We have an offer that might entice you to join our Japanese Winter Wildlife Photography Holiday in February 2019; this is early-bird pricing for a single-occupancy room … you can book a place for £4999 each instead of £5249! We’ve managed to lower the pricing due to speaking with hotels & renegotiating our rates for rooms – & we’re passing those savings on to our clients.
You can join us & spend time with the gorgeous snow monkeys as shown in this post, also several days with the red-crowned cranes & the whooper swans, & four days focussed on stellers sea eagles & white-tailed sea eagles on our six boat trips & also at a couple of other locations.
You can book now & hold your place with 20% deposit only! That is £1000 now, with the balance due in November 2018.
I was excited when I was asked to co-guide the NaturesLens Winter Wildlife of Japan photography holiday. Japan is a country I’ve often thought of visiting, intrigued by the culture &, of course, the wildlife. How big a culture shock would it be? The holiday is primarily based on the Northern-most island, Hokkaido, which is very rural & nothing like the famous image of Japan as a land of teeming masses & neon signs.
There are gently rolling hills, extensive flatlands, & mountains, all snow-covered in February. The people are incredibly friendly & the accommodation clean & welcoming. Of course, there are cultural differences. You need to be a bit adventurous with the food; full of taste & always immaculately presented. A science degree & operator’s manual is required to ‘fully appreciate’ the WC! Not to forget the onsen – hot bath – one of life’s sublime pleasures after a day out in the cold.
The first port of call for two nights was the Tsurui area, with the focus on the Red-Crowned Cranes. An early start was needed to bag a good place on the Otowa Bridge to glimpse the birds at roost in the river & flying off for the day searching for food in the surrounding fields.
The local farmers see the cranes as a considerable asset & manage their land to ensure the cranes’ survival.
After a late & hearty breakfast, we visited the Ito Tancho Crane Sanctuary where there were hundreds of the birds. We were able to capture them close up & displaying typical societal behaviour, including the ‘dancing’, an attempt to establish status in the crowd. Moving on from Tsurui, we paid a passing visit to the Akan International Crane Centre, which presented further opportunities to capture the cranes in a different environment, & to visit the interpretative centre.
A short drive further brought us to our next stop & another cultural assault on the senses. What an excellent hotel; the rooms are a cross between Western & Japanese traditional style, with all mod-cons but the beds lower to the ground. The food was a masterful display of Japanese catering at its best. The hotel lobby has fire pits for warmth & a full height/width window looking out on the adjacent river valley where wildlife abounds. A Blakiston’s Fish Owl visits each evening & other wildlife observed included fox, stoat, Eurasian Jay, Eurasian Nuthatch, Eurasian Blackcap, & Brown-eared Bulbul, all in about half an hour. Our photographic destination was Lake Kussharo to seek out the Whooper Swans. They proved a little elusive but we did successfully track them down. We also paid a visit to the scenic Lake Mashu, a caldera lake high in the mountains.
Moving on, we headed for Rausu on the Northwest peninsular of Hokkaido, for what, for many, was the avian highlight of the trip. The sea eagles, both Stellers & White-Tailed.
Our base was another Daiichi with a pleasing choice of indoor & outdoor onsen.
Early starts were again the order of the day to meet up with our wildlife cruise boat. This was preceded by a rapid trip to the convenience store for breakfast essentials, including (you’d better believe it) cans of hot coffee. Weird but very welcome, given the temperature of -11°C with a windchill down to -23°C! The boat, though, has a warm cabin to retreat to for respite.
For the next three days, we were out in local waters for about 5 hours each morning. We were treated to fishing displays by the Steller’s Sea Eagle & White-tailed Sea Eagle at sea, at sunrise, on pancake ice in the harbour, & on drift ice further out to sea. The birds were so close to the boat that a medium length lens was sufficient. The portrait image of the Steller on the sea ice is uncropped!
An unexpected bonus was a small pod of orca transiting south in search of food. The boat crew go to great lengths to get their passengers close to the action.
Heading a little further south, we took in an area on the south-east of the island for a day to catch both types of eagle & Black-eared Kites as they scrabbled for the daily feed of frozen fish. The eagles command the frozen surface & jealously guard the fish. However, the kites are good scavengers & successfully get their share. The eagles stomp around the ice looking for food, providing an opportunity for unusual images. We also got lucky with visits from 4 foxes.
