Record-breaking bald eagle numbers predicted in Harrison Mills this fall

Biologist David Hancock says criteria is gathering for ‘perfect storm’

One of nature’s most spectacular annual phenomenons is underway across the Fraser Valley, and this year might be one of the best.

Renowned eagle conservationist David Hancock is predicting a record number of bald eagles in Harrison Mills this fall, with “extra large numbers” on the Chehalis Flats.

Related: A guide to eagle viewing in Agassiz Harrison

“So far the criteria are gathering for the perfect storm – a lot of eagles gathering to feast on our spawned out salmon,” Hancock stated.

The breathtaking congregation of white-headed raptors mirrors the preceding migration of salmon returning to from the Pacific to the Harrison, Chehalis and Fraser rivers to spawn and ultimately, die. The dead salmon carcasses, along with the freezing of northern rivers, draws thousands of hungry eagles to the area. In fact, an estimated 35,000 winter in the Valley, many passing through or staying in Harrison Mills.

Once the northern rivers’ fish supply is frozen up, eagles will fly thousands of miles a day to reach the Chehalis Flats for dead salmon snacks. (David Hancock photo)

In December, 2010, a record number of the birds were counted in a four-kilometre section near the confluence of the Chehalis and Harrison rivers. Over 7,300 were seen in that stretch alone, something Hancock attributes to that year’s record number of pink salmon.

“The growth in 2010 was to do with a giant salmon run,” he said. “In pinks alone we had about 16 million pink [salmon] on the Harrison River. I mean it was unbelievable…We had more dead fish than we’d ever had, so of course we had more eagles accumulating to eat it.”

Hancock estimates that, in total, 10,000 to 15,000 eagles visit the Harrison River each year, and with high numbers of salmon spawning in Harrison Mills, he’s predicting another great eagle turnout this fall.

The Harrison Mills and Sts’ailes area can see upwards of 10,000 eagles each fall. (David Hancock photo)

But believe it or not, thousands of dead fish isn’t always enough incentive for the birds to travel from northern B.C. and Alaska. The eagles typically start flying south once they’ve been “frozen out” of the north.

“[In 2010] there was a cold north, and the food was here to hold them. It was the perfect storm in favour of the eagles,” Hancock explained.

Related: VIDEO: Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival

But understanding what draws the eagles means first understanding what draws the salmon. The Harrison Salmon Stronghold is the only designated stronghold in Canada – where all seven species of salmon come to complete their life cycles.

“It’s the purity of the water. The Harrison [river], Chehalis [river], Weaver Creek…these are some of the purest, best salmon rivers in all of Canada,” Hancock said. “It’s so pure. It’s clean water. There’s no agriculture up the river polluting it. There’s no big mines upstream, polluting it. No huge run off of sediment.”

The result of pure water and spawning salmon? Bald eagles.

“By default, you get the eagles,” said Hancock. “No where else in the world do you get any species of eagles gathering in this number, they just don’t do it.”

Related: Eagle tree cut down legally a 1st for B.C. city



nina.grossman@ahobserver.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

 

Biologist and conservationist David Hancock hosts boat tours, walks and other free educational opportunities throughout the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival. (Aaron Hinks photo)

Just Posted

WATCH: Group of 150 gather for Fraser Valley Marches for Women in Chilliwack

Waving signs, women make their way down Young Road as part of second annual march in Chilliwack

Chilliwack prolific offender wanted yet again

B.C.-wide warrant issued for David Allen Geoghegan

One man, two women charged with stolen pickup downtown Chilliwack

None of the three have criminal history in B.C.

COLUMN: Should elected officials block constituents and reporters on social media?

Ottawa mayor was sued for doing that but a Chilliwack school trustee didn’t get that message

Chilliwack-Hope MP says new summer jobs grant application no longer includes ‘values test’

Those with anti-abortion beliefs left out last year because of requirement to respect the Charter

Students seen mocking Native Americans could face expulsion

One 11-minute video of the confrontation shows the Haka dance and students loudly chanting

B.C. VIEWS: Fact-checking the NDP’s speculation tax on empty homes

Negative-option billing is still legal for governments

May plans next move in Brexit fight as chances rise of delay

Some say a lack of action could trigger a ‘public tsunami’

Group challenges ruling for doctors to give referrals for services that clash with beliefs

A group of five Canadian doctors and three professional organizations is appealing

Major winter storm wreaks havoc on U.S. travel

Nearly 5,000 flights were cancelled Sunday around the country

Want to avoid the speculation tax on your vacant home? Rent it out, Horgan says

Premier John Horgan and Sheila Malcolmson say speculation and vacancy tax addresses homelessness

CONSUMER REPORT: What to buy each month in 2019 to save money

Resolve to buy all of the things you want and need, but pay less money for them

UPDATE: B.C. woman and boy, 6, found safe, RCMP confirm

Roseanne Supernault says both she and her six-year-old nephew are fine and she has contacted police

Most Read