DAY 8: Docked in Haines (by far my favorite of the towns we've seen -- there's something a bit "Bay Area" about this place) we left ship very early and headed off on a flatboat to travel the several forks of the Chilkat River. The Chilkat runs with "new" water; that is, water which was solid glacier ice just 12 hours ago. The trees of the Chilkat Eagle Preserve Alaska State Park are home to 400 bald eagles year-round (roughly two-thirds the size of Haines' human population).
Bald eagles are everywhere in what is known to be the largest concentration of these birds anywhere. The population swells to some 3,000 eagles October through February with the migration of nesting couples (remember these are monogamous animals). Inspiring, august, regal -- all of the descriptors work. Most of the birds we spot today are perched high on the treetops but we do see one in flight, her seven foot wingspan casting a shadow on the clear water below and crossing over our boat.
With just 417 wild nesting pair of bald eagles counted at their low point in 1963, this species' recovery from the precipice of extinction is proof of the value of the U.S. Endangered Species Act. Delisted now, however, one wonders (and fears) what the future might hold. But this is a moment to celebrate success and marvel at their great beauty.
Down here at ground level, we're just eleven days before the start of the legal hunting season for moose, a time during which three dozen bulls will die in this valley. Although our naturalist tells us that bulls have been unusually scarce this whole summer, we round a bend in the river and spot two of them grazing alongside a moose cow. Too distant to see clearly, too covered by bush for even an "evidence" photo, our guide estimates the racks at roughly 60 inches. It is surprising to see these three so close together, but the animals rarely adhere to our predictions of their behaviors. This has been a completely magical day.