The eagles are landing

Millions of salmon spawning in local rivers each year

Thousands of bald eagles will soon be coming down to earth and onto Fraser River shores, providing people with an opportunity to see raptors up close during the 16th annual Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival.

Each year, the valley hosts over 300 pairs of nesting bald eagles and becomes the winter home to 3,000 to 5,000 additional eagles due to millions of salmon spawning on the Fraser River and a relatively mild climate.

The two day FVBEF marks the start of eagle viewing in the Fraser Valley, festival president Jo-Anne Chadwick said.

Between Nov.19-20 this year, various sites from Mission to Agassiz will have interpreters, conservationists, and nature experts on hand to answer eagle watchers’ questions and provide valuable information.

Guides will give talks at each site and at events around the region pertaining to eagles’ behaviour, their resiliency and fragility and their natural environment in the Fraser Valley and on the river.

Four main bald eagle viewing areas will be set aside: three on land – Tapadera Estates, Eagle Point Community Park, and Sandpiper Golf Resort in the Harrison Mills area – and one on the water – with Fraser River Safari jet boat tours.

Several partner sites will also provide festival goers with unique experiences.

For example, at the exhibitors fair at Leq’a:mel Hall in Deroche, a live teaching eagle, Sonsie, will be on hand, as well as workshops provided on bear awareness and ongoing eagle count tallies. The First Nations Sts’Ailes Healing Retreat Centre is scheduled to have food and dance and crafts – including drum and dream catcher making. There is also a planned education walk and talk focusing on the eagle from a Chehalis point of view.

This will be the Sts’Ailes second year at the FVBEF, Chadwick said.

The festival started out as an interpretive nature walk. In 1995, the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund and the Wild Bird Trust created the Harrison/Chehalis Bald Eagle Festival. Three years later its scope was broadened and the name changed to the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival. Funding for the festival comes out of Mission.

The jet boat tours have been a fixture at the FVBEG for six years and put watchers in the middle of the action.

Though blinds surround the boats – and the land-based viewing areas – humans are still aliens in the eagles’ territory.

Viewing etiquette means staying on trails and keeping a safe distance when possible – “getting closer” causes the subject to move away.

But the chance to see eagles in their natural environment draws people to the area each year.

Chadwick said 3500 people came out for 2009’s two-day festival.

Lower Mainlanders make up about 70 per cent of the festivals’ attendance, Chadwick said, but visitors also come in from Ontario, California and Virginia.