Words On Birds by Steve Grinley
Steller’s Sea Eagle Back in Maine
February 17, 2023
By Steve Grinley
If you read my column about the “Bird of the Century” back in December of 2021, or picked up any newspaper or listened to national news, you learned about the amazing Steller’s Sea Eagle that was visiting North America. This rare eagle from eastern Russia and Japan appeared in Alaska, then Texas, then eastern Canada earlier that year. In December, it made its appearance in Massachusetts and birders arrived in Dighton by the hundreds to view this rarity.
Unfortunately, it flew north shortly after 1pm that day, not to be seen in Massachusetts again. It was discovered weeks later in Eastern Maine but was allusive in a remote area, sometimes only accessible by boat. The bird disappeared again, only to spend much of 2022 in eastern Canada again.
The bird was rediscovered a few weeks ago back in eastern Maine, in a more cooperative area near Georgetown, north of Portland. Less than a two-hour trek from Newburyport, many local birders have made the journey to see this magnificent eagle. Doug Chickering was one such birder and he shares with us visit with us:
“It was truly a magic moment. We were on the bridge and directed to find the house on the other side of the marsh and then move up and to the left. I followed instructions and saw a black patch and a bright white spot. Surely this was the sea Eagle. Then I looked through an offered scope and it was a transformation. There in the bright and crystal-clear morning was the Steller’s Sea Eagle in perfect light and pose. Seemingly filling the eye, the black and white combination, the epitome of bright and dark were pure and deep. And then there was the beak, large, formidable and brilliant orange in the sun. It was a striking sight.
“We were a long way from the perched bird, but I doubt we could have had a better view, even if we moved closer. Also, at the bridge we had five, maybe more Bald Eagles. One was perched fairly near the Sea Eagle, probably under some kind of truce.
“It was my first life bird for over a decade, which added to the thrill of seeing it. Later in the day our little band had quite good looks at the Harris’ Sparrow. All in all, one of the highlights of the winter. I hope getting a Life bird for your first write-in might be a good omen. And it won’t be long before we yearn for spring.”
Thereafter, closer to home, Doug experienced another encounter with eagles more familiar:
“It was just after a nice dawn with a shimmering deep red sun wandering up in the sky. Tom Wetmore, Steve Babbitt and I were up on the deck at Parking lot One in the refuge looking for birds. As usual. At some point Steve announced that he was on an Eagle flying over the Merrimack river bridge and heading this way. That eagle turned out to be two eagles. Flying high and occasionally gliding. To me they seemed hardly menacing. But there were others who had a different reaction. As they approached the birds in the salt marsh rose up in a noisy but orderly series of flocks, Almost exclusively Canada geese and Black ducks there were also some Mallards, and Gulls and perhaps some other ducks. One thing was certain, they had seen the eagles and now they just wanted to get out of the way.
“It was February. Deep winter. The marsh grass was brown and brittle. Many of the shallow pools were iced over. There were snow piles here and there. It looked empty and dead. And then suddenly an abundance of bird life rose as one and filled the air with sound and controlled panic flying. I was as surprised as much as I was filled with wonder. We had spotted a few heads and swimming birds in the marshes. We knew there were birds there. We thought we had a pretty good idea as to how many. Still we found the sight to be awesome. It made me wonder if perhaps there are times in February when there are more birds present than in the middle of July.
“A few days ago I was thrilled at the sight of the Stellers Sea Eagle. Today, even though the birds were more prosaic the sight of them rising out of the salt marshes like an apparition was also thrilling.”