January 27, 2018 by Rokman61
Who can take note of, and not be impressed by this spectacular creature?
The ’72nd Street’ referred to in the title above is located in rural South Delta, BC. The story presented here takes place there, with the eagles having the role of principle characters.
The Bald Eagle is a fairly common bird on the Pacific Northwest coast, and can be encountered almost anywhere in the Lower Mainland. As I prepare this posting, the local Eagle population is rapidly building up, soon to be an epic wildlife happening of ‘National Geographic’ standard. Local birders are often bemused when passers-by notice our binoculars and helpfully ask and/or announce, “Did you see the eagle?”. I have the urge to respond with something like, “Only One? We don’t normally pay attention if there are less than a few dozen of them”. But I resist the temptation. The fact is, the Baldies are super abundant here in season. The Squamish and Harrison areas have long held ‘Eaglefests’, at which the birds can be observed scavenging on spawned-out salmon carcasses. A wonderful event, but for shear concentration of eagles, our local ‘eaglefest’ provides even more and closer viewing opportunites. I will elaborate.
On one dreary drizzly day last February (2017) I was sorting through a mass of seagulls, hoping to find a rarity (which just happens to be what birders do). Bald Eagles are such common fare that normally they don’t get much attention from ‘veteran’ birders. On this day they seemed to be particularly abundant, so I decided to do a rough count. Using my telescope I made a single wide pass across the open fields before me. I lost count at just under 400 individual birds! Clearly, this was something worth noting! How can such a concentration be explained?
The answer involves three aspects – timing, location, and the historical abundance of the species. I’ll discuss these in reverse order.
The Bald Eagle, an iconic bird familiar to most of us, is now a very common sighting in our region but has not always been so. Back in the 1960s they were almost wiped out by widespread use of DDT (which causes thinning of the birds’ egg shells, resulting in an inability to reproduce). Since the banning of DDT the population of eagles and other affected birds has rebounded, to the extent that Bald Eagles are now abundant and seem to still be increasing. In recent winters there has been what can best be described as a ‘happening’ – a spectacular congregation of eagles like nothing seen here before. I refer to it as our ‘Eagle-in’.
The epicentre of the action is a commercial turf-growing farm on the Fraser Delta a few kilometres from Boundary Bay. Here is a typical view looking over the turf fields. (Click on image for larger view).
- Associated with the turf-growing operations is a major facility for composting green waste, which attracts gulls, starlings, and blackbirds as well as the eagles.
- A few kilometres to the north is the Vancouver Landfill (aka ‘the dump’), which offers similar fare to the same clientele.
- A few kilometres south of the turf farm are the extensive tidal mudflats of Boundary Bay, which harbour huge flocks of wintering ducks.
- Gulls and ducks in the area number in the tens of thousands. The eagles regularly overfly roosting flocks, causing them to take flight. Any bird that is injured, sick, or weak quickly becomes eagle dinner.
That’s often the second question asked, and one that is more difficult to answer. The local Christmas Bird Count in late December 2016 reported 1200 eagles for the entire count area, of which 778 were recorded in and around the landfill. These numbers must be somewhat excessive, because the birds move around during the day and there is no way of telling how many are counted more than once. In late February 2017 (as mentioned above) I attempted a count but lost my number at somewhere around 400 – and had not quite completed the full sweep! It is plausible that there may be as many as 1000 eagles in the near vicinity, and twice that many in the Lower Mainland.