Home for Christmas!

Finally home after a very busy last few months that has included trips to Brazil, Scotland and Ethiopia. We’ve just had a really great shoot in Alaska – the first for a two part series for Animal Planet – it was fantastic to be back, the last time I was there was three years ago for Frozen Planet.

We spent the first few days filming the bald eagle congregation on the Chilkat River. After an epic journey – three flights, three days, a five hour chug on a ferry up the inside passage (humpack whales and Dall’s porpoise) and very little sleep we arrived to find the town pretty much closed for the winter.

The tourist season had well and truly finished and residents seemed to have settled in for a hard winter of drinking. We stayed at the infamous ‘Captain’s Choice’ hotel (not sure which captain this refers to, but his faculties must have been somewhat dulled if he chose to stay here) – the other residents all seemed to have 4 or 5 small dogs staying in each of their rooms, which was nice.

The Chilkat River is the last stretch of open fresh water when the rest of the area freezes. It is kept flowing by glacial meltwater percolating through an alluvial fan and getting warmed up by geothermal heat. It is also where the last salmon runs of the season – Coho and Dog Salmon – occur, hence the huge congregations of bald eagles that gather there.

When we arrived the estimate was that over 1,000 eagles were still gathered along a 2 mile open stretch of the river. It was pretty spectacular, some of the spruce trees had 40-50 eagles perched in them, looking like bizarre Christmas decorations in the snow. The activity was sporadic; every now and again an eagle would grab a hapless salmon from the water (the fish were all well past their sell by date by this stage) and there would be 30 minutes or so of squabbling and dive bombing as other eagles, ravens, magpies, and occasionally coyotes, would come in for a share of the fish.

It all looked fantastic, there had been huge amounts of snow so the river and the surrounding country looked beautiful and the sight of eagles tussling with each other, slithering around on the ice and thrashing in the snow was pretty primeval.

The biggest treat was seeing a pack of 6 wolves on the last day – they were a long way off but it looked like they made a kill – the slight of them playing around like puppies in the snow after they had finished whatever it was that they were eating was unforgettable.

Rick & Jessy - doing what they do best ...

After Haines it was back to Anchorage to meet up with old friends Rick & Jessy from the Alaska Fish & Game Department, I had made a Natural World film about them years ago but hadn’t seen them since, so is was lovely to catch up. Rick is now retired and Jessy is responsible for keeping the demented phenomena that is Anchorage under control. We’re going to be doing a lot of filming in the city over the next year – trying to film a few things (wolves, brown bear, attack beaver (!)) that I didn’t film last time, along with the omnipresent moose. For all its extraordinary weirdness it was great to be back in Anchorage, it was such a challenge making the last film there so it was rather cathartic to revisit the place and see it all with fresh eyes.

Now I’m properly home for Christmas, and I’ve got a few weeks off which is much needed. 2012 is going to be super busy so I’m looking forward to recharging my batteries before it all goes crazy again in February. Happy Christmas!