February 14th – February 25th 2017
Sue at Kiritappu
Most of my birding trips recently have involved new countries where many new world ticks have been available but sometimes there are iconic birds or mammals that I simply want to see. One of these birds was Steller’s Sea Eagle, so when Gunnar Engblom’s www.kolibriexpeditions.com advert appeared on my Facebook page one day for a cheap(ish) trip to Japan just targeting four species including Steller’s Sea Eagle, I was interested. After sending Gunnar an email, I agreed to go. He suggested a pre-extension that I could do and after looking at it, Okinawa seemed to be a fun way of making my holiday a little bit longer, as I had some holiday allowance to use up. I was lucky in that Gunnar gave a talk to my local bird club where I could talk to him and so a plan was hatched!
Guide Gunnar Engblom
Feb 14th Norwich – Amsterdam – Tokyo
Feb 15th Tokyo – Naha (Okinawa)
Feb 16th Naha – Kunigami – Yanbaru NP (Okinawa)
Feb 17th Kunigami – Yanbaru NP (Okinawa)
Feb 18th Kunigami – Naha (Okinawa) - Tokyo
Feb 19th Hachijojima - Tokyo
Feb 20th Tokyo – Jigokudani (Snow Monkey Park)
Feb 21st Tokyo - Kushiro (Hokkaido) - Aken Crane Centre – Setsurigawa River
Feb 22nd Setsurigawa River – Kiritappu –Washi No Yado
Feb 23rd Washi no Yado – Rausu – Furen
Feb 24th Furen – Nemuro – Kushiro – Tokyo
International flights from Norwich to Tokyo via Amsterdam cost £652
Return internal flights Tokyo to Okinawa and Tokyo to Hokkaido were included in the tour price.
(advertised trip +extension) £2599
This was a ‘package tour’ with accommodation and some food provided. The itinerary stated which meals were/were not provided. I spent around £270 on extras which included food (mostly lunches and some breakfasts) and contributions to taxis, single room supplements and drinks. I used the ATM at the airport as well as ATMs in 7/11 shops to obtain Japanese Yen.
Japan was very
cold, especially Hokkaido where the temperature varied between 2 degrees and
minus 10 degrees. Most days it was below zero and we were in deep snow. Sitting
in the Blakiston’s Fish Owl cabins was mostly minus ten throughout the night
whilst the windows were removed for photography.
Okinawa is a subtropical island and temperatures were around 20 degrees for the middle part of the day.
A large part of central Okinawa is urbanised and whilst the southern end is less populated. The north of the island is covered with forest over the hills and around the coastline there are small fishing and farming villages. Yambaru National Park covers a large part of the northern forested hills.
Japan’s habitat varies from sub-tropical forest in the south to coniferous forest in the north. Since we were based mainly in Hokkaido, the main island in the north of Japan (with the exception of our snow monkey day on Honshu), the habitat of north-eastern Hokkaido where we were based, consisted of coniferous forests with spruces and firs growing and on the highest mountains there are areas of alpine plants. However as we were there in winter with deep snow and sub-zero temperatures we did not see much of the vegetation below our feet!
I left home at 7am to travel to Norwich where I caught a flight to Amsterdam and then an overnight flight to Tokyo. I enjoyed the view of Mount Fiji as we approached Japan.
After meeting up with Gunnar, we flew from Tokyo out into the Pacific to Okinawa where we found some accommodation in Narita. Traditional rooms in Japan have the beds on the floor and even the table was legless!
After collecting the hire car we drove to Kunigami. Along our route we added Blue Rock Thrush, Oriental Turtle Dove, Common Myna, White Wagtail, Pacific Swallow, Black (eared) Kite, Large-billed Crow, Pacific Reef Heron, Chinese Bulbul, Grey Heron, Common Kingfisher, Moorhen, Coot and Eurasian Tree Sparrow.
At Kunigami I added my first tick of Grey-faced Buzzard before checking into our accommodation where I was greeted with a bare room! My bedding was to be found in the cupboard; a mattress and duvet. After some shopping for some basic provisions we drove to Yambaru National Park.
Soon after getting out of the car I spotted a Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker along with Brown-eared Bulbul, and Japanese Tit. We walked down a track where we added Pale Thrush and Japanese White-eye. Several birds were calling in the trees above our head, flitting around. Luckily a couple of Ryukyu Minivet flew down lower and sat just long enough for a quick photograph but they were difficult to keep up with.
