Steller Niigata 14

Steller's Sea-eagle

Niigata, Japan

January 18, 2014

Photos with Nikon D800 Nikkor af-s 80-400mm VR and TC 1.4Eii
(Don't use the teleconverter!)

Gee, it was hard heading off to work this week. (After a holiday in Australia) It was minus 2c on Tuesday but a close encounter with an adult peregrine flying the direction that I'd come cheered me up. The sky behind it was dull but I could clearly see it's white chest and faint bars and even the yellow of the cere. I wanted to turn around and follow it. Too bad I had my work bag and not my camera.

I called Mr Honma on Wednesday night to catch up on Niigata bird news and learned that a Steller's Sea-eagle was first recorded for the season on January 8. It seems to be a good date for Steller's in Niigata, as I recall my first ever encounter being on January 8, 2005 at 3pm. I think the date has popped up a few times since when talking about these eagles in Niigata. 

Mr Honma and I headed out at 7am on Saturday morning (yesterday). Who would want to sleep in minus degrees with a blizzard forecasted? Anyway we found it where reported, and where one has been reliably found in years past. Terrible views really sitting high up on electrical towers. 

I knew it would be sitting up high and at a bad angle so I decided to prepare the Nikon 1.4Eii teleconverter to extend the Nikkor af-s 80-400mm VR lens I got last April. According to my calculator it gave me a reach of 560mm. I guess, lesson learned; I will not use the combination again as I am disappointed with its handling and the results. All the photos in this post were taken with the combination. I couldn't really tell if it was focussing as it is so quiet. It would seem to focus but I wasn't confident it was completely focussing. I was happy with the reach but once I downloaded the images they looked soft and many were not focussed. 

There were a hand-full of photographers in the fields surrounding the tower. The best shots being the rare chance of getting it once it flew. The first time it went away from me and I got my classical going away shots. We followed it to another tower where it was obscured by the steel of the tower. Not exciting at all but we stood and waited for another 90 minutes for it to take flight again. During that time I watched around me and could see pigeons flocking in the distance and heard several crows as the deterred a Northern Goshawk from getting closer to the pigeons. The goshawk was then replaced by a a peregrine which was also set upon by the crows. All too far for photographs. Eventually the eagle took flight again and again it was away from me. 

About ten minutes after we'd lost sight of the eagle, we had walked back to the cars and were packing our gear when I looked over Mr Honma's shoulder to see the eagle heading straight to us. I had wanted to remove the teleconverter from the camera the whole time but had failed to bring caps or something to put it in, but now there was no time. The eagle passed over us lowly but with some pace. I really didn't need the converter as it was so close and I gritted my teeth as I struggled to focus. The camera was set to full frame mode (FX) but there are many unfocussed results of the flyover. It could have been so nice just with the bear lens. I guess I'll just have to go back.

The blizzard had started when we found the peregrine. I think it is the same individual that I'd posted back in 2012 and claimed it as a possible Peale's Falcon. Anyway, it is not a typical Japanese Peregrine.

Peregrine Falcon