Oct 25, 2022: I got out to the Harrison today – despite our 2-month drought, the river, while very low, was full of desperate fish. Lots were spawning or trying to spawn in the very shallow water. The Chehalis Hatchery had just spent the past few days spawning the huge white springs and I was out to pick up those not wanted by the Sts’ailes First Nations. This was the beginning of collecting bait fish for our trapping efforts this fall and winter. Usually, I get 12-to 15 pound Chums. This load was Spring salmon, some 40 to 50 pounds – a very impressive fish.
But so wonderful to see a river full of fish. Not so good to see that the water levels were so low that little spawning could effectively take place. While there were dozens of fishermen lining the riverbanks and in boats, I only saw 7 eagles. Obviously, the northern migrants had not even started to arrive. Most certainly 50 to 70 % of our local breeders are back on territory throughout the lower valley. Denise Foster called me last night from French Creek and both adults were back for the FC nest and the two territories on each side. The breeding season is on its way. If we get some cold weather up north those northern eagles will be shortly making their appearance here.
I will be working with the Plimsoll Film’s crew on their Disney Production this fall. Hopefully I will catch a few eagles for placement of backpack trackers – this will be part of us telling the story of the eagles migration. We will also be out to follow the tales of a young eaglet as he/she learns to cope, integrate and how to succeed as an eagle. This winter season is the time eagles learn to scavenge like their ancestral Old World Vulture heritage. Then come spring, the start of 4 years of learning to hunt when the spawned-out carcasses are gone, the eagles get introduced to catching herring and oolachan.
Perhaps hooking a herring from a churning mass is not quite catching but it is the start. Nature has clearly indicated by taking 5 years to get the “white head of adulthood” that learning to hunt, so you can support a family, is a long slow learning process. The 4 or 5 falls of scavenging dead salmon is a start to learn the fundamentals of bullying so when you have a dinner, you know how to keep it. Or, if you’re a little male, you learn how to be subservient to bigger females, so they allow you to steal a few mouthfuls.
When carcasses are few it is easier to see this dominance of females. She always takes possession of the carcass and the males, sometime 3 to 6; approach from behind, slowly and obviously with deference to the big lady in charge. As the female fills up, the males move in more confidently, ultimately reaching in between her legs to sneak a beak full of food. And she allows it. Quite a wonderful gesture to a little male. So in contrast should another female approach. Then it’s back to a total display of dominance, threats and who is biggest and most urged on by hunger, continues with possession! I love the hours watching the subtle gestures to the very overt threats that signal who is dominant and in charge.
After our second devastatingly poor year of local production I hope we get to see lots of northern eagles, indicating a good northern production of young eagles. With the 2021 “Heat Dome” and this year’s “death of so many eaglets in the nest” or “just the abandonment of nestings,” several regions have had a second year of barely 25% of the nests being productive. A few areas, some on Vancouver Island and even a few little clusters in the Valley, did hold to better results but the last of productivity is noticeable.
Let’s hope the northern eagle’s production was better than ours and we get to greet their arrival with our rivers full of late spawning salmon!! This of course is not assured. With low warm water in most all our rivers spawning is starting off vary badly. Then of course what happens to the rivers if there are only late but heavy rains? Will they just wash out the eggs and fry of the surviving fish? This does not look like another good year for salmon — or eagles, but we hope. If, or I guess I should say, when we get the northern freeze-up, we should get our northern eagle’s arrival. The question will become: Is there a meaningful amount of dead spawned out fish for them to eat? Another month will tell. At this point the river has a lot a fish starting to already die, it is just that the northern eagles are not really due for another 1 to 2 weeks. We anxiously await their arrival. In the meantime, the sturgeon will be feasting on the dead salmon drifting downstream.
In the meantime, I am about to continue the census of the local breeders. Sally has already initiated her North Shore monitors and Mike & Diana, monitors for all of Vancouver nests, are due back this weekend and I know are anxious to start again. However, we still have all the leaves on the trees so seeing the nests in cottonwoods is still very difficult. Already at least one of each of our three CAMs pairs has showed up. This is good news. I hope our many monitors are recording if the nests still exist – that is the FACT that determines if the eagles will have a protected nest area. The Wildlife Act focuses on the existence of the nest. If the nest exists, the birds and their nest tree get protection. And of course, that is why it is so important to get the monitors out confirming the existence of the nest, then throughout the nesting season, the details of what that nest produces. Happy observations. If you can get us additional nest monitors that is wonderful.
I met with Sally and one of the new hosts for a North Shore bald eagle nest “CAM” this past week. We are hopeful we will be announcing the sponsorship of a new eagle CAM for install next August. This will be the North Shore’s first EAGLE CAM – totally wonderful.