Stepping out of the airport in Kushiro was all it took to realise why the packing list had called for serious cold weather gear. Quickly onto the bus and off to the hotel. The hot spring bath soothed away the day’s travel stress and warmed me through. Ready for the dawn …
This is the view from the Otawa Bridge, dawn will be along shortly.
The bridge is already lined with photographers. This is the place to shoot Red-crowned Cranes, the only accessible overnight roost. Every time a bird blinks there is an epidemic of shutters in hyperdrive.
The cranes spend the night standing in the river. As the light gathers they become active and vocal. They will fly out to feed in the fields and marshes, sometimes in twos and threes sometimes in flocks. The mist hanging over the Setsuri River puts a special luminosity on the scene.
The Red-crowned Crane is an east Asian species that, on the mainland, breeds in Siberia and north-eastern China and migrates south for the winter. The Hokkaido population is resident, found in large flocks in winter but widely dispersed when breeding. They are endangered. Slightly more than a third of the world population are in Hokkaido where they are protected and numbers are increasing.
This is the only crane that breeds in Japan, this is the one that epitomizes the values of health, longevity and fidelity in Japanese tradition. This is the real crane, symbol of JAL, and to the Ainu the Sarurun Kamuy, god of the marshes.