Annually for over 20 years, I have been leading Hokkaido photography tours in Summer, Autumn, and Winter. My favorite time of the year for birding is winter when The Steller's Sea Eagle Migrates to Japan from the Sea of Ohotsk where they breed on land and spend Spring to winter, then when it's get's freezing-cold they ride the pack-ice and feed fish off it which is their natural habitat during the winter months. I love up Up-close and personal encounter with the magnificent Steller’s Sea Eagle on pack-ice, the Stellar’s Sea Eagle’s, in my opinion, are best photographed from Zodiac boats. Hence, you are at equal height eye to eye level of these magnificent birds; it truly is an amazing experience. But the weather is not always favorable for safe sea travel in inflatable Zodiacs, so I always have our group Hokkaido photo tours booked on large chartered vessels, that also have a washroom and cabin. But if the weather and seas are in our favor, I highly recommend Zodiacs, but be warned it can be a bumpy ride.
The Steller's Sea Eagle is one of the largest and most fierce diurnal birds on Earth. These Eagles are huge, on average, the heaviest raptor on our planet, weighing up to 10 kg (22 pounds). They are also tall, measuring up to 94cm (3 ft), with a huge wingspan of up to 250 cm (8.2ft). Their plumage is blackish brown-black all over except on the shoulders, rump, tail thighs, and forehead, which are white. Their big bill is Yellow and wickedly hooked, with raw force, they quickly slice through the flesh of their prey and devour it. The Eagles are masters at fishing. It’s incredible to watch as they swoop down and catch fish in their talons.
These amazing raptors prefer a diet of trout, salmon or other fish but will eat sea lion or land species when fishing is slow. The Steller's Sea Eagle is protected by law and is designated as a National Treasure in Japan, and is listed as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)'s Red List of Endangered species. Around 5000 remain in the wild, and over 2000, visit Japan every winter. I photographed these Stellar's Sea Eagles, White-Tailed Eagles using Nikon D850, and Sigma’s 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sport with Sigma’s 2x teleconverter giving me a focal range 240mm - 600mm. Some images are from the deck of a large chartered vessel, and some from a Zodiac in all imaged we were up close or jammed into the pack-ice with the sun to our backs. My camera settings for these image are between 1/2000th-1/3200th, f/8 - f/11, and about ISO 500 depending on lighting, and I am usually on aperture priority. Still, sometimes I use manual, but I never use P as P stands for professional, ("p for pro, is a photographers joke", for those who don't get it!): Namaste, Blain in Japan.