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Trip Report – March 2023


We found food a bit challenging which quite surprised us. While it was of excellent quality it was quite lacking in variety and it was hard to find good alternatives.

REALLY BIG NOTE: Driving license requirements are quite bizarre. We got the required International Driving Permit (make sure it is issued under the correct act) but that wasn’t good enough. It MUST be issued by your country’s specific authority (AA in America and BCAA in BC, Canada) check and double check before you go as we could not rent any of the vehicles we had booked!

As usual I have only mentioned our life birds here but the attached list includes all species seen.

We started with a couple of relaxing days in Tokyo to do some sightseeing but, if you are new to Asia, the Imperial Palace Gardens would be worth checking out for some of the common species.

Brown-eared Bulbul

Day 1 – Early flight to Ishigaki to meet our guide. And then straight out to Banna Park to start birding. It was already quite hot & humid but

we did start with Brown-eared Bulbul, Ruddy Kingfisher and Ishigaki Tit. Also, Eastern Blue Rock-thrush – not yet split but very different.

Our guide knew an area of fields down by the coast that we explored in the afternoon and had great views of Ryukyu Serpent Eagle, Light-vented Bulbul and Japanese White-eye.

Night at the ANA Intercontinental.

Day 2 – Started early back at Banna Park trying to catch a Slaty-legged Rail but no luck. Did manage Ryukyu Green Pigeon, Ryukyu Minivet and poor views of Ryukyu Flycatcher (female!!) but did feel that the island wasn’t really very birdy – there simply weren’t a great deal of birds to look at so if you missed your target on the first go it was quite tricky. We were a bit disheartened so had a lazy afternoon and geared up to try again in the evening.

Northern Boobok

Once again it was to Banna Park where we hoped for the rail, Scops Owl and Boobook. Only the Northern Boobook cooperated but we got some great views of that! We also enjoyed brief views of Japanese Sparrowhawk and Japanese Paradise Kingfisher.

Night at the ANA intercontinental

Day 3 – Bit of a frustrating day really because our guide decided to go to some paddy fields to try for Slaty-legged Rail. While they were quite birdy and we got some good birds (no lifers) I pointed out to him that the Slaty-legged Rail is a forest bird and mostly seen at night!!! He said he hadn’t been to Ishigaki before and didn’t realize!!!!! Decided to call it a day, rest up and try again in the evening.

Back to Banna Park where we at least heard the rails even though we didn’t see one. They don’t start calling until it is almost dark so simply no point in trying before that. We were blessed with great views of Ryukyu Scops Owl for our efforts. We discovered too late that the place to see the rail is the castle ruins outside town.

Black-faced Spoonbill

Night at the ANA Intercontinental

Day 4 – Flew from Ishigaki to Naha, Okinawa where we did some shorebird birding on the river in town – nothing new for us but always a treat to see Black-faced Spoonbill and Terek Sandpiper amongst others.

Night at the Palm Court Hotel

Day 5 – We started at the castle grounds in town to check for flycatchers – which weren’t there- and got good views of Japanese Tit. Then started the drive to Yanburu. Went straight to Hiji Falls In Yanburu Forest even though it wasn’t the best time of day but we were desperate for some life birds!!!

And it paid off because we had a wonderful singing Okinawa Robin just passed the campgrounds followed by a pair of nesting Okinawa Woodpeckers.

Siberian Rubythroat

We decide to drop our bags at our hotel before taking our lunch to the forest and so glad we did because in the forest beside the hotel was an Okinawa Rail with chicks! And in the tree above was Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker.  After enjoying great views of Ryukyu Minivet with out lunch we got Varied Tit as we drove back toward the hotel. Ryukyu Scops Owl right outside our hotel after a delicious dinner.

Night at the Ada Gardens Hotel – you MUST order your meal before you arrive or there won’t be any food for you the first evening you arrive.

Day 6 – Because we had done so well with our target species yesterday, we decided to do an early morning hike right up to the Hiji Falls even though it wouldn’t deliver anything new for us. It was quite lovely and we did get more views of the woodpeckers.

