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Ambassadors Programme

Explorer

Danny Green

Mar25

Wild Japan: ‘Eagle Heaven’ with Canon Explorer Danny Green

By Danny Green, Wednesday March 25, 2015
Get out of my way! A Steller's sea eagle coming in to land. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/2500sec at f/4, ISO 800.

Get out of my way! A Steller's sea eagle coming in to land. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/2500sec at f/4, ISO 800. © Danny Green

After my encounter with the whooper swans I then headed to the town of Rausu, which is on the Shiretoko Peninsula, eastern Hokkaido, Japan.

The Steller's sea eagle is the rarest eagle in the Northern Hemisphere and the Shiretoko Peninsula is such an important wintering area for this rare bird. Most of these birds come from Kamchatka in Russia.

During the latter part of the winter great rafts of ice appear along the coast on Shiretoko. The ice drifts in from the Sea of Okhotsk. It is not pack ice, like you get in the Arctic, but comes from the huge Amur River along the border of China and Russia. As the fresh water ice breaks up it then drifts with the currents to settle off the coast. The Steller's eagles like to hang out on this floating ice platform.

It is always hit and miss whether it [the ice] appears, but I got extremely lucky as a few days before my visit it wasn't close by. The best way to see the eagles is by hiring a small boat, which takes you out each morning. The guys who own the boats are local fisherman and know the eagles well. The eagles have been following the boats for years and recognise a free meal when they see it. The fishermen throw out dead fish to attract them down and at one point we counted over 30 birds.

It is amazing being this close to such beautiful birds in such a wonderful setting; it is great for getting intimate portraits and trying to capture them in flight when they come in. Again, I used a variety of different lenses to photograph the eagles so I could produce a varied portfolio.

What I really wanted was to capture this powerful bird in flight. I used my trusty combination of the EOS-1D X and an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens for this job. This combination never lets me down for action shots and I managed to achieve lots of images of them in flight. This first image (above, top) is my favourite though, as he flies straight down the barrel of the lens. His intense stare is not on me but on a young adult bird feeding on a big fish; seconds later he robbed him of his prize.

Once the birds have eaten they just hang out on the ice and this is the best time for capturing intimate portraits as they contemplate whether to eat anything else.

Along these great sheets of ice it was also really good for photographing white-tailed eagles as they too joined the Steller's for a free meal. These birds are usually so secretive and it can take years to photograph them in Europe. Along this remote coastline of Northern Japan though... all I can describe it as is ‘Eagle Heaven’.

Just chilling on the ice. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an  EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/2500sec  at f/4, ISO 400.

Just chilling on the ice. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an
EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/2500sec
at f/4, ISO 400. © Danny Green

A white-tailed eagle in flight. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/4000sec at f/4, ISO 1600.

A white-tailed eagle in flight. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/4000sec at f/4, ISO 1600. © Danny Green