“I think we were one month too late,” said Karl Ricker, a
Whistler birder and regular participant in the annual Brackendale Eagle Count.
On Saturday, Jan. 6, a crew of almost 60 birders turned out on
a rainy, slushy day to count birds in the Squamish and Brackendale area. They
counted a total of 1,757 eagles, which is slightly above the average of 1,739
birds since the counts began in 1986, and well below the 1994 record of 3,769.
Overall it’s the 10
highest count reported, and upped the average
by 1.32 birds.
Ricker believes the 2007 count could have exceeded 3,000 birds
if the count had taken place a month earlier during a successful run of Chum
“People were standing in one spot and counting over 500 eagles,
so in a way timing is everything,” said Ricker.
“Everything above the Cheakamus River and Squamish River
confluence, the numbers were down. My beat this year was Ashlu, which is under
heavy construction by the Ledcor group, and I spoke to the First Nations
security people working on the site and apparently the second Coho run has not
arrived yet to the upper river areas.
“Below the confluence the numbers were higher, although two or
three areas didn’t produce, like downtown Squamish, and there were no eagles at
The snow and rain was a mixed blessing. The rain kept the birds
grounded in the trees, which made them easier to count. However, the snow in
the trees made it harder to spot the white heads of mature eagles, and birders
had to be more diligent to ensure they weren’t counting snow clumps.
The annual count attracted a lot more attention this year, with
CBC television including it in their news broadcasts.
The Brackendale Art Gallery sponsors the annual eagle count
every January, both as a way to track the health of eagle populations and as a
way to draw interest to the community.
Eagle watching and tours have become a tourism draw to the Squamish area, with the first Eagles arriving in mid-November and sticking around through late February to coincide with salmon runs. The eagles can be found along the Squamish and lower Cheakamus rivers, various creeks and rivers upstream, and in the estuary where the two rivers meet before heading out to Howe Sound. Other rivers and channels that attract salmon also have eagle activity.