I remember seeing the first images of Japan in winter around 10 years ago, but I had no knowledge of the country and very little idea about the wildlife. However, at the start of 2019 I was asked whether I would like to lead Wildlife
Worldwide’s inaugural photography tour to the country, during the snowy winter months, focusing on red-crowned cranes, Steller’s sea eagles and of course the much-loved Japanese macaques (or snow monkeys).
Firstly, if you decide to visit Japan, I can’t recommend Japan Airlines enough - they were truly exceptional. The majority of Japan’s wildlife is concentrated along the main island’s central spine or on some of the smaller, wilder islands such as Hokkaido. This is where my group spent the majority of their time, on the beautiful snowy island of Hokkaido.
We had wonderful sightings of whooper swan and red-crowned cranes during the first couple of days on the island. We had the chance to see a pair of Ural owls in the nearby forests and numerous woodland birds (many of which are recognisable to those from Europe). For me though, the species I was most looking forwards to seeing was the impressive Steller’s sea eagle. Let’s just say I wasn’t going to be disappointed …
We didn't have the best light for our time in Japan, particularly with the cranes - it was either too gloomy or too bright. Fussy photographers are a pain, but it does make such a big difference. It was really gloomy for my time with the swans, so I didn't really get anything worthwhile, but it was lovely just to watch them.
After our time in the island's volcanic interior, it was time to head to the coast in search of Steller's and white-tailed eagle.
After heading out in to the see ice to photograph the eagles, we headed south towards a frozen lake for more eagle photography. There was also an opportunity to enjoy the glorious birdlife around a traditional onsen. The highlights here were the Japanese pygmy woodpecker, the Japanese sable (a member of the marten family) and the Blakiston's fish owl (the largest owl in the world).
After an amazing week on the island of Hokkaido, enjoying the snowy conditions and stunning wildlife, it was time to head back to Tokyo. We spent a night in Tokyo before heading into the main island's centre to the city of Nagano. To be more precise we headed to the town of Yamanouchi, the perfect place to base ourselves for photographing the famed 'snow monkeys' or as they should be known, Japanese macaques. Sadly, there was a bit of a heat wave in the mountains and snow was rather lacking for the most part.
So what can I say about Japan. Well, quite simply, it is fantastic. Don't expect to be on your own, there will nearly always be other people about, but it is still somewhere I recommend highly. For the opportunities to see Steller's sea eagles alone it is worth it. Be sure to join on Wildlife Worldwide's Japan's Winter Wildlife photography tour.
My first photography tour of 2018 was to the beautiful country of Slovenia. In the middle of May, I took 8 clients with me to the Dinaric Alps, where everyone was hoping to photograph brown bear. This was Wildlife Worldwide's Brown Bear Photography tour.
Now I need to make something clear from the start, Slovenia is one of Europe's hidden gems. It is a country filled with history, stunning landscapes and fabulous wildlife. To top it all off, the food is fantastic.
Slovenia's Dinaric Alps, in the southern reaches of the country, are home to between 700 and 800 bear, one of Europe's most important populations. This karst landscape, filled with caves, disappearing rivers and lakes, also supports and array of other species including Ural owl, beech marten and even wolf.
This trip was focused on the bears and the Ural owl, with of course the stunning mountains, wild flower meadows and charming villages as a wonderful backdrop. Over the course of the next 6 days we were treated to some superb encounters and all of the clients managed to capture some excellent images.
After a great first night in the hides we went in search of the Ural owls and were blessed with some great encounters. Slovenia is home to the highest density of breeding Ural owl in Europe, so with a bit pf persistence, you can often come away with some good photography.
The karst limestone landscape is famed for its caves and Slovenia is no different. If you read my last blog post on Slovenia (from last year), you will have seen that I visited Križna jama - a beautiful cave filled with water. We journey a few kilometres underground and explore the remarkable caverns and their unique rock formations.
Of course, for most people it is all about the bears and that was this unique trip is all about. So all of the group spent the majority of their afternoons in the hides, waiting for the bears to show themselves.
As you can see from all of the images above, Slovenia offers something very different from other bear watching destinations and it really is quite magical.
If you would like to join me on this amazing trip in 2019 then please head over to Wildlife Worldwide and find out more.
The small country of Slovenia is home to some of Europe’s most stunning vistas, from the towering peaks of the Alps, the picture postcard city centre of Ljubljana, to the forest covered hills and mountains of the Dinaric Karst.
It is when you dig a little deeper, exploring the country’s sprawling forests that the true magic of Slovenia is properly revealed. These wonderful forests, a mixture of pine and beech, hide some of Europe’s finest wildlife – a population of brown bears. With the help of Slovenian Bears, it is possible to spend your evenings enjoying fantastic bear encounters from the comfort of purpose-built hides.
I spent the vast majority of my time in the Notranjska region, home to the country’s core population of bears, but the area is also filled with incredible caves and other features typical of a limestone karst landscape. I managed to explore the incredible cave network of Križna Jama, travelling up to 4km along the water filled passages, and the delights of Lake Cerknica, the largest intermittent lake in the world.
The beautiful meadows are filled with wild flowers, including an array of delicate orchids, the copses are alive with the sound of birdsong while in the forests the call of the Cuckoo resonates through the trees. For the lucky few, an encounter with the striking Ural Owl is certainly one of the region’s avian highlights, with up to one pair every square kilometre this surely one of the best places to see them in Europe.
In reality though, I went to Slovenia for the bears. With between 400-700 bears in this small country, there is a very good chance that you can have superb encounters over the space of a few days. I have to admit I was unsure of what Slovenia would be like for bear watching and particularly in regards to the photographic opportunities, but I needn’t have worried … my 5 nights flew by with countless bear sightings.
Sitting in the comfort of the hides, waiting and willing for a bear to appear through the sea of trees is a thrill in itself. Every noise has you on the edge of your seat, a crack of a twig – it must be a bear? No, it is just a family of Jays bounding across the forest floor. The alarm call of a Blackbird rings loudly in your ears, but still no bear appears. But then, in complete silence the first bear comes into view, a young bear tentative in its approach, aware of those watching and waiting in the hide. After a few minutes though the youngster relaxes and goes about its business, only pausing to check that there is no immediate danger. After a few minutes the bear’s ears go up, the nose starts to twitch and the eyes focus on something I cannot see. Then over a rocky outcrop, two more bears appear, both with a golden hue to their coats and walking purposefully towards the hides. Now three bears are within only 20 metres of the hide, the two new arrivals keeping their distance from the first individual and all of them ignoring the deep thud of camera shutters firing as they go about their business.
This was just my first evening in one of the many hides on offer, and what a great introduction it was. I hope to be heading back to Slovenia later this year to try my luck again, so you can expect another flurry of images over by the autumn.
Here is an array of other images captured during the following nights.
If you are thinking of a long weekend away filled with wildlife (particularly bears), I can highly recommend this beautiful and welcoming country.
I am already planning a return visit to the area and hope to operate a photography tour in 2018 with Wildlife Worldwide.