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Arctic out flows don’t dissuade eagle counters

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Expectations were high this year for a bumper eagle count after a huge run of pink salmon swam up the Cheakamus River to spawn late last year.

But October’s deadly floods made enormous changes to the river’s terrain and wiped out many salmon in the process.

More than 350,000 salmon use the rivers around Squamish to spawn and die, but the carcasses of many of those who were left after the flooding, or arrived afterwards, have been covered by recent snowfalls so the Eagles did not have much of a reason to be out en masse on Jan. 4.

Despite the forces working against approximately 60 eagles counters last Sunday, 1,709 bald eagles were recorded – which is 132 more than last year.

The best ever Brackendale eagle count occurred in 1994 when 3,769 eagles were recorded.

This remains the largest recorded gathering of bald eagles in the world and is the reason Brackendale is known internationally as a pristine location for bird watching.

Our group was allotted the area from the Cheekye Bridge at Sunwolf to Baynes Island at the junction of the Cheakamus and Squamish Rivers.

By the end of our count, MacKenzie had noted 329 bald eagles; 202 of which were juveniles and 124 were adults (we also spotted one proud ruffed grouse, five ravens and three "unknowns").

Without detailed scientific analysis it’s impossible to tell why our group saw more juveniles eagles, but the general consensus at the Brackendale Art Gallery (which is where all the results are tallied) is that the adults are smarter and tend to stay out of sight when the conditions are unfavourable.

"It’s unusual to see so many juveniles but it’s also a good thing because it’s an indication of how healthy their reproduction is," Ricker said.

Both Ricker and MacKenzie spoke about how fickle the count can be sometimes, regardless of the conditions.

"On the 20 th of December, in the same spot (along the Cheakamus River) we saw 1,106 eagles and it was raining all day very hard," Ricker said.

"That wind I’m sure has pushed a lot of eagles back into the forest. We call it a polar out flow wind, which brings the air straight from the Arctic and forces it into the valleys around here.

"We had a really good salmon run this year but most of them have been covered with snow, which is also a big problem."