By Greg Laychak – The Observer
Like the soaring birds they flock to see, tourists travelling to Harrison Mills this weekend will swoop in on the area by the hundreds.
“They can come in up to four or five hundred in a day once they start to really move out of the north,” says biologist David Hancock—of the bald eagles, not the birders. “It builds up pretty quickly.”
The Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival is back for its 20th year this weekend and Hancock, who is also on the volunteer board for the annual event, has been involved for 17 of those occurrences.
“We’re getting all excited about our festival coming up,” he said last week. “There was a count this week and we had about 860 eagles and it could be up to 1500 by Sunday.”
Within three kilometres of the Harrison Crossing Bridge Hancock estimates there to be 10,000 of the birds gathering at this time of year, all because of a few conditions that align perfectly.
He calls the area Canada’s first salmon stronghold, where the number of species and salmon spawning are “super abundant”.
Five to seven million of the fish die in the waters there after they finish spawning, each one possibly weighing up to 10 pounds.
“So that’s a lot of protein to nourish a lot of scavengers,” Hancock says. “That’s what it’s all about.”
Combine the food abundance with a climate where waters don’t freeze and those eagles from the north that are losing access to their regular sources of sustenance because of ice coverage head south.
“This is like seeing hundreds of thousands of wildebeests off in the distance on the Serengeti,” Hancock says. “I mean you get 10,000 eagles in three kilometres. It’s one of those biological wonders.”
He and the other organizers hope to get a good number of visitors during the festival which usually attracts 3,000 to 3,500 people.
The more people who come and appreciate the bald eagles, the more who might consider the natural chain that always leads back to water.
“We only have eagles and we only have salmon if we have good clean and pure water,” Hancock says. “That’s the message.”
• The Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival takes place Nov. 21 and 22 at nine different sites, each offering their own set of free activities and entertainment. Those areas are on Scenic 7 Highway (Mission to Harrison Mills). The celebration of nature goes on rain or shine. For more information visit www.fvbef.ca or call 604-826-7361.
Highlights of the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival 2015
•Celestron has donated a new viewing scope (valued at $699) for the society to raffle off during the event.
•The Scowlitz First Nations will be a new official site offering eagle viewing from their traditional lands.
•Eight additional sites will be open, offering eagle viewing or eagle inspired activities to festival-goers.
•Two sites will have live raptors in attendance to educate and entertain.
•A line-up of expert speakers and nature walks are scheduled during the weekend.
•The indoor exhibitor’s fair will host educational and wildlife displays and will have vendors and artisans on site.