|Tour||Dates||Days||Group Size Limit|
|Japan: Winter Wildlife Spectacular||Thursday 20th February - Monday 2nd March 2020||12||10|
|Arasaki Cranes Extension||Monday 17th February - Thursday 20th February 2020||4||10|
- The incomparable ‘Snow Monkeys’ (Japanese Macaques) of Nagano
- Awesomely beautiful Red-crowned (or Japanese) Cranes on Hokkaido, often dancing and displaying in the snow
- Up close and personal experiences with huge Steller's Sea-Eagles and their smaller relative, the White-tailed Eagle on ice and elsewhere
- Wonderful opportunities to photograph the world's largest owl, Blakiston's Fish Owl, and a good chance for Ural Owl
- Whooper Swans amongst the snow, ice and geothermal steam of a beautiful lake
- Photogenic Red Foxes, likely including one or more that are extraordinarily fearless and approach very closely
- Handsome Sika Deer, often with snowy mountain or other attractive backdrops
- Cheeky, delightful Sables (a kind of martin) just outside one of our accommodations, alongside close-up jays, woodpeckers, nuthatches and tits
- Beautiful ducks, including Harlequin Duck, at fairly close range
- The huge concentrations of beautiful White-naped Cranes and Hooded Cranes at Arasaki, some at almost touching distance!
Spectacular is an over-used word, but the winter wonderland of Japan is a destination where the word really has meaning, a place where you will see extraordinary sights and surely take home many extraordinary wildlife images.
It is during the winter months that Japan really comes into its own, for then it plays host to some of the greatest wildlife spectacles on earth and this special wildlife photography tour provides the opportunity to experience the very best photography opportunities that Japan has to offer, including the beautiful Japanese Cranes dancing in the snows of Hokkaido, the famous ‘Snow Monkeys’ of Honshu, the huge Blakiston’s Fish Owl, hordes of gigantic Steller’s Sea Eagles and the wonderful Whooper Swans of Lake Kussharo.
Lying at the opposite end of the vast continent of Eurasia from the British Isles is the archipelago of islands that forms Japan. Westernized and yet profoundly Oriental, Japan remains an enigmatic land to westerners, few of whom know much about it beyond its shiny consumer exports. Stretching from the sub-tropics in the Ryukyus to the cool temperate latitudes in Hokkaido, these beautiful islands with their jagged and broken coastlines possess some of the most attractive scenery in eastern Asia.
A visit to upcountry Japan (the ‘real’ Japan) is an experience in itself and one that requires of the traveller a spirit of adventure and a willingness to adapt to new ways of doing things. Simple things like eating Japanese meals, sleeping on futons placed on tatami mats and bathing in an ‘ofuro’ (Japanese Bath) are very different from back home, but will be great fun if you are tolerant of cultural differences. The perceived difficulty of travelling around in a country where few people speak a foreign language of any kind is the main reason why relatively few non-Japanese wildlife photographers have explored the islands. The reality is that a superb travel infrastructure, spotlessly clean accommodations, interesting and beautifully-presented food and friendly, helpful people make a wildlife photography tour of Japan a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
Our Japan photography tour extension to the southern island of Kyushu adds something extra to our tour that is absent from virtually all other wildlife photography itineraries in Japan, the chance to experience and photograph the White-naped and Hooded Cranes spectacle at Arasaki. Far less well-known and famous than the Japanese (or Red-crowned) Cranes of Hokkaido, this is just as impressive a sight, with well over 10,000 ultra-tame and approachable wild cranes present in just one small area!
These days there are plenty of Japan winter wildlife photography tours being offered. All we can say is that we have an unsurpassed knowledge of wildlife photography in Japan, which is based on visits stretching back to 1991, long, long before most photo tour companies ever set foot in the islands. Take a look at our detailed itinerary and tour notes: we think our experience in Japan speaks for itself. If you come to Japan with Wild Images, you are going to be travelling with people who really know how to get the most out of this destination for you, whatever the conditions.
