The Steller’ sea eagle is the champion of Raptors, glacial relics that have survived several ice ages. Somehow they seem immune to the passage of time. They are such extremely rare and formidable birds of prey that they have been around since the day of the dinosaurs, representing near evolutionary perfection, and with its deep piercing voice ra-ra-ra-raurau, those who have been in their presence “in the wild” have heard the echoes of the Steller’s dinosaur legacy.
Part of their evolutionary success may be their narrowly defined habitat and hunting grounds. Most of the year, The Steller’s Sea Eagles usually call northeastern Siberia their home, but during winter, the Steller’s sea eagles venture to a slightly warmer climate and better winter fishing grounds of Hokkaido, Japan, so if the Steller’s sea eagle photo op is what you’re after, you’ll need to make the pilgrimage to Hokkaido to make your dinosaur raptor dream a reality, and as many professional birding photographers know, a local or well-experienced Hokkaido workshop leader or guide is a necessity. I have spent over 20 years photographing in Hokkaido, and I have captured Steller’s Sea Eagles and their perpetual adversary, the White-tailed Eagle, on hundreds of occasions.
Veronica de Bruyn Birthday Party while in Hokkaido. If you join us during your birthday, you might just get a surprise birthday party. And the Sake pours freely and is on me!
Al Perry joined our Luminous Landscape photography expedition in 2019 and celebrated his birthday with us, in Shibetsu Hokkaido. Al is an amazingly talented wildlife photographer, and we have become good friends. Also, we are looking forward to once again working with The Luminous Landscape and Josh and Irene Reichmann Cortes hosting amazing photography adventures in Japan, one especially with the beginners Zen mindset and mediation in focus, where we will visit various power points throughout Japan. Be ready to sign up for this once social distancing subsides; on this adventure, participants will also be introduced and guided by several concierges of the Japanese Zen meditation forests.
The Steller's sea eagle is an amazing raptor, and is one of my favorite birds to visit on my annual Hokkaido photo tour. These raptors have a razor sharp, wickedly hooked huge yellow bill that is the largest of all eagles. They prefer the taste of sweet trout, salmon, or other fish but will eat sea lions or just about any land species when fishing is slow. Young human children and house pets such as dogs and cats are carefully watched when venturing out on their own when 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 far too common that cats, dogs, and some young livestock and even deer go missing when the hunting is slow.
These birds have even been known to attack cranes, swans, and often can be seen fighting with the fourth largest raptor on our planet, the White-tailed eagle. But I have seen the Steller’s Sea Eagle and the White-tailed Eagle among other birds huddle for warmth against strong cold arctic cold blasts. But 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, their raptor instinct comes alive. The successful hunters immediately try to land and devour their prey, but on many occasions, they take to the air to defend their catch while others seek higher elevations to start their divebombing or a sneak attack from below or a blind spot in the hunter’s line of sight in order to strip the prize away. This is why one of the main events on my Hokkaido Photo Workshop/Tour takes place from the deck of a ship photographing the Steller's Sea Eagle and the White-tailed Eagles.
On some occasions, when the seas are calm, we use zodiac boats, and we can get so close to the feeding frenzy that we can clearly hear the battle cries of each bird as they exchange barbs and slashes. If the conflicts end with a clear victor and you are close enough in a zodiac, you will be able to hear the stripping of the flesh away from the fish’s carcass and the victorious eagle crushing the bones as it eagerly devours its prize. However, during some conflicts, there is no clear victor, except us photographers who have captured still images and videos of unforgettable exchanges between two mighty raptor species on the pack ice. On some occasions, I have been so close to a feasting bird that the hairs on the back of neck stood up and set me on edge, a mix of adrenaline and apprehension. I had unwittingly entered the sphere of predation, and I felt that I could be the next prey as a dinosaur contemporary set its eyes on me. I slowly set my camera down and raised my monopod should the need for self-defense arise. It was the birding experience of a lifetime, one that I hope and know will come again on my Hokkaido Photo Tour.