Saturday, December 8, 2012

EAGLE WATCHING, HARRISON MILLS: DAY 3


Today turned out to be one of those highlights that I'll never, ever forget. I took a boat safari on the Harrison River to see the Bald Eagles that gather every fall to feed on the salmon carcasses that litter the waterway after spawning.

Eagles were everywhere: on beaches, gravel bars, and atop pilings. They roamed the log booms in Harrison Bay and the wetlands just east of Pretty Estate Resort. They filled the bare trees, soared in the sky, and bickered over one piece of salmon when there were dozens all around them. I heard them mew, whistle, cluck, and shriek, we got so close. I lost count after several hundred!

Earlier I had chipped the ice off my windshield before I drove to Kilby Historic Site where I met the boat from Fraser River Safari, the company leading the safari, and signed my waiver. The boat is ideal: large, with huge windows that open, and it's heated, which was a bonus. I was glad to be in my hiking boats as we crunched across the gravel and sand to reach the beach under the railway bridge where the boat was waiting.

Rob and Jo Anne Chadwick were a great team. Rob piloted the jet boat with skill and understanding of the many photographers aboard. Jo, his wife, did the commentary, and did it well. We learned about the river and its history, the local First Nations, the logging and fishing industries that began in the 1850s and still continue today. But she excelled with her knowledge of eagle habitat, migration south to feed, life cycle, and behaviours.

Fresh snow caked the mountain peaks and the sun highlighted them all morning.  The steel-grey river was higher than usual for December and was running fast, full of the pouring rain of the last few days. The light was not as bright as I hoped and photography was a huge challenge. To prevent camera shake and to stop the motion of the birds, I had to use a high ISO and a wide open aperture of f4.5, the widest I could get my long telephoto lens. Even then the fastest shutter speed was only 1/500th. Still it worked reasonably well, producing one decent shot in about seven, and one in ten that was great.

We saw the confluence of the Mighty Fraser and the Harrison River and then turned around and made our way up the Harrison as far as the rapids. Rob beached the boat on a gravelbar so we could see the remains of the salmon left by the eagles having eaten their fill. Gorged, would be a better word! They don't leave much behind for nature to decompose.

My three-day winter getaway deep in the Fraser Valley of British Columbia gave me a taste for the cycle of nature that has been occurring here from time immemorial, a touch of luxury at Rowena's Inn, and some gourmet food at the River's Edge. Highly recommended!

IMAGES: (c) Photos by Pharos 2012. All rights reserved


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