On a bird watching photography workshop tour in Hokkaido, priority should be given to tracking The Steller's Sea Eagles, which can be seen from Rausu to Nemuro and even in the Kushiro region when the pack-ice is thin, and food is scarce. But in recent years, wildlife agencies have erected feeding stations in case of a lean year. Also, from Nemuro to Rausu, approximately 160km or 100miles, there are about a dozen natural feeding points for the eagles and two more spots where you can pay to see the eagles devouring fresh fish. I have over 20 years' experience in the region with a satellite office in the area and many friends who are local fishermen. Having spent many seasons photographing in Hokkaido and all over Japan, I understand the lay of the land and the feeding times at these stations and pay spots, so I don't often miss photographing the Steller's Sea Eagles. My fellow birding leaders from international destinations or even photographers living in Japan mostly lack the inside info to the region and where to photograph the raptors in their natural environment in lean years with little pack ice. It can be amusing to watch them scurry around, making excuses to their customers on their Hokkaido photo tours. I have heard many such conversations over lunch in Rausu, or at our lodgings around the dinner table, while visiting photo leaders are making excuses. At the same time, my participants and I are toasting to another successful day of birding.
The Steller's Sea Eagle is one of the most giant 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 HUGE, hooked bill is yellow; when they feed, they do it with raw power. If you are close enough, you will see them slice through the flesh of their prey as their bill is razor-sharp, and you can hear the bones cracking as they devour the fresh flesh. The eagles are masters at fishing; it’s incredible to watch as they swoop down and catch fish in their talons.
The Steller's Sea Eagle prefers a diet of trout, salmon, or other fish but will eat sea lions or land animals when fishing is slow. The Steller's Sea Eagle is protected by law and is designated as a national treasure in Japan, 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. The photo on this newsletter of the Steller's Sea Eagle I photographed on the deck of a ship out of Rausu with the Nikon D850 and Sigma’s 120-300mm f/2.8 DG OS HSM Sport with Sigma’s 1.4x teleconverter giving me a focal range 168-420mm. Our ship's captain jammed us in the pack ice with the rising sun to our backs; my camera settings were 1/3200th, f/11, ISO 500.