A bird that I wanted to see was Varied Tit as I think they are a pretty little bird. After walking downhill some time we reached a flatter area and I spotted a dash of ochre alighting in the tree. This turned out to be my sought after bird of Varied Tit but it was obscured by twigs and it took me sometime before I found another one that posed a bit better. We walked back up the track listening as we went because we still had not seen the target species. Back near to where we had parked the car we heard drumming and suddenly our target bird was right in front of us the Okinawa Woodpecker. This bird is critically endangered with less than 600 birds left in the world. We were delighted with our views.
Pyer's (Okinawa) Woodpecker
After being told off by a Japanese service man for being on the track (we couldn’t read the Japanese sign at the beginning) we got back in the car and started to drive. We were fascinated by the Okinawa Rail road signs, Gunnar a little too much! Suddenly Gunnar had driven down a large hole where the concrete slab covering the drainage ditch was missing and the car was now at a peculiar angle right in front of the road sign. We were miles away from the nearest town but had just left a group of scientists further up the road. I ran back for help and in my best Japanese summoned help from them! Meanwhile Gunnar had managed to get the car out of the hole but had lost all the air out of the tyre and damaged the wheel-rim. Worse was to follow as there was no spare tyre but a pump-up kit. However our group of helpers had a lump hammer and soon had the wheel-rim fixed and then blew up the tyre. Luckily it held and lasted our next few days. What fun!
Gunnar standing on the offending tyre with the rather large hole that he had driven into. (A shame you cannot see the picture on the Okinawa Rail road sign)
We returned to our accommodation where we enjoyed a
traditional Japanese meal along with some Japanese birdwatchers
Traditional Japanese meal
My bed in the Japanese hostel
Gunnar and I left early for Yamburu National Park. An Osprey was flying out over the sea at Kunigami. After driving up through the twisty roads we found a narrow path where we could hear Okinawa Rails calling. It was still getting light and we scrambled up the path to be met with a Ryukyu Robin. Another bird was singing in the vegetation and in the gloom we saw a Japanese Bush Warbler. I struggled with the darkness and had to push the ISO reading up on my camera to get an image of the robin as it hopped along the pathway in front of us.
The Okinawa Rail kept calling as we silently crept along the path. We knew it was within a few feet of us but the vegetation was so thick we never saw it. We could hear it scuttling along the ground when all of a sudden it made a dash across the pathway ahead of us but all we saw was the movement of vegetation and no bird! Grrrr!!!! (I now know why Swedish birders have such high lists Gunnar....this constituted a tick for Gunnar......but not for me! ;-) ) We carried on up the path and climbed up higher as we could hear the Black Woodpigeon calling. After some difficulty we both saw the bird and I was taken aback at how big it was. Sadly it didn’t sit long enough for a photograph. It was an endangered bird so I was pleased to see it.
We drove to a centre for the Okinawa Rail but neither of us wanted to see a captive bird and so drove onto Ada. Here we watched Japanese Sparrowhawk, White Wagtail (Black-backed) and the red-bellied form of Blue Rock Thrush.
Blue Rock Thrush (Red-bellied)
White Wagtail (Black-backed)
Yambaru National Park
We wandered around in the heat of the day and it was nice to be enjoying some sun and hot weather. Pacific Swallows were sitting around on wires and we encountered several Blue Rock Thrushes on buildings. Japanese White-eyes were in bushes as were Japanese Tits.
We had been given a tip-off for another site for the rail and we sat in the Okinawa Rail cafe but still no sign of the rail. We returned to our original path and heard the rail calling once again but it just would not show itself. Very frustrating! Rain eventually stopped play and we returned to our hostel for a wonderful evening meal.
Okinawa Road sign
Gunnar and I drove up to the Yambaru National park still in the dark where after hearing Ryukyu Owl I failed to see one. We also heard the rail again but still they did not show. I added Grey Wagtail to the trip list back at Kunigami before we drove to Naha. Here we saw Black-faced Spoonbill roosting on a small estuary near the airport. A Chinese Bulbul kept watch over me as I was taking photographs.
Gunnar and I made our way to the airport for our flight back to Tokyo where we caught a taxi to the port. After leaving our luggage in a locker at the ticket office, we boarded an overnight ferry to Miyakejima and Hachijojima, two small volcanic islands out in the Pacific Ocean.
