by Greg Laychak
Biologist David Hancock was only 62 eagles off from his prediction by midday Sunday.
The volunteer board member of the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival roughly guessed last week that he and his team would count 1,500 eagles by Sunday, and the reported number just after lunch was closing in on his forecast at 1,438.
Those eagles were all feeding on salmon within three kilometres of the Harrison Crossing Bridge, and tourists flocked to see them over the weekend at nine designated viewing spots in the area.
At Tapadera Estates, a fire roared, food was served and artists worked shapes out of logs with their chainsaws all in celebration of the 20th festival.
But behind all of that activity on the long grass near the Harrison River, visitors with massive camera lenses and borrowed telescopes stood quietly and watched the natural display flying and feeding.
And guests could also get an up-close sneak peek at an eagle at the OWL orphaned wildlife rehabilitation society tent.
Children and adults looked on as Sonsie, a 13-year-old male eagle stood within feet of the crowd.
“He likes me, that’s why he’s sitting here nice and calm,” said Rob Hope, an OWL bird care staff member. “The kids love it and that’s our target with the education program.”
The organization aims to Educate children about the birds and how they can help so that future generations will “follow through when we’re long gone,” Hope said.
“Seeing them up close gives them a greater feeling of respect and a different perspective,” he added while Sonsie shifted on his perch.
The society rescued 556 birds last year and have already saved 581 to date in 2015, with spring time seeing mostly orphans and an increased proportion of injuries in the fall.
Organizations like OWL and other participants support the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival with their resources to promote awareness and protection – something that has been around since the festival’s roots.
In 1995 the Habitat Conservation Trust Fund and the Wild Bird Trust created the Harrison/Chehalis Bald Eagle Festival.
Three years later a committee was formed, and the current Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Society (FVBEFS) identity was born.
Five to seven million of the fish die in the waters of the area 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 said last week. “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.
The FVBEFS, a registered charity showcases those visitors and the salmon cycle.
They are always looking for volunteers to help with the annual event and to grow and expand the organization’s programs.