French Creek Estuary has been a wonderful experience in eagle watching and understanding for me. I want to share this with our group.
As a number of you know we were contracted to give advice on how the French Creek area could retain its longtime resident pair of eagles in the face of development. I got to meet with the very cooperative developer’s agent and many of the resident conservationists. But then it got more fascinating. I remembered I had first found a pair of eagles nesting here in the late 1950’s — that stretched my mind to even remember back that far.
Once I met a number of the locals it became clear that between us we had a very broad understanding of the local eagles. The ‘keeners’ had detailed records on over nearly 20 nests between Parksville and Qualicum Beach – quite an eagle data base. Solving the challenge of keeping the eagles breeding soon became the common goal of all parties. Then out of filing cabinets came an incredible history of eagle videos and still images that the locals are keen to share — not just that French Creek was a very productive breeding area but an incredibly important historic area supporting hundreds of winter migrating eagles. This is the same basic population of eagles from which our lower Fraser Valley gets its 35,000 to possibly 50,000 eagles that breed across northern Canada but have to fly south to find spawned out salmon carcasses south of the ‘freeze line,’ north of which their fish are all unavailable under many inches of ice. Some of these wintering birds forage our Fraser Valley, the regional garbage landfills and the Salish Sea shorelines all winter while others just use this food-rich coastal flyway for heading north to their breeding grounds in spring. French Creek is a vital part of the inside flyway.
With the French Creek House sponsorship of building the nest and our CAM install, and Nanaimo’s Shaw Cable sponsoring the web connection, these fine eagles are likely to be hits for some time to come. Then – and still coming forward – are hundreds of stills and video clips of these breeding and wintering eagles quite different lives. I will occasionally introduce you to these eagles and their photographers otherwise I hope they will be posting them directly to our shared Web and Forum pages.
This collection is part of several stills and videos of an entirely unknown to me hunting habit of bald eagles. Here we see them collecting — hard to call this catching — and feasting on huge Horse Clams that appear to be being washed up in stormy weather onto the French Creek beaches. These videos are from Denise Foster and Peter Geisen, who just after guiding me to some of the old French Creek eagle nests passed from a severe heart attack – an incredible shock to all friends and neighbors.
I had never seen this feeding behavior before. Some of these Horse Clams are nearly 6 inches across and can weigh 2 pounds. Below is Denise and Peter’s notes and visuals – they speak for themselves.
Horse Clam Event from Jan 11, 2020
By Denise Foster and Peter Geisen
Here are three video clips and some photos from the “Horse clam day” that Peter and I observed and filmed on Jan 11, 2020. The area where we observed Bald eagles and seagulls feeding on horse clams stretched from the northwest side of the French Creek estuary along Columbia Beach to Pebble Beach (Pebble Beach is the townhouse complex where the Dalmation eagle nest is)
At the time we thought we were witnessing an event that may have begun the previous day for two reasons:
• Jan 10, 2020 had very strong winds and high surf pushing onshore, with wind warnings posted. Some residents/businesses had damage to boats and out buildings along the coast from Nanoose to Qualicum Beach.
• When we arrived late morning Jan 11th we found hundreds of horse clams that had been tossed up higher on the beach and already eaten out.
At one point while I was filming Peter walked up to stand on high ground Columbia Beach to count eagles. He said they were perching in trees along the entire length of Viking Way and around the corner half way along Columbia Drive. He also saw them perched in larger conifers in people’s yards (I could see some of these from down on the beach). Peter found it difficult to count as the eagles were continually flying in and out of the trees to various points on the beach and back. His best estimate was over 200 between eagles perched in trees and on the beach.
To be noted is our discovery of horse clam shells on the ground in the forest for weeks to come, not just under the “usual perch trees” but in many areas.
As I mentioned, a similar event occurred the previous year on Feb 04, 2019 following the same pattern of very strong winds and high, onshore surf. Unfortunately we didn’t witness the 2019 event but a photographer friend, Earl Geddes did and saw hundreds of horse clams lining the beach in the same location as 2020.
Chair, Save Estuary Land Society:
Videos Thanks to Denise Foster, Chair, Save Estuary Land Society: