Japan: Part Two — Whooper Swans

After several days of  photographing and observing the fascinating Snow Monkeys on Japan’s mainland, which I wrote about in the first part of this blog series, our small band of photographers flew from Tokyo to the northern island of Hokkaido, where we expected to see a variety of wildlife, including Whooper Swans, Japanese Cranes, foxes, deer and sea eagles.

Like much of Japan, Hokkaido is seismically active. Consequently, hot springs and volcanic vents can be found all across the island. Lake Kussharo, an inland lake in the western region of Hokkaido, is a caldera lake, a remnant of a long-ago erupted volcano. Its violent, seismic past is evident even today, with natural hot springs bubbling up along its shoreline, heating both the water and sandy shores. It is here where the Whooper Swans gather to find refuge from Hokkaido’s brutally cold winters.

"Winter Refuge" — Along the shores of Lake Kussharo, warm water bubbles from hot springs, keeping the lake's ice sheet at bay and providing critical refuge for the wintering swans.
“Winter Refuge” — Along the shores of Lake Kussharo, warm water bubbles from hot springs, keeping the lake’s ice sheet at bay and providing critical refuge for the wintering swans.
Union
“Union” — Whooper Swans mate for life, and often can be observed traveling in pairs.

In small flocks, they gather along narrow stretches of the lake’s warm water, which is heated by the gurgling hot springs that lay between the shore and the ice sheet that covers the remainder of the lake. Whooper Swans are enormous birds, with wingspans up to 9 feet and weighing upwards of 25 pounds. They are so big, in fact, that their legs cannot support them for long periods of time, so they need open water not only to feed but to rest.

Morning-Slumber
“Morning Slumber” — Because these birds are so large, their legs cannot support them for long periods of time on solid ground. They need open water to not only to feed but to rest.
Airtime
“Airtime” — Whooper swans can migrate hundreds or even thousands of miles to their wintering sites in southern Europe and eastern Asia.

In the air, they are strong, graceful flyers, winging effortlessly in perfect synchronicity. But on the ground, they waddle. They squabble and scrap among each other, sometimes singling out and brutally attacking other swans. Fortunately, no one seems to get seriously hurt during these encounters. Like other swan species, Whooper Swans form monogamous pair bonds that last for many years, and in many cases, these bonds can last for life. You often see them traveling in family groups, with their signets, light gray in color, in tow.

Landing-Gear-Down
“Landing Gear Down” — The transition from air to ground is not always graceful. Usually upon landing, there is much ado among the flock as the newcomers integrate with the rest of the swans.
Airborne
“Airborne” — Swans are the envy of aeronautical engineers. They can perform remarkable aerial acrobatics, twisting their body and flapping their powerful wings while keeping their head completely still.
"Swan Lake" — Lake Kussharo provides an important refuge and resting area for the swans. Volcanic gases render the lake water acidic, and it supports few fish except in areas where inflowing streams dilute the water, but the swans eat small plants and other aquatic animals.
“Swan Lake” — Lake Kussharo provides an important refuge and resting area for the swans. Volcanic gasses render the lake water acidic, and it supports but few fish in areas where inflowing streams dilute the water, but the swans eat small plants and other aquatic animals.
White-on-White
“White on White” — White swans against a white sky during a snowstorm. The birds were barely visible as they approached, but you certainly heard them coming!

4 Comment

  1. Rigo Romero says: Reply

    an extraordinary job! congratulations Charlotte

    1. charlottegibb says: Reply

      Thanks, Rigo!

  2. Beautiful high key work!

    1. charlottegibb says: Reply

      Thank you, Phil!

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