End of an Era. All good things must come to a end sometime. Homer, Alaska down on "The Spit" is where a lot of photographers from the lower 48 as well as abroad have made many trips to see and view bald eagles at their best. With that being said, the lady everyone knew down on the spit, Jean Keene, also known as the "Eagle Lady" passed away in January due to failing health. She was in her mid 80's. Jean started feeding the eagles over 30 years when she first arrived in Alaska. She lived in a very small house trailer off a campground that over the summers was used for the return of the summer RV'ers. As the season ended and winter set in, bald eagles from all over would return for the winter where Jean would provide daily feedings for many eagles each day. Feeding shortly after sunrise. She was licensed to feed the the bald eagles up to the year 2010, but due to her failing health and her death, the feeding has, as of the end of March, come to an end. I first read about the Eagle Lady in a book written about her and her life by another photographer (The Eagle Lady).
Chances are that many of the pictures that you see of bald eagles were taken up here in Homer, down on the spit. Year after year the eagles would return to Homer for the winter months. Jean was quiet about her life, preferring to be left alone and go about her business of feeding the eagles over the winter. Over time I'm sure, as word got out slowly over the years, photographers from all over would make the trip up to Alaska visiting Homer with one thing on their mind. To photograph all the bald eagles that would make their daily visit waiting for herring to be tossed out to the waiting eagles.
If you were one of the lucky ones asking permission prior to the feeding, Jean would grant you permission to photograph the ealges from within her fenced area, placing you very close to the action once the feeding began. For all other's you would have to stay in your vehicle and take picture's that way. Many photography groups from all over have come up for some of the best viewing that there will ever be. I personally made the trip down to Homer serveral times. As morning would break, eagles magically apprear sitting on everything from lamp posts to many of the buildings waiting - knowing when to fly in once the feeding began. Imagine seeing upwards of a couple hundred bald eagles all up and down the beach as well as sitting on many of the stumps placed waiting for the daily feeding to start. Once the feeding begain, eagles flew in from every direction. Eagles of all age groups would be in a frenzy to get their share of the herring. Many times I witnessed eagles fighting over a fish, chasing each other out over the ocean trying to get the fish from another eagle.
The eagle feeding would last about one hour after that one could take advantage of up close eagle portraits sitting on many of the parking stumps. Some days you had good light other days came with the overcast morning and you would just have to make the best of the situation. So, Destiny and I had to make one more trip down to Homer and take in the last best premeire viewing of bald eagles that will ever be. Rules were a little more relaxed with Jean gone, as we were able to stand off to the side in a line of many, many other photographers from all over. I met a younger man named Rene', who came from Holland, first time ever to Alaska, I'm sure he will come back for more adventures. Thirty years later, eagle feeding as most of us have known it, has come to a complete stop, never to be repeated. Sadly, throughtout the Homer community Jean will be missed and mixed emotions felt as all the photographers that visited over the 30 plus years brought money to the restraunts and hotels over the winter months when tourism was at its slowest. Jean's trailer is being moved and all remaining fencing and some of the stumps many of the eagles sat on were to be bonfired on Friday the 27th of March. Over the four days of, we shot every morning and into late Saturday evening well into sunset - totaling 2844 images of the bald eagles. It was extremely hard to find just the right pictures to go along with this story with so many taken. Well to say the least it has improved my eagle stock of pictures. Jean will be sadly missed, though I'm sure after 30 years, she found all the photographers to be a odd bunch of people who came to see her feed the bald eagles.
I hope all is well for you all and that your Spring is well on its way, as our Spring will not be far off either.
See you down the trail,
Buford T. Porcupine