UNALASKA, Alaska – A bald eagle perches atop a pole near the road. Standing 50 feet away, I slowly aim my camera and fire. The bird barely budges.Creeping two steps forward, I shoot a second frame. The bird doesn’t move.I edge forward, approaching and firing in two-step increments. Finally, about 15 feet away, my feathered model has had enough. It flaps its wings and flies off.Normally, I feel lucky to see one of these beauties at binocular distance. Here, I was nearly eye to eye with our national emblem.Eagle encounters such as this are common near Dutch Harbor on the Alaskan island of Unalaska. It’s from this fish-rich Aleutian port that men from the Discovery Channel’s popular Deadliest Catch reality show set sail for the Bering Sea.In 1942, in what has been termed the Forgotten War, Japanese bombers unleashed a two-day attack on the island. Today, eagles soar over abandoned fortifications from that confrontation. The combination of balds and bunkers serves as a graphic reminder of freedom’s price.The best time to see eagles is May through July, when the parents nest and raise young. They glide through the air, alight on beaches and perch pigeonlike on rooftops. Eagles are everywhere.One drizzly day, I tour a fish-packing plant. Someone has left refuse bins uncovered on the dock, and waiting there for a Dumpster dive is a rain-drenched eagle.
I stand on the opposite side of the container, six feet away, looking into its golden eyes. It’s a new personal record for closeness to America’s bird.
Contact: Unalaska-Port of Dutch Harbor tourism, 1-877-581-2612; www.unalaska.info.
Dan Leeth is a Colorado freelance writer.