Experience the Grand Gathering of Bald Eagles at Alaska’s Chilkat River “Council Grounds”
November 24 through December 2, 2017 — Limited to 5 participants
Leaders: James Norman (Jim)
The “Council Grounds” along the Chilkat River just south of the Tlingit village of Klukwan, Alaska is widely considered the world’s best area to see and photograph bald eagles. The Council Grounds forms the heart of the 48,000 Alaska Chilkat Bald Eagle Preserve, and bald eagles gather here by the hundreds and thousands beginning in November and continuing into January. The Chilkat River freezes over later than most rivers in Alaska, due to the presence of a huge reservoir of warm water formed each summer where the Chilkat, Kleheni, and Tsiruk Rivers come together; this warm water — 10–20 degrees (F) warmer than the surrounding waters — continues to percolate into the Chilkat for months, and delays ice from forming over the river as rapidly as would otherwise occur. A late run of salmon sets the stage for high drama — open water and abundant salmon provide everything the eagles need, particularly when other rivers are frozen over and fish are inaccessible. The result in a mass gathering of eagles, providing a rare opportunity to see large numbers of eagles flying, fishing, and interacting. Territorial disputes are common, and often quite dramatic. The cries of eagles as they soar or when confronting a rival are unforgettable. But even when an eagle is simply resting quietly on a stump or high in a tree, the sight is majestic and awe-inspiring. This grand gathering of eagles belongs on every photographer’s life list.
This trip will begin in Juneau, Alaska’s capital. From Juneau, depending on 2017 transport provider schedules, we will travel to Haines on an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry or by air. We will have first-class accommodations in Haines, which will be our base of operations. We will have six days to experience and photograph the grand gathering of bald eagles along the Chilkat.
$3,500 double occupancy. If you do not want to share a room with another participant, there will be an additional single supplement fee of $700.
- All lodging in Juneau and Haines (8 nights).
- All transportation in Juneau and Haines, from Juneau to Haines, and from Haines back to Juneau.
- Six days of photography at the Council Grounds and along the Chilkat River.
- We plan to travel between Juneau and Haines on board one of the ferries operated by the Alaska Marine Highway System. On board, you will have a leisurely opportunity to see and photograph 80 miles of spectacularly beautiful scenery in Alaska’s Inside Passage — twice! There is a chance we will see resident orcas (about 160 remain in Inside Passage waters year-round), as well as other marine mammals and seabirds. If the ferry schedule does not mesh with our needs, will will travel by air; you will enjoy two scenic flights between Juneau and Haines, allowing you to see and photograph the Mendenhall Glacier, snow-covered mountains, and other spectacular winter landscapes from the air.
- Assuming clear skies, we will go out for at least one night of dark sky photography, perhaps including the Northern Lights. Any night we get a confirmed report of aurora displays, we will head out to try to capture them.
- Bonus day of photography in Juneau before we head to Haines.
- Expert guide and local knowledge, with instruction geared to your level of expertise.
- An unforgettable experience not to be found anywhere else in the world.
- We will also provide each participant with detailed recommendations concerning camera gear and other equipment, clothing, and travel recommendations shortly after you enroll.
Not included —
- Airfare and other travel costs from your home to Juneau and back.
- Meals, snacks, and drinks.
- Travel insurance.
Hotel Accommodations —
All participants will be sharing rooms, unless you specifically request a private room and pay a single supplement fee of $700. In Juneau, our lodging will be within easy walking distance of the Governor’s Mansion, the Alaska State Museum, historic downtown Juneau, and excellent dining; in Haines, all suites — both shared and single occupancy — have two queen beds, a kitchenette studio with fridge, micro cooktop, dishes, cookware, and two lounge chairs, wireless internet access, and a flat screen TV. When sharing a room, you will be paired with another participant of the same gender.
Sample Itinerary — Subject to Change —
Friday, November 24 (recommended) or Saturday, November 25 —
- Flights to Juneau; whatever times and connections work best for you. Some airline/flight combinations will require an overnight flight or a long overnight layover en route. Jim will be flying on Alaska Airlines because they have an excellent on-time record and great service. You can often find less expensive flights on other airlines.
- Lodging in Juneau will be within easy walking distance of historic downtown Juneau and excellent dining.
Saturday, November 25 —
- This is a Bonus Day — If your flights arrive Friday, or during the day Saturday, we will have lots to do while other participants complete their travel to Juneau.
- After breakfast, we will head out for a day of photography in and around Juneau, including “out the road” to Point Bridget; to Thane and the Basin Road mining area; and to Douglas Island and the Eaglecrest ski area.
- Dinner in Juneau at the Red Dog Saloon, a Juneau favorite.
Sunday, November 26 —
- In the morning, we travel to Haines, either by sea (on an Alaska Marine Highway System ferry), or by air if the ferry schedule doesn’t work out.
- Upon arrival at Haines, we will drop off any gear we don’t immediately need at our hotel, and depart ASAP up the Chilkat River to the primary eagle concentration within the Alaska Bald Eagle Preserve — the “Council Grounds” (given that name by the Tligits in the deep past).
