“The eagle flew” a lady announced to me through her car window and immediately drove off. Darn it. On New Year’s Day morning I showed up a frustrating 15 minutes after the most famous bird in North America left its latest known viewing spot, on the coast of Maine.
The eagle—a rarest of rarities Steller’s Sea Eagle—hails from Asia but has been traveling solo around North America since 2020, and making headlines wherever it makes an appearance. A week ago it stopped in Vacationland, and I figured if this bird could fly all the way from eastern Russia (or Japan, China, one of the Koreas?), I could make the hour-long drive to see one of the biggest eagles in the world.
Despite the woman’s warning, I opted to wait at the harbor in hopes the eagle would come back that way. (Silver lining: there were now parking spots!) The next three hours consisted of standing in the winter rain, scanning trees and skies, hopping around to stay warm, wishing I had taken the Chex mix out of the car, waiting for updates from the local lobsterman out in his boat, and wondering if the bird would come back if I just went home to my family.
Should I stay or should I go? The eagle was tantalizingly near, on an island directly offshore. Alas, it was on the other side, and I did not have a boat. I eventually called it and headed home.
But Steller FOMO was high. I returned two days later, as it was still being seen in the area. With temps in the single digits (but no rain!) I again stood along the harbor shore, this time staring at a possible black blob with white spot in a tree a mile or two down the coast. Scopes, binoculars, and cameras were all aimed its way.
Was it the eagle? Did the white patch of a wing move? How many people can collectively conjure an eagle if they’re desperate enough? Reader, it was not an eagle.
I’d gone into the day reminding myself not to get Steller tunnel vision though. To notice what was there with intent. As much as I wanted to see this darn bird—it’s huge in size and reputation—the new fellow was not the only bird around. Plus, the Maine coast is beautiful in winter.
Knowing I risked missing the eagle yet again by moving on, I decided to take a walk and explore a nearby nature preserve—a lovely quiet spot above the waves—and later the local state park’s beach and lagoon. Maybe I’d see something new, maybe not, but at least I’d change my viewpoint. It beat staring at the same spot endlessly.
As it turned out, no one would see the eagle that day, and its whereabouts have been largely unknown since. It was admittedly disappointing to miss seeing the bird—so close!—but I can’t complain about time spent looking out on an ocean from cliffs, walking along a winter beach, noticing birds on land, sea, and sky. They showed up, so I did too.
A few thoughts:
- While I set out to see one specific bird, by expanding my scope I ended up seeing eight new-to-me birds species.
- Birders are generally friendly folks, and if you’re carrying a camera will stop and talk.
- That black and white blob in a tree could have been a Steller Rorschach test; the further people drove to see the bird, the more likely they were to believe it was the eagle.
- While standing around with Steller’s Sea Eagles on the brain, I wondered who was this Steller who had numerous animals named for him. Turns out Georg Wilhelm Steller was an 18th-century German naturalist who worked in Russia. His Wikipedia entry makes me think he’s prime material for a thrilling historical narrative book.
- It’s encouraging to know so many people care about birds.
- However, we’ve lost billions of birds in a lifetime—a quarter of all birdlife since 1970. So if you’re willing to spend hours to try and see one bird, consider supporting organizations that work to protect all birds and their habitats every day. And keep your cats inside.
I’ll keep checking for Steller updates, but I’ll also keep reminding myself to find what’s stellar wherever I am. And if I never see the eagle, I hope it’s finding its way home. Imagine the stories it will have to tell.
Disappointed there are no pictures of the Steller’s Sea Eagle in this post? Me too. It flew, as birds do. You can check out Some Stellar Non-Steller Birds I did see though.
All pictures were taken by me, Alicia MacLeay, January 1 or January 3, 2022, in Georgetown, Maine, from Five Islands Wharf, Ledgemere Nature Preserve, or Reid State Park. Click on an image to see it larger.