After dinner we drove about a kilometer from our hotel and located a Japanese (Pryer’s) Scops Owl, which was the only one we even heard all trip. And we were able to spotlight a roosting Okinawa Rail in a tree. Worth going out for!

Ryukyu Robin

Night at Ada Gardens Hotel

Day 7 – We had really seen all our targets so rather than staying in Yanburu and rushing for a flight tomorrow we decided to drive back to Naha, stopping at some rice fields on the way and then enjoy a relaxing afternoon and evening.

Night at Collective Hotel, Naha

Day 8 – Onto Amamioshima where we drove directly to Amami Natural Forest. Within minutes we had 4 life birds – Lidth’s Jay, Owston’s Woodpecker, Ryukyu Robin and Japanese Wood-pigeon. We were quite happy with that!

Checked into our hotel, had dinner and then went out for a night excursion to see Amami Woodcock. It was quite spectacular but very expensive and we ended up seeing them ourselves anyway so not sure I would pay for it again.

Spotted Nutcracker

Night at Yagijima Hotel

Day 9 – Bit of a dull day. Started off trying for Amami Thrush (no luck) and better views of Woodpigeon but dipped on both. Did get wonderful views of Japanese Paradise Flycatcher but that was about it!

Night at Yagijima Hotel

Day 10 – Super early start to try for Amami Thrush – this was our last chance and after missing the Slay-legged Rail on Ishigaki our guide was under pressure. We started off with quite a few woodcocks plus a Brown-headed Thrush and just as the light was coming up and we thought we were out of luck we came across an Amami Thrush in the middle of the dirt road and enjoyed it for some time.

Back to the hotel for breakfast and then off for a few days on our own in Kyoto.

We hadn’t been able to rent the car we had booked (see notes above) so hired a driver to take us from Osaka to Kyoto with a stop at some

Gray-headed Lapwing

paddy fields along the way for Grey-headed Lapwing  (34.909516, 135.756938). He thought this very funny but we were thrilled because with found it! Great views of 3 of them before continuing on to Kyoto where we quickly found Japanese Wagtail on the Katsura River near the hotel.

Night at Hoshinoya, Arashiyama, Kyoto

Day 11 – this was really about playing tourist in Kyoto but can’t ignore the birds! A walk through Kameyama Park quickly delivered Narcissus Flycatcher, Japanese Grosbeak and Grey-Capped Greenfinch. Great start to our day and then the rest of it was spent wondering around temples and sides streets in the Arashiyama part of Kyoto – very nice.

Night at Hoshinoya, Arashiyama, Kyoto

Varied Tit

Day 12 – We took a taxi to the Botanical Gardens for lunch and then walked down beside the Kamo River for Long-billed Plover.  One had been seen on the middle of the river quite near the Imperial Palace so we thought we would give it a go and to our amazement we found it. That made us happy.

Rest of the day at the Chion-in Temple in town and then a walk through Gion, which is quite a busy area for nightlife.

Night at Hoshinoya, Arashiyama, Kyoto

Day 13 & 14 – Just a lazy day of sight seeing in Kyoto before heading the Mt Fuji. When we arrived, our hotel was fabulous with views across the lake to Mt Fuji – this was a life long dream for me so we sat in our private onsen and enjoyed it.

Chestnut-eared Bunting

Night at Ubuya Hotel

Day 15 – Up early to start at Yagisaki ParK where we started with Chestnut-cheeked Starling and both Meadow and Black-faced Buntings. Heard Green Pheasant but couldn’t track it down. Onto Seiko Wild Bird Park but it was really quiet so we headed to the Defense Force land which was open because it was a holiday and it was very productive. Green Pheasant, Chestnut-eared Bunting, Amur Stonechat and Bull-headed Shrike.

Our guide knew an area for Japanese Green Woodpecker we went to check that out and, after hunting for quite a while we ended up with great views.

Night at Ubuya Hotel

Lidth’s Jay

Day 16 – Drove right up Mt Fuji to the Okinawa Hut. On the way we enjoyed good views of Goldcrest, Siberian Blue Robin, Red-flanked Bluetail and Eurasian Nuthatch – none were new for us but always nice to see. The Hut area was busy but we took the main trail and got good views of Japanese Accentor, Spotted Nutcracker and Gray-bellied Bullfinch.

