Steller’s Eagles

Still dark at 5:00 as I was picked up from Minshuku Marumi Shokuu taken 10 minutes to a small wood shack out of the brittle cold and asked for money; I paid.  I was in Rausu, a small fishing village five bus hours further north and east from Kushiro. Drift ice flowed in overnight much closer to the harbour, that was good, not so far to go.  I was struggling with a body wracking cough that made my ability to handle the small rocking boat even worse than my normal abysmal balance allowed for.  The railing around the boat deck was covered in ice, but that was not my main issue; it was only mid-thigh high on me.  I like my railings around chest high.  We were given life-vests but as I was told on another water trip years ago ‘Don’t worry, if you fall in you aren’t coming out alive.’  I dove down into the small cabin and held on.

In all things your mind can really play games with you, but you try to persevere.  Once the boat stopped and I saw the eagles rising in the morning sun my apprehension dissipated.  I was here to see and photograph Steller’s Eagles and there they were.  I headed out onto the deck to get to work.

Steller’s Eagles are by some measures the world’s largest eagles.  They weigh up to 20 pounds and have wingspans up to 8.2 ft.  I have read about them for years and they were a contributing factor in this trip.  They are a fish and seabird eating raptor whose range is now down to the north east coast of Asia.  Their primary breeding territory is the Kamchatka Peninsula.  Some migrate in winter as far south as Hokkaido.  Most do not migrate.  There are about 4000 left, possibly 300 get to Hokkaido.   My little group were privileged to watch about 20 of them, enticed by the fish thrown out a few at a time by one of our guides over the next two hours.

At first the rising sun was the spectacle and trying to get photos into the sun took a bit more skill than I have. A Japanese couple: he with a basic SLR and small zoom, she with a cell phone were snapping away into the sun.  The other paying customer, an experienced Indian was alternating between three cameras, two with enormous lenses.  We would all hope for the best.  Possibly the most pronounced feature of the Steller’s is the prominent yellow beak.

The Steller’s were joined by a few White-Tailed Eagles, only slightly smaller, about the same size as our Bald Eagle. Note difference in bill size. Unlike the Steller’s they are fairly numerous across the top of Eurasia.  There were also some Slaty-backed Gulls and some Large-billed Crows.

As the sun slowly rose, the harbour behind us began to show.  The snowy mountains in the background and the drift-ice we were sitting in occasionally took my attention away from the birds.  I was also now able to focus on a few flying shots as birds seemed to be coming and going all the time

Drift-Ice at Rausu

It was all pretty frantic as this is a one-time shot, and any shots that I missed I would not be getting.  It was too cold on the deck to do much checking the quality of my photos.  I could only hope that my technique was solid enough that there would be some good pictures.

It was over all too soon.  We headed into the harbour, I was bundled into a little car and taken back to my minshuku where breakfast was on the table waiting for me.  I started eating and was told, sign language of course, that the bus would be stopping outside in 30 minutes.  OK, and then that changed to 15 minutes and I would be driven to the bus station for the ride back to Kushiro.  By 9:00 I was on my way back to Kushiro.  The whole Rausu adventure lasted 16 hours.  I had hoped also to find a little place where the Blakiston Fish-Owl turned up from time to time.  I guess that turned out to be a no-go.  I’m not sure if they were begin super supportive of what they assumed I wanted or if they just needed me out of there.

Oh well. This was my last Japan birding effort.  Now I will, in the next two weeks, change gears a bit.

About kenmyhre

I am a retired educator, computer professional. Now I like to travel the world by bicycle, on foot and periodically on skis
This entry was posted in Birds and Animals, Japan. Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Steller’s Eagles

  1. David Hutchinson says:

    Glad you’re getting to see the cranes & eagles, but keep the body

  2. lmirtle says:

    Another amazing adventure.  I hope your cough clears up before the biking starts. The weather will be warmer in Taiwan which will also help. Thanks for the update and take care. LillySent from my Galaxy

  3. sallyoddy says:


    Get Outlook for Android ________________________________

  4. Zak Karbalai says:

    Your technique was solid enough.
    “Steller” pictures.

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