Karuizawa Wild Bird Sanctuary: Birds, Asiatic Black Bears, and Flying Squirrels
Karuizawa is a mountain resort in Nagano, Japan. Because of its location in the middle, it has cool summers, as a result, many tokyoites come to take refuge from the brutal summer heat. In the wintertime, skiing and hot spring are popular forms of recreation. The shopping street Ginza Dōri is a frequent haunt of the rich and famous such as Japanese Royalty and even John Lennon and Yoko Ono. Karuizawa is the only city to host winter and summer Olympic events but that will change when Bejing hosts the winter Olympics in 2024. Karuizawa isn’t just a summer retreat for the rich and powerful, it is also a refuge for Japanese wildlife. Despite being only a 1.5-hour Shinkansen ride from Tokyo, Kaurizawa is blessed with nature and biodiversity. It is home to Karuizawa Wild Bird Sanctuary,one of only 4 national Wild Bird Sanctuaries in Japan.
Karuizawa Wild Bird Sanctuary
The deciduous and coniferous forest of the Karuizawa Wild Bird Sanctuary supports over 80 species of birds, some of which are rare. Spring and summer are the best times to see birds here. Some of the birds that can be seen here are the Copper Pheasant(Endemic), Japanese Green Wood Pecker(Endemic), and the Ural Owl. The sanctuary has rest facilities and well-maintained trails.
The Picchio Wildlife Research Center is located here with the purpose of encouraging Ecotourism. Picchio is the Italian word for a woodpecker.Picchio is renowned worldwide for ecotourism and is a must go to best for ethical wildlife tours in Japan. Picchio offers a variety of tours to see wildlife and does conservation of Asiatic in Black Bears. The tours have a fee but the majority of that money will go to bear conservation efforts. They offer tours to see Serow(18,000 yen), Flying Squirrels(3400 yen), and Asiatic Black Bears(22,000). They also offer more tours to see various kinds of wildlife at night.
Japanese Giant Flying Squirrels
There are forty species of mammals in the Karuizawa Wild Bird Sanctuary but the Japanese Giant Flying Squirrel is probably the most spectacular to see. It is one of the largest species of flying squirrel in the world. At night, you can witness them gliding along the treetops. With the tours at Picchio, you have a 90 percent chance of seeing them. Establish in 1995, it was the first Japanese Giant Flying Squirrel tour and still pretty much the only one. The tour lasts 90 minutes and is held from mid-March to the end of November. If you would like to know more, here is an interesting post from a German blogger about the Flying Squirrel tour.
Asiatic Black bears
Picchio primarily works on the conservation of Asiatic Black Bears and has done a lot of research on the species and worked on ways for humans and bears to coexist. Their goal is to reduce bear-human conflict so humans do not want to get rid of the bears, who play a vital role in the eco-system. They use Karelian bear dogs which originally were used to hunt bears but now they help save the bears. The dogs are trained to chase the bears from areas inhabited by humans. They have been successful in reducing conflicts and overall sighting of bears in residential areas.
From Tokyo, take a 1.5-hour Shinkansen ride to Karuizawa station. From there, take the Seibu Kanko bus (20 minutes) to Picchio.
Hours: 9:30 am-5pm (April-November), 9:30 am-3pm (December-March, but open until 5 pm on weekends and public holidays)
Admission: Free to enter Kaurizawa Wild Bird Sanctuary but you will have to pay if you want a guided tour.