Monthly Archives: May 2015

The Red-crowned Cranes of Hokkaido

The Red-crowned Crane (Grus japonensis) is an endangered crane species that is found in northern Asia. One of the places where it can be more easily seen is in Hokkaido, Japan where they are a resident species, unlike the migratory ones elsewhere. In Japan, they are called tanchōzuru or shortened tanchō (red-head). They are considered sacred and seen as a symbol of fidelity, love and longevity. But they were on the brink of extinction due to hunting, mainly for their plumage.

Although hunting them is a thing of the past and conservation work is ongoing, currently there are only around 2,750 birds left in the wild, including about 1,000 birds in Hokkaido. In fact in 1926, there were only about 20 birds left in Hokkaido, but urgent conservation work increased their numbers substantially. One of the measures they did was to set up feeding grounds for the cranes during wintertime.

At the end of 2014, I brought my family to Hokkaido for a vacation. It was not a birding trip, but since my wife arranged for one where we had an opportunity to see the Red-crowned Cranes feeding, I brought along my long lens for the trip. Arriving on a cold and snowy day, I was delighted to see so many of these cranes at the feeding site next to Akan International Crane Centre at Kushiro.


Red-crowned Cranes together with other birds at the feeding centre

Although snowing and frankly having too long a lens, I managed to take some photos of the cranes and even a sequence of their famous courtship ritual.


Start of the courtship dance


First, a bow. The browned headed crane on the left of the frame is a juvenile


I must admit I don’t know which is the male and the female


Intertwining necks, close to the highlight of the dance


They are now considered ‘one’. This would have been a great shot, if only there were no other cranes in the frame. But it is a busy feeding lot and I did not have time for a re-do.


Coming apart. This was not the end of their courtship ritual, but the couple continued on. But it was hard to pick them apart in heavy snow and with the lack of contrast, so I lost track soon after.

As most of the tour group were not nature lovers, and coupled with the fact that it was cold and snowing heavily, we spent less than an hour at that place. I so dearly wished we had more time to see these enchanting cranes. Perhaps a return journey one day to see them, the Stellar Sea Eagles and Blakiston’s Fish Owls.

An evening with the Bishan otter family

I had been eagerly following the news of the Smooth-coated Otter family from Bishan for some time, but did not have the opportunity to see them in person sooner due to other commitments.

To recap, there is now a family of Smooth-coated Otters that has made their home at Bishan Park. To understand the circumstances of how they came about and to enjoy really great commentary and pictures about them, please head to these two Exposure stories and pictorial by Shirley Ng (LINK) and Jeff Tan (LINK). They have been following these otters and documenting them from the very beginning.

My experience was just one overcast and rainy evening on 21 April 2015, so just a tiny snapshot of the family. Thanks to Shirley for informing me of their whereabouts. I knew what angle I wanted to concentrate on, even before the encounter, so out came the seldom used tripod! Thankfully the otters put up a good show as well. Below are the photos and the video

To ensure sane load time, I have separated the article and the rest of the photos. Please click on the respective photos in the photo gallery for more commentary.

Photo Gallery


Sometimes, photos alone don’t do enough justice in conveying animal behaviour. That’s when videos come in handy. Hope you enjoy the snippets obtained. These were prepared in full HD format. I have embedded them in the article, but click on the title of the video to launch it in full resolution at YouTube to have a better experience.

1. The otter family preparing their resting place by smearing and rolling on the grass and soft earth that was wet due to the slight drizzle. They were having a rollicking good time as well. As this stage I was positioned rather far despite my long lens system as I was unsure about their temperament.

2. I found a better position to observe their frolicking and the subsequent nursing of the young otters. You can see how wary the parents were by their constant checking of their surrounding. Out of the camera view, a middle-aged man got very near to take photos presumably using his camera phone. I tried in vain to beckon him to move further earlier and you can see him at the 3:44 mark and the subsequent reaction of the family.

3. Having decided that we were of no threat, Shirley, Jeff and I inched closer. I had the longest lens, so I was good for a full frame video.

4. I think this is about the best video of the lot. Loving family with a beautiful backdrop, with the sound of the urban surroundings.

5. Bonus video. It started raining and the otters had to leave and the photographers had to temporarily scramble. It’s a wrap then!

Lastly, it looks like the otters are making a comeback in Singapore over the past few years. There are now otter families regularly sighted at Gardens by the Bay, Sungei Buloh, Lorong Halus and Pasir Ris Park. I have seen grownups squeal in delight seeing them for the first time. There is much to be said about our local charismatic megafauna and its effect on us. If we do want them to stay around, at the minimum please let them have their personal space and tolerate the things that they do. They are not pets, cuddly as they may seem. Wildlife deserve a place in Singapore, and we should do our part to conserve whatever is left. The tigers are long gone, but at least we should keep our otters.