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Feature - The winter home of the eagles

Brackendale Eagle Reserve is a product of volunteers' efforts



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"Most people live their whole lives and see one eagle and they think it's special. You go Brackendale and you can see thousands," Clark said.

"The Brackendale area is representative of a West Coast cottonwood habitat on a flood plain where there is ample roosting. In some trees you'll see 50 eagles, which is an impressive display, and you don't need binoculars.

"I think wildlife and bird watching is way up there (in tourism popularity) because most people who come to Squamish come for the eagles.

"The eagles have certainly been a big draw here for many years and the efforts of volunteers has only helped make that reputation grow."

Despite the bald eagle's prominence is Canada, it's actually the national bird of the United States.

It is found over most of North America, from Alaska and Canada to northern Mexico, but about half of the world's 70,000 bald eagles live in Alaska.

There are 20,000 eagles in B.C., which makes the northwest coast of North America by far their greatest stronghold.

They flourish here mostly because of the salmon that swim up rivers to spawn and die at this time of year.

Not all eagles migrate, but the bald eagles must when some of the lakes and streams they feed in freeze.

During the migrating process, eagles ride columns of rising air called thermals and can average speeds of 50 km/h.

In the Brackendale region eagles can be seen effortlessly gliding on strong thermals up to high altitudes.

Froslev said he expects between 500 and 1,000 tourists to visit Brackendale every weekend during January to watch the eagles, but Jan. 4 will be the biggest day.

On Jan. 4 the eagle counters will meet at the Brackendale Art Gallery and be assigned to 17 different areas. Most of the counters are experienced locals but all of them are assisted by at least two other people.

One of the youngest assistants this year is 12-year-old local Chris Brant, whose family has been involved in the count since it began. Brant said the count was something that appealed to people of all ages.

"It's really kind of cool to watch them swoop down on the fish early in the morning," Brant says.

"I was really amazed once when they had a live adult eagle at the art gallery for us to look at - they're huge."

Brant said he enjoyed watching the younger birds learn how to fly.