Snow Monkeys and Cranes …

Back at the Haneda Excel Tokyu Hotel it was time to meet up with my companions for the Zegrahm Expeditions Snow Monkeys and Cranes tour of Japan. It is a very popular tour that I have been hearing about for years and was obliged to book about three years ago. You can find the brochure <HERE>. The itinerary is summarised on their map.

SnoMosand Derick

Japan is a country of marked seasonality. This is a winter tour which will give access to some spectacular wintering migrant birds and it will also show the Japanese Macaques at their most photogenic. It is not the best time to see the smaller birds but you can’t have it all.

As well, one expects, from Zegrahm, excellence in tour leaders, great accommodation, at least two kilos weight gain from the good food and a stream of cultural insights. In short, the bird watcher can take his wife without laying himself open to criticism. In fact, you don’t even have to be a bird watcher at all.

The leaders on this occasion are Mark Brazil and Mineko Dohata.

Dr Brazil is an ornithologist and a prolific writer. He was once a professor at Rakuno Gakuen University in Hokkaido. Although that is no longer the case, any thought that he is no longer an educator has to be dispelled, he just can’t help sharing his extraordinary knowledge. He writes a nature column for the Japan Times and he has written the book on Asian birds. Originally a pom, despite which he is a lovely bloke, he has lived in Japan for much of his adult life. Mark has made major contributions to the understanding of speciation in Japanese convenience stores, not all of which seems to be allopatric.

Mineko-san is a nationally certified guide. She lives in Kyoto. Her English is impeccable. She manages to convey the impression of the archetypal Japanese woman, polite, deferential, shy whilst at the same time bursting with humour and personality. She, also, will educate us over the next few weeks. And she will translate for us, keep us out of trouble and ensure that we have our seatbelts on whilst travelling. Oh so modest, but oh so influential, by the end of the trip we were all wondering why she has not yet been listed as a living national treasure.

That evening we wined and dined. Next morning we flew to Kagoshima Airport on the island of Kyushu.


One journey’s end …

I have just got back from a spin around my beautiful home state with Mark Brazil and Mayumi Kanamura as well as my current dearly beloved. Gayle and I have travelled with Mark overseas, this time it was his turn to travel with us, and there could be no better excuse to have a fresh look at Victoria.

We started in the Dandenongs and headed west via Werribee Sewage Farm to Port Fairy. Then north into the Goldfields, west into the Little and Big Deserts and the Sunset Country. Then down the Murray Valley Highway, over the Alps and east to Mallacoota, coming back to Melbourne via Wilson’s Promontory. The round trip was nearly 2,500 km in fifteen days and took in every National Park, forest and sewage pond in reach. The weather was all that one could expect … everything from torrential hail, heavy rain and cold wind to uncomfortably hot, but nothing that could stop us having fun.

The objective was to see as much of Victoria’s natural heritage as we could find in the time available.

Gayle between Mark & Mayumi
Gayle between Mark & Mayumi

Mark managed to level his Swarovski 10X32’s on 214 species of bird and a dozen species of native mammal. He was impressed by the birds whilst I was impressed with the binoculars, I am currently using the much heavier Swarovski 10X42’s and as lovely as they are, they are not worth the extra weight in these days of restricted hand luggage.

After the first few days had passed Mark and Mayumi began a fascinating debate on their top ten, the only criterion for consideration was the impact the bird made on them. Some gorgeous birds had their moment in the sun, stunning views of Brush Bronzewing, for instance, put it in real contention for a few days. For a while Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo was in top spot but fine feathers are not always enough to beat off the opposition. Mark and Mayumi’s final top ten were :-

  1. Laughing Kookaburra
  2. Splendid Fairywren
  3. Major Mitchell’s Cockatoo
  4. Red-kneed Dotterel
  5. Turquoise Parrot
  6. Gang-gang Cockatoo
  7. Red-capped Robin
  8. Varied Sittella
  9. Variegated Fairywren
  10. Rainbow Bee-eater

My highlights were somewhat different, I really did enjoy seeing all four Victorian Treecreepers in one trip and I was thrilled that the visitors so enjoyed the Kookaburra, it is the bird I miss most when I am away from Australia for any length of time.

They put together a similar hit parade of native mammals :-

  1. Sugar Glider
  2. Echidna
  3. Yellow-footed Antechinus
  4. Swamp Wallaby
  5. Wombat
  6. Koala
  7. Brush-tail Possum
  8. Ring-tail Possum
  9. Red Kangaroo
  10. Dusky Antechinus

It’s nice to see the little creatures beating out the Grey Kangaroos and pushing the over-rated Koala well down the list.

Mark Brazil (foreground)
Mark Brazil (foreground)

Mark was kind enough to give us a copy of his latest book, The Nature of Japan, and Mayumi gave us a beautiful furoshiki and a calender. We look forward to catching up with them again…