The Audubon Observer, March 2022
STELLER'S SEA-EAGLE ADVENTURES
By now, most have heard of the amazing appearance of a Steller's Sea-Eagle in the United States. Normally native to the far East, this bird was initially spotted in Alaska in August of 2020, then again in Texas in March of 2021, and over the last few months in New England, a journey of thousands of miles from its home range. You can learn more about this bird's incredible travels here (and how experts know it is the same individual), but two of our members made their own journeys to see this spectacular bird for themselves while it was visiting the coast of Maine in January of this year. Here are their stories:
"Not All Who Wander Are Lost" by Alyse Easdale
I first heard about the Steller’s Sea-Eagle on Dec. 28th when a friend tagged me on Facebook: “BRB me and Alyse going to find [it]!” I’d never heard of this species before and was intrigued by its vagrancy. I fell ill around New Year’s and being worn down by fatigue gave me plenty of downtime to scroll through the GroupMe “Maine Steller’s Sea-Eagle Discussion Group” and stay informed on the raptor’s whereabouts. As I started feeling better, the itch to travel started kicking in.
On Jan. 15th, I found myself awake at 1a looking at airline tickets to fly out within a few hours. My husband convinced me to wait, saying that such an endeavor should be properly planned. I’m glad he did – the Steller’s Sea-Eagle was only observed for three hours that morning. I wouldn’t have arrived until that afternoon and thus, would’ve missed it. It was seen briefly the following day before disappearing the rest of the week…
By Jan. 21st, I was completely disheartened that I’d missed my chance. Suddenly, the GroupMe chat started going off: the Steller’s Sea-Eagle had been spotted! I called my husband to reaffirm that he was still game. Delighted by my spontaneity, he said, “Let’s do this!” I made all the necessary accommodations and later that evening, we were on a flight to Maine.
Jan. 22nd for us started before sunrise. We drove to the eagle’s last known location and waited for several hours. Restless, I left the warmth of the rental truck to go down by the water and mingle with other birders to see what they were looking at. A gentleman pointed out a hawk in the sky and we all chuckled. Not even a few moments later, he shouted, “THERE IT IS!!!”
Then I saw it: the infamous Steller’s Sea-Eagle. Its snow-white shoulder patches and orange bill were unmistakable. Even from a distance, it was massive. Not only was I awestruck by the bird, but I was also awestruck by the crowd. Word of the bird’s sighting had gotten out and within minutes, the area was swamped – I’d never seen so many birders in one place! Their kindness was palpable: strangers were offering their binoculars or scopes for others to look and doing their best to describe where the bird was perched.
“… he travels hundreds of thousands of miles in his lifetime. No passports, no security. Total freedom.” ~ Brad Harris (Jack Black, The Big Year )
My mother-in-law recommended the film The Big Year to me a couple of years ago when I started seriously getting into birding. I remember being captivated by the main characters and their willingness to drop everything (including lots of money, I’m sure!) to jump in a car or on a plane for just the CHANCE to see a rare bird. As a novice birder, never did I ever think that I would attempt anything like that. Then the Steller’s Sea-Eagle showed up and reminded me what it was like to feel free. Back home, I got this tattoo to commemorate one of my greatest adventures to date!
"A Steller Adventure" by Jessica Dyszel
It was Saturday night and as per my usual routine since December, I was scouring eBird logs for sightings of the Steller’s Sea-Eagle. Once again in Boothbay, Maine, “Stella” had developed a bit of a routine. Should I go? I debated and debated as I had often throughout January. Then my boyfriend said, “Jessica, will you be upset if you don’t go get it?” I realized I would probably kick myself for missing my chance. So, at 9 pm that evening, I booked flight, inn, and rental, and by 7 am the next morning, I was northbound to Maine.
I arrived in Maine anxious and excited. Onward to the Maine State Aquarium in Boothbay, location of the most recent sightings. As I arrived, a mass of birders was leaving with big smiles on their faces. I had just missed Stella by 10 minutes! I decided to stay and bird the area, and good call! I got Surf Scoter, Long-tailed Ducks, and Common Eider. A fantastic start!