- ~4:00 PM (sunset is ~3:15 PM) — Return to Haines, and check in at the Aspen Suites. This is a new, very comfortable, hotel, which just opened in mid-2015. Each room has a kitchenette, which gives us options for meals and snacks.
- We will have dinner at the Bamboo Room and Pioneer Bar (home to “Famous Halibut Fish and Chips”).
- After dinner, Jim will provide a short overview on how to process your eagle and winter landscape photos in Lightroom and Photoshop. In addition, each participant is encouraged to bring six of your favorite photos on a USB drive.
Monday, November 27 through Thursday, November 30 —
Roughly the same schedule of activities each day, with variations depending on what the group prefers and what the weather offers.
- Activities — We will focus strongly on eagle photography along the Chilkat River, particularly near the Council Grounds. By late-November, the Chilkat should be freezing over nicely, with the ice “pushing” the eagles ever closer to our shooting locations as the open-water fishing areas dwindle. There are some excellent landscape possibilities along the Chilkat, and we will make stops to give folks a chance to see and photograph the mountains and the Chilkat River as it ices over. During past visits, there have often been bear sightings at Chilkoot Lake; if we get reports of significant bear activity and participants have an interest, we may a run out there. We will also work in visits to the American Bald Eagle Foundation (with a chance of seeing bald eagles and other raptors being rehabilitated), the Sheldon Museum and Cultural Center (excellent displays concerning local history and Tlingit culture), and the Tligit village of Klukwan (to learn a bit more about the Tligits, their history, and their culture).
- Meals — Breakfast: In suite or at a local restaurant. Lunch: Either take something along with you, or we will eat at the 33 Mile Roadhouse Cafe. There are some very nice landscapes along the road to Mile 33; we will make some stops for photography on the way back from lunch. Dinner: In suite or at a local restaurant.
- Evening outings —There is a new moon on Wednesday, November 29, so we should have nearly dark skies at night during our entire stay. If the skies are clear, we will have a chance of seeing aurora displays along with clear, bright stars, and we will make at least one late evening trip to see what we can find.
Friday, December 1 —
- One last trip to the Council Grounds; this will be a short day on the Chilkat; we will wrap up our photography by noon.
- Lunch at 33 Mile Roadhouse Cafe.
- After lunch, we will return to Haines to begin our trip back to Juneau.
- Lodging in Juneau will be convenient to the airport.
Saturday, December 2 —
Sunrise / Sunset —
During our stay in Haines, sunrise, sunset, and twilight will be within a few minutes of the following —
- Civil Twilight begins 7:35 AM
- Sunrise 8:30 AM
- Sunset 3:15 PM
- Civil Twilight ends 4:05 PM
Weather Notes; Expected High and Low Temperatures —
Historical weather data for Haines indicates we are likely to experience a daily high of about 32ºF during our visit and a daily low of about 24ºF; conditions at the Council Grounds will be slightly colder, as we will be more than 20 miles north and inland from Haines. You should bring sufficient cold weather gear to ensure you remain comfortable. Rain and snow are possible (in previous years, we experienced light snow, which added a nice touch to the landscape). Our 4×4 will always be available if you find you need to warm up for a few minutes.
Travel Insurance —
All participants are strongly advised to purchase travel protection insurance. Travelinsurance.com offers many different options from various vendors and allows for product comparison.
Tour Cancellation Policy —
We may cancel this trip if, by October 31, 2017, fewer than four participants have enrolled. If we cancel the tour, we will notify you by email on October 31, and 100% of any payments you made will be refunded. We will not be responsible for booked airfare or other fees and expenses you may have incurred. We will notify you when the minimum number of participants has been reached. We also strongly recommend travel insurance whenever you are traveling to a destination in Alaska.
Participant Cancellation Policy —
We require written notice of your cancellation (email will be adequate). If you cancel on or after June 15, 2017, a non-refundable fee will be assessed —
- If you cancel anytime after September 15, 2017 – 100% of all fees paid are non-refundable, but 75% can be applied to any of our 2017 or 2018 tours. If you do not use your 75% credit by December 31, 2018, it is entirely non-refundable and cannot be applied to a future tour.
- If you cancel anytime from August 1 through September 15, 2017 — If another participant fills your spot, we will refund your entire deposit. If another participant does not fill your spot, 100% of the fees paid are non-refundable, but 75% can be applied to any of our 2017 or 2018 tours. If you do not use your 75% credit by December 31, 2018, it is entirely non-refundable and cannot be applied to a future tour.
- If you cancel anytime from June 15 through July 31 2017 — If another participant fills your spot, we will refund your entire deposit. If another participant does not fill your spot, we will return your deposit, except we will retain a $500 non-refundable fee, but the $500 non-refundable fee can be applied to any of our 2017 or 2018 tours. If you do not use your $500 credit by December 31, 2018, it is entirely non-refundable and cannot be applied to a future tour.
- If you cancel before June 15, 2017 — We will refund your entire deposit.
Non-shooting Significant Other —
You are free to bring along a non-shooting significant other, but to do so you must pay the single supplement / private room fee when you enroll. Also, please be aware that because of limited vehicle seating, we may not be able to provide transportation to any non-participant. Rental cars and taxis are available in Juneau and rental cars are available in Haines if a non-participant is not content to walk.
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