Tokyo to Hachijojima Ferry
Sue leaving Tokyo
Tokyo by night
Luxury on board!
Once on board we settled in and slept until 5am when we were due to get off at Miyakejima.
At 5am I did wonder why we seemed to be the only passengers waiting at the door of the ferry but I guess our Japanese wasn’t good enough to understand the announcements being made. It transpired that the crew considered it to be too rough to dock the boat safely and we would be sailing onto Hachijojima which would take another 3 hours sailing time. It was turning out to be quite an adventure!
We went back to bed and at 8am arrived at Hachijojima. Here, Gunnar decided to stay on board, so that he could ask for a refund of his money but I headed off onto the island where after a short while managed to locate the much sought after target bird of Izu Thrush. Thankfully I managed to get a photograph to show Gunnar! I admired a Dusky Thrush on one of the pavements and set off to look for a sub-species of Varied Tit (Owston’s). I had a very untickable view of one as it flew over my head and promptly disappeared deep inside a bush only to start singing where I couldn’t see it! Grrr...
Oriental Turtle Dove
An Oriental Turtle Dove was sitting on overhead wires as I wandered around the island looking at various bushes. All too soon it was time to get back on board the ferry for an afternoon of seawatching. I found Gunnar who had been promised his money back but he had regretted not visiting the island as he had got caught up in the heat of the argument with the crew. He had a fair point about not landing on Miyake but I suspect that our lack of Japanese language was at fault as I’m sure the chap at the ticket office had tried to explain this to us in his best Japanese!!! Hey ho!
Once we had set sail and were out of the shelter of the harbour where we watched Vega Gulls the sea turned a bit rough and I was soon feeling a bit sea sick. There were no birds to look at, so I opted to go back to my cabin and get some sleep. I must have been tired as I slept like a log and woke up several hours later feeling much better. Lots of sea birds were now passing by and Gunnar and I had lots of albatrosses to sort out.
The ferry in Hachijojima harbour
Although the sea had calmed down quite a bit there was still quite a swell running and Gunnar and I were struggling to keep our footing. We propped ourselves up against part of the ship and did our best to identify the passing birds. We had taken photos of the field guide that was currently locked away in a locker in Tokyo port and Gunnar had an identification guide on his phone. However trying to watch, take photos and look at a phone for ID purposes on a rocking ship was not ideal! It was clear that the majority of birds were Laysan Albatrosses so it was a matter of trying to pick out birds that looked a bit different. We had several Short-tailed Albatrosses but I struggled to get a photograph of one close enough. We kept our eyes peeled for a Black-footed Albatross, which I have seen off California. We saw several but they were keeping ahead of the boat. We realised that one was going to cross over to the other side as we tried to run across the deck of the boat. We nearly didn’t make it given the swell in time, but I did manage a distant (now heavily cropped) record shot.
The seawatching was fantastic as hundred of Streaked Shearwaters were amassing in front of the boat. They were just impossible to photograph though.
We passed by Mikarujima and then sailed on to the island that we had meant to have spent the day on. Once we had docked at Miyakejima we admired Slaty-backed Gulls, Common Gulls (Kamchatka) Gulls and Kittiwakes. We didn’t stay long as passengers got off and got on and we were soon underway again. Once again the seawatching was superb. At one point I was mesmerised by a Pomarine Skua chasing a poor Black-legged Kittiwake. It never gave up until it had secured its meal. We realised that we must be approaching land once again as Slaty-backed Gulls and Glaucous Gulls were now appearing. Tokyo appeared in the distance and our little adventure at sea came to an end.
We made our way to a hotel in Tokyo where we spent the night after retrieving our luggage from the lockers and Gunnar had had his money back from the ticket office.
After meeting Marcel and Michael for the first time who joined us for the main part of the trip we caught the Bullet Train (Shinkansen) to Nagano. As it was pouring with rain we decided to splash out and caught a taxi for the hour’s ride to Jigokudani. This is known as the Snow Monkey Park. It is where Japanese Macaques swim in the hot springs surrounded by snow. We were greeted upon arrival by deep snow and very icy conditions underfoot for the 1.6km kilometre walk to the pool where the macaques bathe.
