Where the eagles are the stars 

Eagle Watch season summary 2003-04

Eagles. Even the word carries an inherent cross-cultural energy that grabs our attention. The attraction of the "Eagle Watch" dyke viewpoint in Squamish is understandable… easy eagle viewing.

The Eagle Watch program was initiated nine years ago by the Squamish Estuary Conservation Society to encourage locals and visitors alike to be considerate of eagles by viewing at a safe distance, and to be considerate of private property when viewing eagles. It has become a focal point for locals and visitors wanting a glimpse of the majestic bald eagle.

Eagle Watch starts up in late November and carries on every weekend until the end of January, operating daily between Christmas and New Year’s. Volunteer interpreters learn eagle facts and other important information in an orientation session in November, before the program starts. Each Eagle Watch season naturally reflects the type of winter we experience.

Last autumn’s flood had a definite impact on the wintering bald eagle population. Nicola Kozakiewicz, Eagle Watch Co-ordinator, notes that what started out to be an incredible local pink salmon spawning run all but disappeared with the floods, taking with them a key food source for the eagles.

Bruce Matthews, Eagle Watch facilitator, comments: "You could tell by the lack of smell of rotting salmon in the air that we didn’t have the number of salmon as in past years. The flood and high water flushed away the salmon carcasses much sooner, leaving less for the eagles. We’ve seen a larger number of juvenile eagles this season. Unfortunately, many are very small and very scruffy. I fear they were not getting enough food."

In offering eagle viewing at a safe distance, Eagle Watch helps the eagles to take in the available food without undue disturbance.

As well, this year marked the first-time participation of the 2 nd Squamish Girl Guide troop as volunteer interpreters. As Nadine Seamon, a Guide leader says, the girls "enjoyed the opportunity to do something ‘adult-like’… they like to help". While most were already familiar with "eagle facts", the Guides were amazed at all the visitors and the number of countries they came from. It was an eye-opener for them that their hometown is such a popular attraction.

Indeed, visitors from around the world sign the Eagle Watch guest book. A glance through it shows visitors from Iran, Turkey, Hungary, Finland, Korea, Philippines, Brazil, Columbia and others… as well as visitors from Greater Vancouver, Washington, California, Texas, Mexico, England and Japan.

Each year the volunteers count the number of people on the dyke, along with the people they talk to while on shift. Over the 23 weeks this season close to 7,000 people visited the Eagle Watch dyke, with about half of them talking to the volunteers.

The number of eagles visible from the dyke was also counted. The season average of the hourly count is 24 mature and 5 immature eagles. The greatest number of eagles viewed in one day was on Jan. 18 th when an average of 88 adults and 30 immature eagles were seen per hour.

Visitor numbers increased dramatically after the annual Eagle Count at the Brackendale Art Gallery (the first Sunday of the new year). In the weeks preceding and following this event, Thor Froslev was interviewed 15-20 times by local, Vancouver, Washington State and Oregon print, radio and television media. The visitor numbers on the dyke often doubled in that timeframe.

The Eagle Watch area is also a popular destination for bus, taxi and limousine drivers, who often offer their guests the opportunity of stopping to view the eagles. It’s surprising who might take them up on this offer.

Bruce Matthews tells of being on one shift between Christmas and New Year’s and encountering a young couple that had stopped on their limousine trip between Vancouver and Whistler. Bruce related various eagle facts and answered their questions. As they were about to depart, the young man commented, "You don’t know who we are, do you?"

Bruce replied, "No."

The man replied, "That’s refreshing."

The couple, Bruce realized later, was Justin Timberlake and Cameron Diaz.

The eagles are definitely the stars here.

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