Steve Happ Photography Ramblings and dissertations

January 26, 2011

Birds of Furano

Filed under: Birds — Tags: , — admin @ 11:02 am

Birds of Hokkaido, Japan.

This morning I took off with my video camera and borrowed a pair of binoculars from the nice man at the hostel in Furano, Hokkaido. I just walked down the back streets of the town, firstly seeing a pair of Large-billed Crows high up in a tree. Further down the road in a bunch of trees I spotted a Marsh Tit flittering around among the branches. I could not get any usable footage because he was flittering around too much.

On the way back, i wandered the back streets behind the 7-11 and saw heaps of birds. There were a mob of Brown-eared Bulbuls, Dusky Thrush roosting on the wires and TV antennas, and the Great Tits were free-loading off a bird-feeder in someone’s front yard.

Large-billed Crow (Corvus macrorhynchos japonensis) also called a Jungle Crow.

The taxonomy of Corvus macrorhynchos is confusing because there are about 11 races spanning from India to northern Japan. Work is being done by researchers Emiko FUKUI, Shoei SUGITA and Midori YOSHIZAWA on “Molecular sexing of Jungle crow (Corvus macrorhynchos japonensis) and Carrion crow (Corvus corone corone) using a feather”. “A molecular sexing method using the intron-size difference between chromo-helicase-DNA binding protein (CHD1) genes on the Z and W sex chromosomes (CHD1Z and CHD1W, respectively) was developed for wild Jungle crows and wild Carrion crows.” “In the present study, sexing live Jungle and Carrion crows was performed by applying the method to a feather for molecular sexing.”

Marsh Tit (Poecile palustris)

The Marsh Tit is a widespread and common resident breeder throughout temperate Europe and northern Asia. Most Marsh Tits stay in their breeding territories year round.

Great Tit (Parus major)

The Great Tit (Parus major) is a passerine bird in the tit family Paridae. It is a widespread and common species throughout Europe, the Middle East, Central and Northern Asia, and parts of North Africa. There is some talk of the Great Tit being called the Japanese Tit (Parus minor) in Japan. This species was classified as a subspecies of Great Tit, but Russian studies have indicated that the two species coexist in the Russian Far East without intermingling or frequent hybridization.

Dusky Thrush(Turdus eunomus)

The Dusky Thrush is a member of the thrush family Turdidae which breeds eastwards from central Siberia. They supposedly migrate south to South-east Asia, maybe someone forgot to tell these ones. They are frequently treated as conspecific with Turdus naumanni.

Brown-eared Bulbul (Microscelis amaurotis)

The Brown-eared Bulbul is a medium-sized bulbul which is found from the Russian Far East , northeastern China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan and northern islands of the Philippines. It is a very familiar bird throughout Japan, where it is called hiyodori, and considered a pest in some agricultural centers.

January 22, 2011

Japanese Cultural Night

Filed under: General — Tags: — admin @ 11:37 pm

Saturday Night Fever.

Last night I went up to Saturday Night Live, which was held above the Furano Ski Resort building. It was run by the Furano Biei International Tourism Centre. I think it is held nearly every Saturday night, or second one. Not sure. It started about 6:30 pm with a performance by the Yamanaka Traditional Japanese Music Research Group, who played Japanese Harps and Bamboo flutes. The Japanese Harp is called the O-koto and there are many different types. Kotos are usually changed from different performances because each koto is tuned to a specific key. Semitones are obtained by bending the strings, much like in blues guitar. Go to Genki Japan to play a virtual O-koto. It’s cool!

The bamboo flute, called the Shakuhachi has a standard length of 55 centimeters. It is made from the very bottom of a bamboo tree. There are usually four finger holes and a thumb hole on the bottom. Many tonal variations can be obtained by different blowing methods and stopping techniques.

The second performance was the Shishimai Lion Dance which was done by the Furano Shishamai Preservation Group. It consisted of musicians and dancers. Four men carried the lion head around and three girls performed dances at the front of the lion.

The tourist center also put on Japanese Calligraphy, face painting and Origami. During the breaks they had lucky door prizes but I did not win anything. 🙁 I was given a calendar on the way out, though. 🙂

Japanese Culture Resources

Koto Basics, What is it?

January 19, 2011

A day of rest

Filed under: Skiing — Tags: , — admin @ 12:34 pm

Powder and Rest.

Yesterday was a great day. I was up the gondola at 9am ready for the first lifts. The powder was nice and fluffy and I just came straight down the Ladies Downhill course which was very good. It was snowing most of the morning. After that I went to the right of the gondola and found some very nice powder on top of the groomed runs. I am improving heaps at skiing powder, but it is really easy to ski because it is so light and fluffy.

