Eagles vying for a meal of spawning salmon on the Chehalis Flats.

Eagles vying for a meal of spawning salmon on the Chehalis Flats.

Pilots urged to stay off flats

Hancock asks everyone to give eagles room to feed on Harrison area salmon

Eagles and aircraft aren’t a good mix.

A massive education campaign hit the ground at the Chehalis flats over the last year, but now that message needs to get up to local pilots, said ecologist David Hancock.

More than 2,000 eagles have already been counted along the banks of the Harrison River this winter, as the majestic raptors make the long journey here to feed on spawning salmon. Interest in both the eagles and their meals has grown by leaps and bounds in recent years — spurring on the need to educate the public.

Informative signs have been put up to remind everyone to stay off the Chehalis flats (the gravel bars in the shallow ends of the Harrison River), between October and February. Local residents have also been trained to inform people of the importance of leaving the area undisturbed. Treading on the gravel bars could crush the salmon eggs and disturb the natural feeding cycle of the eagles and other wildlife in the area.

And while that education campaign seems to be working, Hancock said, he noticed a troubling number of low-flying aircraft, including hovering helicopters and small aircraft landing on the gravel bars.

“The biggest frustration to preserving the flats and not disturbing the eagles was ironically by airplanes and helicopters who buzzed the sandbars and landed on the flats totally scaring off the eagles and potentially exposing themselves to a collision,” he wrote on his website (www.hancockwildlife.org.)

“We decided that our “Preserve Posters” need to also be placed at airports. I am sure that the pilots simply do not understand the disturbance they cause,” he added.

Hancock is hoping that when the pilots learn what disturbance their flying patterns are causing the eagles, they will change their habits — just as it has been with the kayakers, canoeists and hikers along the ground.

With that trouble aside, Hancock is enthusiastic about this year’s numbers of returning eagles, and salmon.

“The Saturday “at dawn” count revealed 2380 eagles on the Chehalis Flats and Harrison Bay — about twice the number over last year,” he said. “Rain had been sparse the past couple of weeks and the river was very low, revealing lots of salmon carcasses for the eagles to eat. About 260 great majestic trumpeter swans came in and over-nighted on Harrison Bay — always a magnificent addition.”

For those who missed the first few weeks of bird watching, there is still plenty of time, Hancock assured.

“Not only at this season can the birder expect to see at one time 1000 eagles on the Chehalis Flats but during the peak season in mid-December you might see more than 5,000 eagles on the flats and perhaps 10,000 within the 5 -7 kilometer area of the Chehalis-Harrison complex,” he said. “This area houses the largest concentration of bald eagles ever known. The nearby Brackendale/Squamish area and the Chilkat River of Alaska have good concentrations of eagles at different seasons, but none come anywhere near housing the peak eagle numbers that frequent the Chehalis Flats.”

To learn more, visit www.fvbef.ca.

news@ahobserver.com

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