The Steller's Sea Eagle is one of the largest and fiercest diurnal raptors in our wildlife kingdom. These eagles are huge; on average, they are 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 giant wingspan of up to 250 cm (8.2ft). Their unique plumage is blackish brown-black all over except on the shoulders, rump, tail thighs, and forehead, which are white. Their big bill is yellowish orange and is wickedly, purposefully hooked. With their raw power, Steller’s Sea Eagles can quickly slice through the flesh of their prey, salmon being their first choice, and I have seen them devour an entire one in minutes. When the urge to feed rises in these vicious raptors, their only instinct is to eat and fight like gladiators to sustain themselves, and this is why during my annual Hokkaido Photo Tour, the birding photography centerpieces are the Steller’s Sea Eagles and the White-tailed Eagles. The White-tailed Eagle is known as the 4th largest raptor on our planet. They measure from 66 to 94 cm (26 to 37 in) in total length with a wingspan of 1.78 to 2.45 m (5 ft 10 to 8 ft), and they make the Steller’s work for every mouthful of captured fish.
I have seen Steller's Sea Eagles and White-tailed Eagles land and huddle for warmth, to shield themselves from the wind chill when needed. However, this sympathetic behavior is purely survival oriented and is always a short-lived cessation of hostilities. As soon as prey becomes their primary focus, or a member of the uneasy cabal catches a fish, a rodent, a rabbit, or any form of edible prey, the battle begins anew. The land campaign can quickly become an air war. The successful hunters immediately try to land and devour their prey, but on many occasions, they take to the air to defend their catch, others seek higher elevations to start their dive bombing or a sneak attack from below or a blind spot in the hunter’s line of sight in order to strip the prize away. These birds' natural feeding habitat during winter is on pack-ice fishing, and this is why one of the main events on my Hokkaido Photo Workshop/Tour takes place from the deck of a chartered vessel photographing the Steller's Sea Eagle and the White-tailed Eagles. The battles between the two factions rage so violently that it could be the subject of an Epic Spartan Poem of adventure and hard-fought victories on ice packs slick with the blood of the fallen. In Eastern Japan, young human children and house pets such as dogs and cats are carefully watched when venturing out on their own once The Steller’s Sea Eagle and the White-tailed Eagle’s food supply becomes scarce. There are even fables of children going missing during these periods due to insufficient safety protocols being followed. It's a far too familiar story that cats, dogs, and even deer go missing. This raw power and natural instinct are why they have been around since dinosaurs.
This coming February, I am looking forward to Hokkaido and photographing the Steller’s Sea Eagles as I have done for over twenty winters, but this year due to social distancing, I have transferred all my client's reservations from 2021 to our February 2022 Hokkaido Photo Tour. There will be portable test kits available soon, and the vaccine is looking promising, but the distribution of these much needed resources will be the challenge. However, this coming winter, I am almost positive it will be just us locals filming and photographing the magnificent Steller’s Sea Eagle and White-tailed Eagle, along with the Red-Crowned Cranes, Blakiston's Fish Owl, Ezo Sika Deer, and the adorable Shima Enaga and other wildlife. I look forward to catching up with international friends and clients starting with my Cherry Blossom Photo Tour April 2021. Namaste, Blain in Japan.