04 July 2011

Steller's Sea Eagle

It's that time of the year again: processing. Last weekend I've spent most of my time going through the shots from our Egypt expedition, today it's Japan.

One of the highlights of each year's Japan tour is always shooting eagles on the Sea of Okhotsk.

The Steller's sea eagle [Haliaeetus pelagicus] is the biggest bird in the genus Haliaeetus and is one of the largest raptors overall. The typical size range is 85-105 cm (33-41 in) long and the wingspan is 195-230 cm (77-91 in). Females typically weigh from 6.8-9 kg (15-20 lb), while males are considerably lighter with a weight range from 4.9-6 kg (11-13 lb). An unverified record exists of a huge female that weighed 12.7 kilograms (28 lb)!

This species is classified as Vulnerable by the IUCN. The main threats to its survival are habitat alteration, industrial pollution and over-fishing. The current population is estimated at 5,000 and decreasing.

Personally, I think they're one of the prettiest raptors on this planet, and seeing dozens of them at the same time is a real treat.

This year there was a lot of pack ice along the coast, so much that we almost weren't able to leave the harbor with our boat. Luckily, a lot of pack ice usually means a lot of Steller's, and every direction you looked there were Steller's. There were so many of them, that it was actually hard to keep an eye on them all. Shooting with a small group of people proved to be a real advantage here - the more eyes, the more you see. Whenever an eagle would come flying within our range, someone would shout: 'Incoming from the left!' Or right. When you're looking through your view finder and you're totally focused on your subject, you tend to miss what's going on around you, and this group strategy was the perfect solution to not miss any flight shots. And it was great fun!

This is one of my favorite shots from the first day. The pack ice worked very nicely as a giant reflector, and adds context to the shot.

Nikon D3s, AF-S VR II 200-400/4.0, 1/1250 @ f/8, ISO 400, handheld

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