Accommodation & Road Transport
The western-style or Japanese-style hotels are of good standard. For two nights at Rausu while we photograph Blakiston’s Fish Owl, and during the extension for two nights at Arasaki, we will be staying in Japanese-style guesthouses (minshuku) to enable us to be on the spot for the photography. They will be very clean and quite comfortable, but it should be appreciated minshuku are quite simple establishments with shared bathroom facilities. Most visitors think staying at minshuku is an authentic Japanese experience that is well worth having while travelling in rural Japan, but in any event, if you want the best photographic opportunities, this has to be the way to go. Road transport is by minibus/passenger van and/or car and roads are good.
The walking effort during our Japan wildlife photography tour is easy throughout. Indeed there is only one place (the Snow Monkey reserve at Jigokudani) where there is a walk of more than 100m (100 yards) or so. At Jigokudani it is necessary to walk about 1.6 km (1 mile) from the car park to the reserve ticket office, mostly on a level path.
The weather is cool temperate zone winter conditions in the areas we visit during the main tour of our Japan wildlife photography tours. It will be cold in the Japanese Alps of Honshu and it will be cold or very cold in Hokkaido. Temperatures in the early afternoon (the warmest time) are typically from just above freezing to a few degrees below, but nighttime/early morning temperatures are typically around minus 5-10°C (14-23°F) at the Snow Monkeys and minus 5-15°C (5-23°F) in Hokkaido. It may snow at times (and snow will be lying on the ground), but the weather is predominantly dry and sunny at this season. During the optional extension, it will be quite mild (typically 9-12°C or 48-54°F in the early afternoon, 2-6°C or 36-43°F in the nighttime/early morning) in the southern island of Kyushu. Some rain or even snow is possible.
Coping with a winter photography tour in Japan
For many people, who have never experienced a winter photography tour in the temperate zone, the prospect of a winter wildlife tour to Japan is concerning. There is, however, no need to be worried that you will be regularly ‘frozen’, providing you bring the right clothing.
Proper footwear is key, as you will be standing around for long periods, not undertaking heat-generating exercise. You need to bring good quality ‘snow boots’ (as, for example, made by Baffin) so that your feet stay warm whatever the conditions. Hiking boots or rubber boots (‘wellies’) are not going to suffice unless your feet never feel the cold!
All accommodations in Japan are well heated, as are our vehicles, so you need layers you can put on and off. In our view the best plan is to have a thermal inner layer (thermal underwear) and then two or three fleeces or equivalent on your torso, topped off with a good down jacket, while you will also need thick, winter-weight trousers/pants or down trousers/pants.
Top this off with a warm hat (beanie), a muff (to protect your neck, mouth and nose if it is windy), really good insulated gloves or mittens and a thin glove for whichever hand you control your camera with (to give some protection when that thick glove or mitten is necessarily off). You also need two layers of socks (thin and thick).
Finally, if you suffer regularly from cold feet or hands, even with this equipment you may want to buy some of the chemical hand and feet warmers that are very widely available in Japan (no need to bring these with you: we will stop for some before we reach the Snow Monkeys and in Hokkaido).
If you follow these instructions you are going to stay warm and comfortable throughout your tour, and enjoy it so much more! The only exception we can really think of are the eagle boat trips off Rausu (which are of up to 2.5 hours duration), where one’s control hand does tend to get pretty cold by mid-trip, simply because the photographic action is so frenetic and there is little time to warm up that thinly-gloved hand! There is, however, a heated cabin on the boat where one can retreat to if need be.
If you use a DSLR or mirror-less camera for wildlife photography you should ideally bring telephotos (and converters) that will (with a full-frame body) cover the approximate range 100-500/600mm. However, Japan in winter is unusual among wildlife photography tours in that the great majority of situations do not need a lot of reach, so you will mostly be shooting at focal lengths (on a full frame) of between 150-300/400mm. We want to stress the importance of covering the shorter telephoto lengths of 100-200mm. If you come with nothing shorter than a 300mm prime you are going to be kicking yourself, a lot! You will also find a wide angle lens good for landscapes. There will be only limited opportunities to use a macro lens.
