Juneau, Haines, and the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve

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Stephen Fischer Photography

In previous research for this trip I also read that brown and black bear sightings are more frequent around the mouth of the Chilkoot river.  But I was not getting my hopes up too much, as mid-November is fairly late in the season to find bears still active that have not gone into hibernation.  With the possibility of other such wildlife photography in mind, while driving I kept one eye open for this, keeping my cropped body with the 100-400mm telephoto lens at the ready in the passenger seat.  Unfortunately, I struck out in this regard, but talking to one other photographer who was there on a different day did spot one mother bear with a single cub.  A different visitor (Sarah) also reported coming within fairly close proximity of a bear while on a short day hike up the Mount Ripinsky trail just out of town. 


My most unusual wildlife encounter beyond the eagles for this trip was that of a short-tailed weasel.  While myself and about half dozen other photographers where photographing an eagle perched on a branch only about 40 feet from us in the forest across the street from the main observation area, this small weasel with its winter coat popped its head out of the dense thicket of branches just below the eagle.  With my second camera around my neck I was able to get off a few shots while it temporarily checked us out, and before disappearing into the thicket again (see image 43).  Interestingly, the eagle above also looked down and spotted this cute little mammal, but seemed just mildly curious and potentially too complacent based on its easy diet of salmon from the all-you-can-eat Chilkat river buffet.


One of the other positive experiences of this trip was the number of friendly people that I met along the way, out at the preserve, or in the town of Haines.  My trip happened to also coincide with the Bald Eagle Festival held in Haines each year around mid-November.  This is sponsored by the American Bald Eagle Foundation, which also has a facility here, complete with a museum, gift shop, and lecture hall. Many people I met had come up to participate in this event, attend some of the lectures, field trips, and with some taking a 3 day workshop taught by a couple of the local wildlife photographers.  One of the local professionals and guides, Bill McRoberts was quite knowledgeable of the area, providing more tips on the eagle’s behavior and how the photographic situation with the bald eagles changes through the winter.  While out at the preserve or even eating dinner that night, you would get to know the other photographers or those just interested in visiting this rather charming, yet remote area of southeast Alaska.  I met some new friends including a realtor from Toronto, a photographer from Whitehorse Canada, a CFO from Michigan, a former football coach from Wisconsin, and a retired movie industry professional from Studio City, California.  What they all have in common is a zest to explore and visit new areas that are off the beaten path, and that are not particularly easy.


I was also curious about the locals in Haines, and learning more about how they came about to live here, asking questions about this when I could. It would seem that most have a more rugged individualistic streak and come here to escape the rat race of the lower 48.  A typical comment from a proprietor at a local outdoor gear shop summed it up this way: “We used to live in Colorado, but after the second Walmart Super Center came to the area, we decided it was time to move.”.  You won’t find any such places like that in Haines, and I suspect any corporate type that came to town with this intention in mind would get a frosty welcome. 


My visit to Haines is one that will stick in my mind for some time, and a reminder of why photographic based travel can be so interesting.  In my life, photography is one of the big motivators to explore new areas, but the travel experiences along the way can be just as rewarding and yet so unexpected. All it takes is a willingness to leave the comforts of your more normal life and be open to new adventures.


- Stephen Fischer





All content and images are property of Stephen Fischer Photography, copyright 2013.   Last updated: 11/22/2013