Hokkaido in Winter / by Debra Wallace

Hokkaido, the northern most island of Japan is home to striking landscapes, some of the world’s largest eagles and Japan’s iconic Red-Crowned Crane. I recently spent nine days there on a wildlife photo tour led by Martin Bailey and a wonderful group of photographers.  I was prepared for Hokkaido’s harsh winter weather with lots of layers. I was looking forward to photographing during snowfall and the challenges of capturing wildlife. 

   Red-Crowned Cranes at Otowa Bridge

Red-Crowned Cranes at Otowa Bridge

Cranes are familiar from Japanese prints. These stately birds stand more than 5 feet (taller than me) with a wingspan of about 8 feet.  The cranes sleep along a riverbed protected from their predators. If morning temperatures are just right a type of frost (hoarfrost) creates a unique photographic opportunity. At the crane center I never tired of watching the crane’s courting dances and mating calls. Finally it started snowing and this provided a wonderful opportunity to photograph the cranes. A small group of deer was an added bonus.  The images captured in the snow are among my favorites.  

   Akan Internatonal Crane Center

Akan Internatonal Crane Center

Another highlight was Rausu a fishing village on the east coast of Hokkaido. In winter there are large numbers of Steller’s Sea Eagles and White-tailed Eagles that rest on the sea ice that drifts down from Siberia. Once a circling eagle spots a fish he dives down to grab his catch. With wingspans of about 8 feet this is an impressive sight. I really enjoyed the excitement of photographing birds in flight.  

   Steller's Seal Eagle

Steller's Seal Eagle

You can see additional images at Latest Work / Hokkaido