If you bring a good quality bridge camera (high end compact camera) it will be best if it has an optical zoom of up to 18-20x or more, combined with a reasonable wide-angle at the other end of the zoom range.
Be sure to bring plenty of spare battery power: cold weather can be an issue with batteries, which tend to discharge faster than in warmer temperatures. In addition, you are likely to take far, far more images in Japan than you expect (it truly is an amazing place for good wildlife subjects), so bring lots of memory cards! Fill-flash is possible with the Snow Monkeys if the light is dim, but please use it sparingly, for the sake of both the monkeys and other photographers.
If you would like to talk over suitable equipment, please contact our office. We will be happy to advise.
Other Wild Images photography tours featuring wildlife amidst snow and ice:
JAPAN: WINTER WILDLIFE SPECTACULAR: PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR PRICE INFORMATION
Prices are provisional
£4890, €5550, $6770, JPY738000 Tokyo/Tokyo. Deposit: 10%.
Arasaki Cranes Extension: £1390, €1580, $1930, JPY210000. Deposit: 10%.
Includes surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees. Tipping is not customary in Japan.
Also includes these flights: Tokyo-Kushiro-Tokyo, Tokyo-Kagoshima-Tokyo.
Kindly note that, to have the internal flights included at this price level, your international flights to and from Japan must be with a Oneworld alliance carrier so that you qualify for a Japan Airlines internal airpass. If you are obtaining your international flight tickets yourself you will need to liaise with our office to ensure that we have the qualifying flight details for issue of the airpass. You may, however, opt to pay the price difference applicable for using another international carrier if you wish.
Single Room Supplement: £300, €341, $416, JPY45300. Extension: £60, €68, $83, JPY9000.
The main tour single room supplement excludes two nights at the minshuku at the Blakiston’s Fish Owl location at Rausu. On request we can usually arrange for single occupancy rooms at another house situated about 10 minutes walk away. Transfer by vehicle after you finish photographing the owl in the evening will not be possible, so you will have to walk. There is no extra charge for this, but we do need to make a special request so be sure to tell our office at the time of booking if you prefer this option.
The extension single room supplement excludes the two nights at the minshuku at Arasaki. The minshuku does not charge extra for single occupancy, but the number of rooms is limited, so on some visits there are not enough available for everyone wanting single accommodation to have one. So far as is possible, priority will be given to those booking earliest.
This tour is priced in Japanese Yen. Amounts shown in Pounds Sterling, Euros and US Dollars are based on: £1 = Yen 151.0, €1 = Yen 133.0 and $1 = Yen 109.0.
Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.
JAPAN: WINTER WILDLIFE SPECTACULAR: PHOTOGRAPHY TOUR ITINERARY
Our Japan wildlife photography tour begins this morning near Haneda Airport in Tokyo (where those joining the main tour will join up with those taking the optional extension). From Haneda we will drive northwestwards to Yudanaka, situated in the beautiful Japanese Alps to the northeast of Nagano and just 10 minutes drive from the start of the Jigokudani trail, for a three nights stay. By getting away early we will miss the worst of the Tokyo traffic and be able to spend much of the day with the famous ‘Snow Monkeys’.
There are international flights into Haneda arriving early this morning, in time for the tour start, or we can book you into an hotel near the airport if you are arriving the previous day.
