Well the 2017 – 2018 bald eagle breeding season is over and we now await our birds’ arrival back from their northern migration. But what a year it has been. Both our Harrison Mills and White Rock pairs went through incredible trauma and obvious disappointment for the viewers. Even Delta 2 had its extreme drama – but at least had a successful production. The whole region seems to have suffered some disappointments but how to separate these out from a very climatically challenging year is difficult. Minutes ago – Sept. 30 – I just spoke with Sharon (gemini) – who said one Delta bird was back on Friday – and the HM ‘new pair’ is holding in the area.
One of the most interesting differences is the wider spread of all seasonal eagle activities. Most people locally thought we had a cold late spring. Yet a number of the eagles had returned from migration early, in late September and set to egg laying early in spite of the cold. While it is difficult to determine the date of laying except under camera, it seems that this year started early and spread out over a wider period than normal. Our Harrison pair, while again experiencing some challenges in partnership, did not get an egg, and then only a single egg, until about 20 days after last year. The biggest disparity in timing seems to have been at the other end of the season. So many breeding eagles and their offspring stayed in their nest or remained branchers and fledglings around their nest for a very long period in time. One pair of fledglings remained near and in the nest over a month after the first fledging. Furthermore, many observed pairs simply did not depart on migration within the normal 10 to 15 days of their chicks fledging. Why?
The difference in the general widespread timing of different behaviors is not understood. One question – or possible consideration – comes to my mind regarding the delayed departure dates for initiating migration. During this same peak period of departure about the end of July was visibly different to the local human population. During most migration periods we experience the general movement of air from west to east – the prevailing winds blow air almost constantly against the coast mountains all along the coast from Washington State, up the BC coast and up the coastal mountains of South East Alaska. This year, at this very period, we all experienced 3+ weeks of air outflowing from the interior, creating a ‘downflow’ of air all along the BC Coast. We all know this because we experienced almost ‘full time health alerts’ of smoke-filled air from the interior of BC forest fires. When we get smoke in the Fraser Valley it is usually smoke from Vancouver Island forest fires – not smoke blowing out from the interior. So my question, from a person who did a lot of coastal flying and watching eagles migrate, is “Did this lack of ‘almost constant uplift’” result in the eagles deciding to wait out their migration until the winds gave them the ‘uplift’ – and the ability to simply glide downhill to Alaska? Perhaps.
With the delays in eagles leaving the Harrison Mills nesting territory some challenges arose – and our ability to want to risk climbing the tree to clean the cams. Our banded lady left the territory just a few days after her chick died. Then after a couple of weeks a male, perhaps her male, appeared back at the site and ‘acquired’ a new unbanded lady. We did not want to disturb the pair that seemed to return back and forth to the nest every few days. Now the big question is “If and when banded Ma returns will she have to fight it out with a new female ‘in residence’”? We know Ma is at least 23 years old or many years older and so she might have passed her productive time – as suggested by the late laying of one egg. We should know the answer within a month!
Then of course there was a lot of strife at the White Rock territory. This prime bald eagle breeding territory has now been ‘squeezed’ from both sides by two other pairs. While the pair to the south moved in about 3 seasons back. This year another pair moved even closer to the north side of the territory. We have 3 active pairs within about 650 meters. It seems downtown Vancouverites and White Rock dwellers are all suffering the pressures and high costs of condo development – and perhaps our eagles are paying the price of residing on the best fishing real-estate in North America.
The Delta pair like so many, experienced partner change and again, possibly due to electrocution – the continuing biggest killer of eagles. We did clean the Delta 2 cams but this very small thin tree with its artificial nest structure will not be as choice a selection if we lose the original female. It does appear that the females make the final nest selection and this very slight tree might not be appealing to a new lady.
