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Feature - The winter home of the eagles

Brackendale Eagle Reserve is a product of volunteers' efforts



Counting bald eagles as they feast on salmon during a crisp January morning in Brackendale is an experience Thor Froslev describes as "something poetic".

After 32 years in the district Froslev admits he still gets a thrill from watching the eagles when they come to nest in the area.

Hundreds of North America's most famous eagles arrive in Brackendale, 40 minutes south of Whistler, around mid-November and their population steadily grows until they leave in March, but the most important day of the season is Jan. 4.

On Jan. 4, 2004 about 60 volunteer counters and scores of tourists will arrive for the 18th annual Brackendale Eagle Count.

"It really is incredible to see these big birds and the way their tails flip into the water," Froslev explained.

"I mean, these are not little chickens, these are big birds: the adults have a wing span of six feet and weigh around 10 or 12 pounds."

The Brackendale Eagle Count began in 1986 but the area, and eagles who migrate there, made headlines in 1994 when volunteers counted a world record 3,769 bald eagles in one day.

This count was significant because of its size, but also because it was an indication of how strongly the species had bounced back from a time when they were hunted for money and endangered by chemicals such as DDT.

DDT was first registered in Canada in 1946 and marketed as a wonder chemical that could be used to control insect pests in crops as well as in domestic and industrial applications. DDT and other pesticides were sprayed on plants and eaten by small animals, which were later consumed by birds of prey.

Research proved that DDT harmed both the adult birds and the eggs that they laid. The eggshells became too thin to withstand the incubation period and were often crushed.

If they survived incubation many eggs did not hatch because of the high content of DDT.

Tests later found large quantities of DDT in the fatty tissues and gonads of dead bald eagles, which was evidence that the chemical contributed to many of them becoming infertile.

In response to a raft of world-wide environmental and safety concerns, most uses of DDT were phased out during the mid-1970s.

"That was a major problem in the 1950s with the DDT being sprayed everywhere and affecting their eggs," says Froslev.

"But even before that, after World War II, the fishing companies in Alaska put a bounty on the bald eagles because they were taking the salmon.