It was a shame that the weather was so miserable as it certainly stopped most of the birds from showing themselves high up in the trees. We had to watch our step very carefully as we picked our way along the icy path.
Japanese Macaques at Jigokudani
Japanese Macaques at Jigokudani
It was very cold and the steam was rising from the pool when we arrived. It was tempting to get in with the macaques as they looked warmer than we did. As I attempted some photography with my lens constantly steaming up underneath my umbrella, a Brown Dipper flew over my head and disappeared downstream. We spent some time admiring the macaques before making our way slowly back to the village.
Japanese Macaques at Jigokudani
Japanese Macaques at Jigokudani
Japanese Macaques (Snow Monkeys) at Jigokudani
Icicles on a house at Jigokudani
We wandered around the village and admired a few Siskin and Brambling in the village as well as a few White-cheeked Starlings on wires and foraging in bare patches in the snow.
We caught the bus down to the train station where before we got on board the train had a wonderful fish meal in a local cafe. We transferred to the Bullet Train once again and using the underground arrived in Ukima Park half an hour before dark. In the pouring rain we were fairly certain that we had picked out the Baer’s Pochard but none of us felt we could tick it in such awful light. However we could see Tufted Duck, Northern Pintail, Common Pochard, Eastern Spot-billed Duck, Smew, and a Black-crowned Night Heron.
Kushiro and a bit of our hire car!
We took a short ride on the underground to the domestic airport and flew to Hokkaido. We stepped outside the airport door and were greeted with an icy blast of minus 8 degrees in full sunlight. We picked up our hire car and headed to Akan and the Red-crowned Crane Centre. It was a beautiful day as we were blinded by the reflection from the snow. I was made chief-in-charge of the Sat Nav. Great! I have never used one before and coping with it in Japanese just made it all the more fun! (I was also in charge of wires too...more of this later!!!)
Siskin, Marsh Tit and Japanese Tit were calling as we made our way up the path to the Visitor Centre.
Once we had paid our money we walked through the doors and back out into the sun. The Red-crowned Cranes were right in front of us feeding upon grain put out for them. They were a delight to see. Whooper Swan were also flying around as was a White-tailed Eagle.
Sue at the Red-crowned Crane Centre
We lingered for some time at the centre and stayed for lunch before moving off to the Setsurigawa River where many photographers gather at dawn on the bridge to photograph the cranes in atmospheric light. Apparently they reserve their place for many hours before dawn in the freezing conditions.
Red-crowned Crane (juv)
At the river we added Japanese Wagtail, Mallard, Goosander, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Goldeneye to our trip list as well as spotting a Red Fox nearby.
We drove to our hostel for the night and sent Gunnar out for Pizzas as we were all too tired to eat out.
We headed back for the Setsurigawa bridge but did not arrive early enough for the dawn viewing of the cranes. Photographers had already amassed for the eerie light that gives them the photograph of their desires. We had obviously missed ‘the moment’ but as we were not photographers but birders, none of us were particularly bothered about this.
Michael amused at all the photographers
Red-crowned Cranes in the eerie morning light
We motored on north-east heading for Kiritappu but stopped en-route admiring Whooper Swans swimming on a river and a Steller’s Sea Eagle flying overhead. At times birding is AWESOME!!!
We stopped along our way because some Sika Deer had strayed onto the road and a bit further along the forested road I had spotted a small woodpecker in flight. Luckily we found the Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker along with a Brambling, Treecreeper and Japanese Tit (Eastern Great Tit).
Steller's Sea Eagle
Japanese Pygmy Woodpecker
Gunnar and his wires!
At this point I will explain some of the difficulties that birders have and the many hands that we need all at once. We are often laden down with binoculars, telescope on a tripod, camera, pager (if in the uk) field guide and a mobile phone. If birding abroad we are also often reliant on trip reports or nowadays information that is available on apps on mobile phones. Gunnar had come well prepared with two mobile phones, one for navigation and one with an app (BirdsEye) for latest sightings along with field descriptions as well as an ipad for our bookings etc. The trouble is with this, is that it all needs recharging, so Gunnar had brought a multi-point charging unit that plugged into the cigarette lighter. You have never seen so many wires. This would have been ok if the wires had stayed into position, but as it was one wire was broken and two plugs kept falling out of their sockets in the phones, so I was chief-in-charge of wires, whilst he drove. Not an easy task at times and caused quite a lot of amusement in the front of the car!! But as Gunnar said....very necessary!
