It’s easy to feel inspired to explore the great outdoors when the weather is hot and the sun is shining. It’s a little harder to feel like bonding with Mother Nature when there’s a chill in the air and the rain is coming down. But there’s an important reason to get outside this fall and winter: The eagles have arrived.

Every fall, tens of thousands of bald eagles flock to British Columbia’s rivers to feast on spawning salmon. From November to January, these majestic birds fill the branches of riverside trees and congregate on sand flats. And there are two prime viewing locations in BC – both within two hours’ drive of Vancouver – where it’s possible to get up close and personal with hundreds to thousands of eagles at a time.

Brackendale
This small community between Squamish and Whistler is a prime eagle viewing location thanks to its position along the Squamish River. Peak eagle viewing season in Brackendale is mid-December to mid-January, when hundreds of eagles converge on the area.

For 27 years, the Brackendale Art Gallery has sponsored an annual eagle count on the first Sunday in January and an eagle festival that runs all month long. Volunteers at the 2013 count spotted 804 eagles in and around Brackendale. That may seem like a lot of eagles, but it pales in comparison to 1994, when almost 4,000 eagles were spotted in the area – the world record for that year. The number hasn’t topped 1,000 since 2007, but with hundreds of eagles in the area, visitors are unlikely to leave without spotting some of these massive birds of prey.

The main eagle viewing area in Brackendale is located on the municipal dyke across from the Easter Seals camp. An interpretive display explains how the salmon and eagles are connected and why they return each fall and winter, and Eagle Watch volunteers are on hand throughout the season to answer questions and help show visitors how to spot eagles up in the trees. More adventurous eagle watchers can book an eagle float tour in a river raft for a chance to get closer to the eagles feeding on salmon in the river.

The 2014 eagle count is scheduled for Sunday, January 5, with festival events happening at the Brackendale Art Gallery throughout the month.  Visit www.brackendaleartgallery.com for more information about the eagle count and festival, or www.tourismsquamish.com/activities/eagle-viewing-floats for information about taking a river raft eagle viewing tour.

The Fraser Valley
Like Brackendale, the Fraser Valley hosts an annual eagle count and festival. But while numbers in Brackendale have been down in recent years, they’re climbing in the valley. The 2012 count set a record for the area, with more than 7,000 eagles spotted over one weekend in November. The trees are dotted with birds, and the gravel shorelines where salmon are most abundant become feasting grounds where eagles congregate to gorge on the abundant fish.

The eagles can be spotted from land, for free, if you head to the right spot. Pretty Estates Resort offers a public eagle viewing platform at its Sandpiper Golf Course in Harrison Mills, and another viewing platform can be found at Eagle Point Community Park. During the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival, Tapadera Estates and Harrison River RV Resort also offer public eagle viewing opportunities in the Harrison Mills area.

But there really is no better way to see the eagles in the Fraser Valley area than by taking a boat trip on the river. Several companies offer tours in covered, heated jet boats, with most leaving from Harrison Mills or Harrison Hot Springs.

The 2013 Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival takes place November 16—17, with events scheduled from Mission to Harrison Mills. The official “Season of the Eagles” continues into December, with a different featured viewing area each weekend.

Visit www.fraservalleybaldeaglefestival.ca to learn more about the festival, featured viewing areas and jet boat tours.

Armchair Viewing: Live Eagle Cams 
If you simply can’t make it out to view the eagles in person, you can still catch a glimpse of these majestic creatures on one of the many live eagle cams set up throughout British Columbia and across North America. The Hancock Wildlife Foundation maintains a page with links to more than a dozen cameras in BC and many more across the continent. Go to hancockwildlife.org and click on “Live Cameras.”

Christina Newberry is the editor of Ageless Living Magazine.

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