Bald Eagles of Kachemak Bay Alaska 2019 Trip Report

By Joe Van Os on Mar 19, 2019

To some fair weather nature shooters, the notion of photographing in Alaska in winter might seem cold, dark and forbidding. Yet on the Southcentral coast in March, the late winter days are getting longer and the average daily temperatures can be surprisingly mild due to the modifying influence of the sea. During clear periods in winter, Alaska’s most dramatic sunsets take place over its maritime mountains where stunning hues of alpenglow are cast over the snowy peaks.

Due to its relatively moderate climate, abundant food in its bays and coves, and rain-exposed forage on shore, wildlife concentrates along this coast, creating the ideal conditions for a spectacular wildlife photo adventure. And great wildlife and a diverse variety of weather conditions—clear and temperate, cold and snowy, rainy and foggy—is what we found during our two, week-long Bald Eagles of Alaska’s Kachemak Bay photo tours.

From our beachfront hotel rooms in Homer, the dramatic Kenai Range spread before us allowing wonderful panoramic landscapes from our window balconies. Sea otters, harbor seals and a throng of ducks, loons and gulls were constantly in view as eagles perched above the hotel, on lamp posts, as well as on beach driftwood. An otter with its octopus killHere, the twittering calls of the eagles was our constant soundtrack. We stayed in a very convenient location that gave us five-minute access to our boat that would transport us to the wildlife rich areas along the shores of Kachemak Bay at the base of the Kenai Mountains.

Sea otters, with their pups in tow, patrolled the inner harbor that is quiet in these winter days as the dormant fishing fleet awaits another bustling season in the spring. During one of our comings and goings in the harbor we came upon a female otter who was wrestling an octopus that was more than five feet across! I had never read in any literature that otters ate octopus and none of the local fishermen I spoke with had ever seen this type of behavior. She let us get reasonably close for photography, and it was an amazing sight when the octopus squirted its ink during this skirmish. The otter won!

Bald eagles gather in a tree in Kachemak Bay AlaskaEagles were everywhere and it seemed like the majority of Alaska’s 30,000 eagles were hanging out in Kachemak Bay. There were times during our trip when more than 100 eagles were in sight at the same time. Some were so unwary that you could walk within a few feet of them as they perched on artistic driftwood and beautiful folded chert rock formations. All age groups were present and our trip participants became very familiar with the various plumages—from dark second-year birds through the pure white-headed and white-tailed adults that are usually five or more years old.

Hundreds of sea otters rafted in virtually every bay and cove that we visited and it seemed like our groups were just as excited to photograph otters as they were the bald eagles. In quiet Halibut Cove the otters and harbor seals could be photographed as they hauled out on the floats of docks that serviced the various homes and fisheries buildings. While one of our groups had excellent access to a buck (Billy) mountain goat, the other group got up-close-and-personal with a couple of large bull moose. A bald eagles pauses on a stumpSurf scoters and common and Barrow’s goldeneyes were seen in very large flocks while small groups of harlequin ducks cruised quietly along the rocky shore.

Photographing in Kachemak Bay is one of the most spectacular winter wildlife shooting opportunities in North America—one that rivals the excitement of photographing winter wildlife in Japan at the same time of year. I have been photographing wildlife around Kachemak Bay in the winter for almost 20 years—dating back to the days when Jeanne Keene, Alaska’s famous “Eagle Lady” fed hundreds of eagles at the end of the Homer Spit. These days, with the use of a comfortable boat, the winter wildlife photography in the far reaches of Kachemak Bay is infinitely better.

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