The 41 people who participated in the 28th annual Brackendale Eagle Count found 1,617 eagles, double the tally from last year. The weather conditions were far better this year compared to last year with counters enjoying blue sky and sunshine through the course of the entire count on Sunday, Jan. 5.
The counters gathered at the Brackendale Art Gallery at 8 a.m. before heading out into the field. Some counters accessed their territory by raft or kayak while most walked. The various counting territories included the Mamquam, Squamish, Ashlu and Elaho rivers along with Pilchuk and Tenderfoot Creeks.
Whistler's Karl Ricker counted eagles from the north end of Baynes Island in Brackendale up the Squamish River.
"This year we had lots of salmon," said Ricker. "The river was choked with salmon."
Glenne Campbell was one of the counters who used a raft to access her counting territory which included the Ashlu River and the portion of the Squamish River from the Ashlu to the confluence of the Cheakamus and Squamish Rivers. She said the job this year was much easier compared to last year.
"Last year it was raining and foggy and we couldn't see 50 feet in front of us," said Campbell. "It was totally opposite conditions this year."
She said she came back to participate in the count for her second year because she believes in the effort.
"We celebrate nature and we acknowledge nature and we help others celebrate and acknowledge by doing this," she said.
Counter John Buchanan took the largest territory, along the Elaho River. He started at 6 a.m. and finished at 4 p.m.
He noticed a significant number of Coho salmon in one particular tributary of the Elaho River.
"When I hit Shovelnose Creek the numbers just exploded because of the amount of spawning Coho that are in there," said Buchanan.
He said the overall Coho spawn this year was strong and that contributed to the large the number of eagles spotted by the counting team this year.
The tally from Buchanan's area was just under 600 eagles, a conservative count, he said.
One of Buchanan's highlights came when he spotted four mountain goats on a ridge soaking up the warmth of the sun's rays.
"That was really exciting because those were completely hunted out," Buchanan said. "That was the highlight of my day."
While the goats were a nice change from spotting birds he said the eagle count is an important report card.
"This is a health card," he said. "The eagles are a keystone species. It tells us what's going on."
Count host Thor Froslev, owner of the Brackendale Art Gallery, said he was very happy with the count this year, which ended with almost twice as many eagles counted in comparison to the numbers from the 2013 count.
"It's a Sunday and it's sunny and it's the fifth of January and the area is packed with tourists. We had a really busy day," said Froslev.
The last time the eagle count produced a tally greater than 1,000 birds was 2007 when counters found 1,757 eagles. The biggest count in the 28 years of the event came in 1994 when 3,769 eagles were counted. The lowest count on record was 1986, the year the tradition started, when only 537 eagles were counted. The average number of eagles counted throughout the 28 years is 1,539.
Eagles flock to the Squamish area each winter between November and February to feed on spawning salmon.