Leaving Hokkaido, we flew to Tokyo for a night before the drive north-west to the Nagano area to photograph the Snow Monkeys at Yudanaka. The hotel is right at the start of the trail up to the monkeys, & is traditional. This meant tatami mats on the room floor & sleeping on a futon – an unusual concept, but I slept well. The host was attentive & provided still more sumptuous food at each meal. Visiting the monkeys in their thermal spa involves a half hour walk uphill. Not steep but ice spikes needed to maintain a sound footing,
It’s possible to get very close to the monkeys, correctly known as the Japanese Macaque. But like many primates, they will take any opportunity to explore bags, especially if they can sense food! Portraits are the order of the day, with other opportunities to capture family behaviour & experiment with high key imagery.
That was it. Almost two weeks of excellent wildlife images, a new culture, excellent food & good company.
Did I enjoy it? Well, let’s say that I am really looking forward to going back in 2019.
Why not join us & experience for yourself the beauty of Japan’s culture & wildlife?
Photograph the Winter Wildlife of Japan for yourself
To photograph the charismatic winter wildlife of Japan for yourself, join David Miles & Ian Roberts, members of the NaturesLens guiding team, in Japan during February 2019 for a trip lasting 13 nights; this photography holiday will offer you the opportunity to capture images of the red-crowned crane, snow monkey, steller’s sea eagle, white tailed sea eagle, whooper swan, plus more; the NaturesLens Winter Wildlife of Japan Photography Holiday is offered on a half board, non-shared room basis, & costs typically £5249 per participant, but there are several early-bird places available priced at £4999.
An & her husband Peter joined us on our Winter Wildlife of Japan photography holiday last year. Below are some of the images that she kindly sent to us to share…
One of the reasons for visiting Hokkaido is to witness the dance of the Red-Crowned Cranes. An was lucky enough to be able to isolate this pair of cranes as they performed their ritual dance. I love this image as it reminds me of a couple of prima ballerinas.
During December 2017, I was lucky enough to spend some time with the Wildcats, Eagles & Lynx of Spain; this was preparation for a trip that we were researching to add to our portfolio. Once again, I visited Spain in the hope of capturing some images of the elusive Iberian lynx. This wasn’t the first time that we have attempted to launch a photography trip focussed on these subjects. My initial attempt was back in January 2016, but unfortunately, it was unsuccessful for a variety of reasons, not least the lack of sightings.
I arrived in Sierra Morena hoping to be lucky as the reports I had been receiving was that lynx had been spotted in the areas on a regular basis. I arrived too late to go into the lynx hide so spent the afternoon chatting with my host about the species I hoped to photograph to see if we could turn this into a potential photography tour for the guests of NaturesLens – over the next few hours, the plan for the Wildcats, Eagles & Lynx of Spain was formed.
Our host has been working on his lynx project for some years & the area is now home to a more Iberian lynx than Doñana National Park with excellent, regular sightings.
The following morning, I rose early to visit the Imperial Spanish Eagle hide. As soon as the sun rose, to my surprise, a Golden Eagle appeared on the large rock to my right. I watched this magnificent raptor feed for a short while, to allow it to settle before I started taking images.
Elsewhere, we have covered the wide variety of bird species that you might encounter on the Polish Winter Wildlife Tour, including Goshawks, BuzzardsWhite-Tailed Sea Eagles & Woodpeckers, in addition to the days spent in hides, two days are spent traversing the Białowieża Forest, locating & photographing the European Bison, that call Białowieża home.
The other mammal that is commonly seen & can be photographed within Białowieża, is the Red Fox, it can often be found near to the feeding sites, as these beautiful creatures want to scavenge food that is available.
DO YOU WANT TO CAPTURE IMAGES OF THE POLISH WILDLIFE FOR YOURSELF?
We have a photography tour that is to be run at the end of January 2018, this is an opportunity for you to undertake photography of the wildlife of the Białowieża Forest, including the European Bison, for yourself; the photography holiday costs£1499 each participant, this priceexcludes air travel to Warsaw itself – all ground transportation from Warsaw & back, & to & from shoot locations, accommodation & guidance/tuition is included, the dates for the NaturesLens Polish Winter Wildlife Photography Holiday are January 21 – 28, 2018.
To hold a place on the trip, we only require a 20% deposit from you, with the balance due 12 weeks prior to the trip taking place.
Back in April, David, one of our clients, not one of our leaders, visited our latest location for bird photography in Sierra Morena, Spain. The site offered the opportunity to capture images of different bird species from those on our Birds of Calera tour such as Crossbills & the majestic Golden Eagle.
Perhaps the biggest surprise of the trip was when the lucky occupants of one of the hides witnessed a Golden Eagle fighting with a fox! This is just one image from that memorable encounter.