We will spend all of our time in and around the Jigokudani Yaen-Koen Wild Monkey Park. Although Jigokudani translates as Hell’s Valley (no doubt because of the geothermal activity), it is anything but. In this season the land is largely snow-covered, and against a dramatic backdrop we will have great fun photographing the magical ‘Snow Monkeys’. Made famous by numerous television documentaries and magazine articles, the Japanese Macaques (commonly referred to as ‘Snow Monkeys’) here are both bold and entertaining! With their thick winter coats covered in snow and ice, they squabble and chase each other over the rocky, snow-covered hillsides, perhaps pausing to climb up and play on an unattended tripod before dipping into their natural, thermally-heated ‘hot tub’ for a steamy soak! Up to a hundred or more macaques visit this incredibly scenic site and the whole experience of being in amongst these charismatic primates is quite exhilarating!
The monkeys are so used to people that they allow a very close approach indeed. At any one time only a small percentage are using the hot spring pool. Most are feeding, cuddling up for warmth, enjoying mutual grooming, looking after their babies (or carrying them on their backs), playing (especially the youngsters), warming themselves on the hot water pipes that go to the spas downstream or, occasionally, fighting or mating.
Needless to say, this is one of Japan’s truly great wildlife photography spectacles and we can expect to take far too many images before settling down to photograph the more memorable and interesting ‘snow monkey’ behaviour.
Sometimes one or more Japanese Serow (a kind of ‘goat-antelope’) appear on the brushy slope directly above the monkeys, making for an interesting photographic subject.
Just downstream from the ‘monkey park’ is a small spa (onsen), with a belching fumarole that produces a very photogenic steam cloud in the narrow valley. Here we will take lunch and guests can, if they wish (for a reasonable charge), take a dip in the outdoor ‘ofuro’ (Japanese Bath), quite possibly with some Snow Monkeys!
This morning we will drive to Haneda airport in Tokyo and take a midday flight to Kushiro airport on the northern island of Hokkaido. It is just a short drive to our hotel at Tsurui, where we will spend three nights. This afternoon we will have our first encounter with the stunning Red-crowned Cranes of Hokkaido.
Our main priority during our stay in the Kushiro region will be photographing the magnificent Red-crowned (or Japanese) Cranes, which in the winter months are concentrated in the complex of damp fields and marshlands to the north of Kushiro.
We will spend much of our time at two feeding stations, one at Tsurui and one at Akan.
By mid-morning a large flock, generally of over 100 birds (sometimes 200 or more), gathers at Tsurui, where they are regularly fed. At this season the Red-crowned (or Japanese) Cranes are dancing frequently, and as one pair begins its courtship dance the infection spreads through the flock like a wave, sometimes until dozens of striking black and white birds are leaping into the air or throwing back their heads and bugling towards heaven. It is a thrilling spectacle, and as we photograph this wonder of nature we will truly appreciate why we have come all the way to this remote corner of Japan. This is definitely one of the world’s greatest wildlife photography spectacles!
There are also opportunities here for head (and feet) close-ups, birds bugling with steam coming from their bills, flight shots (against both snowy and dark woodland backgrounds), fighting and other interactions.
The Akan feeding station, which also attracts between 100-200 cranes, offers further fantastic opportunities for crane photography, but with subtle differences. The feeding of fish to the cranes ceased here after 2016, supposedly over worries about bird flu, so the interactions between cranes and Red Foxes or White-tailed Eagles that were also attracted to the fish are now history, but the grain feed still attracts Whooper Swans, which are sometimes scared off by the exasperated reserve staff, but which offer more great photographic opportunities both in flight against the sky or snowy hills, or when on the ground.
Providing we have sunny conditions (it is not nearly as good an experience if it is cloudy), we shall spend at least one early morning at a river bridge where many of the cranes roost, hoping it is cold enough to create ideal conditions for some truly memorable photography. As steam rises from the river and the soft pink early morning light illuminates the scene, the cranes slowly wake up and begin bugling, the thick hoar frost on the riverside trees adding to the romantic atmosphere. Once the temperature creeps up, the cranes leave their roost and move off to feed, allowing for some great flight shots if the sky is blue and the trees frosty.