Some other HWF happenings: First for our BETA project we trapped and banded 21 eagles – 5 were equipped with gps recorders that many of you have been following. Quite exciting. At this time Terf 01 has dropped down from the Alaskan coast to the Bella Coola River valley where there is presently a good run of salmon. This is also the region close to where I spent considerable time of my miss-spent youth. Right near where 4 of our Hancock House books based on the famous conservationist Ralph Edwards and family lived. Ralph and his daughter Judy are credited with being the two main people who saved the Trumpeter Swan from extinction. Ralph and I learned to fly together in the same Fleet Canuck in 1953. I am sure the eagle is specifically there to check out some of my earlier fishing holes along the Dean, Bella Coola and Atnarko Rivers.
At least one of the eagles seems to be in difficulty – or dead after about 3 months in and around Hay River in the Northwest Territories. We have asked someone to check out its gps location and report if the bird just does not go anywhere or is dead.
Building Eagle Nests: This was another year of adding a few more ‘modified trees’ to the region – modified we hope to entice eagles when they return from migration, to build a nest in a tree that would otherwise not accommodate them. The building effort of Myles is shown in the appropriate web places. One of these modified trees is in the new City of Surrey Bald Eagle Preserve – a project we have worked on for about 7 or 8 years. A second nest was built for the City of Vancouver in Vanier Park beside the Planetarium. The eagles’ nest of last year fell out of the tree just before the chicks fledged – but both were rescued by Diana and Mike Seear. Both chicks, after growing up big and healthy at OWL, were released along the nearby Vancouver City shoreline. The Parks Department had us build another nest frame in case they did not like the original nest they rejected last year that was likely too close to the ever-expanding heavy foot traffic and other park activities.
Just as the season was ending another pair moved into a ‘new territory’ where two years ago we had constructed another nest framework. Since the pair hauled in hundreds of sticks we hope they both survive the migration and take up full residency on the shores of Boundary Bay.
Perhaps our greatest disappointment was the loss of nest # 009 – the Croydon Nest that gained so much publicity. This nest was vandalized and the tree, 95% cut through, had to be removed for safety. I was invited to several community meetings to tell the story to a very disappointed local public that loved this very conspicuous nesting pair. Possibly we have not heard the end of this story.
Regional Nest Counters: This year saw our long time north shore eagle man David Cook turn over his nests to Sally McDermott and she has carried on with wonderful enthusiasm, bringing in several assistants to keep watch over specific nests. And at the end of the last Century – I love using that term – meaning about 1998, I turned over about 7 nests in the City of Vancouver to SPEC the Stanley Park Ecological Committee. They did a fantastic annual job but are now keeping up with Coyote challenges. This year Diane and Mike Seear took up the hunt and have added more nests in Metro – now 19 active territories – and promise to keep the data flowing next year. I have yet to get in touch with Scott Martin up the Valley to summarize the Chilliwack area data.
Note: after Sharon’s call minutes ago I got another call from a local birder who has also seen several eagles in the past 3 days – they are already on the return.
So a Big Announcement: Fraser River Safari Tours has been sold by Joanne and Rob Chadwick to a new enthusiastic owner, Liron Gertsman, who will be carrying on the Chadwick’s pioneering works. I had a wonderful chat with Liron last week, firming up dates that I would accompany him as a guide – and for me the opportunity to count the eagles on the river. He is going to have me aboard as Jo & Rob did and groups asking for my presence will get me if I am around – which I will always try and be. He will probably also set up dates when I will be aboard.
So, I have just heard that weathermen are predicting a COLD winter. The good side is that this will freeze up the northern rivers, seal off the fish from the eagles and drive the eagles south. Can we top 15,000 along the Harrison? Maybe! Liron is available for bookings at: [email protected].com
1 866-348-6877. The Tour boat is always warm, friendly and full of good eagle talk. Look forward to seeing you aboard.
Apparently, our HM observers are already seeing a number of eagles along the flats. Yesterday I was in the interior along the Thompson and the river was full of ‘ripening sockeye’ – turning red. The prediction for some runs is good – combine that with a cold north and we could have the local dinner places filled with eagles. Liron may have started his business in a good year – lets hope so.