When I was working on the North American Migrations project I spent some time in Haines, Alaska photographing the Bald Eagle Migration on the Chilkat River. It is the largest congregation of Bald Eagles in the world, and yet I hardly ever run into anyone who has heard of it before. 4000 Bald Eagles are on the river, and most of them are on a four mile stretch.
A warm underground aquifer keeps much of the Chilkat open during the winter. And a late season run of Chum salmon on the river draw eagles from as far away as Washington State. The salmon are so plentiful that the eagles would wade into the water and drag them out, just a few feet away from me. Bald eagles would rather steal food from each other than catch a fish, and I had a front row seat to many aerial battles.
This was winter in Alaska, the days were short and cold, but the sunrise and sunsets lasted a very long time and the light was soft and beautiful. I could photograph all day long. In the early morning the mist would rise off the river and as the sun caught it at a low angle it looked like it was on fire. I would work hard to make the best use of the light that I could, and then the mist would roll over the top of me and I could barely see my hand until if passed by.
There were times in Alaska when I was able to photograph more eagles in a single shot than I had photographed in my life in Michigan. That's not true any more. I'm really excited to say that this October I found a spot in Michigan with an incredible number of Bald Eagles.
We were able to clearly count 35 and believe that there may have been twice that number in flight and further along the stream. In a way it is a situation very similiar to the Chilkat. There is a stream with a strong run of salmon on it and the eagles are lined up to pull salmon out of the water to eat. There were over half a dozen eagles roosting per tree at some points. Most of the eagles were immature, which means that the population is steadily growing.
I've been so excited since finding this spot that I've dreamed of the eagles. I laid in bed one night after visiting this spot and in my mind I could still hear the echo of the chit-chit-chit-chit call of the eagles scolding each other. I've thought a lot about how I'll photograph them next year, and I'm already filled with the sweetest anticipation of the return of the salmon and eagles.
Two Against One - aerial antics, in Michigan!
The loss of eagles to DDT was so extensive that I was in my twenties before I saw my first one. To be able to see roughly a tenth of all the bald eagles in the state in one location is a tremendous thrill for me! I know that it's just a temporary gathering, but hopefully I'll be able to see it in strong numbers for the rest of my life.