There is usually a roosting Ural Owl somewhere in the general area, so if there is one currently accessible we will surely go and photograph this Saturnine-faced species.
Today we will drive the short distance further north to beautiful Lake Kussharo for an overnight stay at a small and very pleasant Japanese guesthouse with western-style rooms. We will either spend the whole day at Kussharo or have much of the day there following a final morning session with the cranes, should we need to.
For wildlife photographers, the prime attraction here at this very scenic frozen lake, which is surrounded by snow-covered mountains, are the many Whooper Swans that migrate to Hokkaido, and especially Lake Kussharo, every autumn from their breeding areas in Siberia and Mongolia. Small parts of the lake are kept ice-free by geothermal activity and the swans not only have only a limited expanse of open water to swim around in, but are also fed by visitors, something that has made them very tame and approachable.
The combination of ice and snow, and sometimes falling snow, as well as steam rising from the water in the early morning, makes for some wonderful wildlife photography opportunities. The swans can be captured on the water, or on the ice, or while flying in to land, and the warm pink glow around sunrise and sunset adds to the many possibilities. Northern Pintails are also often here, adding to the photography interest.
Our guesthouse has bird feeders where White-backed, Great Spotted and Japanese Pygmy Woodpeckers visit, as well as tits, nuthatches and Hawfinches. Even Raccoon Dogs may turn up in the evening!
After spending the morning at Lake Kussharo, we will continue our journey through eastern Hokkaido to the small port town of Rausu, situated at the base of the Shiretoku peninsula on the northeast (Sea of Okhotsk) coast, for a four nights stay (two at a simple minshuku or Japanese-style guesthouse where we will be ‘on the spot’ for photographing Blakiston’s Fish Owl and two at a comfortable hotel complete with a heated outdoor ofuro or Japanese bath). We will make a stop along the way at an active volcano where the sulphur vents and fumaroles, combined with the snowy mountain scenery, make for some spectacular images.
During our time at Rausu we will have two main photographic objectives, namely the amazing Steller’s Sea Eagles and White-tailed Eagles, and the awesome Blakiston’s Fish Owl. Most of the eagles here are winter visitors from eastern Siberia, but some of the White-tailed Eagles are Hokkaido residents. Blakiston’s Fish Owl, the world’s largest owl, is resident in the Russian Far East, adjacent China and Korea, and Japan, but the only place in its range where seeing and photographing them is a practical proposition is Hokkaido.
Although conditions vary from year to year (and indeed even from day to day) there is usually some sea-ice close to Rausu in mid-February. Weather conditions permitting, we will take a total of three boat trips out from the Rausu harbour, each lasting up to 2.5 hours, for what has to be one of the most amazing adventures any wildlife photographer can participate in!
Setting off while it is still almost dark (on the early morning boat trip: we will also be going out at about 0900), we will soon be accompanied by hordes of gulls as we head over to the pack-ice on a boat laden with fish treats for our avian friends. Soon some bigger shapes appear, and as the sun rises we will be surrounded by big White-tailed Eagles and veritably enormous Steller’s Sea-Eagles! Over the next couple of hours we will be totally awestruck, watching dozens of these giant eagles eating fish, or squabbling over possession, just a few metres away, with sea ice and/or towering snow-covered peaks as a backdrop. We will get sunrise shots, action shots, flight shots (against the sunrise or the snowy mountains of the Shiretoko Peninsula) and extreme close-ups of the eagles! It really is a once-in-a-lifetime experience!
If there is no sea-ice in the area, the boats still go out, but then the eagles get fed on the harbour wall and in one of the bays instead, which is still great for ultra-close eagle photography, but not as good as when there is drift ice around.
The eagles are not the only wildlife around and we may also see some impressive Largha Seals hauled out on the ice, and rarely Orcas (Killer Whales) put in and appearance. There will also be good chances for photography of Glaucous, Glaucous-winged and Slaty-backed Gulls, and Large-billed Crows (which fly out from the mainland to steal the eagle’s food!) at close quarters, and we may find some approachable ducks, including gorgeous Harlequin Ducks, in the harbour.
