Haines, Alaska, is home to 2,500 people and about 500 eagles who live there year-round. But in November, up to 3,000 bald eagles show up! A geologic anomaly means that the nearby Chilkat River is one of the last places the surface water freezes, so eagles go there to catch salmon that are no longer available elsewhere. The town makes the most of it, hosting birdwatchers year-round and hosting a festival in November.
One of those locals is Pam Randles, a now-retired high school science teacher and naturalist guide in Haines. Randles began counting the fall eagle migration 20 years ago as part of her teaching curriculum, and can’t quit.
“I watched them for so many years, I just have to go out to look,” she admits. On an overcast afternoon in mid-October, Randles drives her rig roughly 12 miles out to the Chilkoot River on the other of the peninsula, one of three rivers spawning salmon swim up before ending in the Chilkat River. Her binoculars bounce over potholes on the passenger seat.
“The eagles were everywhere, sitting in the trees waiting for the tides to go down so they could get some fish,” Randles recounts later that day. She laughs, describing an opportunist eagle who once snatched a fisherman’s pole with pink on the line. “It’s so cool to see them.”
Read about the yearly bald eagle meeting at Smithsonian.
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