We kicked off our 2011 Snow Monkeys & Cranes expedition (our 14th!) with a bang. Within minutes of our flight arriving into Kagoshima Airport February 4, and just as I was pointing out its modest plume of steam and ash, Mt. Shinmoe erupted in spectacular fashion sending a billowing ash cloud high into the sky right before our eyes (and with our ANA plane in the foreground!). The eruption dictated a few minor changes to our plans, but rewarded us with a completely unexpected sight!
After spending the morning at Kirishima Jingu, a beautiful shinto shrine set amidst woodland, we opted to cross to the coast of southwest Kyushu to visit a location I have not previously had the chance to visit—the Manose River. Here, we were extremely fortunate to find the small flock of black-faced spoonbills that make this their home during the winter. We saw 13 of these globally-endangered species with a range that spans the Chinese coast between Hong Kong and the Korean Peninsula. This was the largest flock I have ever encountered in Japan making the day a double, red-letter day. What better way to round out such a stunning day than with a soak in an outdoor hot spring pool—so that is exactly what some of us did, complete with view out over the city lights of Kagoshima. And that was just our first full day in Japan!