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  • Writer's pictureKaisa Siren

A Feast on Eagles

Text and photos: Kaisa Sirén

In the 1970s, the white-tailed eagle was an endangered species in Finland, with only a few reproducing couples left. Thanks to conservation efforts in the last fifty years, the bird nests now even in Lapland, the northernmost part of the country. Kaisa Sirén set out to photograph these majestic birds.

A white ice shield extends in front of me for kilometres on end until it finally reaches the Koitelainen fells in the horizon. I stare across the ice but I hear nothing, nothing happens. Finally one lonely gull arrives and lands fearlessly near the fish skeletons I have put out. After a while, I can distinguish two black sports very far away, and with the binoculars I verify that they are white-tailed eagles. Meanwhile, a few ravens settle down near the gull. Ravens are a good sign, because the eagles trust them and start to move in closer. After half an hour, a dozen ravens have arrived and I can see five eagles in the distance.

I am 220 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle at the Lokka reservoir. It is the largest reservoir in Europe and, together with the Porttipahta reservoir, forms an enormous waterbody. In 1967, the reservoir was filled and several villages drowned, together with Europe’s largest string bog, Posoaapa. Now the reservoirs give a livelihood for fishermen and an environment for the white-tailed eagles. Approximately forty pairs nest in the area.

I have been watching the ice shield and the bickering of the ravens for an hour, when the spectacle starts. As if they were given a signal, eight eagles take flight and arrive to the meal of rainbow trout skeletons, that I have put out for them outside my hideout. Some land like helicopters while others dive from the air with their cloves stretched out to catch a fish. They fight with each other, swirling in the air and kicking on the ice, trying to steal a trout.

More eagles appear; I can see a total of fourteen. A lot is happening and I have to be alert to be able to photograph everything. It is easy to get a sharp photo of a bird that lands on the ice because it moves slowly but one that dives, appears unexpectedly and unpredictably from outside of my view. It is impossible to anticipate which fish it is going to catch or what direction it will take off into. Only the suddenly retrieving ravens reveal that an eagle is diving.

When I was little, my family spent summers in the archipelago in Southwestern Finland. Already then, I was interested in birds and I knew that white-tailed eagles existed and were endangered. My dream was, however, that one day I would see that bird flying over our cottage. It never did. Therefore, it is difficult to believe that here I am, far out in Lapland witnessing a most spectacular display of nature, where fourteen white-tailed eagles eat a meal right in front of me. They include young individuals and lightly coloured older ones, and most of them have a band around their leg. Those that do not, nest in Russia and on the way home, stop at Lokka to have an easy meal. In Finland, all nests are recorded, and all chicks get a band on their leg.

The breathtakingly fine performance lasts for two hours, after which the plate is clean and the fish is gone. The eagles retrieve and again, I can see black spots on the ice far away. The ravens have left also.

It is the beginning of April and it will still be quite a while before the eagles can fish in the open water. Because they are very hungry now, I decide to offer them a second helping. I crawl out from my hideout and pull a sledge full of rainbow trout skeletons to the plate. Four eagles circle above me as if they were telling me to hurry up because their bellies are grumbling. They get their food and I get my photos!



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