A Celebration Of Eagles A Magnificent Group Of Birds To Inspire Us All

The mighty Steller's Sea Eagle from Japan photographed in February 2020.

Eagles are very special birds indeed and have a special place in the world of birdwatchers and one of the groups of birds that really excite people. Seeing an eagle can be one of those never to be forgotten moments in your life they are magical birds and can be found, all be it with some effort, almost right across the globe so we can all enjoy them. I can still very clearly remember seeing my first ever eagle in the wild a Golden Eagle in the Highlands of Scotland. It was a long time ago but still clear in my memory, we were on a family holiday and had been looking hard for Golden Eagles in the the stunning scenry of the glens of western Scotland but no luck and time was running out. My father and I decided to change tactics and hike into the hills, taking our tent so we could stay out in prime eagle habitat away from roads and people, seemed like a good plan. We hiked long and hard up and over a ridge and then dropping down into a beautiful remote glen and made camp. We scanned the ridges all around and after a lot of looking a large bird rose above the ridge off to our right and we strained to see every detail in our binoculars could it be? It looked huge, the tail looked long for a Common Buzzard surely it was? Then below our bird a herd of red deer came over the ridge and we had something for scale, it was a Golden Eagle without doubt! A heart pounding hairs on the back of the neck moment and literally never to be forgotten. The Golden Eagle then put on an amazing show "for us" diving at the herd of deer and causing them to panic and run down the slope, the eagle dived over and over at the fleeing animals before soaring above the ridge again and drifting away out of sight. The feeling of pure elation at seeing this superb bird was a massive moment for a young birdwatcher and surley cemented a life long passion for eagles.

Golden Eagle May 2015 3

A young Golden Eagle hunts over a Scottish hillside always a thrill to see.

Fast forward some ten years and I was working for the RSPB in Cumbria wardening a pair of Golden Eagles that were nesting in a beautiful valley - dream job for a teenage birdwatcher who loves eagles. I spent two breeding seasons keeping watch over this last pair of breeding Golden Eagles in England, sadly no more, and learnt so much about Golden Eagle behaviour and was privileged to witness some amazing sights. Those two seasons in Cumbria certainly reinforced my love for eagles and if asked "Which is your favourite bird?" Golden Eagle is always right up though since seeing Steller's Sea Eagles in Japan it is a very tough call! The Steller's Sea Eagle was for a long time my all time wanted bird to see in the world but that only became the case in 2008. Prior to 2008 another mighty eagle was my number one bird to see in the whole world - Harpy Eagle. This massive forest dwelling eagle had seemed an impossible dream to achieve until in 2008 when we embarked on a crazy year of birding around the world, The Biggest Twitch. A friend of ours Brad Davies just happened to be studying Harpy Eagles in Brazil and Brazil was one of 27 countries we planned to enjoy birds in during our big adventure. After a real rollercoaster series of events I stepped into a small clearing in the Brazilian rainforest and locked eyes with a Harpy Eagle! It was another of those never ever to be forgotten moments that birdwatching can provide us with. There peering down at me was my most wanted bird in the whole world and it was just the best moment possible.

The Harpy Eagle looking down at me from the canopy of the Brazilian rain-forest mind-blowing!

Once the Harpy Eagle had sunk in it was time to think of the next most wanted bird in the world, that took about a second. As a kid I had seen pictures of the Harpy Eagle in a book about the world's birds of prey and in the same publication was an illustration of a Steller's Sea Eagle another huge eagle with a massive orange beak! No wonder it made an impression with a young birdwatcher. Now the Steller's Sea Eagle seemed to be even more out of reach than the Harpy Eagle, it breeds in remote eastern Russia and winters on snow covered islands in northern Japan. But that did not stop it moving into number one spot on my most wanted list of birds.

As luck would have it a friend of ours Charley Hesse, from Tropical Birding, leads tours in Japan and if we could put a group together he would be delighted to lead us. So now all we needed was a group, Japan is expensive and in winter very cold so that made it a rather tough sell despite a mouth watering list of amazing birds all topped off with the icing on that cake of Steller's Sea Eagles. But we did find five, including me, folks who were up for it and Charley knew of a Canadian chap who was keen join a tour so we had the magic number of six to make the tour possible. So in January 2020 everything looked great for seeing my most wanted bird in the world the mighty Steller's Sea Eagle, but no, not one, not two but three of the guests on the Japan tour had to pull out at the last minute due to circumstances beyond their control! Luckily Charley agreed to run the tour as it was so last minute and everything was booked and ready to go, whew! I met Glenn at Heathrow and we flew to Japan where we met up with Charley and Tyler, the Canadian birder joining us. Seven had become four but we were keen to have a fantastic time exploring this exciting country.

Japan is an amazing destination and we all loved it and can't wait to go back!

After spending time on the main island seeing mind-blowing birds it was time to fly to Hokkaido in the frozen north to look for Steller's Sea Eagles - not much sleep the night before so excited. But no! Our flight north was cancelled due to heavy snow at our destination, we would have to try again the following day. Would we ever see the bird? We arrived at Tokyo Airport, again, and were told the flight might not land as the conditions in the north were still bad. We had the prospect of flying all the way north to Hokkaido and not being able to land and fly all the way back to Tokyo again! It was a tense group of birders on that flight and as we nearded the island we could see nothing but snow and ice, surely a plane can't land down there, our hearts sank. The plane circled and we waited for the annoucemnt "terribly sorry ladies and gentlemen we are unable to land" but no we were dropping down, could it be possible? Yes it could! We taxied along with snow all around and reached the terminal buidling safely huge smiles broke out, we had made it!

We took a shuttle bus to the hire car depot and Charley went inside to arrange the mini-van for our time on the island. We stood outside in the snow and looked around, nothing to see but snow and ice and a darkening sky threatened more snow any minute, so glad we got in before the next blizzard hit. Then I saw a bird, the very first bird we had seen on Hokkaido and it was an eagle, I pointed it out to Glenn and Tyler as the bird flew head on towards us "probably a White-tailed Eagle" and as I said those words the bird turned and became a Steller's Sea Eagle! Oh what a bird, what a sight, how lucky, elation! It was another never to be forgotten eagle encounter.

During our time on Hokkaido we enjoyed many sightings including fighting with White-tailed Eagles!

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