Danielle Norris-Gardner of Salem, Mass., and Will Stollsteimer of Keene, N.H., set up on a bridge on Five Islands Road in Arrowsic, while waiting to get a look at a Steller’s sea eagle. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

GEORGETOWN — Birders from across New England flocked to a bridge on Sunday for the return of a rare Steller’s sea eagle that comes from continents away.

Armed with powerful scopes and binoculars, about 70 people lined the Back River Bridge separating Arrowsic and Georgetown.

The rare Steller’s sea eagle, pictured last winter in Georgetown, returned to the area this weekend. Zachary Holderby, Downeast Audubon via AP

Also known as a Pacific sea eagle, the large bird native to eastern Russia was perched in a pine tree on the shore of the Back River. The eagle roosted in the same tree for hours, birders reported, and was partially hidden. But when it moved its head, the bright, orange-yellow beak gave it away.

“It’s just amazing!” said Will Stollsteimer, who drove up from Keene, New Hampshire, at 7:30 a.m. “Every time it moves you get to see its facial features and what makes it all distinct.”

Sunday was the first time Stollsteimer saw the bird.

“I came to try and see it last year, but I wasn’t able to,” he said. “These big birds fascinate me.”


The Steller’s sea eagle was first sighted in Maine last winter, not far from where the bird appeared this weekend. After word spread on social media, a large crowd descended on the Five Islands area of Georgetown on Dec. 31, 2021. Part of the thrill of seeing the bird is because it is from so far away and so rare. Experts estimate there are only about 4,000 Steller’s sea eagles in the world.

This year, birders responded to a Saturday post by Maine Audubon’s Doug Hitchcox that the bird was back. Sunday morning the road near the bridge, Route 127, was lined with vehicles including many with out-of-state plates.

“This is my fourth trip to find this bird, twice in Taunton, Massachusetts, and once up here last year. I missed every time,” said Eric Mueller of Clinton, Mass, who leads hawk walks in his state. “When it showed up last year in Massachusetts, I got there the day after most people had seen it. I met people who had flown in from New Mexico and Colorado to see it. It’s that rare.”

Chris Ryer of Cumberland looks through binoculars on a bridge on Five Islands Road in Arrowsic while waiting to get a look at a Steller’s sea eagle, which had been sighted Saturday on Back River. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

On Sunday he finally got to see the eagle for himself.

“I am so happy!” Mueller said. “This bird is charismatic, just because they are so huge. They have an enormous beak. A bald eagle’s beak is big, but this beak is enormous.”

The Steller’s sea eagle is easy to identify by the striking white markings on its brown wings and huge, eight-foot wingspan. The eagle weighs between 11 and 20 pounds, and can be up to twice as big as a bald eagle.


“You see it and there’s nothing like it,” Mueller said.

He and his jubilant friends nicknamed the eagle Stella.

“Like STELLA!” Mueller said with a laugh.

Birders line a bridge between Georgetown and Arrowsic to see the Steller’s sea eagle that was sighted over the Back River on Saturday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Nearby, manning a powerful scope, Danielle Norris-Gardner of Salem, Mass., was eager to share a look at the bird.

“It’s a black blob. It’s in the center of the scope,” Norris-Gardner said to a novice. “It’s on a tree branch. Occasionally it will move its head and you can see a flash of this orange-yellow – his beak.”

Norris-Gardner said she learned Saturday on social media that the eagle was spotted in Georgetown. She immediately headed north, reaching the bridge five minutes before sunset.


“I saw it in this tree as it got dark,” she said.

She returned to the bridge before sunrise Sunday for another look. Until Saturday she had never seen the bird.

“I tried last year and I was unsuccessful. This is my first time seeing it, last night,” Norris-Gardner said.

Will Stollsteimer of Keene, N.H., sets up on a bridge on Five Islands Road in Arrowsic. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

When asked for her reaction, Norris-Gardner sighed and smiled. “Wow! Wow!”

Robert Timberlake of Cumberland said Sunday was the second time he’s seen the eagle.

“It’s worth seeing,” he said. “How many times do you see something so rare? It’s spectacular.”


A birder, Timberlake said it’s neat to think that a bird can, and does, fly anywhere it wants to go on the planet.

When he saw the eagle last year, “I saw a young bald eagle coming in and harassing it. It looked like a crow harassing a red tail hawk, that’s the difference in size of a Steller’s sea eagle compared to a bald eagle. It’s so much bigger.”

As Timberlake talked, Norris-Gardner spoke up. The eagle had turned its head and was stirring.

“Here, take a look! Take a look at his beak!”

Just then, at about 11:15 a.m., the eagle flew away from the pine tree, soaring over the river and headed east.

A cheer broke out from the crowd.

“Oh, oh, oh!”

Then the crowd applauded and shared laughter.

“That’s great!” someone yelled out.

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