Alaska’s Bald Eagles; 1st of 2 blogs

Please consider all images as copyrighted – thank you. Contact me for use… DEClapp

The Bald Eagle has never been uncommon in Alaska. The restoration of the Bald Eagle population has been a success in the lower forty-eight where population declined from east to west and north to south. They really needed help.

But Alaska, well Alaska has all the eagles you can imagine. In the Southeast while aboard the NatGeo/Lindblad Sea Bird with some Smithsonian Journeys travelers we figured that there were a pair of eagles every mile or so along the shore – and there is a lot of shore. When I was in  Sitka looking over the inner harbor I had 23 Bald Eagles over the water in one group; and there were others on bridges, building, trees, and on boat masts. They were less common in  Nome but seen in the Denali area along the braided glacial rivers.

They like fish: they catch, steal, and scavenge fish. The waters of the Alaskan coast and rivers provide fish pretty much year round but during the early summer through early fall there are tons of fish in the nearby waters and eagles (and bears and mink and gulls, and nearly everything else) can eat their fill. Fish leave the ocean and return to spawn in the inland rivers – and the predators wait.

I am doing two blog pages on Alaska’s Bald Eagles so that I can show off a great spot (Anchor Point in this blog) and a great story (an eagle swimming ashore with a large salmon in the next blog).

This page will show eagles from Anchor Point on the Kenai Peninsula. Like most of Alaska there are spectacular views here. The mountains across the Cook Inlet from the Kenai are gorgeous and present several of the areas active volcanoes. While we were there Iliamna was spewing steam into the blue sky through it’s snow-covered shoulder while its neighbor Redoubt stood majestically in the same view. These two volcanic mountains rise over 10,000 feet right from the edge of the sea. The island chain heads south and then west leading out to the nearly 1500 mile long Aleutian Island archipelago.

Anchor Point is the location where Captain Cook, while looking for a northwest passage, lost his anchor in the fast and powerful tidal flow of these Pacific waters. Now Anchor Point is a smallish stopping off point for travelers and a place where a tractor will back your boat trailer into the water allowing your boat to float free for a day of halibut fishing; or salmon fishing in the spring. Upon your return they meet you in shallow water and you drive your boat onto your trailer which they have backed into the sea with their machine. The tidal exchange and the strength of the tide water currents, as well as the potential for large storms, prohibit building a pier in this area. But, where there is a will there’s a way – and that way is by tractor not ramp.

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The tractor maneuvers a trailer into position for the returning boat to slip into and be pulled onto the shore. It was a procedure that worked two of the three times I watched it. One time the fishermen had to exit the boat and wade ashore. That was probably not in their plans.                         You can see a small puff of volcanic steam rising from Mount Iliamna just to the right of the peak. It was a spectacular day; great sun, light winds, and an amazing view. And dozens (yes dozens) of American Bald Eagles….as you will see below.

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Throughout the Kenai we had eagles in sight where ever we looked. If there was salt water nearby – there were eagles. It was getting to be salmon time and every eagle knew it; the sea was about to return the salmon to the land. The eagles watched from roof tops, electric poles, boat masts, jetty’s, and tree tops. If you were shopping or lunching on The Spit in Homer there were at least ten eagles within a couple hundred yards.
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At this time of year the adult birds are in full gear. The feathers were brand new earlier in the spring but the plumage is still rich in color and the feathers are barely worn. They do look regal and fierce. The adults are likely to still be feeding young in the nest or have young that are just out of the nest and being fed wherever they happen to have landed. The adult birds above and below are just hanging out on the beach. In the areas where humans fish there are often fish “racks” discarded after the meat is filleted off the bones. Birds and bears will eat the head, skin, fat , and other tidbits as well as the flesh. As boats go in and out of from here and, as many fisherman clean their fish on the way in to shore there are often good pickings (scavenging) on the beaches near the boat launching areas. These guys know the ropes.

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It takes a Bald Eagle about five years to grow old enough to wear the white head and tail of an adult. They start off quite brown and slowly develop the species’ characteristic “bald-headed” pattern . The two young birds above are likely birds of this nesting season. They may be in preschool but they eat like teenagers. The youngsters may look like Golden Eagles at first glance but they always have a larger beak and Golden Eagles are not as common (by a long shot) down on the beach.
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Though the eagle looks somewhat like the king of the beasts he is rarely alone when dining. In the southern and eastern parts of Alaska the predominant coastal gull at this time of year is the Glaucous-winged Gull. For those looking at this blog, not from Alaska, this gull is a touch larger than a Herring Gull (the widespread gull seen broadly throughout the continental US). The Glaucous refers to a soft luxurious gray color; a bit like a pearl perhaps. The origin of the word “glaucous” refers back into Greek suggesting a blue-gray but through common use, and the lack of any real blue hue, it has become a word usually used referring to a soft gray. This rather attractive gull has no black in the wing tips and dark eyes. The Herring Gull has black in the wings and yellow eyes. Both species develop a red spot on the bill during breeding season.

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The American Bald Eagle is really pretty impressive when it unfurls its wings – they are about seven-and-a-half feet from tip to tip.

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