Late salmon runs slow down eagles 

60 birders turn out for Brackendal eagle count

Just one of almost 1,800 eagles counted in Brackendale recently, photo by Maureen Provencal
  • Just one of almost 1,800 eagles counted
    in Brackendale recently,
    photo by Maureen Provencal

“I think we were one month too late,” said Karl Ricker, a Whistler birder and regular participant in the annual Brackendale Eagle Count.

On Saturday, Jan. 6, a crew of almost 60 birders turned out on a rainy, slushy day to count birds in the Squamish and Brackendale area. They counted a total of 1,757 eagles, which is slightly above the average of 1,739 birds since the counts began in 1986, and well below the 1994 record of 3,769. Overall it’s the 10 th highest count reported, and upped the average by 1.32 birds.

Ricker believes the 2007 count could have exceeded 3,000 birds if the count had taken place a month earlier during a successful run of Chum salmon.

“People were standing in one spot and counting over 500 eagles, so in a way timing is everything,” said Ricker.

“Everything above the Cheakamus River and Squamish River confluence, the numbers were down. My beat this year was Ashlu, which is under heavy construction by the Ledcor group, and I spoke to the First Nations security people working on the site and apparently the second Coho run has not arrived yet to the upper river areas.

“Below the confluence the numbers were higher, although two or three areas didn’t produce, like downtown Squamish, and there were no eagles at Shannon Falls.”

The snow and rain was a mixed blessing. The rain kept the birds grounded in the trees, which made them easier to count. However, the snow in the trees made it harder to spot the white heads of mature eagles, and birders had to be more diligent to ensure they weren’t counting snow clumps.

The annual count attracted a lot more attention this year, with CBC television including it in their news broadcasts.

The Brackendale Art Gallery sponsors the annual eagle count every January, both as a way to track the health of eagle populations and as a way to draw interest to the community.

Eagle watching and tours have become a tourism draw to the Squamish area, with the first Eagles arriving in mid-November and sticking around through late February to coincide with salmon runs. The eagles can be found along the Squamish and lower Cheakamus rivers, various creeks and rivers upstream, and in the estuary where the two rivers meet before heading out to Howe Sound. Other rivers and channels that attract salmon also have eagle activity.

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