For two of our nights at Rausu we will stay at a small minshuku (Japanese-style guesthouse) adjacent to a small river where the incredible Blakiston’s Fish Owl comes to fish and where we should have good opportunities to photograph this giant owl fishing at down to about 12 metres (roughly 40ft) range! The owners of the minshuku put out a few small fish for them at a floodlit pond, and it usually does not take too long before this huge owl puts in an appearance, gliding down to the edge of the pond, hopping into the water and grabbing fish! The male owl regularly comes to the pond, sometimes joined by the female (who may already be incubating) and the birds often make several visits during the course of the night, making for some exhilarating photography.
The river is also home to Brown Dippers, which are approachable and often offer good photographic opportunities as they fish from the icy margins.
Not far away to the south is the Notsuke Peninsula, a low-lying hook of land projecting into the entrance to the Sea of Okhotsk. This is a great place to photograph Red Foxes, and we are likely to come across at least one very approachable individual that could come to within a few metres!
Another prime target at Notsuke is the handsome Sika Deer and, providing it is clear and sunny, we should get some great shots of males with impressive antlers and with the snow-covered peaks of the Shiretoku in the background. Short-eared Owl is another species we could well be able to photograph in this rewarding area.
Note that the weather conditions on the northeast coast of Hokkaido are rather changeable in winter, with a lot of snow and bad visibility at times, so we have allowed plenty of time in the area to allow for some inclement weather and still have time to achieve our goals. A short visit here is decidedly risky.
This morning we will set off early in order to visit an eagle and Black Kite feeding station at Lake Furen, where there are yet more chances to photograph Steller’s Sea Eagles and White-tailed Eagles, either sitting around on the frozen lake or squabbling over the feast. The feeding station gives us a great opportunity to photograph Black Kites as they swoop in early in the feeding period to snatch titbits before too many eagles turn up. Furen is also good for clashes between eagles over food as the partly frozen chunks of fish are (initially) too large for the eagles to carry off, making for some exciting interactions. The other good thing about Furen is that it offers the chance to photograph eagles on or over snow and ice, particularly valuable if there is no drift ice at Rausu.
Afterwards we will visit one of the local harbours, where we can usually get close to beautiful Long-tailed Ducks, as well as Black Scoters and other species of ducks.
Eventually we will head for the Nakashibetsu area where we will spend the final night of the tour at a really lovely hotel, complete with onsen (Japanese spa bath) and an impressively beautiful Japanese dinner.
We will have another chance to photograph Blakiston’s Fish Owl here (from only 5 metres distance!), although the lighting is not as strong as at Rausu, and photography is through good quality glass, so action photos require very high ISO. Even more interesting for us will be the superb, sandy-coloured Sables (martins) that emerge from under the hotel’s decking and run about the area, cramming themselves into bird feeders, jumping onto trees and walls, and generally being cheeky and endearing at the same time. You can photograph them at one or two metres at times!
Other good photographic subjects include very close Eurasian Red Squirrels, Eurasian Jays, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Brown-eared Bulbuls, Eurasian Nuthatches and Coal, Marsh, Willow and Japanese Tits. The local river is home to Crested Kingfishers and even attracts Solitary Snipe, although this unusual bird is not always present.
After a final opportunity to admire and photograph the wildlife around our hotel, we will return to Kushiro airport and catch an evening flight to Tokyo (Haneda) airport, where our Japan winter wildlife photography tour comes to an end.
There are international flights out of Haneda departing later this evening or after midnight, or we can book you into an hotel near the airport if you are departing the following day.
ARASAKI CRANES EXTENSION ITINERARY
The Japan wildlife photography tour extension begins at Tokyo (Haneda) Airport with a morning flight to Kagoshima on the southern island of Kyushu. From here we will proceed to Arasaki for a two nights stay in a Japanese guesthouse (minshuku) situated right in the heart of the crane reserve. We will spend the afternoon exploring the Arasaki area.
