Eagles have no shortage of food in the Harrison River this time of year. (Photo/Bob Friesen)

Harrison Mills to welcome thousands of eagles this winter

Visitors will get a chance to see the many eagles at the Bald Eagle Festival this month

David Hancock has been in love with eagles since he was a teen flying a plane over the Gulf Islands, counting their nests.

Now, more than 65 years later, the eagle biologist continues to research the birds he loves. And it’s coming up to a busy time for Hancock.

Starting in late October and early November, thousands of bald eagles will be flying down to the Fraser Valley to feast on spawning salmon and to escape the frozen lakes of their home territory in Northern Canada and Alaska.

“These wintering birds, they just want to get out of the cold Arctic,” Hancock explained, calling from his car parked near the Chehalis River estuary.

It’s “a great place for raising young, because every lake it full of fish. But they’re frozen solid until April, so they’re down here to freeload until their lakes are going to open up.”

RELATED: Thousands of eagles to return to Fraser Valley

Many of these birds will travel down to Vancouver Island or Metro Vancouver, notably feasting at the Vancouver Landfill or at Boundary Bay, coming into contact with a number of the Fraser Valley’s local bald eagle population. But most will stop in Harrison Mills to feast on salmon at what Hancock calls “the most productive river in all of Canada.”

“This little river system here is the most productive river in all of Canada for salmon,” Hancock said about the Harrison River.

“It’s not just the Harrison — that’s the best one. But of course, the Stave and the Pitt, all the rivers along here have some salmon. And that’s the reason we get this great huge wintering population.”

In the Harrison Mills area, residents can expect to see between 200 and 500 eagles arriving each day throughout November and December.

Throughout the course of the winter, the area could see up to 35,000 birds visiting the local waterways and wetlands to feast on spawning salmon.

There are some concerns however.

This year, the Department of Fisheries projected an extremely low return of sockeye salmon, with expected numbers around 600,000 rather than the previously anticipated five million. Numbers for many of the other species of salmon were also projected to be down.

RELATED: B.C. sockeye returns drop as official calls 2019 ‘extremely challenging’

“That’s why I’m out here. I’m concerned,” Hancock said from his parking spot on Morris Valley Road. He had been out counting eagles and salmon over the weekend.

“The eagles are still going to come through, the question is are they going to be able to stay? Is there going to be their dinner table set the way they would like it?” he asked. “I don’t know.”

He is, however, optimistic.

Hancock saw a large number of dead and spawning chum salmon in the river. If river levels drop, as they often do in November, there could still be plenty of fish for the eagles.

“I’m still optimistic that we could have quite a good peak for the eagles,” he said.

On Saturday, Nov. 16 and Sunday, Nov. 17, thousands of people will be joining the eagles along the Harrison River for the 22nd annual Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival.

RELATED: Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival explodes in popularity, draws thousands to Mission, Harrison Mills

Taking place in Mission and Harrison Mills, the festival will give people a chance to learn more about the eagles through interpretive talks and even boat tours.

Hancock will be there both days of the festival, as he has been for the last 21 years. He keeps on returning because of his love of eagles, but also because of how important it is to share the diversity of the Harrison ecosystem with visitors.

“The whole thing is an appreciation of this incredible river system,” Hancock said. “This is by far the world’s largest gathering of eagles. By far.

“Brackendale gets one-fifth of it; the big place up in Alaska gets a third to a quarter. We get by far the world’s biggest gathering of eagles,” he continued.

“And the eagles and all the salmon are only for one thing: that we have unpolluted, fresh water.”

That’s what people need to understand when they come to the festival, he said.

“You only have this great amount of salmon and eagles because we have a pure, wonderful river system. And we want to keep it that way.”



grace.kennedy@ahobserver.com

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Hundreds fill Chilliwack streets for Black Lives Matter march

‘Canada has a problem too,’ reads at least one protester’s sign

IHIT names homicide victim found in the Fraser Canyon this week

Police asking for tips into the suspicious death of 29-year-old Alicia Berg

Chilliwack RCMP heard gunfire en route to suspicous activity

Chilliwack man, 42, sent to hospital after shooting, RCMP have confirmed

Harrison officials carefully monitoring E.coli levels in lagoon

Levels testing unusually high for this time of year, officials say

Flock on vacation

The sun sets over Harrison and its feathered residents

Trudeau offers $14B to provinces for anti-COVID-19 efforts through rest of year

Making a difference in municipalities is a pricey proposition

Facing changes together: Your community, your journalists

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the world in ways that would have… Continue reading

Friends, family mourn Salt Spring Island woman killed in suspected murder-suicide

A GoFundMe comapaign has been launched for Jennifer Quesnel’s three sons

‘I’m pissed, I’m outraged’: Federal minister calls out police violence against Indigenous people

Indigenous Minister Marc Miller spoke on recent incidents, including fatal shooting of a B.C. woman

Indigenous families say their loved ones’ deaths in custody are part of pattern

Nora Martin joins other Indigenous families in calling for a significant shift in policing

‘Alarmed’: Health critic calls for more data on COVID-19 in trucking industry

Saskatchewan, Ontario and Quebec said that level of detail is not being collected

UPDATED: Pair accused of ‘horrific’ assault at Vancouver’s Oppenheimer Park arrested

Police say Jason Tapp, 30, and Nicole Edwards, 33, did not show up to meet their bail supervisor this week

Kelowna Mountie who punched suspect identified, condemned by sister

‘How did he get away with this? How is this justifiable?’

PHOTOS: Anti-racism protesters gather in communities across B.C.

More protests are expected through the weekend

Most Read