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Gallery: Bald eagles gather in B.C.’s Fraser Valley for salmon feast

Attracted by a healthy salmon run, bald eagles from across North America travel to Harrison Mills

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Thousands of bald eagles are gathering in the Harrison Mills area thanks to a healthy salmon run in the Fraser Valley.

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The eagles come from across western North America from as far south as Arizona and as far north as Alaska, biologist Richard Cannings said. “It seems like word gets around quickly in the eagle population where good fishing is to be had,” said Mr. Cannings.

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But Mr. Cannings was quick to add that the feathered congregation at Harrison Mills does not necessarily signal growth in the bald eagle population. “Eagle populations are often mobile, so it’s often hard to assess the overall population based on reports from a small area,” he said.

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Harrison Mills is just one concentration point for bald eagles, along the Squamish and Cheakamus Rivers north of Vancouver. But Mr. Cannings said bald eagles there tend to gather later in winter, starting in mid-December.

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“It all depends on the timing of the salmon runs,” Mr. Cannings said, adding it is hard to say how well eagle populations are doing until they are counted in other areas. “If it turns out that all the eagles in British Columbia turned out into the Fraser Valley instead of being spread out more, then it would be less of a cause to celebrate.”

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Jo-Anne Chadwick, president of the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival, said on Monday about 3,000 bald eagles are in the area 90 minutes east of Vancouver, and the number is likely to increase as the weather cools in Alaska and drives more of the birds south. “The numbers recorded at the time of this year’s festival were very much in line with other years,” Ms. Chadwick said. The festival ran over two weekends last month.

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Historically, the biggest numbers of bald eagles came from the Squamish area, but Mr. Cannings said that lately those numbers have been lower, probably because salmon runs have declined there.

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The bald eagle population has rebounded in the past 40 years. “It’s one of the good news stories of bird conservation,” Mr. Cannings said. “Not just bald eagles but every kind of hawk and eagle.”

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