Wednesday, December 28, 2011

The Incredible Mrs. Watanabe and her gaggle of Grus japonensis


The Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis), also called the Japanese Crane 丹頂 or タンチョウ, tancho; is a large East Asian crane and among the rarest cranes in the world. Because legends say they live for 1000 years, they are known as a symbol of longevity which in all Asian cultures is a sign of good luck. Because they mate for life they are also symbols of fidelity.
Adult cranes are snow white with black to the wings (appears almost like a black tail when standing, but the real tail feathers are white), blackish to the head and neck, and a patch of red skin on the crown. This patch of skin becomes brighter red when the crane becomes angry or excited. This species is among the largest cranes, typically measuring about 158 cm (62 in) tall. Typical body weight can range from 7 to 10 kg (15 to 22 lb).

 The estimated total population of the species is only 2,750 in the wild, including about 1,000 birds in the resident Japanese population found in eastern Hokkaidō. One famous lady, Mrs. Watanabe, has been feeding large numbers of them for more than 40 years near her home on the northern edge of the Kushiro Shitsugen National Park.

 The migratory populations of the Red-crowned Crane breed in Siberia (eastern Russia). Normally the cranes lay 2 eggs, with only one surviving. Later, in the fall, they migrate in flocks to Korea and eastern China and of course Hokkaido Japan to spend the winter. The habitats are marshes, riverbanks, rice fields, and other wetland areas. They eat small amphibians, aquatic invertebrates, insects, and plants that grow in marshes and swamps.

 One of the official logos of Japan Airlines featured a Red-crowned Crane.

My submission for Travel Photo Thursday for December 28th, 2011

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Daisetsuzan “Great Snowy Mountains” National Park, Sounkyo Valley, Hokkaido, Japan


These photos are from our recent trip North to Hokkaido, December 7th through the 10th. The tour group war made up entirely of folks from Okinawa who wanted to experience the snow. This is my offering for Travel Photo Thursday for December 22nd, 2011.
 After a quick potty break, the group assembles back near the tour bus for a group photo in front of the falls.

The photos in this post were all taken on day three of the trip. Just so you know and don’t start looking for posts or photos you may have missed, I’m not posting them in any particular order, I just happened to start working on these photos first. More will follow in the days and weeks to come so stay tuned!

The Sounkyo Gorge is a river valley found in Central Hokkaido that is hemmed in on both sides by rock walls rising almost 150m (500 ft.) and extending some 19km (12 miles) from Sounkyo Onsen Spa up to the reservoir. About three kilometers or two miles above the spa, there is a large parking area beside the roaring river. This is a prime area to view much of the scenery and during the season, to start off on hiking adventures. Here one can find two famous waterfalls side by side: the Ginga no Taki (Silver River Falls)
Unfortunately this falls was completely frozen over

and the Ryuusei no Taki (Shooting Star Falls).  
This one only partially frozen

Back on the main highway, a few hundred meters further down the gorge one can see the rock formation seen here and known to the locals as “Maria Ishi” or Maria’s Rock.
 This rock formation was pointed out by our tour guide and said to resemble a woman in a robe with outstretched arms hanging at about 45 degrees. The locals call it Maria Ishi. What I didn't notice at the time I snapped it was the iron discoloration in the rock that puts a big Maltese looking cross right smack dab in what would be the center chest area.
 (You can click on the individual photos to enlarge for better viewing)

English language links for more information on Daisetsuzan park and Sounkyo Valley Gorge are listed here: