Once again our planet’s largest gatherings of Bald Eagles in underway in Squamish British Columbia, just North of Vancouver BC, and just 50 km south of the world class Whistler Ski Resort. Based on population estimates, up to 5% of the world’s bald eagles winter in the very this very accessible area. From one viewing space, often dozens of Eagles can be seen, and a short walk in the right direction will allow you to see many more.
For decades, thousands of majestic Bald Eagles have been gathering on the riverbanks of the Squamish and Cheakamus Rivers, feasting on the ample salmon that either did not quite make it to the spawning channels, or have accomplished their life’s goal, and thus have met their subsequent demise. Working to preserve their energy in the winter months, eagles will eat up to a two pounds of this high value protein every day.
The highlight of the eagle-viewing period is the annual Bald Eagle Count, which will take place on January 8th this year and is headquartered out of the Brackendale Art Gallery. Using consistent methodology, a count of the eagles in the area on this weekend every year has been kept since 1986. In 1994 a world record 3769 eagles were counted within a few kilometers of the Squamish area and its tributary rivers.
Bad weather can be good for eagle viewing as the eagles tend to stay closer to the riverbanks and closer to viewing areas. When the weather is great, they are more likely to be off for a little fly around the rivers, mountains and forests of the Squamish area.
One of the best ways to see the Bald Eagles in their spectacular surroundings right in their own habitat is on an Eagle Float tour, or Eagle Safari through Canadian Outback Adventures. (www.canadianoutback.com) A dream experience for adventure travelers, photographers, families, schools and educational groups, it is the best way to get up close to these raptors without disturbing them. While they usually run white water rafting trips in the summer, in winter, Canadian Outback takes vacationers on float tours down the rivers in the area in order to see these spectacular birds in their natural habitat, all with stunning mountain and forest backdrops.
The closest accommodation to the prime eagle viewing area in Brackendale is the Sea to Sky Hotel & Conference Center (www.seatoskyhotel.com) on Highway 99 at Garibaldi Way. Excellent eagle viewing areas are only about a kilometer away. The hotel also offers discount ski packages to those traveling to ski or board at Whistler Blackcomb.
There are other good viewing areas in town, particularly along the river dykes at the end of Judd Road, and around the spawning channels between the Mamquam River and the Squamish Valley Golf and Country Club.
Directions: To see the eagles from arguably the best viewing area, turn west from Highway 99 at Garibaldi Way. This is a left hand turn if you are coming from Vancouver, or a right hand turn if you are coming from Whistler. Turn right again in about 20 metres at the T-junction with Government Road. Follow Government road for just under one kilometer, and you will be at the Eagle Viewing area. There is lots of parking on the right and an interpretive center on the dyke from which you can get a great view of dozens of Bald Eagles. If you are very lucky, there may also be a few seals around, as well as a variety of other bird species. On weekends from December to mid-February there are often volunteers from Squamish’s Eagle Watch program on have to offer more information and a peek through higher powered telescopes. Other great viewing areas are near the Tenderfoot Fish Hatchery, The Squamish Estuary, and near the Spawning channels between the Mamquam River and the Squamish Valley Golf and Country club.
Squamish is an outdoor recreation Mecca with thousands of rock climbing routes, hundreds of kilometers of Mountain Bike trails, a dozen excellent day hikes, some of the best windsurfing and kite-surfing on the west coast of North America, excellent white water rafting or kayaking, and scuba diving in Howe Sound. For the less adventurous, there is fishing, 3 scenic golf courses, walking trails, beaches and lakes, and sailing available. The new Squamish Adventure Center was recently opened on Highway 99.