Kim Charlie (left) of Chehalis First Nation reacts as she helps Rob Hope (right) of Orphaned Wildlife (OWL) Rehabilitation Society release a female juvenile eagle at Sandpiper Golf Resort. The young bird was about a year old when she was found by a group of Chehalis fishermen a year ago along the Harrison Slough. The eagle release was the kickoff for this weekend's Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival.

Record year for eagles

Annual number of returning birds continues to rise

The Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival (FVBEF) is a world-renowned event, famous for North America’s largest gathering of bald eagles.

“There are already at least 2,500 eagles here right now, and more just keep coming. This is a record number for this early on,” says David Hancock, biologist, eagle expert, and founder of the Hancock Wildlife Foundation.

Hancock has been studying these impressive raptors for the past 60 years, and in 2010 he counted 7,362 bald eagles in a two-kilometre section of the Harrison River. Over the years, the number of eagles that gather continues to increase. 
As northern weather gets colder, the eagles fly south, drawn to salmon in the Chehalis and Harrison River estuary.

This year’s fall drought had people wondering if the eagles would still come, as the river beds were almost dry, and the salmon were holding out, but true to B.C. form, the rain came. After four days of precipitation, the river beds were flooded, and in came the salmon – and the eagles.

The festival started in 1995 with a collaboration of the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund and the Wild Bird Trust. Thanks to help from many volunteers, First Nations Peoples and new partnerships, the festival has grown, becoming a popular event. 
The FVBEF is a registered charity, focused on celebrating and showcasing the biodiversity in the Fraser River valley. It is centred on the eagle gatherings and the salmon run.

This week, the FVBEF released a rehabilitated eagle back into the wild, returning it to the same location it was found, near the Sandpiper viewing location. The eagle was taken care of by the Orphaned Wildlife Rehabilitation Society (O.W.L.) in Delta.  
The festival attracts tourists from all over the globe. There are many activities, from river walking tours, jet boat eco-river tours, to presentations from experts, and workshops and displays.

The festival kicks off Nov. 17 and 18 with the main event, featuring a host of conservation booths, exhibits, and spotting scopes.

The Hancock Wildlife Foundation will also be present, showing live video of the eagles to the crowd. 
Harrison Hot Springs, Harrison Mills, and Fraser River Safari jet boats will be hosting festival events and speakers, including Hancock.
Hancock stresses, “You cannot see the eagles from Harrison Hot Springs. There has been some confusion about this.”

There are three sites to view the eagles – Tapadera Estates on Nov. 17 and 18 only, Pretty Estates Resort (Sandpiper), and Eagle Point Community Park. 
The festival has received donations and sponsorships, making it affordable, and most of the attractions are free. Tickets are required for certain workshops and presentations.

The festival runs to December, but there are year-round viewing opportunities. The tours run until the eagles leave the area.

“We have the biggest collection of eagles, right here in our own backyard,” says Hancock, encouraging people to check out the festival.

“This event raises awareness to the importance of good river systems. People come from all over, it is a great site, and we have great places to stay and eat during the festival,” he noted.

For more information on the festival, visit fraservalleybaldeaglefestival.ca.

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