A Congress of Eagles

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Bald Eagles

When it comes to bald eagle watching, Alaska is the undisputed capital of the U.S. Both the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve and the Stikine Flats Wildlife Viewing Area in the Stikine-Leconte Wilderness offer unparallelled opportunities for observing hundreds of eagles at a time.

At the Chilkat preserve, eagle watchers congregate between miles 18 and 24 of the Haines Highway, at the river flats of the Chilkat river. A phenomenon known as an alluvial fan reservoir—a natural reservoir formed by a fan-shaped accumulation of gravel, rock, sand, and glacial debris—is responsible for the area's popularity with eagles. During the warmer spring and summer, water accumulates here. When winter sets in, the reservoir remains 10 to 20 degrees (Farenheit) warmer. This warmer water then"percolates" into the river, keeping it from freezing. This five-mile stretch of unfrozen water allowing the eagles access to spawned out salmon there

Five different species of salmon run the rivers in the area, beginning in the summer and continuing through late fall and early winter. The fish die shortly after spawning, and their carcasses are the eagles' prime source of nutrition. Eagles begin to congregate in the preserve in October and stay around until February.

A small, oily smelt-sized fish known locally as the "hooligan" (and more officially as the eulachon), is responsible for the huge concentration of eagles in the Stikine Flats Wildlife Viewing Area. Eagle surveys in the past have found as many as 4,000 birds along the river in spring, but the number of eagles varies with the number of fish. The prime viewing season here starts in late March and continues until mid-May, with the most eagles visible toward the end of April. In addition, birders should note that this area sees a large shorebird migration which peaks the first week of May. Come at the end of April or the beginning of May, and you can catch sight of a wonderful variety of feathered creatures. Because the viewing area is located in the roadless Stikine-Leconte Wilderness, locals say the best way to gain access is by boat. These can be hired in nearby Wrangell.

Published: 28 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication


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