Trying again the next morning, I got to the Aquarium and started scoping out the tree line. Due to the rising sun, I kept overlooking this one area. 20 minutes, 30 minutes, no Steller’s. But I kept seeing this dark area on a tree that was in the sun glare and too distant even with a scope. I kept telling everyone, I am pretty sure it’s a bird, maybe THE bird. “No, no, it’s just a tree,” the group responded. After 10 more minutes of scoping, I noticed my large dark spot was gone! “It WAS a bird! It’s gone now,” I exclaimed, and the others jumped to their scopes. Within 5 minutes we all found Stella, sitting in the area we missed because of the sun glare earlier. Magnificent! The bold white shoulder patches stood out against the dark pines. It turned its head to look at us and that honking yellow bill was remarkable. I attempted some photos for proof, but distance and wind made it impossible to get a good shot. We watched for 1.5 hours while Stella sat there, occasionally leaning forward as if to take flight but settling back down. Finally, it took off and I got to enjoy the incredible flight of this beautiful sea eagle.
I woke up the next day to snow. Back to the Aquarium for Stella but with the snow, it seemed to have left the area. No worries, I got Razorbill and Black Guillemot. Returning to my inn, I decided on a whim to scope out the bay from my view. What luck! A Golden Eagle had just taken flight and was soaring in the bay. I spent 10 minutes watching it soar higher and higher until it was out of sight.
My trip concluded with one last look for Stella. Sadly, it was not seen again in Boothbay again, but I made a quick sketch of this magnificent bird to commemorate my adventure, which tallied me 13 new life species, some wonderful new birding friends, and a visit to a beautiful state that is now in my heart with hopes to return for puffin breeding season.
I can only say, it was a Steller adventure and one I hope others can also enjoy should Stella resurface!
Thanks to Alyse and Jessica for sharing their exciting adventures!
“Place and land and nature: how we tie these things together is critical to our sense of purpose and our fit in the world.” ~ From the book.
J. Drew Lanham, Alumni Distinguished Professor of Wildlife Ecology and Master Teacher at Clemson University, is the most articulate ornithologist / conservationist / birder that I have ever heard. He was the keynote speaker at the National Audubon Society Convention in 2017 and also at the virtual Audubon (Florida) Assembly in 2020. This book, the story of his life and the events and circumstances that led him to become an advocate for birds, wildlife, and all of nature as well as a voice for equity and inclusion, reflects that eloquence.
Drew grew up in rural South Carolina, the son of schoolteachers who also owned and ran a 200 acre farm. His freedom to roam the farm with the encouragement of his parents and grandmother stoked his curiosity and respect for all things natural. However, living in the rural South was not without its problems for even a highly respected Black family. While most of the book is about Drew’s life-long love affair with nature, he does address other subjects including racism, equity, religion, and conservation issues.
His language is beautiful. His words conjure vivid images of people and natural places, from the young boy flushing quail from their hideouts to delightful descriptions of his family members. While very readable and enjoyable, this book is also provocative and serious. It can be found in many formats at the public library or purchased at several book sites online. Various videos of Drew Lanham are available on YouTube. This is a good book to read and a good person to become acquainted with.
~ Carolyn Antman, Conservation Director for Duval County
LIGHTS OUT NORTHEAST FLORIDA CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS
We are still accepting applications for volunteers for the upcoming spring migration season starting March 15, 2022. Volunteers commit to one route, one day a week for eight weeks, starting about dawn, and each route takes roughly an hour to an hour and a half to complete. Volunteers DO NOT need to know what kind of bird they are finding – this can be figured out later. We will try to pair new volunteers with experienced ones who can provide on-site training, but we also have virtual training videos available for all new volunteers. All supplies (except a cell phone) will be provided.
You can learn more about the Lights Out Northeast Florida initiative here.
If you are interested in helping us save the lives of migrating birds, please complete our online application, and we'll be in touch soon.
Here's what's happening this month:
We look forward to seeing you soon!
All content by Carol Bailey-White unless otherwise noted.
Duval Audubon Society, Inc.