Later on, I went up the old single chair and came down the run to the side of it. On the way up I saw a woodpecker. I am not sure yet what type it is but I have seen a photo of one on a postcard. There was some very nice snow next to the single so I had a few runs there. Then I had a break at the ski school hut, which had the heaters turned up full bore and it was like an oven in there. Luckily someone opened a window or everyone would have baked.

Furano Ski Resort
Furano Ski Resort from the bridge

I met the Brisbane mob for lunch and we had a long rest, after which I decided to call it a day and give my knees a rest. After an onsen, a short snooze helped bring me back to good health. Later that night we went to a bar and I had a beer and a game of pool.

Today I had the day off and did my washing, then walked into Furano town to do some shopping. The main item on the agenda was some muesli, but I never found any decent stuff, just some granola type breakfast cereal, which was better than a poke in the eye with a stick, but only marginally.

Sorachi River
Sorachi River, Furano

It was a couple of kilometers to the supermarket and I visited the 100 Yen shop as well. All in all, a big day of exercise for a supposed day of rest. But I think I am ready to go tomorrow. Here is hoping for some more snow tonight.

January 17, 2011

Snowing Again at Furano

Filed under: Skiing — Tags: , — admin @ 11:45 am

Snowing all Day.

This morning it started snowing in the morning and did not stop all day. I dragged myself up the hill to ski some more powder. ho hum. First it was up the gondola and come down to the right of the double chair.

Furano Bush
The bush is all covered in snow

I skied for about an hour and a half then had to stop because my legs were absolutely burning. I went into the ticket office and had a can of hot curry risotto from the vending machine. They are everywhere in Japan and you can just about anything out of them – corn soup, beer, hot chocolate, coffee, tea, soft drinks, etc.

Vending Machine
Japanese vending machines

Back out again after that into the falling snow.

Ski Racks
Ski Racks

Then up the gondola again.

Me in the Gondola
Me in the Gondola

On the way up I took some photos of the ski classes that dotted the hill. There were hundreds of school kids having lessons and they would form these long snaking lines down the hill.

A lesson in progress
Beginner Ski Lesson

After about an hour I stopped again and met up with the Brisbane mob again and after lunch went for a ski with them. My knee was starting to hurt a bit so I quit and headed down the hill back to the hostel and down to the supermarket to get some food.

January 16, 2011

Furano Skiing 3

Filed under: Skiing — Tags: , — admin @ 10:15 am

Skiing at the Furano Zone.

I woke up this morning an looked out the window and there was about ten centimeters of fresh snow on the cars. Which was a very good sign. I got ready and headed up to the hill with Noel and we jumped on a Gondola to the top of Kitanomine. It was a bit foggy up the top and most of the new snow had been skied off already so we made our way down under the gondola and found some fresh snow there. I very gingerly skied in and managed a few turns and then came out at the top of the quad chair.

Noel decided to head off to the Furano side and I was feeling a bit woosy and wanted to warm up some more so I went down to the quad. I met some nice people from Brisbane in the lift line and they invited me to accompany them over to the other side, which is the Furano Zone. I wanted to know the way over there so I tagged along. We had to go up this old single chair which was a bit scary at first as it had no restraining rope or anything. I hung on to the pole for dear life. The trees on the way up were covered in snow and looked amazingly beautiful. I even saw a bird in the bush which looked a lot like our Pheasant Coucal.

Snowy Trees in Furano
Snow-covered trees at Furano Zone

When we got over the Furano side, we skiied down and then got onto the Furano Ropeway which is a big cable car that can fit 100 people in it. It fairly flies up the hill. We skied down through the beautiful snowy scenery and then came back up the ropeway for lunch. After lunch we headed back to the Kitanomine side and I just made it back before my legs completely gave out on me. It was so nice to get the horrible ski boots off and put some shoes on. The relief was amazing. I need a few more days before I am fit enough to ski without feeling excrutiating pain in my thigh muscles. I am pretty sure that I will be having an early night tonight and sleeping like a log.

January 15, 2011

Ski Furano Day 2

Filed under: Skiing — Tags: , — admin @ 9:41 am

Kitanomine Zone Skiing.

This morning I went up the mountain after a couple of days healing a pulled calf muscle that I sustained the first day I went out. I went over the handle bars and my bindings did not release so I hurt my calf muscle. That was the second time I have done that in about 6 months. I did the same thing at La Hoya last year. doh!

I just took it easy trying not to fall over and hurt something else. I am getting used to my new skis and they do not seem so huge any more. I did a few hours skiing in the morning from about 10-12 and then had lunch in the restaurant at the bottom of the Kitanomine Gondola. They have free water there, so that is a massive bonus. They also have lots of vending machines and I tried a different hot chocolate today and it was crap, too. I think I will give the hot chocolates a miss, they are vile. Maybe I will try a hot lemon drink next time.

