David Hancock Report on 2014 Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival

Friday, November 21 2014 @ 01:21 AM EST

Contributed by: davidh

Nov.  15 -16,  2014  Harrison Mills, British Columbia

First, last weekend's weather was superb -- bright, sunny and cool.  However this was, unfortunately, our first cold spell of the fall or winter.  Juneau, Alaska had had only a couple of days with night frost.  Our HWF member, Christian Sasse, had returned this week from the Chilkat River in Alaska and he reported that only 52 eagles was his biggest count of eagles -- down a few from the 1200 to 2600 eagles I usually recorded at there this time.  The northern rivers of Alaska, Yukon and BC were all still unfrozen and each was continuing to yield spawned out salmon.  Until freezing weather locks all these northern salmon carcasses under the ice the eagles will stay spread across the northern region - not being driven south or westward to the "warm waters" of the Chilkat River. 

However, now Alaska is already into the 10th day of the first arctic cold spell sealing up the northern rivers. This past Saturday AM, the 15th, I counted 493 eagles from the 6 counting points at Harrison Mills, BC.  On Sunday AM the count went up to 634  eagles.  Interestingly, by Sunday afternoon I suspect at least another 200 – 300 eagles had arrived.  The Chehalis Flats water level had dropped nearly 4 feet in the previous 48 hours exposing the sand bars and salmon carcasses.  Several hundred eagles came in to feed at Tapadera Estates about 3PM -- a wonderful treat set out before Ron Skogland and a few hundred viewers enjoying his exhibit of Celestron scopes and binoculars.  As of today there are 2,000 - 2,500 eagles on the Chehalis/Harrison River and Flats.  By next week I predict we will have well over 5000 eagles at Harrison Mills.  Only time will tell if we reach the 10,000 + eagle numbers of December 18, 2010.  It looks like the north will continue to  freeze. The question now is, will our spawned out Harrison salmon stocks hold out to feed the descending hoards of eagles?  The next natural event for our area will be, do we get huge rainfalls to flood the rivers and flush out the dead salmon carcasses?
This fall and early winter in British Columbia and even Alaska has been a record warm spell.  In our area this has been accompanied by a lot of rain.   Last October when we went out to install the PTZ (pan/tilt/zoom) cams on our Chehalis Flats Tower we went across the relatively dry Flats with a couple of wheel barrows of supplies.  This year the Flats were under 7 - 9 feet of water and our crew accessed the Tower via a large motor boat -- just handing up the equipment.
Come on out to Harrison Mills over the next 3 weekends.  The number of eagles will be increasing each weekend.  This weekend is the Harrison Salmon Festival with focus on First Nations displays, native crafts, fishing displays and the photographic displays at Pretty Estates.
The major eagle viewing site is at Pretty Estates.  Their incredible Bald Eagle Observatory, equipment with fine new scopes given to our HWF by Celestron, offers an incredible view of the Chehalis Flats and the eagles resting in the nearby trees.  My guess is that over 5000+ eagles will be seen from this Observatory on days this fall. Furthermore,  beside this Observatory is a small creek that already is starting to fill with spawning chum salmon.  Last year by the end of November this creek was filled with spawning chum and  coho by the end of November.
If you can, book a tour on Fraser River Safari Tour.  On some days I will be aboard doing my counts. This tour boat puts you closer to the eagles and keeps you warm and dry.  Both the Kilby Historic Site and River's Edge Restaurant at Pretty Estates offer fine foods.  The displays in the tents give additional insight into the incredible ecology of the Harrison River complex.
archive.hancockwildlife.org - for viewing the Chehalis Flats cams + Harrison Mills Bald Eagle Nest live cams.
www.fraserriversafari.com - for booking a tour
www.prettyestateresort.com - for activities at Pretty Estates

Hancock Wildlife Foundation