Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Alaskan Eagles and More

Evelyn and I at the Chilkat River Bald Eagle Preserve, Alaska

A Bald Eagle surveys the Chilkat River Valley, Alaska

My wife Evelyn and I had the unforgettable experience of attending the 16th annual Haines Bald Eagle Festival held November 7-14 in Haines, Alaska. We flew to Juneau, then took the Alaska Marine Highway ferry to the small town of Haines, located near the Chilkat River. Every year, since large stretches of the river don't freeze, thousands of Bald Eagles congregate to feed on the late salmon run.

During the three days that we attended, we spent four hours each day along the Chilkat River, observing and photographing some of the almost 2,000 Bald Eagles sitting serenely and majestically in the cottonwood trees, or pulling apart big chunks of freshly-caught salmon along the shore, or even soaring toward us and landing on branches less than thirty feet above us. Some of the local folks said they felt bad for us, as there was no snow on the ground; when the snow is deeper, they said, it is typical to see 4,000 to 5,000 eagles, instead of the "only" 2,000 that we saw. I told them not to worry about us! Watching the eagles soar, fish, and perch amid beautiful mountain scenery was definitely not a disappointment to my wife or me.

Besides time along the river, we attended excellent presentations on wildlife and travel opportunities in Canada's Yukon Territory (its border is about thirty-five miles up the road from our river/eagle viewing area) and a very informative program about Bald Eagle anatomy and physiology by Dr. Scott Ford, an Alaskan veterinarian specializing in raptors and other birds. We also got to see several live-raptor presentations from the Juneau Raptor Center. It was helpful and fun to see how other educators from organizations similar to REGI present their programs, and, as always, it was wonderful to get close views of the education birds, especially the Northern Goshawk and Great Gray Owl.

The week went by quickly, but we had a truly memorable and thrill-filled time: The eagles and other birds were awesome, the mountains and glaciers spectacular, and the information we learned very useful. And, our flights were all on time, and our luggage arrived safely! It was an amazing week!

Steve Fisher
REGI Education Director

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