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Saturday, September 30, 2006


On 22 September I flew from London to Tokyo to stay for a few days with nephew Jack and his wife Miki. The first two days were spent acclimatising in Tokyo where a number of Japanese bird species were found in local parks.

Jack and Miki in Tokyo

One of the main objectives of the trip was to fly up to the north island of Hokkaido to find the endangered iconic Japanese Red-crowned Crane, famous for their spectacular dancing courtship displays. Thanks to Jack's organisation, the flights to Hokkaido were flawless and within minutes of landing in Kushiro we had found the cranes' captive breeding centre where close views of the rare birds in breeding pens were seen. However, to be really meaningful, it was necessary to observe the species "wild".

Japanese Red-crowned Crane

Fortunately one of the keepers knew of a pair that was feeding in a freshly-mown meadow a few miles away and he kindly guided us to the location. To see these spectacular birds (once reduced to a mere handful of wild pairs) free and wild was a truly moving experience.

Jack had also organised a private interview with one of the staff of the International Crane Research Centre where we were given a slide show reviewing the development of the research on crane conservation and treated to a guided tour round the centre.

The remaining time on Hokkaido was spent exploring the coastline of the island where interesting birds like the colourful Harlequin Duck were found, and local villagers were harvesting and drying kelp seaweed to sell.

Villagers harvesting seaweed on Hokkaido
On the final morning, we flew back down to Tokyo where I said farewell to Jack who set me on the monorail for the airport for departure to Australia, the next phase of my trip.

My grateful thanks to Jack and Miki for their warm hospitality.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Ghent: the "Venice of Flanders"

This month (September 6-8) I paid a flying visit (literally, Ryanair, Prestwick - Brussels Charleroi) to Belgium to catch up with architect Viviane who was helpful in finding information about roof designs in my recent research on House Sparrows. Arrival in Ghent on a perfect autumn afternoon called for a guided canal boat trip where most of the important waterside buildings (for example the former Guildhouse of the League of Grain Dryers) was pointed out.

Ghent: City of waterways. Note the impressive Guildhouse of the League of Grain Dryers, left centre

In the evning I was directed to an excellent bar/restaurant, a few minutes walk away from the expensive tourist watersides, where good local food at a reasonable price is to be had, namely at the Eetkaffee De Lieve, Sint-Margrietstraat 1.

After eating it was an opportunity to locate my favourite bar in continental Europe, to be found on the waterside at Café Gouden Mandeke, Lucas Geysen, Pensmarkt 9, for a couple of glasses of Leffe Blond.

The best bar in Contenental Europe? Probably.

Thursday morning was spent visiting Viviane's antique doll booth in the market and inspecting one of the splendid buildings she is helping to rennovate. The fine afternoon called for only one activity, namely a two hour cruise in a self-drive boat down the river. My final evening was spent sightseeing in the city amongst the impressive towers, ending up in the aforementioned restaurant and bar but, with the prospect of an early start for the airport the next morning, I confined myself to hot chocolate. Honest!

Ghent: City of the Three Towers