Hundreds of eagles have once again descended on Brackendale. The banks of the Squamish River are home to one of the largest congregations of wintering bald eagles in the world.
From late November to early February, the annual salmon spawn attracts thousands of bald eagles from all over Alaska, Yukon, Northern British Columbia and Alberta.
The Brackendale Winter Eagle Festival and Count is held annually in early January. Every year, trained volunteers assist in counting the creatures. The count peaked back in 1994 when a record 3,769 eagles were counted in one day. The 25 th anniversary of the festival earlier this year counted only 627.
The low number was due to a severely reduced run of Chum and Coho Salmon, the eagles' main food source. Over the course of 25 years, the average count has been 1,599 eagles. Over the last four years, the count has been under 1,000.
The Eagle Watch Interpreter Program, now in its 16 th year, is looking for new volunteers to assist with public viewing of the eagles at the Eagle Run Dyke in Brackendale. They are holding a training session for new and returning volunteers this Saturday (Nov.26) at the Squamish Adventure Centre.
"Our members love being ambassadors for wildlife in the community," said Meg Toom, the Eagle Watch Program coordinator. "We have families that have volunteered together during the holidays for several years, their enthusiasm has been fantastic. Some families are even coming out to help on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day."
Some of these members have been involved for as long as 10 years. The program strives to assist eagle viewers with education pertaining to eagle biology and behavior, viewing ethics and the ecology of the region. Maintaining distance and restraining pets is very important to not threaten the birds and cause them to fly away, she said.
The sheltered valley and the high branches of the cottonwood trees provide the protection the eagles need when perching and roosting. Visitors are encouraged to use the available binoculars and Olivon Spotting Scopes to more closely observe the eagles on the opposite bank of the river. The scopes are powerful enough to count the birds' feathers and inspect their eyes.
Toom hopes to see a good turnout of people at the training session on Saturday. They are looking for people to volunteer their time on the weekends between now and February, with additional help needed during the busy week between Christmas and New Year.
Every weekend until February, these volunteers will be stationed at the Eagle Run viewing centre from 9:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. They also volunteer all week during the holidays. In past years the program has benefited from 50 to 60 volunteers from all around the world.
The volunteer training session will be held from 9:00 a.m. to noon at the Squamish Adventure Centre. There will be an optional on-site orientation from 1:00 to 2:00 p.m. at the Eagle Run Dyke.
The Eagle Run viewing site is located on Government Road in Brackendale, just west of Highway 99.