Wintry Japan: Rausu, Hokkaido and Sea Eagles (Part 5)

Monday, February 5, 2018

Steller’s Sea Eagles off shore from Rausu, Hokkaido, northern Japan.

Breakfast at the Green Park Hotel in Tsurui was Japanese, with grilled salted salmon, daikon pickles, rice, and miso soup.

My ankle was still swollen, but more recognizable as an ankle.  It was difficult easing my foot back into my lace-up snow boot. I had traded a thinner knee-high sock for a thick padded ski sock, resulting in the heated insoles bunching up at the toes, concentrating the heat so much my toes were burning as I “scrambled” into the van.

We headed to the dock for a boat outing, to see and shoot sea eagles.  When we arrived the day before, pack ice had flowed into the harbor, but alas, it was gone by morning.

Japanese fishing boat in harbor in Rausa, Hokkaido, Japan

White-tailed eagles are here year round, while Stellar’s Sea Eagles come here only in mid-winter.

Two varieties of sea eagles can be seen at close range in northern Hokkaido near the seaport fishing village of Rausu: the White-tailed Sea Eagle Haliaeetus albicilla (above and left) is a year-round resident that breeds in northern Europe and Asia, and the larger Steller’s Sea Eagle (Haliaeetus pelagicus) breeds in northeastern Russia and winters here.

The 2 varieties of sea eagles compete for food near Rausu, Hokkaido, including the easy pickings thrown out by tour boat operators; left, White-tailed Sea Eagle and right, Steller’s Sea Eagle

Fish tossed from the boat brought the hungry birds in close range, almost too close for a 100 mm lens; motor drives were whirring on the top deck and below at the water level as the fast flying, nimble birds scooped up the fish in their talons and swooped away.

Eyes on the prize: White-tailed Sea Eagle near Rausu, Hokkaido, Japan.

White-tailed Sea Eagle near Rausu, Hokkaido, Japan, with sights set on a fish meal.

Eyes on the prize: White-tailed Sea Eagle near Rausu, Hokkaido, Japan.

Come to me, my pretty: White-tailed Sea Eagle eyes fish in the water.

White-tailed Sea Eagle near Rausu, Hokkaido, scoops up a fish meal.

White-tailed Sea Eagle near Rausu, Hokkaido, Japan

White-tailed Sea Eagle near Rausu, Hokkaido, Japan with fish meal in talons.

Another successful catch by a White-tailed Sea Eagle.

A magnificent bird: White-tailed Sea Eagle near Rausu, Hokkaido, Japan

Steller's Sea Eagle near Rausu, Hokkaido, Japan

Steller’s Sea Eagle fish catch clutched in its talons, near Rausu, Hokkaido, Japan.

Our timing was again lucky, as the prior day’s snow dropped the visibility too much for the boats to go out, so the birds had missed a day’s feeding and were extra hungry, coming in close and repeatedly.

Steller’s Sea Eagles skimming the water like water skiers, zeroing in on fish on the surface with precision.

Steller's Sea Eagle with fish in talons near Rausu, Hokkaido, Japan

It was amazing seeing these impressive Steller’s Sea Eagles at such close range, with so many close passes.

Magnificent Steller’s Sea Eagle in action near Rausu, Hokkaido, Japan

Our restroom stop was at a seafood emporium where the friendly salesladies pressed uni samples upon us, as well as dried squid and salmon. Greg was in heaven accepting uni samples.

A perplexing plethora of dried seafood products on offer in Hokkaido: Dried squid, anyone?

Arriving at Hotel Parkway in Teshikaga, where we would stay 2 nights, I rushed a shower and a much-needed ofuro soak, trying to be ready by 6 pm. Arriving back in the room with wet hair, I was reassured to see both Steve’s coat and jacket in the wardrobe, indicating he hadn’t left yet and must be bathing. This meant to me, we must be meeting at 6:30 pm and not 6 pm as I had thought. Of course, Susan dictated dinner departure times without any consultation from us.  There was no: “Can everyone be ready by 6 pm to drive to dinner?”   When Steve returned to the room, splendidly turned out in the blue and white patterned yukata and navy winter overrobe, he was dismayed to learn we were not staying in the hotel for dinner and had to hurriedly change.  Greg was sending warning texts by now:  “She’s pissed”.



Steller's Sea Eagle snatches up a fish near Rausu, Hokkaido, Japan

Next up: a real Swan Lake (Lake Kussharo and Whooper swans)

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4 thoughts on “Wintry Japan: Rausu, Hokkaido and Sea Eagles (Part 5)

  1. Hi Marie & Steve,
    The eagle shots are fantastic! I have a small appreciation of how difficult bird shots can be, since I enjoy birding and just getting binocs focused on quickly moving birds can be a challenge. I am just back from my annual spring migration birding trip to the Texas/Louisiana gulf coast where 200 million migrants pass every year. This year the birding and weather were perfect, and we easily saw over 20 species of warblers a day, plus the resident birds. If you expand your photographic adventures towards birds, this is a migration not to be missed.

    • Hi Patricia, That sounds amazing! I don’t really consider myself a “real” bird photographer (not willing to buy or carry the REALLY heavy glass) but I do enjoy the challenge. This was my type of bird shoot-reasonable range, lots of passes!

  2. i see you shot these photo in Monday, February 5, 2018, My plan is around 6 Feb 2018, i wonder if that time from these photo has no drift ice? which is the best time for that ? Thankyou

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