Spotting the rare Steller's Sea Eagle

By Jaymie White

Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

CODROY VALLEY — Birdwatchers regularly flock to the Grand Codroy Estuary, a designed RAMSAR site regularly, but the most recent rare bird sighting may entice even more. The Steller's Sea Eagle, typically known as the heaviest eagle in the world, has been sighted in the region, and it is currently believed to be the only one present in North America.

Native to Northeast Asia, specifically Russia, Korea, Japan, China, and Taiwan, the Steller’s Sea Eagle has dark brown plumage with white wings and tail, and most noticeably, a bright yellow beak and talons.

Mark Lomond with Sou’Wes Newfoundland Delta Waterfowl and the founder of the Facebook group ‘The Newfoundland & Labrador Birdwatching Group’, the largest birdwatching group on the island with over 13,000 members, said this is an important sighting.

“There’s actually three reports, no photos yet, but three possible sightings in the area,” said Lomond. “It’s being seen in the Loch Lomond-MacDougalls area, St. Andrews we’ll say.”

Lomond said the Steller's Sea Eagle, being the only one present in North America, has amassed a large following of birdwatchers from across the entire country.

“This particular bird has been in North America for quite some time. It’s a very rare bird. It's normally found in Eastern Russia and Northern Japan. It’s a very small area where it’s from and it’s not usually found outside of there, so when it was spotted in North America, it got a big following of birdwatchers – a huge following – and it’s been tracked up and down the Eastern seaboard and the States, right on down to the Mississippi area, up to Alaska,” explained Lomond. “It’s been in Newfoundland for some time. The last place it was in Newfoundland was down in Trinity Bay and there was at least 60 people off of my birdwatching group that I know about that travelled down to Trinity. There was a boat tour out to this area where it was.”

Lomond said this bird has been in North America since last year.

“It’s well off path, but it seems to be doing fine in North America by itself. It’s the only one on the continent as far as anyone knows.”

Lomond said there are a lot of birdwatchers who will jump at the opportunity to travel to the region if the bird is confirmed by camera.

“There’s people from all over Newfoundland, all over the Maritimes, and we already have people from Ontario interested in coming down now. If somebody can get pictures of it, confirm the sighting here, there will be people from all over the Maritimes coming here,” said Lomond. “It’s a really big deal in the birdwatching community.”

This type of sighting is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for even the most avid of birdwatchers.

“A lot of people have these life lists, these birders, and they’re trying to get one more on their life list where they’ll probably only get one opportunity in their life to see, so they do a lot of traveling."

Lomond made a post on Facebook asking that anyone who sights the eagle to contact him with the location and date, and has received two of the three possible sightings as a result of that post.

“This is the first time its been spotted hanging out in this area, so nobody around here has seen anything like this before. It’s huge,” said Lomond. “It seems to be, at the moment, in the St. Andrew’s area from Bailey’s Bridge to MacDougall’s.”

Birdwatching helps entice tourism traffic to the Codroy Valley.

“The amount of visitors our area gets for birds is actually quite surprising,” said Lomond. “Especially the Codroy Valley. I’ve actually mentioned at town meetings in Port aux Basques before that Grand Bay West has such great birdwatching opportunities, not just the piping plover but many different types of shorebirds, and they should be promoting it more because they’ve got thousands of birdwatchers right on their doorstep every year coming to Codroy Valley, and when they’re up there they do a bunch of trails that they know and then go to all these birding hot spots. They've traveled here from over on the Avalon. While they’re here they like to see as much as they can, so if they had more birdwatching hot spots to go to, they would go there, so I think the town really needs to promote their birdwatching a little more in the Grand Bay West Area.”

As birdwatchers come and take pictures and share those on social media, that tends to encourage even more birdwatchers to visit.

“It gets people moving. If we can get somebody to get a picture of this, I’ve had – and I’m not kidding – like 50 people message me, birdwatchers, asking me if I’ve seen it, asking me to go out and look for it for them. There’s a lot of people who want to come out here and see it and that’s why I put up the post. There’s so many people who want to see this bird.”

If anyone catches a glimpse of the Steller's Sea Eagle, Lomond said he can be contacted directly on Facebook, or people can post about it in the Newfoundland & Labrador Birdwatching Group.

Jaymie White, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Wreckhouse Weekly News