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Japan is perhaps most famous, from a wildlife point of view anyway, because of its red-crowned cranes in Hokkaido. The cranes were thought to be extinct in Japan until a relic population was discovered in an isolated reedy swamp some years ago.

Globally, the population of these stunning cranes can be split into two distinct populations. One is migratory breeding in Siberia (migrating to Korea and central China in the winter) whilst the Japanese group are sedentary, spending their whole lives in Hokkaido.

The Japanese culture reveres the cranes and in part this is to the benefit of the cranes as they are an ideal population for a concerted, much needed, conservation programme which includes protection and supplementary winter feeding. It is this latter part of the project that wildlife photographers can benefit from (and in part give a little back with their fees to enter the crane centre where the cranes congregate in winter on a large snowy field).

The fields are great for photography but my favourite place was the bridge over the river where the cranes roost each night. If the temperature drops below - 10c, the warmer river water emits an ethereal mist that creates one of the best images in wildlife photography.

Unfortunately everyone else also knows about this place so its a tadge crowded to say the least, lines of tripods are placed along the bridge hours before dawn, and once the first light breaks the horizon its a little hectic. The birds however are quite a distance so there is no disturbance and the scene is well worth the mild jostling that occurs.