In the time since we wrote about the Steller’s sea-eagle that had appeared in and around Five Islands a few weeks ago, most readers will probably be aware that the bird had moved over to Boothbay Harbor where it has been attracting hundreds of people eager to see it or photograph it. The extreme rarity of the bird, which hails from Siberia (more background in our previous column, “A ‘Steller’ Bird”), is why so many bird enthusiasts are willing to travel even from across the U.S. for a chance to see it and count it on their life list. The amazing rarity of the bird and the large crowds of birders gathered to get a glimpse of it have meanwhile made it an event worthy of stories in many media outlets, from the state to the national level. And of course, the news stories increase the number of people who are curious and have made the trip to Boothbay to try to see it themselves.
The bird had disappeared from Five Islands on Jan. 2 and then was spotted in West Boothbay on Jan. 6. We enjoyed following the news of the rediscovery, the arrival of birders to the Boothbay area, and the locations where the bird was being spotted. Over the weekend, though, we decided to go out and witness the excitement ourselves. It was a cold but gorgeously beautiful blue-sky day, and there were birders everywhere. Scads of birders were congregated along the road near the Spruce Point Inn, where they were watching the bird as it sat in a tree on Mouse Island. We saw still more birders massed in the parking lot of the aquarium. Others were staked out on the Southport bridge. Smaller numbers were scattered about in places like the Boothbay Region Land Trust’s Oak Point Farm Preserve. When we were scanning from the parking lot of the Tugboat Inn, several other birders joined us for a while, and we saw birders (identified by the binoculars in their hands) scattered all around the town.
The many hundreds of birders who have made the trek to Boothbay over the last week and half have been enjoying and sharing information about lots of Boothbay area businesses where they can get lodging, food, beverages, and gas. We imagine that many of these hundreds that have never visited the Boothbay region before will probably now be enthralled with the idea of coming back during warmer times to see the amazing birds, land trust preserves, and other places that make Boothbay special, and to enjoy boat trips and more great places to stay and to dine.
Some of the few Steller’s sea-eagles that have wandered over to Alaska from Siberia have stayed or come back to the same locations for multiple years—one even came back every summer to a remote spot in the Tongass National Forest for an amazing 15 years. Our Steller’s sea-eagle seems to be finding food and places to rest and sleep. Certainly, the cold weather and ocean front habitat is arguably similar to what the rest of its kind experience over in Siberia and northern Japan. That might mean that it will stay in our area for some extended period of time. We would expect the number of birders coming to see it to trail off at some point, but if it does stay nearby, it will always be an attraction for those not fortunate enough to have seen it yet and for those who just want to see it every year because it is so unique.
We, by the way, missed seeing the bird by a few minutes. It had just flown north into the harbor when we arrived at the Spruce Point Inn and walked down to the assembled birders at the shore. They were all leaving to go look for it from other spots, or to get lunch or a hot coffee. On our way home we decided to swing by Knickercane Island thinking that would be a spot that no other birders would check. We were wrong! There were already three carloads scanning every tree with the faint hope that the bird would have flown in that direction. A regal-looking adult bald eagle scanned the water from the tallest white pines on the north side of the bridge, looking magnificent as the almost full moon appeared over the trees. We may not have seen the sea-eagle this time, but we were filled with happiness and appreciation as we made our way home in the last light of day.
Jeffrey V. Wells, Ph.D., is a Fellow of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology and Vice President of Boreal Conservation for National Audubon. Dr. Wells is one of the nation's leading bird experts and conservation biologists and author of the “Birder’s Conservation Handbook.” His grandfather, the late John Chase, was a columnist for the Boothbay Register for many years. Allison Childs Wells, formerly of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology, is a senior director at the Natural Resources Council of Maine, a nonprofit membership organization working statewide to protect the nature of Maine. Both are widely published natural history writers and are the authors of the popular books, “Maine’s Favorite Birds” (Tilbury House) and “Birds of Aruba, Bonaire, and Curaçao: A Site and Field Guide,” (Cornell University Press).