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Hokkaido Wildlife

Photographer: Kimimasa Mayama

 

For four wintry months the diamond shaped island of Hokkaido in Japan’s north is a bleak and unyielding wilderness buried in snow, but as winter turns to spring and the April thaw arrives, the area transforms itself into a wildlife paradise as its multi-species indigenous population comes to life – metaphorically as well as literally speaking.

 

Among the very first to show their heads are the red-crowned cranes, some of the rarest in the world, which begin nesting in the wetlands still iced up. Their chicks hatch in late April and May thus helping to increase the bird’s population beyond the 1,000 mark, after temporarily falling into near extinction.

 

It is just 90 years since the species was discovered in Hokkaido (or Ezo, as the lands to the north of Japan are historically referred to) when 15 of them were accounted for. With the inclusion of north-eastern China, Mongolia, the Korean Peninsula and far eastern Russia, the crane population is now estimated to be between 2,000 and 2,500.

 

The red-crowned cranes, which are strongly featured in this package shot over a period of months, are not the only big birds overwintering on the island. They are joined by a number of white-tailed sea eagles that help make up a population of around 1,700 big birds.

 

Although the keen bird-watcher is well catered for, there are other occupants that deserve a mention for helping to increase the island’s wildlife population, some even having the distinction of being under special protection of the Japanese environment ministry, such as Blakiston’s fish owls, named after British naturalist Thomas Blakiston.