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

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

 

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

Pixabay photo
‘Horrific’ abuse of volunteers and COVID-19 contact tracers must stop, Chilliwack soccer club says

Parents have become abusive after being told COVID-19 rules, email says

The smaller eagle on the left side of the picture has been stolen from the Sq’ewá:lxw First Nation. If found, contact the community office at 604-796-6129 or email info@skwahlook.com. (Contributed Photo/Sq’ewá:lxw First Nation)
Eagle carving stolen from Sq’ewá:lxw First Nation

If seen, contact the First Nation community office at 604-796-9129

The Fraser Valley Health Care Foundation held its inaugural Grand Gala in November 2019 at Harrison Hot Springs Resort. This year’s event will be held online. (Submitted photo)
Fraser Valley Health Care Foundation holds virtual Grand Gala

Second annual event takes place online on Nov. 20, raising funds for local hospitals

Chilliwack has several railway crossings that can be hazardous to inattentive and unprepared drivers during the fall and winter months. (Martin Duperre photo)
CN Rail urges Fraser Valley drivers to be careful around railway crossings

The danger level jumps up during icy, windy fall and winter months causing a spike in accidents

Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry arrives for briefing on the COVID-19 situation, B.C. legislature, Oct. 26, 2020 (B.C. government)
B.C. records 217 more COVID-19 cases, mask use urged

Infection spike continues, 21 senior facilities affected

Los Angeles Dodgers celebrate after defeating the Tampa Bay Rays 3-1 to win the baseball World Series in Game 6 Tuesday, Oct. 27, 2020, in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)
L.A. Dodgers beat Rays 3-1 to win 1st World Series title since 1988

National League champs claim crown in six games

Seven-year-old Aaliyah Rosa was found dead in an apartment in Langley in July. (Langley Advance Times files)
Child’s body cold, no pulse: Off-duty cop testifies in Langley mother’s murder trial

The seven-year-old girl’s mother faces a first-degree murder charge

People march during a climate strike in Montreal, Friday, Sept. 27, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes
Judge rejects 15 youths’ climate change lawsuit against Canadian government

Justice Michael Manson has granted the government’s motion to strike the plaintiffs’ claim

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

A woman walks through check in at WestJet at Pearson International airport during the COVID-19 pandemic in Toronto on Wednesday, Oct. 14, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Strong support for pre-flight COVID testing ahead of upcoming WestJet trial: YVR

Airport is partnering with UBC, which is helping choose the method of pre-flight testing

It’s been eight years since Gordon Spencer (pictured), and cousin, ‘Lil’ Bruce Mayo, were gunned down in a home in Langley, and Spencer’s widow is hoping someone who knows something will step up (file)
Eight years on and still no answers in Langley double murder

Wife of victim makes public appeal for people with information to come forward

Langley resident Shaun Nugent, who died in 2019 shortly after he saved a swimmer from drowning, has been awarded a posthumous medal for bravery by the Royal Canadian Humane Association (Courtesy Nugent family)
Langley man who died after saving swimmer receives posthumous medal for bravery

Shaun Nugent rescued woman from Hayward Lake near Mission in July of 2019

Most Read