David told us “Once again the trip was very well arranged. The permanent hides were the best I have ever used. They were all brick built & had toilets while the temporary ones were very large dome hides with artificial turf floors. Thanks once again for another enjoyable trip.”
The unexpected visits by the red fox certainly made this trip rather special & one to remember.
WOULD YOU LIKE TO PHOTOGRAPH THE BIRDS OF SPAIN FOR YOURSELF IN 2018?
For 2018, NaturesLens have already planned a duo of Spanish Bird Photography Holidays that can be joined together to form one seamless opportunity to add a plethora of photos of the birds of Spain to your portfolio – or you can attend the separate events individually – the two events are the Spanish Raptors Photography Holiday followed the next week by Spanish Birds of Calera Photography Holiday.
The moment we see the last client off when we’ve ended one of our photography holidays, usually sees us both breathe a sigh of relief, & the end of the recent Alaska Photography Holiday was no different; that point has normally been reached only by planning over a period of several years, by having planned contingency plans & contingency plans for contingency plans; at that juncture, we can perform the final few tasks to wrap the tour up, one of these is to send an email thanking our clients for their participation & inviting them to contribute some images that they captured whilst away with us, to our blog – we love showing off what clients achieve as we feel it is a good measure for other clients to see what can be captured in the relatively short time frame of one of our holidays.
So when our clients send in images or thank us via email we beam from cheek to cheek – it’s even more awesome when we receive a testimonial like this, from Jayne, regarding our Bald Eagles of Alaska Photography Holiday:
“Back home after a fabulous 10 days in Alaska. Been up for about 30 hours so it’s going to be an early night but just wanted to say anyone thinking about a wildlife photographic holiday I can’t recommend NaturesLens highly enough. Every detail is covered to make sure we have the best photographic opportunities & we always have a great laugh together. Thank you David Miles & Pui Hang Miles for everything you do.”
Jayne first published a blog posting of her own, with her recollections of the trip, you can read that blog posting here, then she sent us a selection of different images again, also of the Alaskan Bald Eagles, for us to publish on our blog – so here are those images:
As Jayne mentions on her own blog posting, the main focus of our Bald Eagles of Alaska Photography Holiday is, rather obviously, the Bald Eagles & so these first photos show the varied behaviour of these amazing birds – all up & down the Chilkat valley & the river that has carved it’s course through the mountains, eagles will be found; they fish the chumming salmon from the river & feast on the bloated fish on the banks of the frozen river, upon landing a fish or ‘liberating’ it from another bird, the adult bald eagles typically throw their head back & bark into the air, showing their dominance & announcing that they are the ‘top of the tree’.
Typically this dominance is short lived, other eagles will swoop in & attempt, in the case of the juvenile eagles, to intimidate the current fish-holder off the fish via a series of low-level swoops; in the case of the adult versus adult, the swoops are far more brutal, often resulting in contact & one bird being slammed to the ground.
It is not just eagle versus eagle contact that the fish-holder has to contend with, ravens constantly dot the river banks waiting to challenge for scraps of fish.
Often times, the bald eagle will become so annoyed with the developing situation that he will take off with the fish & fly elsewhere to finish the meal.
Often times, between meals or whilst waiting for another eagle to land a fish, the eagles perch & pose, fly around & land, all on washed up trees & drift wood that has been swept downstream by the Chilkat river.
Like many of our photography holidays that mention a specific species in the title, the bald eagles were the main focus of the NaturesLens Bald Eagles of Alaska Photography Holiday, but many other species were spotted in the Chilkat Eagle Reserve & two further days allow participants to expand their portfolio out to further topics or species.
Many of our clients produce calendars or photo books after a trip & a variety of images make these ‘pop’. So for one day, the group was offered the chance to head across the border into British Columbia & the Yukon for some high altitude landscape photography.
For another couple of days, Jayne & several others took the opportunity to visit the Kroschel Wildlife Centre, this is not a game farm like many of the ‘wildlife centres’ in the USA are, the centre takes in orphaned or injured animals from across Alaska, the owner, Steve, frequently gets calls from vets all over Alaska & is asked if he can rehome a certain species. The centre is ‘home’ to a wide variety of animals including bear, wolverine, lynx, porcupine, red fox & wolves, some of which are shown in images, captured by Jayne, below:
Whilst 2017 is too busy to prompt a return to the Chilkat Valley of Alaska & the wonderful wildlife that exists within this harsh environment, NaturesLens will be returning to Haines in 2018 or 2019 – if you would like to join us on for another Alaskan Photography Holiday, send us a message & we will add you to a list of interested clients.
