome-shaped hill between Naka-Karuizawa and Karuizawa towns) has flycatchers during the summer, as well as Siberian Blue Robin and also Copper Pheasant

A little further to the west of Naka-Karuizawa is Mount Asama, a volcano that is very much alive. Smoke can usually be seen rising from the uppermost vents of Asama, which is prone to occasional small eruptions. Caution is needed as poisonous gases are constantly being released. 

On the forested lower slopes, Siberian Thrush can be found, and at higher elevations (which involves a hike of a couple of hours) Japanese Accentor breeds. Pacific Swift can often be seen flying at break-neck speed high over the volcano.

In addition to birds, there is a good chance of sighting mammals in the Karuizawa area, especially if you are out at dawn, during the evening hours or driving around at night. 

On Asama-san, Japanese Serow can be seen, and they are also sometimes seen in Yacho no Mori and around Kose Onsen. Roaming troops of Japanese Macaque can be encountered, especially along Route 18, which drops down to Yokokawa east of Karuizawa. Keep a lookout for Asiatic Black Bear – they occasionally are met with in the forests – but definitely don't try to get too close to them, especially if it is a mother and cubs!

One place that is always worth stopping by at is the lounge at Shiotsubo Onsen Hotel. In front of the main building there is a small pond, and two feeders have been installed. A surprising number of birds visit these, especially in the cold winter months, and it makes for a pleasant diversion to warm up over a cup of hot coffee on a cold winter's day while watching Japanese Grosbeak, Varied Tit and Eurasian Nuthatch coming to feed on sunflower seeds. 

Occasionally a Japanese Accentor puts in an appearance, as do Great Spotted Woodpecker and Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker. The endemic Japanese Squirrel is also a regular visitor.

Within Yacho no Mori, several nestboxes for Japanese Giant Flying Squirrel have been set up on trees, and at Picchio Nature Centre, a nestbox with a built-in video camera allows visitors to see the animals without disturbing them.

In the summer months Picchio also offers evening nature walks (conducted in Japanese) and one of the target species is the flying squirrel.

Other species that can be seen in the area include: Wild Boar, Japanese (Sika) Deer, Japanese Badger, Red Fox, Japanese Hare and Japanese Squirrel, to name a few.

For visitors who do not speak Japanese, there is usually a helpful staff member on duty at Picchio who speaks some English – and who can point you in the right direction for birdwatching. 

Within Yacho no Mori and along Kose rindo, several nestboxes for Japanese Giant Flying Squirrel have been set up on trees.

In the summer months Picchio offers evening nature walks (conducted in Japanese) and one of the target species is the flying squirrel.

Other species that can be seen in the area include: Wild BoarJapanese (Sika) DeerJapanese BadgerRed FoxJapanese Hare and Japanese Squirrel, to name a few.

For visitors who do not speak Japanese, there is usually a helpful staff member on duty at Picchio who speaks some English – and who can point you in the right direction for birdwatching.

Picchio is located up the steps beside the junction at Fukurou Bridge, right at the entrance to Hoshino Onsen. In the same building as the nature information centre there is a cafe and also, during the winter, a skating rink (where skating boots can be hired).

Tel.: 0267-45-7777

http://picchio.co.jp/sp

Google Map: 36.363587, 138.591328

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Useful contacts in the Karuizawa area:

Wild Bird Forest (Yacho no Mori) Google Map: 36.365883, 138.595793

Picchio

Mt Asama

Accommodation in the Karuizawa area: 

Pension Edohara

Hoshino Onsen Resort | Restaurant | Hot spring

Shiotsubo Onsen Hotel

Hotel Route Inn-Court Karuizawa

APA Hotel Karuizawa-ekimae


Saku Chosei-ike

Saku Flood Relief Pond is about a 45-60 minute drive from Naka-Karuizawa, on the southwest side of Saku City.

Once in Saku City, the pond is about 15 minutes south/southwest of Sakudaira Shinkansen Station. Drive south on Route 141, and turn right at Ishigami traffic lights onto Route 139.

Although only a small reservoir, located next to the Chikuma River, it is a good place to see a variety of ducks during the wintertime, and makes for a pleasant diversion if birding in the forest is slow.

Apart from the commoner species such as Mallard, Eurasian Teal, Eurasian Wigeon and Common Pochard, it is a good place for Goosander (Common Merganser) and also Smew. If you are lucky, Baikal Teal and Falcated Duck may be there, and Bewick's Swan too.

 

Black-eared Kite and Northern Goshawk are usually somehwere nearby, and in the scrub-covered areas beside the river, Japanese Green Pheasant and Meadow Bunting can be seen. On the river, look out for Long-billed Plover and Crested Kingfisher.

Google Map: 36.246293, 138.454477

 

 


© 2018 Mark Brazil & Chris Cook

Last updated: 20181224