Earlier this month, the American Bald Eagle Foundation hosted our 23rd Annual Alaska Bald Eagle Festival.This week-long festival celebrates the yearly congregation of bald eagles in the Chilkat Valley, the spawning salmon that draw the eagles here, and the Southeast Alaskan ecosystem. The festival abounds with ways to bring people closer to wildlife, including photography workshops, storytelling, cultural appreciation, and more.
This year, our festival theme was “A Shared Purpose: Working Together to Protect Wildlife and Wild Places.” We aimed to be true to this theme by focusing on community, conservation, and collaboration. To pursue this theme, we involved local non-profits and businesses in our events, and we focused on conservation-themed projects. We were excited to seethe turnout of the festival and to see businesses within Haines thriving during the off season.
Photography Workshop –
During the entire festival, wildlife photographer Bill McRoberts ran a photography workshop highlighting eagles and many other species within the area including swans, coastal brown bear, and many different seabirds. We hosted guests from around the world in this workshop, and hundreds of gorgeous photographs showcasing the beauty of the Chilkat Valley and its wildlife were the result!
Do you know what US president signed the Migratory Bird Treaty Act into law in 1918? Guests at Monday’s festivalevents do now!
After a busy first day of eagle viewing, festival attendees received a brief introduction to the American Bald Eagle Foundation at our facility and then concluded the day with a classic pub-style trivia night, complete with locally brewed beer and raptor-themed trivia questions! Round themes included General Raptor Trivia, Alaskan History, Raptors in Pop Culture, and more.
(By the way, the answer is Woodrow Wilson.)
It was a “2 For Tuesday” on the second day of the festival as we held two separate events. The first was a town scavenger hunt that sent guests to explore many of the local businesses via creative riddles. “If you want to learn more about top-heavy tools, then you must go to the famous museum that rules” sent guests to the landmark Hammer Museum, just one of many stops along the way.
The second event on Tuesday answered the burning question “what does a day in the life of an American Bald Eagle Foundation staff member look like?” Guests were treated to a behind-the-scenes tour of the museum, learned about our daily food preparation process, and got a quick glimpse at avian medical management. Our Eurasian eagle-owl, Hans, even came out for a visit. The night ended in a spectacular treat – the aurora borealis was visible for all of our guests to see.
A blast was had by all on Wednesday as we had a “bird day.” In the afternoon guests learned how to paint raptors on turkey feathers with local artists Keleen Adams. In the evening we hosted a “bird talk” with honored guest speaker, Dr. Rachel Wheat, who spoke about her research on bald eagle movement ecology in the Chilkat Valley. The evening culminated with an ABEF-twist on a local tradition typically hosted by the Chilkat Players, “River Talk,” where seven speakers take seven minutes to talk about the topic of the day in any way they choose. At the festival we heard stories about birds and other wildlife, ranging from research and data collection, to open-water kayaking, to woodcarving.
Haines may be a small community of just 2,500 people, but the cultural traditions and businesses are strong within the community. The festival’s “cultural night” on Thursday showcased this and quickly became one of the biggest hits of the entire festival. After browsing a selection of locally made goods in a community bazaar, guests were led by the Chilkat Dancers into the ABEF museum’s diorama room where they learned all about local community traditions through a variety of storytellers. Student ambassadors led by Justina Starzynski painted the picture of their cultural teachings through examples of the wildlife that exists in the southeast Alaska region. Afterwards, the hít satee for the raven house, Ray Dennis, spoke about his life and how his culture influenced the world around him. The American Bald Eagle Foundation was honored to have these guest speakers and learn their stories.
On Friday, the American Bald Eagle Foundation teamed up with the Takshanuk Watershed Council and Southeast Alaska State Fair to host the Wild and Scenic film festival. Guests enjoyed locally brewed beer, ate a delightful rockfish soup, and watched a lineup of nature-oriented films that included: Osprey: Marine Sentinel, My Haggan Dream, The Refuge, Noatak: Return to the Arctic, and many more.
Guests and locals alike gathered at the Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center on Saturday to auction off the release of two rehabilitated bald eagles from the Bird Treatment and Learning Center. After being released by two generous guests, both birds took off into the sky, and we wish them the best of luck back in the wild. Guests stayed for the special opening of the Jilkaat Kwaan Heritage Center to learn all about the Tlingit people and their cultural history.
In the evening, guests gathered for a banquet at the American Legion where they had the chance to bid on auctions, eat locally made food, dance to a swinging local band, Extended Play, and to sit back and relax after a long week of being outside watching eagles. Keynote speaker Melanie Smith, director of conservation science at Audubon Alaska, talked about the birding trails Audubon is working on in southeast Alaska and discussed their work throughout the state.
All in all, we were so happy to be able to host photographers, ecotourists, and Haines’ locals at our events this year. We’re sad to see it go, but we hope that everyone had an amazing time at the 2017 festival. We hope to see you all next November at the next Alaska Bald Eagle Festival!