Brackendale’s official bald eagle counts are the lowest they’ve been in more than 15 years.
On Sunday dozens of trained volunteers took part in the eagle count, hampered a little by the fat flakes of snow falling. Their official tally was 893 eagles. That’s almost half last year’s count of more than 1,700 and less than a quarter of the 1994 count of more than 3,700, for which Brackendale earned the bragging rights as “World Eagle Capital.”
“It was a foregone conclusion,” said eagle count coordinator Thor Froslev.
He wasn’t surprised at the low numbers because the Coho salmon run was far below its normal levels. The eagles come to Brackendale because of the Coho salmon.
Edith Tobe, a biologist and director of the Squamish River Watershed Society, admits it’s difficult to pinpoint why the salmon levels were so low this year.
The Coho are on a four-year cycle and this is the last year of that cycle, which could explain the lower numbers.
“I don’t personally think it’s an unusual trend,” she said.
And while there have been several outside factors influencing the local waterways, it’s hard to measure how they may have affected the Coho run, and by extension, the eagle count.
The Cheakamus River spill in August 2005, which saw 50,000 litres of a toxic chemical pour into the river from a derailed train, is not related at all to the low runs, said Tobe.
But other factors, such as global warming and the fish farms up and down the coast, could be playing some kind of a role.
Still, she is not concerned with this one stand out year, but if the population stays low for the second year in a row that would raise the alarm bells.
“I have no cause for concern at the present,” said Tobe.
The eagles gather every year from mid-November to feast on the shores of the rivers and creeks in the Squamish Valley. That’s where the adult Chum and Coho salmon come to die after spawning. The eagles stay in the valley until February.
Froslev said it’s still a site to behold despite the lower than usual numbers.
“Nine hundred eagles is lots of eagles,” he said.
The Brackendale Art Gallery is home of the Winter Eagle Festival.
The Brackendale Eagle Reserve is 550 hectares of eagle habitat, which is off limits to logging, mining and other development.
Trained volunteers are on hand to field questions and to promote responsible eagle viewing.