Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve near Haines Alaska - Part 1

    A visit to the Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve near Haines Alaska has been on my bucket list for several years. I wish I had not waited so long to visit this spectacular place. I signed up for Andy Long's photography WORKSHOP and spent 6 days there.  We met in Juneau on Nov. 10, took a short flight to Haines on the 11th (the scheduled ferry trip was cancelled), and the ferry back to Juneau in the late afternoon on the 17th. I arrived a day early to spend time exploring Juneau. The highlight of my time in Juneau was finding a flock of Long-tailed Ducks near a salmon hatchery. I saw a Long-tailed Duck on St. Paul Island at a great distance, but this was a photographic Lifer for me. 

Click on images for a larger view.

Long-tailed Duck, Juneau, Alaska - Nov. 2017

    The Chilkat Preserve is the site of largest concentration of Bald Eagles in the world. Thousands of Bald Eagles gather there to feed during the late run of chum salmon from November through January. The Takhinsha Mountains provide a stunning backdrop for photographing the eagles and other wildlife.

Bald Eagles at the Alaska Chilkat Preserve - Nov. 2017

Bald Eagles at the Chilkat Preserve - Nov. 2017

One day we met Joe Ordonez (photographer, local guide and naturalist, and author of Where Eagles Gather, the Story of the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve). I purchased his book after I returned to Pensacola. A quote from the book follows.

"In the heart of the preserve, the Chilkat, Klehini, and Tsirku Rivers come together. This is where thousands of eagles can be seen in November. Gathered together with their white heads and dark bodies, they appear as politicians of yesteryear with their powdered wigs and black robes, assembled to discuss important affairs of state. For this reason, this place is called the Bald Eagle Preserve Council Grounds."

Sunrise on the Chilkat River. Nov. 2017

Tundra Swan - Chilkat Preserve, Nov. 2017

Grizzly bear - Nov. 2017

We saw the bear on the shore of Chilkoot Lake. A local naturalist told us the bear was 3 years old and that they were concerned that the bear had made no attempt to find a den for hibernation in the bear's first winter away from the mother. 

Salmon, Chilkat River - Nov. 2017

The rivers that converge in the preserve have deposited gravel and sediment into the floor of the valley for thousands of years and gravel beds reach depths of 200-800 feet below the surface of the river. A huge reservoir of water is contained in the gravel. The water stored here stays above freezing, seeps into the Chilkat River throughout the winter and keeps parts of the river ice-free. Salmon runs in these ice-free areas attract the eagles, bears when active, and other birds and wildlife. 

Live salmon pulled ashore by Bald Eagle - Nov. 2017 

After spawning, all Pacific salmon and most Atlantic salmon die. Semelparous animals spawn only once in their lifetime. The Pacific salmon is the classic example of a semelparous animal. It lives for many years in the ocean before swimming to the freshwater stream of its birth, spawning, and then dying. The deterioration is rapid and is associated with an extreme investment in reproduction. Cessation of feeding, weight loss, atrophy of digestive organs, and impaired immune function are factors involved in the post-spawning death.

Salmon and Bald Eagle - Chilkat Preserve, Nov. 2017

 A Bald Eagle feeding on a salmon on the bank of the Chilkat River. The carcasses of the salmon that die after spawning provide large quantities of food for the eagles

Salmon Remains, banks of Chilkoot Lake near Haines, AK - Nov. 2017

A partially eaten carcass of a dead salmon seen on the bank of Chilkoot Lake near Haines, Alaska.

I am not sure how many blog posts will be based on photos taken at this remarkable place, but I will be sorting shots for at least a few weeks.

(To Be Continued)

David Sparks

I retired in 2005 after 40 years of research and teaching at the University of Alabama in Birmingham (24 years), the University of Pennsylvania (8 years) and the Baylor College of Medicine (8 years). Photography is my retirement hobby.

Nature photography, especially bird photography, combines a number of things that I really enjoy: bird-watching, being outdoors, photography, travel, messing about with computers, and learning new skills and concepts.  I now spend much of my time engaged in these activities.

David Sibley in the preface to The Sibley Guide to Birds wrote "Birds are beautiful, in spectacular as well as subtle ways; their colors, shapes, actions, and sounds are among the most aesthetically pleasing in nature."  My goal is to acquire images that capture the beauty and uniqueness of selected species as well as images that highlight the engaging behaviors the birds exhibit.