Kushiro is a city in Hokkaido which acts as the entry point to Kushiro Shitsugen National Park – a spectacular wetland home to the endangered red-crowned crane. The area was protected in 1987 to preserve the largest wetland in Japan and the only population of cranes. Thanks to a series of feeding and protection efforts, the population has increased from just 20 birds to over 1,000. Nowadays Kushiro attracts people from around the world to see these beautiful birds up close. And it’s not just cranes that have benefitted from the area’s protection, with the marsh also providing a home to sika deer, red foxes, Steller’s sea eagles, and even the endangered Blakiston’s fish owl!
Average rating: 5.0 (very good)
Average cost: entry to the Tsurui-Ito Tancho Sanctuary is free. A return bus from Kushiro to the sanctuary costs around $25.
Best time to visit: cranes can be seen in Kushiro year round although the best time is the winter months when there is snow on the ground and feeding takes place. February, in particular, is the best month for a visit as this is when they start their spectacular courtship display.
How to get there: Kushiro is accessible by train from Sapporo or flight from Tokyo. From there, you can drive or take a public bus to several points in the marsh where you can see cranes – see this useful map. WildSide recommends taking the bus from Kushiro to Tsuri-Ito Tancho Sanctuary. The timetable is here – with the closest stop being Tsurui Town Hall from where it is a short walk to the sanctuary.
Typical activities: bird watching, canoeing, hiking
Number of reports: 2
WILDLIFE IN kushiro
According to reports submitted to WildSide, the species visitors most want to see here are:
red-crowned crane – 100% OF VISITORS (2/2) REPORTED SIGHTINGS
Watching red-crowned cranes dance and sing against a backdrop of white snow is one of nature’s most beautiful spectacles. There are several places where you can see the birds that Kushiro is famous for. The best spots are Tsurui-Ito Tancho Sanctuary, Tsuruimidai, and Tancho Observation Centre at the Akan International Crane Centre – see an overview here.
We went to Tsurui-Ito which is run by the Wild Bird Sanctuary of Japan, is free to enter, and is publically accessible via bus from Kushiro. WildSide recommends it as a great spot to see these incredible birds in the wild. Feeding time is at 09:00 and 14:00 during the winter months. You can see the timetable for the bus from Kushiro here. As an alternative to staying in Kushiro itself, Tsurui is a good option as a base – particularly if you want to get there early. The nearest place to the cranes is the Hickory Wind Wilderness Lodge.
Blakiston’s fish owl – 0% of visitors (0/2) reported sightings
The good news is that Blakiston’s fish owls can be seen in Kushiro, the bad news is that you’re extremely unlikely to see one – aside from the statue at the airport! In the early 20th Century there were around 1,000 Blakiston’s in Hokkaido but this fell to around 80-100 in the 1980s. Research suggested that the population was limited by the absence of nesting holes in old trees. So conservation efforts were introduced to provide artificial nest sites. Thirty years on, these efforts seem to be having some success. The Environment Ministry now has a target of increasing the population to 200. While this is good news, it is still a challenge to see them in such a large area. If you want to see fish owls, your best bet is Washi-No-Yado in Rausu on the Shiretoko Peninsula.
Steller’s sea eagle – 50% of visitors (1/2) reported sightings
Each winter, thousands of Steller’s sea eagles migrate to the seas off Hokkaido in Japan. They gather in large numbers on the drift ice in the Sea of Okhotsk from January to February alongside large numbers of white-tailed eagles. This provides an incredible opportunity to see these birds up close and an astonishing natural spectacle. If you want to see eagles your best bet is to head to Rausu in the Shiretoko Peninsula. They can be seen in Kushiro although sightings are more sporadic. We saw one resting in the trees on the bus to Tsurui-Ito.