Eagles, eagles, eagles everywhere -- was my line but as of today I have to amend that: Eagles and Salmon, Eagles and Salmon and Eagles and Salmon and PEOPLE everywhere! Wow!
The 18th Annual Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival was incredible. Twice the number of eagles heard of the buffet being offered and appeared. The salmon, live spawning and already dead and offering their bodies to the eagles, were present in the 10s of thousands and the weather supported the largest crowds ever. What more could we -- or eagles -- ask for!! Well -- we think about twice as many people also visited the Festival to view our eagles and salmon.
The Saturday "at dawn" count revealed 2380 eagles on the Chehalis Flats and Harrison Bay -- about twice the number over last year. Rain had been sparse the past couple of weeks and the river was very low revealing lots of salmon carcasses for the eagles to eat. About 260 great majestic trumpeter swans came in and over-nighted on Harrison Bay -- always a magnificent addition.
The Fraser River Safari Boat Tours were literally sold out and those guests got a wonderful view of thousands of eagles along the Harrison River as it drives its deeper path across the Chehalis Flats. It also appeared that our Chehalis Flats Bald Eagle & Salmon Preserve educational campaign to keep people off the Flats had paid off. Several of the kayak clubs stuck to coming down the deep water channel of the Harrison River instead of fanning out over the Chehalis Flats and grinding up salmon eggs and driving off the resting eagles. Wonderful -- and thanks! There were a couple of walkers and camera persons who were reminded not to do so by our new group of "River Rangers", the unofficial guides who talk about the incredible salmon and eagle populations and talk about how walking out on the flats destroys the salmon eggs and fry and disturbs the eagles that have just arrived from a 1500 mile flight from Alaska.
The biggest frustration to preserving the flats and not disturbing the eagles was ironically by airplanes and helicopters -- who buzzed the sandbars and landed on the flats totally scaring off the eagles and potentially exposing themselves to a collision. We decided that our "Preserve Posters" need to also be placed at airports. I am sure that the pilots simply do not understand the disturbance they cause.
The "conservation displays" at Leq'a:mel, the exhibition hall, were a great success. Our HWF members Sharon, Larry, Darlene and Mary had a great display and showed Christian's new video on the Harrison River Eagles. The viewing sites were quite incredible.
First, to the north, we had the regular Tapadera site where the Celestron representative with binocs and scopes at their beach-side tent gave viewers a closer look at the eagles. Also here is where the lecturers held court. Mat Foy and Ross Davies talked about our fish and bears respectively and I got to talk about eagles each afternoon -- to standing room only crowds. Al and his Tapadera crew were again exemplary and not just welcomed the eagle viewers but provided food and the marvelous warm lecturer building. Such enthusiasm by all -- thanks.
Next door at the Eagle Point Observatory the Fraser Valley Regional Park interpreters had scopes, distributed info and, along with our River Rangers, saw that everybody got their question answered. The River Rangers were a group of local "conservation-minded" souls who took the course that Tom organized through the FVBEF to give them the background ecology on the river, the fish and eagles etc. I had been one of the instructors to set the river ecology and the Preserve in perspective. Thanks Tom and your troupe of helpers -- all decked out in the FVBEF official high visibility safety jackets. Some have offered to be along the river on the next few weekends as well -- so say hi and ask them questions about our eagles, salmon and the area.
This year the east side of the Harrison River got some attention as a camping and observation site -- at the newly named Harrison River RV Resort. Several Festival visitors camped at the site - a great way to get involved. This first year was experimental and probably by next year they will also host some telescopes. Thanks Wentworth for supporting the River. Of course across the Highway # 7 is Kilby and again the Kilby Historical Society hosts visitors to the Museum and tours to the eagles.
Now to the biggest change -- the incredible involvement of Pretty Estates in the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival. The Pretty Estates encompasses the Sandpiper Golf Course, the River's Edge Restaurant and Rowena's Inn -- and the most incredible place from which to see eagles and spawning salmon. Betty Anne, the owner of Pretty Estates, has attended many of our FVBEF meetings over the years and has annually gotten her facilities more and more involved.