We carried on towards Kiritappu following a snowplough that cleared our way.
Snow plough clearing our way
We were very lucky with the weather as although it was below freezing point the light conditions and almost flat sea made seawatching conditions ideal. Marcel certainly knew his birds as he picked out Ancient Murrelet, Japanese Murrelet, Long-billed Murrelet, Least Auklet, Crested Auklet, Pelagic Cormorant and between us we added Harlequin duck, Long-tailed Duck, Black Scoter, Common (Kamchatka) Gull, Red-breasted Merganser, Slavonian Grebe and Red-necked Grebe. It was an amazing few hours which was very enjoyable in the bright weather conditions albeit cold. We were also told about sea otters by other visitors and I took some footage on my phone and scope to send to my daughter as they fished in the cliffs below us.
We continued on our way and stopped at some gulls sitting on a sea wall. The identification of some of them proved challenging but we enjoyed views of Slaty-backed Gull, Glaucous Gull and Glaucous-winged Gull as well as a possible Thayer’s Gull.
We arrived at Washi No Yado just as it got dark and established that we had been booked into the annex a kilometre from the main house. This well-known location for Blakiston’s Fish Owl is very popular and needs to be booked up months in advance as photographers from all over the world descend upon it for the iconic photograph of an owl fishing. However we were encouraged to bring our birding and camera gear into the viewing cabin as quickly as possible, as our evening meal was awaiting us there. I was shocked at how many photographers were already in position with 600mm lens on tripods at the ready. We sat down to a good meal and took up our position. As we ate it had been warm inside the cabin but once we were all in position the lights were turned out and the windows were removed. The temperature dropped to minus 10 degrees!! I was glad of my two jumpers, two fleeces, fleece-lined tights, ski trousers as well as a padded anorak! It was going to be a long night as we all had front-seat view of the small pool full of fish with a spot-light trained on it. We were given a sheet of paper with instructions on how to set our camera up to cope with the strobe-like effect of the spot light and Marcel quickly set up both cameras. Thanks Marcel! Marcel, Michael and I settled in along with the other photographers. It was now about 8pm. By 10.30pm and no owl, about twenty photographers left and over the next few hours, more and more photographers gave up the vigil.
By 2am our eye-lids were struggling! I want to thank Nick Watmough here, for keeping me going by sending me messages from the UK not to give up! (Nick had been here a few weeks earlier) At some point in the next few hours I realised that everyone else was asleep and it wasn’t until Marcel’s alarm went off that we were all back paying attention again! As there were so few of us left the owner appeared and replaced the windows, giving us instructions that we could slide the panels to the middle quickly if the owl appeared. The temperature rose from minus ten to just about freezing!
Blakiston's Fish Owl Pool with the spot light trained on it
Blakiston's Fish Owl Pool with the spot light trained on it
By 4am hopes were beginning to fade as it would be light in just over an hour or so. All of a sudden at 4.30am motor drives on cameras were rolling as a Blakiston’s Fish Owl was sat in a tree overlooking the small pool that we had trained our eyes on for the last eleven hours! By this point I didn’t care if I got a photo or not as I just wanted to see the owl. However my camera was poised on a foam ledge and I thought I might as well give it a go. I didn’t have much faith given the slow shutter setting but I have never been so pleased with the results that I managed to obtain, given the circumstances of our vigil!
Blakiston's Fish Owl
Blakiston's Fish Owl swooping down catching its fish
Blakiston's Fish Owl with its fish
The owl swooped down and grabbed a fish in its talons and landed to position the fish. After a quick bite it took off again and out of sight. The whole event was over in a few minutes but the relief amongst those of us still present was palpable! We thought we might as well stay until daybreak just in case it returned, but it was not to be, so when daylight came were fed breakfast in the cabin and went to the annex for a quick freshen up and drove to Rausu harbour for our 8.30am pelagic. Given the fact that we had virtually no sleep, I was amazed how the cold air and adrenalin kept us all going.
