The incredible Red Crowned Crane in Hokkaido, Japan. fluffs the tail feathers in readiness to dance.

Red Crowned Cranes, Japan

A few years ago I came across some images of Red Crowned Cranes in the snow. From that moment I knew that I’d have to experience and photograph these incredible birds for myself!!!

These endangered birds were once thought to be near extinct in Japan until a small number were discovered in Hokkaido’s Eastern Marsh way back in 1924.   Today there are less then 3,000 globally, with about a third of these living on the Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Symbolising luck, longevity and fidelity they stand an impressive 5 feet high with a wing span of 7-8 feet. Many spend their days feeding and socialising in the bitterly cold winters around Tsurui.

Tsurui Ito Tancho Crane Sanctury in the village of Tsurui is free and has plenty of action as birds fly in/out to dance, socialise and feed.     The Akan International Crane Centre has a nominal entry fee  with a couple of different outdoor areas for viewing. There’s also a delicious small noodle shop for very welcome hot drinks and yum bowls of ramen.

Whilst it would be easy to visit just one of the sites where you’re able to see these majestic creatures, if you’re interested in photographing them then you really need to try out each of the sites.

It’s bone numbing cold but so worthwhile. When you see these incredible birds perform their ritual unison dance, something they’ll do many times throughout their lifetime.  It’s a magical and spectacular experience to be standing, with snow falling all around you, as these wonderful creatures leap into the air and prance around together.

Whooper Swans on Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido, Japan.

Whooper Swans of Lake Kussharo

Every year several hundred Whooper Swans spend their winter hanging around the warm thermal waters on the shores of Lake Kussharo in Hokkaido, Japan.    Whilst much of the lake is frozen the edges remain free of ice.  This is where you’ll find the swans hanging out during the day paddling and feeding around in the mist or resting & socialising on the ice.

What you might not be able to see in these images is just how massive the Whooper Swans is!  They have a wing span of up to 2 metres and are one of the heaviest of flying birds.    To ensure survival they need to be around water as their legs cant hold the weight of their body for extended periods of time.    Watching them take to the skies is probably the equivalent to seeing an A380 take off, but you cant see this when they’re gracefully gliding through the mist feeding.

On the shores of the lake in Sunayu is a great little restaurant with huge windows that overlook the lake.  Pair that with an awesome curry or yum Ramen and you have the perfect lunch spot.

Gentoo Penguins Porpoising

Penguins Porpoising in Antarctica

Gentoo Penguins Porpoising

Capturing these penguins porpoising in Antarctica as they rocket out of the water at speeds of up to 36 kmh (22 mph) was definitely a challenge.    There were many, many frames where I had nothing but water in the shot.

What you don’t see from this shot is that only a few minutes before there were a group of 30 or so Gentoo Penguins porpoising towards us.   The number had petered out a bit by the time they got to us, but it was still another incredible Antarctic moment!