Late November 2016 saw the inaugural NaturesLens Bald Eagles of Alaska Photography Holiday to South East Alaska to photograph the Bald Eagle ‘Council’. The ‘Council’ is the annual gathering of thousands of Bald Eagles on the shores of the Chilkat River to feed up for Winter on the late run of Chum or ‘Dog’ Salmon. NaturesLens based the photography holiday in Haines, a small town on the Alaskan coast – & it would be difficult to find a friendlier place.
As usual David & PN had sorted out all the travel & accommodation detail &, in addition to their presence, we enjoyed the company of 2 local guides, Joe & Thomas, both of whom know the area intimately & are accomplished photographers in their own right. The omens were therefore well set for finding the best sites for capturing images of the main subject for this holiday, the Bald Eagles of Alaska.
The scenery of the Alaskan ‘panhandle’ is the stunning product of glaciation – high snow-covered mountains & deep, wide valleys. We journeyed in from Juneau by ferry, which enabled us to take in the scenery at a leisurely pace & also to acclimatise to the temperatures (cold or, alternatively, bloody freezing, if you choose to go on deck at 0∘C when travelling at 15 knots). For much of the journey, we were glad to be scenery peepers from the comfort of the lounge!
There’s not a lot of usable daylight in Alaska in November so, having breakfasted in our comfortable apartment rooms, we usually set out soon after 7am to get to the prime Bald Eagle viewing sites. We became intimately familiar with the ‘pull-outs’ on the Highway North West of Haines. One because it was a good starting site & a second because it had a loo (don’t get too excited – no water, no heating, no warm seat (unless you got in fast after the last occupant!)).
The daily morning challenge became to balance high ISO against available light to get images which were not too grainy, but in which the birds were sharp. Later as the light improved, the sites were beautifully side lit by sunrise, leading to some stunning golden tinged imagery. The hunt was always on for the iconic images – low flying over the river with wing-tip grazing the water, the mid-air ‘L’ shape, & the fights over fish. We moved around freely, picking sites down at water level or alternatively high on the bank to get the best vantage points. There was sufficient space for everyone, even when organised groups converged with the many independent photographers on a particular highlight.
The weather varied from dry & bright to overcast to falling snow. The latter was particularly challenging as, whilst it gave us atmospheric images, autofocus tended to lock onto the snowflakes rather than the birds. On the other hand, we had some star birds that took up a stance in a nearby tree at an accessible height, & were very tolerant of the surrounding throng on cameras.
As the good light was generally over by 2pm (it was dark by 4pm), lunch was usually a snack & the evening meal was taken early in keeping with American custom.
It was off-peak season in Haines so the choice of eateries was limited but nonetheless no disappointment. Of course, the cuisine leaned towards archetypal American influenced international, but a local Bakery became a firm favourite with both a Thai & American menu. The fact that it’s run by a crazy, fun Thai lady was the added bonus. We were there for the Thanksgiving weekend – a family holiday with most of the shops closed. Nevertheless, the Bakery whipped up a takeaway Thanksgiving Supper for us, & the hotel kindly let us use a Conference Room so we could sit down together. A further highlight for the connoisseur of international imbibition, was the micro-brewery right next door to the hotel. A peculiarity of local licensing laws was that it could not operate as a bar; however, it was permitted to allow ‘tasting’ so long as no-one consumed more than the equivalent of 3 pints in any 12 hour period! There’s also a gin distillery but we never quite made it that far.
The photography was not all about bald eagles though; some of the group took the opportunity to travel over the border into Canada & the Yukon interior where there was plenty of opportunity for landscapes & cloudscapes, & we even came across 3 moose, although the grab shots did not do them justice.
There is also the Kroschel Wildlife Sanctuary, with examples of Alaskan fauna such as Red Fox, Grizzly Bear, Wolverine, Wolf, Pine Marten & Silver Fox. The animals are all orphans or rescue who would otherwise not have had a future. They live in large free-range enclosures & are habituated to their handler, but other than that they are ‘wild’ & many have been stars in wildlife documentaries. The enclosures are constructed to facilitate photography & this was a good opportunity to get close to animals that are either seldom seen or only from afar.
Our departure day was due to include half a day’s photography before a charter flight out to Juneau. However, an imminent storm meant we were called urgently to the airport & managed to ‘escape’ shortly before the weather arrived, dumping over a foot of snow.
I mentioned this was the inaugural Bald Eagles of Alaska photography tour, the implication being that there will be others. David & PN have confirmed this, although the dates are not yet set. Nevertheless, if you’re interested in capturing these iconic birds, in a stunning location & a fun atmosphere, let them know.