Salmon feast provides prime eagle watching

Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival takes place next weekend in Harrison Mills.

A pair of eagles keep a watchful eye on the Fraser River near Mission.

The Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival (FVBEF) is set to release a rehabilitated eagle in Harrison Mills next Wednesday, three days before the festival goes into full swing.

When bald eagles injure themselves they can only hope to end up in the care of Bev Day, founding director of the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (OWL) in Delta. Injured or orphaned eagles and other birds are nursed back to health with the intent of returning them to the wild.

“The reason we do the release in Harrison Mills is that it’s the best chance of the eagle for getting food and surviving,” said FVBEF chairwoman Joe-Anne Chadwick, based in Mission.

The non-profit FVBEF saves money each year to donate to OWL so that it may rehabilitate eagles.

Preserving and protecting eagle populations in the Fraser Valley are considered an important part of the FVBEF mandate. Although eagle populations never declined as precipitously here as they did in the United States, Chadwick says eagle biologist David Hancock found just 30 nests on the Fraser River three decades ago. Today there are between 200 and 300.

Chadwick says it’s a huge resurgence.

“But, it can go the other way just as quickly. Because with more eagles there’s more need for food, and you know what’s been happening with our salmon.”

Last year there were nearly 7,000 eagles spotted at the festival following a massive resurgence of 30 million salmon, the biggest run of sockeye since 1913. That was a far cry from the 1.5 million seen the year before. This year the numbers are back down to roughly four million.

The eagles engorge on salmon at this time of year, starting upstream where salmon spawning is greatest, before moving downstream as the weather cools. Then the eagles practically starve waiting for small herring to come back to the Fraser River.

Chadwick was upriver last week and says she counted nearly 500 eagles in the area.

The festival has faced significant challenges this year when their headquarters on Stave Lake was burglarized in mid-September, losing $3,000 in equipment and paraphernalia to thieves.

They made off with expensive viewing scopes, binoculars and walkie-talkies, and even items of little to no resale value. Things like a petty cash box with no cash in it, four wooden plaques carved by local First Nations, 53 branded FVBEF hats, and one Robert Bateman youth large bald eagle festival T-shirt.

Fortunately, Chadwick says the insurance will cover the replacement of telescopes and other bird-viewing equipment, and donations have been gratefully accepted from the community as they prepare for this year’s event.

“Even if we just get scopes this year, we’ll be quite happy,” she said.

The FVBEF is a two-day event that begins the weekend after the Nov. 16 release, which takes place at the Sandpiper Golf Resort in Harrison Mills.

Daily jet boat eagle tours, interpreted walking tours and traditional First Nation’s salmon barbecue can be booked now. Visit www.fraservalleybaldeaglefestival.ca/ for full details.