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Eyes From Lincoln

Spectacular birds from what almost appears another world
By: David Masche special to The News Messenger
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These photos were taken in cold Alaska. This was a trip that was on my “bucket list.” I am an avid bird photographer and especially enjoy bald eagles. On the day we arrived in Juneau, we received a foot of snow. The following Wednesday, another 18 inches. We traveled by small bus to nearby Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve created by the state of Alaska in 1982. The preserve protects and perpetuates the world’s largest concentration of bald eagles and their critical habitat. The preserve consists of 48,000 acres of river-bottom land of the Chilkat, Kleheni and Tsirku rivers. Bald eagles are attracted to this area by the availability of spawned out salmon and open waters in late fall and winter. The natural phenomena for five miles of open water on the Chilkat River during freezing months is called an “alluvial fan reservoir.” During the warmer spring, summer and fall seasons, water from melting snow and melting glacial ice flows into this alluvial fan. The “fan” receives water faster than it can flow out and water accumulates, creating a huge reservoir of water. When winter arrives, cold weather freezes surrounding waters but water in this “fan” area remains 10 to 20 degrees above surrounding water temperatures. This warmer water percolates into the Chilkat River and keeps it from freezing. Five species of salmon spawn in this area. The salmon runs begin in the summer and continue on though late fall or early winter. The salmon die after spawning and their carcasses provide the large food supply for the bald eagles. Eagles feed mainly on fish but water fowl, small mammals and carrion supplement their diet. The bald eagles can fly up to 30 miles per hour and can dive at speeds up to 100 miles per hour. This area supports 400 to 500 bald eagles year around, but during October to February, 3,000-plus bald eagles will migrate to this area for the open water and large amounts of food – salmon. After this winter feed fest, most of these bald eagles will migrate south for the remainder of the winter. In addition, the thousands of bald eagles and the abundance of snow created a winter paradise with the beautiful surrounding mountains and plentiful trees. Temperatures ranged from 4 degrees to 18 degrees, excluding wind chill impact. We were prepared for the cold but our fingers were freezing holding on to cold cameras, tripods and so forth. Several photographers had problems with their cameras and lenses freezing. ~ David Masche