As winter nears, thousands of Steller’s sea eagles make their way to Hokkaido from the Kamchatka Peninsula. If you journey up along the north-eastern coastline of Hokkaido towards Abashiri, you can catch glimpses of these elegant birds perched on tall distant trees and power lines.
Located along the shores of Okhotsk, Abashiri is the southern-most point where the ocean freezes over. The frozen mass of fresh water and salt waters originates from the borders of China and Russia where the Amur River meets the Sea of Okhotsk. From there this white, mysterious ice mass makes it way all the way down south around the western coastline of the Shiretoko Peninsula, and along with it the Steller's sea eagles.
Do take the Abashiri Drift Ice boat tour. A sight not to be missed, marvel at the way the ice gives way as the icebreaker makes its way through the drift ice across the bay. You will be able to spot many of the local birdlife such as seagulls and White-tailed and Steller’s Sea Eagles as the boat makes its way through the drift ice.
Named after the German naturalist Georg Steller, the magnificent Steller’s sea eagles are one of the largest raptors in the world, surpassing even the famed North American bald eagles. Also one of the rarest raptors, the Steller’s sea eagles can weigh over 10 kilograms and a fully-grown male can have a wingspan of over two metres long. They are easily distinguishable from the White Tailed Eagles as they have a dark brown and white plumage amidst the tangerine beaks and talons
We were able to spot some of these eagles flying along the coastline as we made our way along Notsuke Peninsula. Alas they were too far away for a good shot and flew off as soon as we made our way closer.
The other place where you can catch a glimpse of these two species of sea eagles are along the coastal region of Nemuro. Pay a visit to the Nemuro City Shunkunitai Primeval Wild Bird Park Nature Center to gather information as to the best times and places where you are most likely to see these eagles. They will advise you as to the most recent sighting of these creatures around the area.
No less magnificent are the White-Tailed sea eagles. The juvenile (as in the photo below) has a darker beak. Side-by-side with the Steller's, these sea eagles are smaller in size and have a lighter, more brownish plumage.
One of the spots recommended was the Tobai Hide Wild Bird Observation House. Here you can watch the sea eagles from the comfort of the rest house provided you are able to unravel the ingenuity of the Japanese’ way of opening and closing the windows of the hideaway hut.
It is M.K. Wong's dream to visit at least 50 countries before his feet can carry him no more. With over 35 countries under his belt, M.K. is planning for his next escapade.