In the afternoon I did a few more laps and then it started snowing.

Snowing at Kitanomine
Snowing this afternoon at Kitanomine

After an hour or so, there were a few centimeters of fresh stuff and I was enjoying it very muchly. I just charged down the lift line because that is where the mostly untracked stuff was. It was getting very cold as well. It is now 6pm but it has stopped snowing. I am hoping for a big dump tonight and some more fresh powder tomorrow morning. It is Saturday and there are not that many people here. You do not have to wait to get on the lifts. It is great.

After I trudged down the hill to the hostel, I jumped in the Onsen and had a very nice soak in the hot water. Aaaah, it was relaxing. I feel like a zombified vegetable I am so laid back. Tonight I am going to bed early and have a good rest and hopefully get some more great skiing in tomorrow. Oyasuminasai!

January 13, 2011

Skiing Furano Day 1

Filed under: Skiing — Tags: , , — admin @ 12:43 am

My First Day Skiing.

This morning I got up about 8am and headed up the road to the Kitanomine ski lifts. It is about 200 meters or so to the lifts from where I am staying. Seeing it was my first day skiing for about three months, I had decided to just take it easy on the beginner slopes until I felt comfortable with my new skis.

The first few runs I kept on catching my outside edges and stacking it. However, after a few runs, I was getting the hang of it and was not stacking it so much. My new skis are Ninthward Rory Silva model – 178cm long and 111mm wide at the waist. They are bigger than I am used to, as I have only had skinny skis before – 175cm long and about 75mm wide. You really have to push them to turn and unlike the skinnies, they do not turn by themselves. But, they are not meant for pistes.

The view from the Kitanomine Quad

I had an early lunch and went back to the hostel for some noodles and toast. At the cafe at the bottom of the slope, I had my first can of cocoa out of the vending machine. It was not very nice. Maybe I will find another brand. I love a hot chocolate after a ski.

In the afternoon I went up the Gondola to the top of the mountain but did not enjoy it much. I was a bit hesitant and there were a few goat tracks, which I absolutely hate. After that, I just stuck to the quad chair and the easy slopes. Later on in the afternoon, it started snowing and continued into the night. The next morning there are still a few flurries, but it is not puking down.

Snowing in Furano
The view from my window

My muscles are a bit sore, so I spent the afternoon and night resting my weary bones. *yawn* It is going to take about a week I reckon to get back in shape and not feel completely exhausted at the end of the skiing day.

January 11, 2011

On to Hokkaido

Filed under: Skiing — Tags: , — admin @ 11:23 am

Arrived in Furano.

I am so tired. My eyelids are drooping and my shoulders feel like the weight of the world is upon them. My head feels heavy and I am almost numb. But enough whinging, let us get on with the story!

Where did I leave you last time? Oh, that is right, at Cairns airport. I got on the plane and flew onwards over New Guinea and Guam to Osaka and touched down about 7pm. It was cold when I got there. Lucky I had my jacket with me. I think it was about +4C. I jumped on the airport bus to Kobe Sannomiya and caught a taxi to the hotel. The cab driver did not have a clue where it was and was driving around looking for it. I stayed at the Kitagami Hotel, a couple of blocks away from the Sannomiya Station. It is a really nice hotel. And they had a Toto Washlet, I think that they are called bidets in English.

Toto Washlet controls
Toto Washlet bidet controls. Note the symbol for “Back”

In the morning I got the Portliner to the Kobe Airport and jumped on the Skymark plane to Sapporo on the island of Hokkaido. ( Did I tell you I was going to Japan? ) Skymark are fantastic, they really treat you good. I like Japan, well I actually love it. The people are so nice and helpful and friendly. It makes me feel good. Kobe to Sapporo took about 2 hours then the nice people at Skymark bumped me to an earlier flight so I just jumped on the early plane to Asahikawa instead of waiting 3 hours for the later one.

Sapporo Airport
A big jet taking off behind us at Sapporo Airport

The plane was nearly empty, only about 20 people all up. Here is the poor flight attendant doing the routine for about 5 of us up the back.

Plane to Asahikawa
Safety Routine on the flight to Asahikawa

Nearly all of Hokkaido that I saw was covered in snow. All the fields and everything was white. It was like a fairy wonderland or something.

Hokkaido Fields
Fields of Hokkaido

Touched down in Asahikawa and got on the Lavender-Go bus to Furano. They have this incredible ticketing system on the bus where you get a number when you get on and then pay according to whatever number stop you get off at. It was brilliant. Such efficiency and innovation blows me out. The poor old bus driver could not understand my map that I showed him where I wanted to get off, but he put me off at the right spot and I walked up the hill to the hostel and booked in.