Last year Betty Anne funded the installation of the HWF cams in the bald eagle nest above her golf course - known to the web world as the Harrison Mills Live Bald Eagle Cam site. This year she did the same. However this year the Pretty Estates has gone all out. They have developed an incredible trail to the water's edge at which they have erected an enormous Bald Eagle Observatory. From this Tower we will be undertaking all future Chehalis Flats bald eagle surveys of the Chehalis Flats area. My guess is that this observation platform will become one of North America's most important "Bird Observatories" -- out-competing the Hawk Mountain Observatory, any of the Florida Everglades sites or the Point Reyes Bird Observatory in California.
Not only at this season can the birder expect to see at one time 1000 eagles on the Chehalis Flats but during the peak season in Mid-December you might see more than 5000 eagles on the Flats and perhaps 10,000 within the 5 -7 kilometer area of the Chehalis-Harrison complex. This area houses the largest concentration of bald eagles ever known. The nearby Brackendale/Squamish area and the Chilkat River of Alaska have good concentrations of eagles at different seasons, but none come anywhere near housing the peak eagle numbers that frequent the Chehalis Flats.
Also the Pretty Estates developed display areas for exhibits and presentations. They already have the finest restaurant (and the exquisite Rowena's Inn) in the area and on special eagle--salmon weekends will supplement this with mobile food carts. This year "our" Christian Sasse -- "our" being that he got enthused about eagles by reading and contributing to the HWF web site -- is holding a fine exhibit of his extraordinary prints in the Pretty Estates "Barn"!! Come say hi to Christian -- he loves to discuss the eagles or photography.
Talk about a "supplemental event" -- last Tuesday the Pretty Estates in cooperation with the Sts'ailes First Nations and a whole bunch of conservation organizations, including the HWF, hosted our public launch of the Harrison River Salmon Stronghold. What excitement. Hundreds of people interested in the welfare of the Harrison--Chehalis complex, its salmon and eagles, gathered -- below a constantly circling group of soaring bald eagles -- to hear people like Sts'ailes Chief Harvey Paul, former Chief Willie Charlie, Mark Angelo, our working group and leader Dave Moore give the reasons why we must demand "ecological sustainability" of any exploitation of Canada's most important salmon river.
Following some opening prayers by the Sts'ailes Drummers there were 3 welcome dances -- by Sts'ailes kids about 7 years of age!! Then by popular demand of the crowd they did an incredible 4th dance -- that spontaneously was joined in by the Abbotsford and Sts'asiles school children attending, parents and the public. What an incredible ignition of enthusiasm. But this was not the beginning of awesome. Earlier the children from the two school districts had assisted the Sts'ailes fishing crews man-handling a 200 foot long beach seine net into the shore, catching up 52 huge coho and chum salmon, measuring, and placing nose tags into them for later determination of what river they would eventually go to on their "now interrupted upstream journey"!! The kids were decked out in chest waders provided by you!! When no children's waders could be found the HWF decided to buy a dozen so this project (and now other projects are already planned!!) could go forward. Watching the kids so excitedly catch these 12-18 pound salmon, get their squirming bodies to the scientists and put up with cold wet hands was a tribute to our younger generation.
Then following the dancers into the midst of the surrounding party of several hundred people, in the 20 foot diameter grassy area separating the platform speakers and dancers from the guests, landed a wild raven. He pranced around not just honoring this crowd but literally performed his own welcome dance. Does this ceremony, overseen by soaring eagles and center-pieced by a wild raven, have some mystical meaning? Many would think so.
The above week was awesome - the Fraser Valley Bale Eagle Festival, the PR launch of the Sts'ailes Salmon Festival and the Harrison River Salmon Stronghold and now this weekend (Nov 23-24) will be the actual Sts'ailes Salmon Celebration. Furthermore, there will be a continuation of eagle watching of the increasing numbers of arriving eagles at Harrison Mills and the Pretty Estates Bald Eagle Observatory and again Christian will be on hand with his eagle image display. If you want to see eagles the weather for this weekend is going to be perfect -- cool but clear - and the sandbars, trees and sky will be filled with eagles.
The above events were still only part of my personal schedule. My wife Mary and I also spent the past 3 days at Whistler so I could address an enthusiastic group of retirees -- many whom I had ironically known in the 1960s!!
Hope to see many of you out at Harrison Mills either at Pretty Estates or on the Fraser River Safari Tours which I try and sneak on each weekend as a 'free-loading tour guide!!!