While most people think that wildlife viewing is an activity best reserved for warm summer months, there is one species that is most prominent and accessible over the winter in BC – bald eagles. Bald eagles follow salmon to the rivers and shorelines around BC to feed on them once their life cycle is complete. They can often be spotted nesting in trees, feeding on fish along the water’s edge, and flying gracefully in the skies above. If you’re hoping to catch a glimpse of these impressive creatures, here are a few spots near Vancouver to visit, recommended by the staff at the British Columbia Visitor Centre @ Peace Arch.
Located approximately 30 minutes east of Mission along scenic Highway 7, Harrison Mills boasts one of the world’s largest gatherings of bald eagles. Eagles come to the Chehalis Flats Bald Eagle and Salmon Preserve for the opportunity to feed on the returning salmon and roost over the winter. While eagle observers are welcome to the area anytime, the 20th Annual Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival, held November 21st and 22nd, will offer education, nature tours, expert speakers and more. There are even prizes to be won. Several sites will be open to the public during the festival, including the Eagle Point Park Observatory, Pretty Estates Observatory and Harrison River RV Resort. Visitors are also welcome to visit the Inch Creek Fish Hatchery, Kilby Historic Site and the Exhibitor’s Fair at Leq’a:mel. Programs will be available at the Mission Information Centre, or visit the festival’s website.
For a more up close and personal experience, you can reserve a spot on one of the Fraser River Safari eagle viewing boat tours. These heated boats take you right out on the water to enjoy the eagles. This is a popular tour, so reservations are strongly recommended.
Brackendale is perhaps the most well known eagle viewing area in the Vancouver area. Located just a few minutes north of Squamish on the Sea-to-Sky Highway, Brackendale is home to several thousand eagles that spend their day by the Squamish River searching for food. The best spot to view them is from the Eagle Run at Brackendale Eagles Provincial Park – right across the street from the Easter Seals camp (from Highway 99, turn onto Mamquam Road then head north on Government Road). Volunteers are there on weekends to help educate visitors about eagles and the salmon that they feed on. Eagle viewing prime time is mid-December to mid-January, but they usually start showing up in the area in mid-November.
If watching from the shore isn’t your thing, Sunwolf rafting company will take you on a float trip down the river to see the eagles even closer. Be warned … the salmon can make it a smelly trip, but it’s totally worthwhile!
A little closer to home is Boundary Bay Regional Park in Delta. This park is a well-known, year-round birding hot spot just outside of Vancouver that boasts several species of birds – so make sure you bring your camera and binoculars. If you park near Centennial Beach, you can enjoy a gentle walk along the 12th Avenue Dyke Trail (and back – it’s not a loop trail). When you have the option to take the Raptor Ridge Trail, do that (note – not accessible for wheelchairs or strollers like the rest of the park is) and follow the narrow trail until you come across the viewing platform. From there you’ll get a (pardon the pun) birds-eye view of the park. Eagles routinely make their home here, and it’s not uncommon to see several of them perched in trees (I’ve seen 17 in one tree) or hanging out on the shore.
So venture outside of the city to see eagles in their natural habitats and marvel at their strength, grace and beauty!
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