The Blakiston's Fish Owl
Here we go...
I’m backlogging SB and my experiences from our Hokkaido trip on from April/May 17 trip. I’ve started with this write-up on this elusive owl which I had written awhile ago.
The largest living species of owl, this species can be found in eastern Hokkaido, with a concentrated population in the Rausu area.
Information shared to us by fellow campers told us that there were only 140+ of this species of owl remaining on the island, although this population is not limited to the disputed island of Kunashir (which is also within view from Rausu side of the Shiretoko peninsular) and also the neighbouring country, Russia.
We first came to know about this owl from the bird watching cafe in Chitose, where the pictures of this mysterious bird was displayed. We thought it’s bright orange iris with black pupil was beautiful. As we drove further northeast of Hokkaido, we knew of a hut in Rausu that had the best chance of seeing this owl as the the stream of river in front of the hut is their common fishing spot. Of course, sightings were not guaranteed.
So on the 1st May, we camped in the kerosene heated hut for 9hrs. It appeared once after dusk at 7pm+, and once before dawn, at 3am+. We did not managed to get pictures at 7pm+ as the owl had appeared while we were negotiating for 2 places for the night. A fellow photographer was kind to let us have a space beside him. We gave him cookies as a gratitude for his gesture, and he gave us a packet of 7-eleven fruit cakes for breakfast (which we slowly enjoyed during our road trip). There were 8 people in the hut for the night. There were photographers coming from Tokyo, Asahikawa, etc, to come and see them.
While I was getting hot ocha from the water dispenser for us to keep awake, SB saw the owl swooping in to the stream of river. Everyone jolted awake and sounds of chairs moving and camera shutters going off energized the recovery from the sleepy night. The owl had grey white feathers with black accentuations. The owl had visited again, for about 3 minutes. It had swooped in silently to fish. Alert and cautiously, it fished, jumping and extending it’s wings within the round pond much to the delight of the photographers who had camped the night. SB told me that maybe we were the only ones interested in snapping pictures when the owl was stationary. We laughed. Not that we didn’t want to, but the stationary birds provided a better opportunity of a clear shot due to the limitations of the camera’s shutter speed in capturing motion. Pictures of birds in flight were like a prize, but, that was secondary.
With a soft fluttering sound, the owl returned back to the woods, probably to sleep after having a good meal.
We exited the hut with kerosene smell on our clothes, feeling groggy, happy and amazed to see another beautiful creature in our biodiversity.