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Sunday Nov 11 – a hallowed day of remembrance.  While my thoughts very frequently went to the generation who suffered so much more than I, I took the beautiful sunny day to visit the Harrison River.  But damn – I have lived 80 years and never had to go to war because of them – their sacrifice has made my life wonderful – I have got to play with eagles because of those who made such a sacrifice.  Thank you so much.

So, there I am standing on the river bank of the Harrison looking across the flats.  I had just noted, in a small arc of about 12 degrees, 505 eagles – not as many as I expected sitting on the flats but perhaps the 10 fishermen walking the stream banks were contributing – and another 1000 or so sat in the trees on the far side of the river.  Then, quite unexpectedly, to the north about 2 kilometers, I saw 3, then 7, then what quickly became about 50 eagles circling over a ridge.  The circling group was added to as I watched as more eagles emerged from behind the mountain.  In less than 5 more minutes another group was assembling, circling overhead and drifting as a circling unit eastward and overhead continuing southward.  Ten minutes later this was repeated.  Another 50+ eagles passed over some 25 telescopic lenses “pointed in wonderment at what we were all witnessing” – though perhaps not all the viewers gave this the same perspective!  In another 15 minutes this was repeated.

I have for years made periodic counts of eagles at the Harrison.  Usually by late November or into December I might see 2000 to 5000 eagles in the 3-kilometer (2 mile) section of the Chehalis Flats, an intrusion into the Harrison River Valley, and be reminded that Beautiful Natural British Columbia has again lived up to its promotional slogan.  Seldom have I been privileged to see how the area can go in one week from 2000 eagles to 10,000 eagles.  I have often stated that the area receives 100 to 500 eagles a day – an astonishing concept but one I only concluded from counts but had not witnessed.  Today I actually saw this happening.

I know from my counts that the eagle count can incredibly vary from morning to noon – sometimes by several thousand, let alone from day to day.  But counts are simply counts, they represent the number of eagles I have seen sitting on the flats in front of me, counted one by one or by two’s.  Today I saw the making of a count – I saw the eagles arriving from along the mountain ridge to the north, a whole continuous circling mass of eagles arriving, passing down the valley and then followed by another and another group of eagles.  Eagles do arrive!  The obvious became obvious, the obvious was a functional gyrating mass of eagles – the explanation of how I could go from a 1000 eagle count at 0800 AM to 3000 two days later.

I had witnessed in 2010 how one morning I had about 3600 eagles on the flats and adjacent trees at about 1000 AM but after a few hunter shots on the flats, the entire feeding and resting mass of eagles, those sitting on the flats and many perched on the surrounding trees, simply, I am sure stimulated by the gun shots but perhaps more importantly by the light wind blowing up-slope on the 3 adjacent hills, they took to soaring effortlessly.  These columns of gyrating eagles, never flapping a wing, then drifted in 3 different directions – all momentarily leaving the Harrison Valley.  My count of over 3000 eagles went to 112 in minutes.

Today I saw how they returned the same way.  Perhaps this time, at the beginning of the migration, from northern rivers frozen up and the birds now in search of a new buffet – the “snow-bird capital of the world.”  The Harrison – Chehalis Flats is that wonderful southern table setting, the only Canadian river where not only do all salmon species spawn but do so in such perfect timing when all the northern rivers are freezing up, sealing their food under ice.  The eagles have to move south – and the Harrison has set the table.

Please come and enjoy our Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival – November 17 and 18 – but note that the eagles will be increasing through December and lingering in our valley through January and February until their northern rivers thaw in spring and they can breed across the Yukon, Northwest Territories, Alaska and northern British Columbia.  You can now follow some of these northern eagles as they reveal their travels on our gps tracked eagles:  Our Fraser Valley eagles have also taken up residence at their nesting sites – you can also follow these pairs on our live streaming site, now defending their nests, then laying their eggs in February, hatching their eggs in April and fledging their young in July.

David Hancock,
Hancock Wildlife Foundation.
Nov. 11, 2018