Bird Watching

The Shitada area’s quiet, forested setting with plenty of hills and rivers make it an extremely attractive area for a wide variety of birdlife. Most famous are the majestic white swans that migrate from Siberia to spend the winter along the rivers, but other species, both migratory and year-round residents, can be found here. Along with other waterfowl are woodpeckers, tits, the beautiful blue oruri (blue and white flycatcher), known for its song, kingfishers, black kites and peregrine falcons. One you may hear but not see is the akashobin (ruddy kingfisher), a favorite of Japanese birders and also a seasonal traveler from as far away as Vietnam.

Swan Town Park
Winged winter visitors along the Igarashi River

Flowing around the northwestern base of Mt. Awagatake is the pure Igarashi River; from the end of November each year, flocks of swans arrive from Siberia to spend the winter here. There are several spots in northern Niigata that welcome migratory birds, but Shitada is unique for the birds gathering on the river, rather than a lake or pond. This makes this a great spot for photography: the birds are close by, and the Park features a building with an indoor viewing area, vending machines and rest rooms. The swans tend to be along the river in the mornings and late afternoons, then head into the rice fields to search for food in midday. This is a wonderful place to see these magnificent birds, which are also seen as a symbol of good luck.

Yagigahana Peregrine Falcon Breeding Area
Birdwatching at a designated natural monument

Its dive makes it the fastest bird in the world; the sparkling eyes and characteristic striped patterns on its sides makes the hayabusa—the peregrine falcon—a striking bird—and it makes its nests right here on the high walls of Yagigahana. While it is generally considered a migratory bird, in fact peregrine falcons inhabit this area throughout the year. Here they build their bests, some 200 meters above the base of Yagigahana. People have been watching the birds for centuries, with an Edo Era (1603-1868) travel guide mentioning the birds as Yagitaka (the hawks of Yagi) and worshipped as deities. The area was first designated by Niigata Prefecture as a natural monument in 1965; every year in early June, the young birds born that year first take wing and glide away from the cliff.


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