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The Sea Eagles of Japan's East coast

Ever since watching Wild Japan on Netflix, where they featured seas eagle patiently waiting on a frozen lake for their daily helping of by-catch from some local fisherman, I've wanted to go to 'wild' Hokkaido. So, having planned to take our annual family holiday in Japan this year, naturally I suggested to my spouse that we should visit the island of Hokkaido whilst it was fully in the grip of winter!



As an ornithologist and with a particular interesting in raptors, naturally I suggested that we should plan to visit the east coast in order to catch a glimpse of the island's two species of sea eagle - the white-tailed and it's larger relative, Steller's sea eagle). However, prior to leaving Scotland, we went on line and found a local guide to show us the best spots in which to see the two species of sea eagle. We found the details of Mr Kanashi Isao (Abashiri Nature Guide - http://inspot.jp/kanazashi/) via the local tourist web site and thanks for the power of Google Translate encountered few problems in booking an afternoon excursion with our guide Mr Kanashi.


After arriving in Abashiri via a very pleasant train ride from Asahikawa a couple of days earlier, we conveniently met our guide at the train station on a beautiful winters afternoon. Following a warm introduction, Mr Kanashi drove us north of the town along the coastal road to a convenient spot over-looking the frozen Bay of Abashiri and Sea of Okhotsk beyond. We weren't disappointed by the location and received good views of an immature white-tailed sea eagle loafing on an area of sea ice along the icy shore of the bay - a short video of the immature eagle is embedded in the clip below. We were also lucky enough to receive good views of an adult bird roosting high in an area of coastal woodland located immediately behind our vantage point.



White-tailed sea eagle has breeding range extending throughout much of the temperate Eurasia. In Japan, Hokkaido is known to be the southern limit of this species' distribution in north-east Asia, with at least 150 pairs known to breed on the island. However, in the winter the island's population increases up to 1000 birds, as a consequence of an influx of winter migrants from the surrounding area.


Having had great views of white-tailed eagle , our guide took us to a new veining spot located to the west of the town along the frozen eastern shore of Lake Abashiri-Ko. The lake is genuinely a beautiful location, which at the time of our visit was covered in over a meter of ice! Thankfully, the spot along the lake our guide had chosen didn't disappoint and were were rewarded with similarly good views of an adult Steller's sea eagle loafing in an area of woodland just beyond the shore of the lake and local road to Memanbetsu Airport - a short video of the adult eagle is embedded in the clip below.



The Steller's sea eagle breeds in Russia, with a range extending from the Kamchatka Peninsula in the north, the coast surrounding the Sea of Okhotsk, the lower reaches of the Amur River and Shantar Islands in the west, and the Sakhalin Islands in the south. In the winter the birds move south to avoid the worse of the Russian weather, with approximately 2000 birds over-wintering on Japan's northern island of Hokkaido. In the region of 2000 Steller's sea eagle over-wintering in Hokkaido, which are attracted to the islands' coastal regional by stocks of Pacific cod and Alaska pollock.


Image Credit: Takashi Yanagisawa from Pixabay

This blog was written by Graham Sennhauser. Graham is TETRIX Ecology’s Principal Ecologist and is a licensed ornithologist based in Glasgow, Scotland. He would be more than happy to respond to any questions in connection with his blog or wider-ranging bird-related queries. You can learn more about Graham's background via his profile page or contact him on the following email address: graham@TETRIXecology.com.


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