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Part 3 of 3


A further stroke of luck for us was that the pack ice off the coast was accessible and the boat trips would go ahead. Before I went I thought that this was a certainty but if the weather conditions conspire against you then the boats may not go out. A different trip a month before us had no pack ice offshore and they did not get to see the spectacle that we did. The target species here is the magnificent Steller’s Sea Eagle who migrates south from Russia during the (northern hemisphere) winter and feeds off the pack ice in this area for about 6-8 weeks. The sight of hundreds of these incredible birds flying around the boat will stay with me forever. They are not the only birds around and sharing the stage with them are White-tailed Eagles, Ravens and numerous gull species as well. With the females typically weighing in at between 7 and 9 kg, and with a wingspan of up to 2.5 meters the Steller’s dominates proceedings and photographing them in action was a major trip highlight for me. Between Shinji and ODP Safaris, they timed this tour so that one has the best possible opportunity to see these birds (and all the other target species!) and in the 2 trips they have done so far, they have succeeded spectacularly.

White-tailed Eagle
White-tailed Eagle and Red-crowned Crane fighting over scraps of food

Our final stop was in Tsurui and here we spent our last few days photographing Red-crowned Cranes. These elegant and graceful birds perform the most amazing mating dance and it really was a privilege to share these intimate moments with them. At the nearby Akan feeding station fish are put out for them at 2pm each day and then it gets really interesting. White-tailed Eagles and Black Kites have become accustomed to this routine and arrive like clockwork at about 1:45.  After the fish have been put out the eagles and kites swoop down and try to claim their prize. What follows is about 90 minutes of frantic action where they compete for the spoils and try to steal from each other. It makes for an amazing photographic opportunity and the images I captured here were probably the best I got all trip.

Red-crowned Cranes performing a magnificent mating dance

And then, it was over. We flew back to Tokyo and the following day everyone made their own way home. The trip had gone by in a flash. It was fast paced and there was very little down time but in hindsight that meant we were able to extract every last bit of action from our well thought out days. I could not have wanted for more. I took just over 800 gigabytes worth of images (about 40 000 photos) and will enjoy going through them again and again to relive all the memories. I took my laptop with and downloaded my images each evening making a copy to two 1TB external hard drives before formatting my cards. This process worked well and each evening when we got back to the room I started the download process and with minimal fuss I soon had my copies made. I would advise taking at least three 64GB cards using 2 in your main camera and the other in your second body. The most photos I took in one day was just under 128 GB but it is feasible if conditions are perfect that you may go over this. A couple of smaller (16GB and 32 GB) backup cards would ensure that you never get into trouble.

Three Red-crowned Cranes
Japanese Deer in the snow
Japanese Deer in the snow

Finally I want to mention our 2 ODP hosts. Wim and Ben were amazing and certainly added the cherry on top for me. Watching them in action both with and without their cameras was a treat. They are both fantastic photographers but their close friendship and banter was an unexpected bonus. They were always available to share their knowledge and give advice and when the day’s shooting was done, the light hearted teasing and laughter over a couple of beers rounded things off perfectly. I can’t recommend this trip highly enough and from start to finish I was really impressed. Jackie got the ball rolling with her efficient handling of the pre-tour logistics and by the end of the trip I was extremely happy that I had gone. If you enjoy travelling to new places, enjoy wildlife photography and have a keen sense of adventure then I urge you to go.  If anyone would like more information about any aspect of this tour then please feel free to contact me directly at –


Kind regards,

Gary Cusins.