Sea Eagle Wars
Episode I: The Phantom Eagle
This battle of a man vs a colossal, Siberian bird of prey began back in July of 2021 in Ontario. For me. For the Steller’s Sea-Eagle, the journey to celebrity status in Eastern Canada and the United States, began much earlier in, perhaps, Russia. They are normally found in Russia, Korea, China and Japan. It was a bird that was rare even in the Aleutian Islands, which are not that far from Russia, but spending time on the North American mainland was not expected.
This particular Steller’s Sea-Eagle, one of just about 4000 remaining birds, has been on North American soil since at least August of 2020, nearly a year before I drove to Quebec to try and see it for the first time. In August of 2020, it was first reported along the Denali Highway in Alaska. Certainly far from home,(about 4700 miles), but not so far from the Aleutians as to be a total surprise. But that was only the beginning of this incredible, giant eagle’s story.
I have pinned every state and province where it was reported.
The highlighted one is where I finally saw it in New Brrunswick
Episode II: Attack of the Rare Bird Alerts
The biggest surprise was still to come. In March of 2021, after a winter storm blew through Texas, the Sea-Eagle had found its way to the Barnhart Nature Retreat outside San Antonio, Texas. Birders there were stunned. They had never seen anything like it. They assumed that it was likely the same bird that had been seen in Alaska. It had made its way, unseen for months, to the far south.
And then, it vanished and was all but forgotten. It was probably stealthily making its way north, again, somehow evading binoculars and birders all the way to Quebec, Canada. On June 28, 2021 it was reported from the Gaspe Peninsula. It was shortly after that when I came into the picture. I heard about it at the beginning of July and so began my odyssey to see the Steller’s Sea-Eagle. I was unable to go in July and then it went unreported for a while. In August I heard that it had been re-found, not so far from the original location and I drove the nearly 15 hours to Quebec, only to get there a day late, and a few dollars short, as the saying goes. I headed back to Ontario, disappointed, and figured that I had lost my one and only chance to see this once in a lifetime bird. It also showed up in New Brunswick for a bit, and would one day return there,(just for me?).
In November of 2021 it was spotted in Falmouth, Nova Scotia and in December, as I was planning my Canada Big Year and thinking I had another shot at getting this bird for the 2022 year list, it suddenly turned up in Massachusetts. Oh, no, I thought. It’s migrated back to the US. Would it fly south for the winter? Of course, this was during the pandemic and US birders weren’t able to cross into Canada, so they were rushing to the scene to see it for themselves For myself, any other time, I would have driven directly there, as I had once done for many a rare bird, including a Black-backed Oriole.
Episode III: Revenge of the Steller’s
With just weeks before the official start of my Big Year, I had to accept that the bird was gone, at least for now, and concentrate on where to go for January 1, 2022. Would the Steller’s have plans to return to Canada, or was he just continuing south for warmer temperatures? These questions would be frustratingly answered over the next 10 months.
While I was spending the first week of 2022 in Nova Scotia, adding a Lifer Dovekie, one of the smallest sea birds, one of the largest, the Steller’s Sea-Eagle was tantalizingly close in Sheepscot River, Maine. Question: Would the winds change and send this sightseeing sea bird back to Canada before I headed back to Ontario? Answer: A Big Fat NO!
And so, I continued on with my travels, adding new birds and Lifers to the year list, occasionally checking e-Bird to see if my nemesis ignored Covid travel restrictions and returned to the country that had so generously hosted it in 2021.