BRUCE MACTAVISH: What will become of Steller’s solitary sea eagle, the displaced flying beast from Siberia that now roams the coast of Newfoundland?


It was a hot Saturday afternoon while I was birdwatching along Bellevue Beach when a text message arrived from Chris Ryan.

He informed me that Steller’s sea eagle had again been photographed near Trinity on a Trinity Eco-Tour boat trip. The Facebook images were good enough to confirm his identity and throw another gas can on the pile of embers that has been smoldering among Newfoundland birdwatchers since April.

The famous Siberian bird has been tracked across North America since its first appearance in Alaska in August 2020. In the winter and spring of 2022, it was roaming Massachusetts, Maine and, finally, Nova Scotia .

On April 22, Andrew Pike shocked the Newfoundland and Labrador birding community when he photographed the bird sailing alongside him on a hike near Bauline. The next sighting was on May 30 when he was photographed on the south coast near McCallum.

Then, nothing more, until June 29 when Hank Learning photographed it at Boat Harbor on the tip of the Great Northern Peninsula.

A Steller’s sea eagle. -Vincent Camacho photo/Unsplash

Just days after the Boat Harbor sighting, rumors began of Steller’s sea eagle being seen from the tour boat operations out of Trinity.

Finally, on July 20, images surfaced, dispelling any doubts about the presence of the sea eagle in Trinity Bay. The next morning, nine birdwatchers chartered a Trinity Eco-Tours boat for a three-hour trip to search for eagles. After counting a spectacular 134 bald eagles, we were unfortunately unable to connect with Steller’s great eagle.

News of the bird remained silent for the next 16 days, until Steve Kew’s photograph on August 6.

At 9am on August 7, seven enthusiasts piled into a Trinity Eco-Tour zodiac driven by Skipper Kew. It took about 30 minutes heading south to reach Spaniard’s Cove, where Steve had seen him the night before. The high rocky cliffs and secluded gravel beaches were a haven for eagles.

During the July 21 trip, it was evident that large numbers of eagles were being attracted to this area by capelin spawning on the beaches. On August 7, we noticed a shortage of bald eagles. The capelin season was coming to an end.

‘Here it is’

Cruising slowly along the shore, seven pairs of binoculars scanned the cliffs. Everyone wants to be the first to see the prize.

Barry Day, sitting in front of me, won the gold medal. He said twice, in his calm voice, “that’s it”, before we all reacted.

There, sitting in all its majesty on the most prominent rocky outcrop on the entire coast was Steller’s sea eagle. The huge white gash on his shoulders and huge chrome yellow beak were a cheeky beacon to the whole world.

After a few moments of disbelief, the passengers on the boat realized it was for real. We had found the Siberian flying beast. And he was just going to sit there and wait for us to slowly come closer and look at him from both sides. He barely recognized the presence of the group of admirers floating in the small boat below as he kept a stern eye on the horizon and the sky.

It was hard to get past this big, screaming bill. It was like a parrot’s beak with a big hook on it. It was colored with the same orange-yellow glow as a freshly painted center line on the freeway.

The striking slash of white across the shoulders seemed a little too cut out for an eagle. The snow-white paws and long wedge-shaped tail add to the eagle’s plush costume.

The bird was indeed enormous, as had been reported by those who had seen it along its journey across the continent. He was maybe 20% bigger than a bald eagle. At one point, an adult bald eagle flew past the Steller as if to harass it. The Stellers looked down and laughed at the bald eagle, dismissing the minor nuisance as if it were a dragonfly.

Steller’s sea eagle changed position several times as it flew to other parts of the cliffs, giving us sights of its spectacular black and white plumage in flight.

After a few moments of disbelief, the passengers on the boat realized it was for real. We had found the Siberian flying beast.

And after?

The bird was made for nothing less than rugged rocky shores like this.

There was a prehistoric air to his nature. You can easily imagine this bird living on its native Kamchatka peninsula in eastern Russia during the time of the woolly mammoths.

What will be the eventual fate of this magnificent Siberian eagle? The bird is desperately moved. The wild rocky shores of Newfoundland are a perfect hideaway for a Steller’s eagle right now, but what about love? It could potentially associate with the closely related bald eagle.

The story of Steller’s sea eagle in Newfoundland is far from over.


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