From an impressive count of over one thousand in 2014, to less than half that in 2016, the bald eagle count in Brackendale, British Columbia left many watchers concerned over the birds’ fate; but it’s good news this year, as the 2017 numbers jumped from a concerning 411 to 698, mainly thanks to the increase in wild salmon availability in the region.
Every year, over Christmas and during January, bird watchers converge on both Brackendale and Whistler to enjoy the migration of various bird species and to help count both the number of birds and the number of different species for scientific records. Occasionally, twitchers are treated to a rare find, such as white ptarmigan, bit it’s mostly the majestic, strong and beautiful bald eagle they come to see, fishing for salmon and stocking up on their energy reserves before continuing their migration.
Counting eagles and their avian counterparts is a mid-winter activity that takes place in various locations across North America each year, adding to the store of scientific knowledge about bird migration patterns and giving outdoor enthusiasts an exciting, fun and interesting activity to engage in during the frozen season. Even the harshest conditions don’t deter the really determined; this year, despite difficult conditions and several areas being completely inaccessible, there were several visitors to Upper Squamish – the site of the highest number of eagles spotted at 117 – who had to trek in by snowshoe or ski, rather than by car as in previous years. Nonetheless, the count went on and visitors enjoyed an adventurous brush with wild nature.
Squamish is one of the more popular destinations for visitors interested in joining the count, thanks to its central location, easy accessibility, and reasonable and plentiful accommodation options. Renowned for its natural beauty, and situated between Howe Sound and the foot of Mount Garibaldi, Squamish offers a beautiful and tranquil setting in which to pass some holiday time over winter.
While the festival runs from around Christmas right through to the end of January, the best times to visit are generally over the end of December and beginning of January, while the count is being taken. Remember to bring along a good set of binoculars, an up-to-date bird guide for identification – the eagles aren’t the only birds around – and your camera to document your sightings. Hiking or climbing to the viewing spots and strategically placed feeders can be quite strenuous activity, so don’t neglect to bring along some lightweight snacks for energy and enough water to rehydrate. Once at your spot, you will find yourself settling down for long periods, so make sure you have enough layered clothing to keep warm while not moving around. You may also want to bring a packed lunch.
The Brackendale Eagle Festival, which runs until the end of January, is only one of the activities available to winter visitors to Squamish, who can take advantage of the on average 26cm to 31cm snowfall during December and January, respectively, to explore the excellent Nordic Skiing terrain, join the snowshoeing at the summit of the Sea to Sky Gondola or take part in any number of winter sports and activities like snowmobiling, backcountry skiing and boarding, tubing and tobogganing and various others.
For those who prefer their vacation time in the warm, Squamish is an ideal destination, thanks to its prime location. The area is home to five provincial parks and the town boasts a variety of museums and sight-seeing activities. Howe Sound and Cat Lake provide hundreds of opportunities for water-sports activities in the summer, including kayaking, whitewater rafting, SCUBA diving, boating and sailing, while the surrounding parks and mountains offer unparalleled rock climbing, hiking, horseback riding, fishing and more. Hiking alone can keep visitors occupied for several days, with a massive network of hiking trails winding through the various provincial parks, and with challenging hikes like the Stawamus Chief on offer. There’s even the Squamish Valley Golf Club for those looking to walk the greens.
It’s not just physical activities, either, with a range of brewery tours, the Squamish Farmers’ Market, and various delightful restaurants to enjoy and wind down after a busy, fun and exciting day out in the natural wilds of Squamish.