Wintry Japan, February 2018: Swan Lake (Part 6)

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Swan Lake lives!

So idyllic, it doesn’t seem real (Lake Kussharo in winter snow, Hokkaido, Japan)


We spent a picture perfect morning at Lake Kussharo.  It was snowing when we arrived.  Whooper swans (Cygnus cygnus) were clustered in a tree-framed steaming cove of the otherwise frozen lake. They are named for their distinctive honking call and are the Eurasian counterpart to the North American trumpeter swan.  They are relatively heavy for flying birds, limiting the time growing swans can be supported by their legs.  They spend much of their time swimming, foraging for fish or aquatic plants.

Whooper swans are the national bird of Finland and are featured on the Finnish 1 Euro coin, facts I failed to note during my one and only trip to Helsinki last summer.  This does give an indication of the migratory feats of these strong flyers, which range widely and breed across northern Eurasia.

The whooper swans at Lake Kussharo in Hokkaido can be closely approached. A youngster (left) has darker feathers than the snowy white adults.

Whooper swans in Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido, Japan in winter

Snow and sun for our shoot at Lake Kussharo in cold Hokkaido in February

Whooper swans in Kale Kussharo in winter in Hokkaido, Japan

Ready for a close-up: whooper swan in Hokkaido’s Lake Kussharo, Japan

Whooper swam close-up, Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido, Japan in winter

Coming right for me: whooper swans in Lake Kussharo in northern Japan (Hokkaido)

Lake Kussharo in winter: Whooper swans flock to a strip of water warmed by geo-thermal spring activity, which does not freeze in winter. Hokkaido, Japan

Our second swan stop was also a magnificent setting, a long pond filled with swans, backed by the frozen lake, with a backdrop of snow-covered mountains.  Our serenity was interrupted by a busload of older Japanese tourists. They were quickly off on to their next stop, only to be replaced by a smaller conclave of Chinese tourists.

Whooper swan flapping its wings at Lake Kussharo in Hokkaido Japan.

Steve has excellent photographic reflexes!


Panorama of frozen Lake Kussharo in Hokkaido, Japan, with whooper swans clustered on the geothermally-warmed shore. (Sunayu)

Afterwards, we encountered a red fox on the snow-covered road. Susan said it hung out there because people feed it and thus doom it to be run over. She refused to stop, on the grounds that this was irresponsible wildlife photography.

“We’re not going to feed it!” protested Steve, to no avail as she sailed on down the snowy road.

We were definitely in Micheal Kenna landscape country for our next shoot.

Minimalist snowy Hokkaido Llandscape


A row of trees in a snow-white landscape, a single tree.

Even more minimalist Hokkaido winter landscape.

Maneuvering around in snow up to thigh-high wasn’t very easy with my ankle injury, but I was pleased with my results.

Our final shoot of the day was touted to be a steam engine, which operates only two months a year, largely for the benefit of enthusiasts. Susan thought it was due to pass through the small town of Mashu at two in the afternoon. We set up dutifully, but no train materialized. A passing Japanese man and Susan’s inquiries confirmed that the train was actually due at 3:30 PM, so we headed to a nearby convenience store to warm up while we waited.

We were all set up facing the expected direction, when Karen on the opposite side of the street saw a light down the track, indicating that the train was actually coming from the opposite direction. We rushed en masse across the small street, me hobbling across with my tripod as fast as I could. The signal crossing actually gave us plenty of time to reset up on the opposite side of the street. What a surprise when the train actually materialized. It was a one car, adorable local train, emitting a small amount of steam, but definitely not a steam locomotive.

A cute little train, emitting a tiny puff of smoke and kicking up some snow and steam, but not the one we were expecting…

The refrain from the song One Toke over the Line was running through my mind as we headed back to the inn before dinner.

”Awaitin’ for the train that goes home, sweet Mary

Hopin’ that the train is on time. ”

Steve and I did not join the after dinner outing, to shoot in the little neighborhood where we dined the night before. Steve wanted to post process, while I was exhausted by coughing, a mysterious choking cough which developed since coming to Japan. Since I wasn’t ill otherwise, I was at a loss how to treat it. In case it had an allergic component, I had started antihistamines and nasal steroids, which helped minimally. During the day, I was nursing hot tea between shoots and rationing Steve’s stash of Ricola cough drops. The cold seemed to exacerbate the cough-could this be bronchitis or cold-induced asthma?  Or, even possibly whooping cough?? Now, that would be ironic-travel all the way to Japan to photograph whooper swans only to develop a whoop all my own.


Whooper swan and reflection in Hokkaido's Lake Kussharo, Japan

Narcissus: So beautiful, one could fall in love with a reflection.

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