Story by Tricia Edgar
Vacay.ca Outdoors Columnist
SQUAMISH, BRITISH COLUMBIA — It’s almost winter, and the streams are full of rushing water and spawning salmon. There are other winter residents in British Columbia, and they come for this chaotic buffet. In BC, bald eagles concentrate along salmon rivers, tracing the path of the salmon as the fish return to spawn. As the carcasses of spawning salmon fill the streams, the eagles return to feed.
British Columbia has around 20,000 eagles, and December and January are outstanding times to watch them. In the late fall, the salmon buffet is in full swing. A large number of spawning salmon have accumulated, as have the eagles that follow them. As the winter rains pound through the rivers of the west coast, some of the salmon carcasses wash downstream. Come mid-January, many of the carcasses are gone, although some eagles will remain until February.
In November, venues in the Fraser Valley from Mission to Harrison Hot Springs present the Fraser Valley Eagle Festival, a celebration of the many eagles that visit the area. There are several viewing sites: Morris Valley Road off Highway 7 near the Sasquatch Inn, Tapadera Estates, Eagle Point Community Park and the Sandpiper Golf Course. This year, 10,000 eagles converged in the valley – a record number.
Now it’s time for Christmas eagle viewing. If you’re going up to Whistler to ski or board over the holidays, make a stop in the Squamish Valley. Every year, thousands of eagles converge there as well. Visit and watch from the shore, or go on an eagle float down the Squamish River with an experienced guide, looking for eagles as you move along the water.
Brackendale Eagle Count Arrives in January
After Christmas, the festivities continue. January is a time of eagle celebration in the Squamish Valley, with the annual Brackendale Eagle Count that occurs in the first week of the month. Drive through Squamish and you’ll find the tiny town of Brackendale, whose art gallery sponsors the eagle festival every year. In 2013, the official eagle count is on Sunday, January 6, but the gallery offers eagle-related events throughout January.
If you’re looking for eagles in the spring or you can’t make the trip to British Columbia, you can also watch vicariously through an eagle cam, a camera that’s set up to watch nesting eagles. In the spring, thousands stay glued to the live view of a nest in which tiny eaglets are about to emerge. Eagle nests are enormous: they can extend from five to nine feet in width, and the eagles add to them every year. For 35 days, the eagles incubate their eggs, and those who are lucky enough to be watching at the right time can see the babies hatch.
There’s an eagle experience for every season, but if you’d like to see them partying in one place, late fall and early winter is the time. While it may be grey and cold outside, the salmon love the rain, and the eagles love the salmon. A trip to encounter these annual visitors is an amazing sight, well worth braving the cool and damp of BC’s rainy climate.
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