Whilst waiting for our boat to arrive we admired a couple of Harlequin Duck and a few Greater Scaup in the harbour as well as a lone Dunlin. The boat duly arrived and we put our life jackets on. I felt like Michelin man with all the layers that I had on in attempt to keep warm. We sailed out to the sea-ice and I was staggered at all the eagles sitting on the ice. There must have been over 200 eagles, mostly Steller’s Sea Eagles but about 50 White-tailed Eagles. We found a spot against some ice and sat it out whilst the crew threw fish over the side. Soon the eagles were swooping down to pick up the ice. I discovered that I had the wrong lens (400mm) as most of the eagles were coming too close for me to get the shot of them picking up the fish! How I wished I had brought my 100-400mm lens.
Eagles sitting on the sea ice
Sue feeling like Michelin Man!
Out into the Pacific from Rausu
I took far too many photos as the whole scene was mesmerising. I have to say it goes into my top ten of birding experiences as I enjoyed the day so much.
White-tailed-Eagle with a fish in its talons
Steller's Sea Eagle
Steller's Sea Eagle
Steller's Sea Eagle and Large-billed Crow
Steller's Sea Eagle
Steller's Sea Eagle
Steller's Sea Eagle catching its lunch
As well as admiring the eagles we were treated to views of Slaty-backed Gull, Glaucous Gull, Common Gull (Kamchatka) and Glaucous-winged Gull.
It started snowing and I took a few atmospheric photos of the eagles in the snow but it was difficult to keep the snow off the camera and I retreated into the cabin for a leisurely ride back. Tiredness was now beginning to set in having had virtually no sleep the night before and we soon arrived back in the harbour. Gunnar drove to Furen where we made ourselves comfortable in our hosts’ home in the warm!
We sat down to an amazing Japanese meal of fish in our hosts’ home, all washed down with a wonderful bottle of liqueur. After a short while my head was spinning (through tiredness, you understand) and I had to go to bed!
Marcel and Michael enjoying the preparation of our evening meal.
The view from our breakfast table at Furen-lodge
Through the window we watched Brown-eared Bulbul, Eurasian (Siberian) Nuthatch, Marsh Tit and Tree Sparrow all feeding on the bird table. Our hosts informed us that our booked pelagic had been cancelled that morning but knew of a local fisherman that might be prepared to take us out in his fishing boat. So arrangements were made for us to do this and we made our way to Nemuro after thanking our hosts for their hospitality.
Michael Marcel and Gunnar
En-route to Nemuro
As we travelled to Nemuro the wind increased and by the time we arrived the snow was blowing horizontally across the road. The captain of the boat was concerned for our safety and said that he didn’t mind if we cancelled as he felt that it was too rough for any decent birding. The boat did not have any toilet facilities and I knew in rough conditions that my bladder would not last the 3 to 4 hours that we would be out at sea. Very sadly I decided not to go but the others went ahead. I waved goodbye to them as they set off. Almost as soon as they set sail the wind suddenly dropped and I bitterly regretted my decision not to go.
I wandered around the harbour enjoying the birds on offer. Black Scoter, Long-tailed Duck and Greater Scaup were in the harbour waters and Slaty-backed Gulls were loafing around the edge.
After about an hour of enjoying the sun I made my way back to the office where I had been promised a few hours sitting in the warm in a massage chair with a nice cup of green tea. The massage chair was very relaxing as I sat in a sunny window and the tea even better!
The others returned and regaled me with tales of all the alcids that they had seen. Luckily there was only one bird that would have been a tick for me but Marcel did have some nice photos of them! Never mind.........can’t win them all!
We drove up to Nosappu Point where we admired the views but failed in our quest of some rosefinches. The heavy overnight snow meant that there was no snow-free ground for the birds to feed on.
Sue at Nemuro Hokkaido
We drove away but stopped shortly after to admire a Hawfinch in a roadside tree. We also saw a small flock of Siskin and Common Redpoll later feeding at the roadside.
We drove back to Kushiro after enjoying another fantastic Sushi meal, where after depositing the car at the airport flew back to Tokyo.
We landed in the evening and after catching the train walked a fair distance with our suitcases to Airbnb rooms for the night. We were all too tired to go out for a meal and I made do with a cake.
The following morning Gunnar helped me to the train and I travelled to the airport to board my flight to Amsterdam and back to Norwich.
Sculpture of Blakiston's Fish Owl at Kushiro Airport
I wish to thank Gunnar for organising the trip and my fellow participants for making it such an enjoyable trip (if a little chilly at times!)