In the afternoon I went to the supermarket and was bug-eyed at all the remarkable Japanese food. I had no idea what most of it was but had a good look at all the different produce. I just bought some noodles, bok choy, carrots and bread and I will suss out all the exotic foodstuffs at a later date. I got my ski pass, and the skis are ready to go, my clothes are all out ready to be worn, so tomorrow will be a ski day. I am going to take it easy but.

Japan, here I come

Filed under: Skiing — Tags: , — admin @ 8:59 am

On the Way to Japan

Well, I am sitting in the airport at Cairns, waiting for my flight to Osaka. I have been up since 4am this morning, and I am already knackered, and I have not even gone half way yet. Yesterday I caught the train down from Newcastle to Sydney and stayed at the Airport Hotel. The price has gone up more than $30 in five months. That is a thirty percent increase. I do not think I will be staying there any more. I also will not be getting any more 6am flights – they are a nightmare.

We have to wait about four hours to connect flights in Cairns. I bungled this flight massively. I could have flown to Cairns a couple of days early and had a holiday here. doh! Sometimes convenience and comfort are more important than price. No photos yet, it is just the normal old boring airplane, airport thing. The only thing worth noting was the view from the plane of the foothills around Cairns as we landed. They looked pretty good.

Jetstar has a checked-in baggage limit of 20 kilograms and 10 kilograms of carry-on luggage. I had more than 20kg in my bags so I had to put some stuff in my carry-on backpack and carry my heavy ski jacket around. The length limit for domestic flights is 1.9 meters and for international flights it is something like 2.7 meters. You have to put your skis into the oversized baggage counter after they have been weighed at check-in. My skis weighed about 8kg with bag and poles. You may be able to get away with carrying on your ski boots in a boot bag as hand luggage if your bags are massively overweight. I had barely anything and I was up to the limit.

I just adjusted my computer clock to Japan time and it is 2 hours behind Sydney.

January 5, 2011

Surfing Guide to North Peru

Filed under: Surfing — Tags: , — admin @ 5:36 am

I hope that this post will help any crew intending to go to Peru looking for surf. The first thing to decide is whether to bring your own surfboard or buy one in Peru. I would suggest that either way would be fine, according to your needs. If you are coming directly to Peru, then bring your own boards. Make sure you have a decent board bag and that you have removable fins on your boards. You will be chucking the boards in the luggage compartments of heaps of buses, so some protection goes a long way. Maybe even bring some bubble wrap to extra protect your board.

For size, most crew seem to have 6’1″ to 6′ 3″. I do not really know because I am a fat old bastard and surfed on a 7′ 4″ fun board. If you want to buy a board in Peru, then there are some really good shapers in Lima. New surfboards are relatively cheap and are good quality. Ask around in Miraflores or Barranco for the board factories. Klimax and Wayo Whilar are good brands. Get a Wetsuit in Lima. I highly recommend Boz wetsuits, they are top rated. If you are only in Peru for a month or less, then just hire a surfboard in Huanchaco, north of Peru. You will get a good rate for a couple of weeks or a month (~200-300 Soles).

Lima Surf Spots

I do not know much about surfing in Lima. It is not that great. I stayed at Barranco and there is a pretty lame wave off the breakwater there. Punta Hermosa, about 40k south of Lima has heaps of breaks, but I did not get there. Bravo Surf Camp seems like an economical place to stay if you go there.


To get to Huanchaco, you need to get to Trujillo first. You can get a bus there from Lima. Then jump on a taxi to Huanchaco. Huanchaco is not that great. There are some left handers off the point but it just does not get very hollow. You can hire surfboards here for a very decent price. Otherwise, this place rocks for Cerviche. Try it.


Get the El Dorado bus from Trujillo, it goes direct to Puerto Malabrigo, which is its proper name. Everyone stays at El Hombre, which is on a hill overlooking the surf. The wave here really does go for a long way. But there are downsides – the sweep is pretty horrendous. You have to paddle your guts out just to stay in one spot. And it is not that hollow, it is more of a wall and a long ride. You can get a ride out on a rubber ducky if you have lots of money, but that is cheating.



Mancora is about the most northern surf spot in Peru. It is hot, very hot. The wave is fun and there is not much rip, plus you can surf in board shorts, which is a big novelty in Peru. It can get pretty crowded and there will be learners all over the place in the lineup. But it is a fun wave and a great place to party after a few weeks in the desert.


This place is awesome. When the swell is pumping, the main point is as hollow as you will ever see. There are 3 main places to surf, Lobitos, the Jetty and Piscinas. There are heaps of places to stay from luxury to very cheap. This place is in the middle of a desert almost, with nobody but fishermen around. It is a great place. Catch a bus here from Mancora to Talara and get a taxi to Lobitos.

Lobitos main break

That is about it. Its cold, there is always a current to paddle against, and the wind always blows from the south every day.

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