Stupid Birds

The Japanese word for Albatross is Ahodori, which roughly translates into stupid bird. Since ancient times, Short-tailed Albatrosses breeding on the islet of Torishima, 600km South of Tokyo, were harvested for their feathers, and their helpless attitude when being beaten to death earned them their name. Adding insult to injury that is. In the Meiji era, harvesting turned into full-scale slaughtering, to the point where all birds had disappeared from the colony and the species was declared extinct just before WW2 broke out.

But Albatrosses take more than 10 years to mature, and in the early 1950s,  a few adult birds reappeared and bred again where they were born over a decade ago, signalling the start of a remarkable recovery. Today with a total population of above 2000 birds, and several new colonies established, most recently on the Midway Atoll, the Short-tailed Albatross is not considered  endangered anymore, and is one of the three albatross species that can be seen in the waters South of Tokyo, particularly between February and April, together with the commoner and smaller Black-footed and Laysan Albatrosses.

So here is actually one of the untold secrets of Birdwatching in Asia : you don’t have to travel to the vicinity of the South Pole to enjoy the fascinating sight of an albatross effortless flight over the ocean, it just takes a Ferry ride from Tokyo. The Hachijojima bound ferry leaves every evening around 10.20 pm from Takeshiba pier in Tokyo center and reaches the island around 9am, and just an hour later commences the return trip. A shorter option is to step down at the first stop at Miyakejima, at around 5am, and take the same ferry back around 2pm. The 4h of daylight cruise on the way back is usually enough to gather good views of the albatrosses and other pelagics (including the endemic Japanese Murrelet and, with some luck, Tristram’s Storm Petrel), with a bonus of the endemic Izu Thrush, a number of local subspecies and, with some luck, the Japanese Wood Pigeon on land at Miyakejima.

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