The Great Journey in Photography

Not the Same as LOL Cat

Bald Eagle on a Salmon

420mm f6.3 1600iso 1/800sec

Those of you who follow regular know that I spent some time in Alaska a couple of weeks ago photographing Bald Eagles. It was South East Alaska based out of the town of Haines AK and most of the time we were shooting about 20 miles away on the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve which is along the Chilkat River. It is a special place because every year around this time when Alaska and Canada begins to freeze over a bit to the North thousands of Eagles head to the Chilkat to feed on an overabundance of salmon. The Chilkat meanders along the valley and at some points the bed or “flats” as they are called look to be about a mile or two across. In all the State Park is 48,000 acres and it is estimated that about 3,200 pair of eagles migrate there every year. Waters that run through the Chilkat include glacial runoff that contain a lot of minerals and other sediment that can leave the river bank ranging from sandy beach to rocks with driftwood looking logs for the birds to perch. The outer banks are lined with tall trees where the Eagles prefer to eat their food. As an added bonus when the Chilkat freezes most of the birds congregate at the spots with deepest waters and it is not unusual to have hundreds of Eagles in your field of view. One unique thing about the Chilkat River is that it has warmer water constantly percolating through the rocky river bed so it never completely freezes over thus insuring a food supply for the Eagles and Gulls.

The Eagles come to the Chilkat to feed on the spawned out salmon that seem to be everywhere in the river at that time. The 4-year-old fish are huge in size, far to big for an Eagle to bring up to a safe tree branch so the best they can do is drag it up on the bank of the river and pick at it. That is where all the action happens. Bald Eagles have a fairly loose family unit, true that the do mate for life in most cases but when the young are able to leave the nest they are done and on their own. Fighting for a share of the fish is a common occurrence and makes for the best Eagle photography. The birds tend to not be distracted by humans at that point either so getting close is only a matter of logistics.

The preserve seems to have its own weather too. It is almost always different from the water’s edge just 20 miles away and can change fast so it is best to be prepared for any conditions. As you can see in the photo above it can have grey low light conditions at times that result in muddy images that need a lot of help to make viewable but if you hang out for more than an afternoon you most likely see some really soft pleasing light at some point. When that happens, make the most of it because it won’t last long!

Thanks for stopping by everyone. Please come back next week, this is only the first in a series of stories about photographing Bald Eagles in Alaska and I would hate for you to miss any of it.

You can see more of my Eagle photos here at my SmugMug site.

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