A Gathering of Eagles Harrison Mills, British Columbia

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by Chris Millikan | Photo © Christian Sasse

Attracted by millions of salmon spawning in two Fraser River tributaries, thousands of bald eagles descend on rural Harrison Mills for a winter banquet. And day-trippers flock to witness these extraordinary migrations unfolding just east of Vancouver, B.C.

The Fraser Valley’s Bald Eagle Festival celebrates this spectacular natural phenomenon in mid-November. Eagle viewing, guided nature walks, photography tours, exhibits and expert speakers, like renowned Canadian biologist David Hancock, have entertained and educated nature lovers for twenty years. And salmon barbeques delight the palates of hungry visitors.

With binoculars, scan vast marshlands along Morris Valley Road for eagle spotting. The junction of the Chehalis and Harrison Rivers forms unique spawning grounds for five salmon species and steelhead. Between mid-October and late February, these extensive ‘flats’ provide one of the last feeding areas of its kind for bald eagles. Here, wintering migrants pack on weight, rest and socialize before their springtime return to breeding grounds in northern British Columbia, the Yukon and Alaska.

For more raptor rapture, the gazebo at Pretty Estates is one of several established sites for observing eagles in action. A well-signed forested pathway leads to the observation platform equipped with powerful telescopes focusing on eagle activity all along the Harrison River. Dwarfing most birds of prey, their dark bodies, bright white heads and tails are easily distinguished, even from afar. Watch and marvel as hundreds of majestic adults and mottled juveniles gather to preen on snags, strut in the shallows and heartily gorge.

An estimated 500 bald eagles arrive daily; seasonal numbers peak at 5,000 to 8,000 birds by mid-December, the largest concentration of eagles seen anywhere in the world.

For closer encounters, take a safari. Board a 20-passenger jet boat near Kilby Historic Site. Upriver from Harrison Bay, ease quietly into the bustling Chehalis Flats Bald Eagle & Salmon Preserve, windows open for bird watching, cameras ready.

Magnificent eagles swoop above the waters, floating effortlessly on two-meter wingspans held straight out, yellow talons poised. Some perch haughtily on islets of reedy tufts; others scan the shallows for dinner.

Listen as the captain and guide spin countless eagle stories, facts and details. Hear why this estuary’s nickname is “salmon central.” And learn why, in 2010, international conservation organizations designated the Harrison as one of North America’s most ecologically significant watersheds.

This and more await you around Harrison Mills every fall.