Fall flood, snow cover reduce number of salmon for birds to feast on
At 8 a.m. on the day of Brackendales 18 th annual eagle count the sun had not been shining long so it only took 10 minutes for the Arctic winds to freeze my camera.
A short time later, as we climbed down onto the Cheakamus river, ice crystals grew over the lens of the binoculars I had been using to help geologist Karl Ricker, Dr. Ken MacKenzie and Teal McBean count Brackendales magnificent bald eagles.
Eagle count co-ordinator, Thor Froslev, had warned that it was necessary to dress "warm" and be prepared for a walk through some rough terrain, but the cold seemed to be infecting everything.
Then an eagle would fly past, unperturbed by the cold and, in many ways, happy to use the thermals to glide around in circles and suddenly it became a lot easier to move around.
The smell of the dead salmon, which is what the eagles come to this part of B.C. to feed on, often hastened our walk along the riverbank but the odour was also strangely comforting, because it meant we were in the right place to see eagles.
Ricker was our lead counter but he relied on his long-time friend, MacKenzie, to note down what kinds of birds we were seeing and how many.
As we traipsed over icy rocks and around trees, Ricker explained that this year, the cold would drive many eagles deep into the cottonwood forests.
This is one of the reasons it took about 20 minutes for us to see a tree that sat more than two eagles.
For a bird that weighs up to 12 pounds, and with a wing span of six feet, they can sit on a branch as if theyre sitting on a cloud and they can move between trees in almost total silence.
As more flocks of birds were spotted, the excitement in our group grew and it was not long before Ricker was calling MacKenzie, "professor" as he gleefully announced another sighting.
With such well educated men leading the way it was hard not to feel like an extra in an Arthur Conan Doyle novel, especially when we hit bush because both Ricker and MacKenzie, who are both in their 60s, moved through the frozen undergrowth like picas.
The four of us covered an area spanning only three kilometres but it took us three and half-hours to complete that distance.
Most of the terrain we had been asked to negotiate was flat but there was no track through some of it and finding a stable foothold on snow covered undergrowth was a battle fought one step at a time.