Saturday 7 January 2017

Arasaki cranes

There were no rare cranes at Arasaki this year, it's over 20 years since I saw Demoiselle Crane there and I've never seen Siberian or Red-crowned at Arasaki. It hardly matters because Arasaki is more about the spectacle than the individuals. That said, trying to capture the magic of the early morning crane flights, the sight, the sound, the ever-changing backdrop, in photographs is possibly even more difficult than trying to convey the depth and splendour of a mountain range. So in the end it comes back to trying to catch a special individual image.

This year I promised myself I wouldn't spend any time trying to photograph the cranes and, apart from a few shots of Sandhill Cranes I stopped to look at, any crane shots were purely incidental to some other bird I was watching at the time.

White-naped Crane; the most elegant and photogenic of the Arasaki regulars.

Hooded; by far the most numerous of the crane species.

There is a marked difference between the lightest and darkest Hooded Cranes. Immatures are always dark, adults vary from immature blackish-grey to Common Crane-grey. These two provide a good example of light and dark.

The less common light grey and usual dark grey Hooded, at a distance the lighter birds can raise hope of Common or Sandhill. Birds like this might raise the question whether they are hybrids with Common Crane but there seem to be too many of them and they don't show other features that would indicate hybrid origin.

I'm not in a position to know what is and is not a hybrid Hooded x Common Crane but the following images I've taken in the past show birds I believe are hybrids.

To me this is an obvious hybrid, it's distinctly larger than Hooded and has clear intermediate plumage features.

Two shots of a bird which looks closer to Common.

Another closer-to-Common bird. But can they also look closer to Hooded like the pale grey Hooded above? As I said there seem to be too many pale Hooded Cranes whereas the number of these more obvious hybrids are more in keeping with the number of Common Cranes occurring at Arasaki.

Perhaps because I wasn't actually looking for them, I only saw single Common Cranes on two occasions on this trip. The first was a flight view only as it was heading away so I couldn't categorically rule out a hybrid. Below are images of the second bird.

Common Crane.

Part of the early morning gathering. Three Sandhill Cranes were conveniently at the roadside edge of the flock.

The following morning four Sandhills were right by the road through the net fence as I was driving by and I had to wait for them to walk away far enough to get a shot over the top of the net.

My best ever shots of Sandhill.


  1. Hi Neil-loved you post and photos. I have a question-- I will be traveling solo in Japan this November, and as an amateur birder was hoping to see some birds in Hakata and/orArasaki. I haven't been able to get info on transportation or hopefully a local guide. Do you have any suggestions. I'd be grateful for any ideas. Thanks again for the lovely photos. Best regards, Kathy Jordan

  2. Hi Kathleen, sorry for the very late response! I haven't had much time for the blog lately. Honestly, I don't know what to suggest because it's not my part of the country and I always do it by my own or rental car. I will say that driving is very easy in Japan and there are so many great sites close togther in the Arasaki area you'd have a great time.

  3. Thank you for the update, very nice site..

  4. Hi Kathleen,
    Same as yourself I went to Izumi today not knowing about transportation, etc. to Arasaki. However when I arrived at the friendly bus stop they directed me to a local bus that departs from Izumi at 11.25 am and returns from the crane centre at 16.10. It costs just 200 yen each way and allows you plenty of time to absorb this wonderful spectacle.