Hyoko Lake in Niigata: Paradise for Migratory Birds
Niigata is a beautiful city generously blessed with nature. Out of the many tourists destinations to witness in winter, Lake Hyo or Hyoko (Ko meaning lake in Japanese) is one the most popular one. Lake Hyo lies in the Agano City of Niigata. The lake is an important site specifically for bird researchers, and in general for bird watchers. But, who does not like birds anyway?
Lake Hyo is a big lake with 281 hectares of reservoir area and is about 2 metres deep. The reservoir was created long back in 1639 for irrigation purpose during the Edo period of the Japanese history. Ever since the lake has been exhibiting its serenity for centuries and yet the beauty of the lake hasn’t diminished. The lake also entered the list of protected wetlands as per the international Ramsar Convention in 2008. So, this lake holds a special value as a natural resource in Niigata.
Lake Hyo is a popular tourist destination in winter because the lake hosts thousands of migratory swans that fly into the lake to skip the severe winters of the Siberian regions. The area surrounding the lake has been established as a rich natural park. It is surrounded by hundreds of cherry blossom trees which make the park glorious when they bloom in spring. Even in winter the black trees contrast so well with the white frozen lake that the whole view looks monochromatic. It makes the ambience extremely photogenic.
The large white swans resting over the frozen lake numbering about a thousand, or more are the most noticeable at the lake during winter. The lake also hosts the local ducks and other different varieties that migrated from nearby areas. But the coexistence of the large white swans with their smaller counterparts makes the lake a lot more attractive. The lake can be visited almost any time of the year for its picturesque natural beauty. However, to meet and greet those gorgeous guests you better be there between November to March. It is a good idea to walk to the lake around late afternoon to catch a perfect glimpse of thousands of big swans who are returning back to the lake for retiring for the night. During the day time they fly around into the paddy fields to look for food, which is usually the left-overs from the last rice harvest.
During my recent visit, I was intrigued when I saw how the lake management team kept track of the number of birds in the lake. A large display board holds the records of all the birds at the lake. Isn’t that amazing?
During the summers, the lake attracts lotus blooms while in autumn they have Iris festivals ever year which are very famous in Niigata. So, no matter what the season is, Lake Hyo will not disappoint you. It just depends on what you would love to see there. If you adore birds, winter is definitely the best time to visit.
This lake is being managed by the joint efforts of the local people and the city. You will also enjoy how the professional nature photographers spend hours at the banks of the lake trying to get that perfect shot when a swan spreads its majestic wings just before its flight. So if you are into nature photography this spot is a true paradise. Just dress warmly because you will be outdoors and try to choose a sunny day for your visit. With the bright winter sun falling on the white ice, the lake illuminates and looks splendid.
Among the visitors, there were many families with young children but also couples walking around the lake hand in hand giving the lake a romantic touch. I haven’t had a chance to go to the lake during the sunset but I believe the sunset must look amazing too.
Good news for visitors, the lake does not have any entrance fees. You have a chance to feed the birds and you can buy bird-food near the lake area too. There are also a few small souvenir shops within the lake area that sell local products from Niigata that you may take home as a souvenir or as a memory of the place.
Hyo lake has also been hosting some peacocks in a big cage so you may pay them a visit as well. Kids are seen crowding around the huge netted cage.
Access to the lake is very easy as the lake is located centrally in the city. It is only 7 minutes by car from Suibara Station. Or if you are driving all the way make an exit at Yasuda IC or Niitsu IC on the Banetsu Expressway. It should be around 15 minutes.