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Ambassadors Programme

Explorer

Danny Green

Mar16

Wild Japan: Canon Explorer Danny Green photographs cranes

By Danny Green, Monday March 16, 2015
A pair of Japanese cranes perform their elaborate courtship ritual. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/640sec at f/13, ISO 800.

A pair of Japanese cranes perform their elaborate courtship ritual. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/640sec at f/13, ISO 800. © Danny Green

After my encounter with the snow monkeys my next stop was the island of Hokkaido, so I headed back to Tokyo to catch an internal flight to this fantastic island. I really like photographing cranes and the most beautiful species is the Japanese or red-crowned crane. I was really looking forward to this part of the trip and to try my luck at photographing them.

This stunning bird was on the verge of extinction and numbers were so low by the 1920s that only a few birds were left breeding around the remote Kushiro marshes, on the eastern side of Hokkaido. A huge conservation effort was undertaken and thankfully the cranes have reached a high sustainable level with around a thousand birds. In Japan, this crane is known as the 'Tanchōzuru' and is celebrated in culture and art.

There are a number of places to try to photograph them and one of my favourites is the Arkan Crane Centre. This is a great place to photograph them as the staff put food out each day to attract them. Numbers slowly build up during the day and you can get lots of opportunities to photograph them in flight. The cranes perform an elaborate courtship ritual where the pair come together and throw their heads back, calling whilst they do. They also jump into the air as the birds seem to be dancing in tandem. As one pair starts dancing then more follow suit.

Winter is my favourite time for photography, especially when there is lots of snow around. The cranes make great subjects with this white canvas background and you can produce artistic high-key images that have a studio feel to them. I used my EF500mm f/4L IS II USM telephoto lens to pick out individuals from the flock. When this lens is used with my EOS-1D X I am still so impressed with the autofocus speed, even in falling snow which can make it difficult.

There are other areas to visit around the Kushiro marshes, especially early in the morning and later in the day. At the end of each day the cranes head back to their night-time roosting sites which are usually along the many rivers in the Kushiro region. One river is excellent for capturing them roosting and as the sun starts to rise in the early morning, the cranes start to stir. It is such a lovely location and on cold mornings transforms into a magical winter wonderland. A great setting for a great bird.

The magical river awakens as the cranes begin to stir. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and an EF1.4x III Extender (effective focal length 700mm); the exposure was 1/1250sec at f/10, ISO 400.

The magical river awakens as the cranes begin to stir. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and an EF1.4x III Extender (effective focal length 700mm); the exposure was 1/1250sec at f/10, ISO 400. © Danny Green

Two male Japanese cranes fighting in the falling snow. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and an EF1.4x III Extender (effective focal length 700mm); the exposure was 1/2500sec at f/5.6, ISO 1600.

Two male Japanese cranes fighting in the falling snow. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens and an EF1.4x III Extender (effective focal length 700mm); the exposure was 1/2500sec at f/5.6, ISO 1600. © Danny Green