PUBLISHED: 7:49 PM on Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Thousands of birds (and some humans, too) will flock to Haines for annual eagle festival
HAINES - There are plenty of opportunities to see bald eagles in Alaska, but the chance to see a gathering of thousands only comes once a year. The Alaska Bald Eagle Festival held in Haines Nov. 5-9 celebrates the largest gathering of bald eagles in the world.

More than 3,000 eagles come every year to feed on late-run salmon spawning in the Chilkat River north of Haines. When rivers freeze elsewhere, a mile-long stretch of the river in the Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve keeps flowing due to a unique underground reservoir, allowing eagles access to spawning salmon.

"You truly could see a thousand eagles from one spot," said Jennifer Norton, an administrator with the American Bald Eagle Foundation in Haines. "What people don't expect is to just hear 1,000 eagles chattering away at one time. It really is a unique phenomenon."

This is the 14th year that the Eagle Foundation has put on the festival, which usually draws up to 200 participants for several days of eagle viewing, photography, presentations, workshops and entertainment.

One of the highlights of the five-day festival is the "Flight of Freedom" eagle release on Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m. This year the Juneau Raptor Center is bringing four rehabilitated eagles to release. One will be given to the village of Klukwan to release Nov. 7 and the other three will be released Nov. 8, Norton said.

With such fantastic subjects for photographs, wildlife photography workshops are an optional part of the festival. Award-winning wildlife photographer Robert O'Toole from Florida will teach a digital photography workshop using Photoshop and workshops photographing bald eagles in the preserve.

For the first time, a photography workshop will be offered at Kroshel Film's Wildlife and Educational Center, where trained and tame Alaskan animals, including a wolverine, may be photographed in a natural setting.

"This is an excellent opportunity to learn from real world cinematographers how to (photograph) and film animals," Norton said.

As daylight wanes, the festival moves inside with presentations and entertainment, including music and dancing among the animals Nov. 8. Presenters will come from Florida and the Yukon as well as Haines, Juneau and Anchorage to discuss topics ranging from the avian flu to wolves in the Yukon.

"It's a fantastic experience and I hope that people are able to come here," Norton said. "It's a good mix of entertaining and educational (experiences)."

One-, three- and five-day festival passes are available. One-day passes are $35 for adults, $31.50 for seniors, $30 for ages 12-18. Three-day pass are $75/$60/$55 and five-day passes are $125/$100/$75. Children under 12 are free. All proceeds go to covering the costs of the festivals and running educational programs at the American Bald Eagle Foundation.

For more information, including a complete schedule, and to register, visit