There are international flights into Haneda arriving early this morning, in time for the tour start, or we can book you into an hotel near the airport if you are arriving the previous day.
The fallow rice paddies around Arasaki are the site of one of the largest winter gatherings of cranes in all Asia. Depending on the winter, up to 10,000 Hooded Cranes are to be found in the area, in addition to up to 3,500 superbly elegant White-naped Cranes, making for one of the world’s greatest wildlife spectacles. Indeed, the great majority of the surviving populations of these beautiful but endangered birds winter around Arasaki.
During our explorations in and around the reserve we shall enjoy some wonderful close-up photography encounters with the cranes, especially when large numbers gather directly outside the guesthouse in which we will be staying in the very heart of the reserve, or at another feeding station not far away. Here they come to feed on the large quantities of grain put out for them by the reserve staff.
At this season there is constant activity as small groups of cranes, often still in family groups, bugle energetically or dance into the air. Others form flocks and fly off, trumpeting loudly as they circle upwards before moving away to feed in the surrounding rice fields. There are great opportunities for flight shots, including at sunrise and sunset, as well as amazing close-up photography opportunities and flock shots. The White-crowned Cranes will have started to dance, so look out for this spectacular display.
We will also be on the lookout for a few Common and Sandhill Cranes that usually winter here, and we could even come across a wandering Demoiselle or Siberian Crane.
Arasaki is a good place to get great flight shots of Black Kites and some of the wintering ducks and gulls allow a close approach. There are also opportunities to photograph passerines such as Pale and Dusky Thrushes, Daurian Redstart, Meadow Bunting and the huge-billed Japanese Grosbeak.
After spending much of the morning photographing the cranes and other birds of Arasaki, we will return to Kagoshima airport and catch a mid-afternoon flight to Tokyo’s Haneda airport. We will stay overnight at an hotel near the airport.
This morning we meet up with those arriving for the main tour. (This is Day 1 of the main tour.)
Mike Watson lives in East Lancashire with his Hungarian partner Évi and their son Alexander. His first career was with NatWest bank, where he eventually became a branch manager in Hertfordshire and later Norfolk, but he wisely decided to make a career change and became a key member of the Wild Images team.
Mike has travelled very widely in search of wildlife over the last 30 or more years, visiting many countries. His areas of expertise include much of Europe (north to Iceland and Svalbard or Spitsbergen), the Middle East, the United States, Brazil’s Pantanal, southern Africa, Madagascar, India and Antarctica. In addition to his role as Client Manager for Wild Images, Mike has also guided many tours for Wild Images to destinations that span the globe.
Mike has been an avid photographer for more than 25 years and spends most of his spare time with camera in hand. A keen wildlife enthusiast since childhood, his sharp eyes will surely ensure some great wildlife encounters!
Mike is a very approachable guide and always enjoys sharing his photographic knowledge with participants on his tours and makes sure that his group members’ photographic needs are paramount. You can check out some of Mike’s work on his website, mikewatsonfoto.com
Chikara Otani lives on the western fringes of the Tokyo conurbation. Passionately interested in all aspects of nature since his early years, he spent some time at school in England before setting off on travels which have taken him throughout the world in pursuit of wildlife.
He currently works as a freelance environmental consultant, specializing in raptors. He also has an in-depth knowledge of the flora and fauna of the entire Japanese archipelago. He is a keen wildlife photographer himself and has had the opportunity to photograph birds and other wildlife in every corner of the islands.
Having him present gives our Japan tours a great advantage. Otani-san not only ensures that tour logistics go smoothly in what can be a tricky country for overseas visitors, but his deep knowledge of where to find different photographic subjects means that he can turn up those much-valued extras that others miss out on. He is also a fascinating mine of information about Japanese life, culture and history that participants much appreciate.