By Jaymie White
Journalist of the Local Journalism Initiative
CODROY VALLEY – Birdwatchers regularly flock to the Grand Codroy Estuary, a regularly designed RAMSAR site, but the most recent rare bird sighting may attract even more. Steller’s sea eagle, generally known as the heaviest eagle in the world, has been sighted in the area, and is currently thought to be the only one present in North America.
Native to Northeast Asia, particularly Russia, Korea, Japan, China, and Taiwan, the Steller’s sea eagle has dark brown plumage with white wings and tail, and especially a beak and bright yellow greenhouses.
Mark Lomond with Sou’Wes Newfoundland Delta Waterfowl and founder of ‘The Newfoundland & Labrador Birdwatching Group’ Facebook group, the island’s largest birdwatching group with over 13,000 members, said he this was an important observation.
“There are actually three reports, no photos yet, but three possible sightings in the area,” Lomond said. “He is seen in the Loch Lomond-MacDougalls area, St. Andrews shall we say.”
Lomond said Steller’s sea eagle, being the only one present in North America, has garnered a large following of birdwatchers from across the country.
“This particular bird has been in North America for some time. It is a very rare bird. It is normally found in eastern Russia and northern Japan. It’s a very small area where it comes from and it’s not usually found outside of there, so when it was spotted in North America it attracted a huge number of bird watchers – a huge tracked – and it’s been tracked down the east coast and the United States, down to the Mississippi area, down to Alaska,” Lomond explained. “It’s been in Newfoundland for a while. The last place it was in Newfoundland was at Trinity Bay and there were at least 60 people from my birding party that I know of that have been to Trinity. There was a boat trip in that area where it was.
Lomond said this bird has been in North America since last year.
“It’s fine off the track, but it seems to be fine in North America on its own. It is the only one on the continent as far as we know.
Lomond said there are plenty of birdwatchers who will jump at the chance to visit the area if the bird is confirmed on camera.
“There are people from all over Newfoundland, from all over the Maritimes, and we already have people from Ontario interested in coming now. If anyone can get pictures of it, confirm the sighting here, there will be people from all over the Maritimes coming here,” Lomond said. “It’s a really big deal in the birding community.”
This type of observation is a unique experience, even for the most avid birdwatchers.
“A lot of people have these life lists, these birders, and they try to put one more on their life list where they’ll probably only have one chance in their life to see, so they travel a lot .”
Lomond posted a message on Facebook asking anyone who sees the eagle to contact him with the location and date, and received two of three possible sightings as a result of that post.
“It’s the first time we’ve seen him hanging around in this area, so no one here has seen anything like this before. It’s huge,” Lomond said. “He seems to be, at the moment, in the St. Andrew’s area, from Bailey’s Bridge to MacDougall’s.”
Birdwatching helps draw tourist traffic to the Codroy Valley.
“The number of visitors our area gets for the birds is actually quite surprising,” Lomond said. “Especially the Codroy Valley. In fact, I’ve mentioned before at town meetings in Port aux Basques that Grand Bay West has such great birding opportunities, not just the piping plover, but many different types of shorebirds, and they should promote it more because they have thousands of birders right on their doorstep every year coming to Codroy Valley, and when they’re up there they do a bunch of trails that they know and then go to all these hotspots for bird watching. They came here from Avalon. While they are here they like to see as much as they can so if they had more birding hotspots they would go there so I think the city really needs to promote a bit plus their birding in the Grand Baie West Area.
As more birdwatchers come to take photos and share them on social media, it tends to encourage even more birdwatchers to visit.
“It gets people moving. If we can get someone to take a picture of this, I’ve had – and I’m not kidding – about 50 people messaged me, birdwatchers, asking if I’ve seen it, me asking to fetch it for them. There are a lot of people who want to come here and see it and that’s why I posted the message. There are so many people who want to see this bird.
If anyone spots Steller’s sea eagle, Lomond said he can be contacted directly on Facebook, or people can talk about it in the Newfoundland & Labrador Birdwatching Group.
Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News