We were running out of target species so we went back to the Defense Area for some photographs and ended up in a forest where we had Yellow Bunting – nice way to end the day.

Night at Ubuya Hotel.

Day 17 – Spent the morning driving from Mt Fuji to Karuizawa – nothing along the way but when we got there, we went straight into the forest along the gravel road near the Wild Bird Sanctuary to look for Copper Pheasant. We didn’t have any luck and it actually wasn’t very birdy but we did manage Japanese Thrush, Asian Stubtail and, finally, a Blue & White Flycatcher.

Night at Hoshinoya, Karuizawa

Owston’s (Amami) Woodpecker

Day 18 – Bit of a boring day today. Spent the whole time going from one location to another for Copper Pheasant, White-backed Woodpecker and Japanese Leaf Warbler but didn’t get any of them!!However, we were very excited to find an Italian Restaurant in town – we were really tired of Japanese food so we picked some up for dinner and took it to our lovely room.

Night at Hoshinoya, Karuizawa.

Day 19 – Dropped our car back and hopped on the Bullet Train to Niigata where we got the ferry to Sado Island. The great thing in Japan is the incredible efficiency – all the transport is on time to the minute so although it was quite a long fiddly journey it all worked very well.

Managed to get Japanese Cormorant and Black-tailed Gull from the ferry as we left.


As soon as we arrived in Sado we picked up a car and within 15 minutes we had our target – Crested Ibis.

Night at Tabino Hotel

Day 20 – More views of the Ibis today but our main target was Mandarin Duck so we went up to Niiko Dam. We had great views of the duck and we were sure we heard Gray Bunting calling but didn’t manage to find it.

Also had Vega Gull in the port in town.

Night at Tabino Hotel.

Day 21 – 24 – We traveled to Sapporo and took a few days R&R at a beautiful hotel on Lake Shikotsu – we were hoping for blossoms but we seemed to have missed them everywhere!!!

Nights at Shikotsu Lake Resort Spa by Mizunouta.

White-backed Woodpecker

Day 25 – took a quick flight to Kushiro and a taxi (another place we were supposed to rent a car!!)  out to Yuyado Daiichi. On the way we had several Red-crowned Cranes which was a real treat. We were staying at this location to see the Blakiston’s Fish owl and we weren’t

disappointed – we actually had it right from the hotel each night we were there – and it is spectacular!

Day 26 – Had a great buffet breakfast and then met with our Local guide, Matsuo. We started with a drive into the woods near the hotel and lucked out with Siberian Ruby throat, Japanese Robin and Sakhalin Leaf Warbler. We then drove towards Kushiro and, after some hunting we finally managed White-backed Woodpecker.

Ural Owl

Matsuo knew a location for nesting Ural Owl which was our final stop – what an owl!!

Night at Yayudi Daiichi

Day 27 – We started with a hunt for Hazel Grouse but no luck so drove up to Notsuke Peninsula. It was spectacular – we only had one target and that was Falcated Duck – which we did get. But the number of waders, ducks and other birds up here was amazing. See the Bird list.

Night at Yayudi Daiichi

Day 28 – Our last day and we headed back to Tokyo – it had bee a long trip – a total of 10 weeks so we were happy to be heading home.


Tokyo – Shangri-la Hotel
Ishigaki – ANA Intercontinental
Okinawa – Naha – Palm Court Hotel
Yanburu – Ada Garden Hotel
Haha – Collective Hotel
Amami – Yagijima Hotel
Kyoto – Hoshinoya Kyoto
Mt Fuji – Ubuya Hotel
Karuizawa – Hoshinoya Karuizawa
Sado Island – Tabnio Hotel
Sapporo – Shikotsu Lake Resort Spa by Mizunouta
Kushiro – Yayudi Daiichi

Guides & Resources


Main guide – Chris Cook – [email protected]


Takeyoshi MATSUO
213-7, Tobai, Nemuro, Hokkaido, 086-0074
Tel & Fax : +81-153-25-3919
[email protected]

Field Guide:

Birds of Japan – Mark Brazil

BirdCall Xeno app. – excellent!

Bird Lists: