Jaillan Yehia

Regal Eagles – Or Why bird watching isn’t just for grandmas

Written by Jaillan Yehia

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Eagle at Harrison River

Eagle at Harrison River

It’s interesting how age and experience changes what we want from our travels. But whether you’re 18 or 80 surely the point of travel is to try something new, and revel in the revelations it brings.

If you’d asked me just a few years ago if bird watching was on my must do list I’d have to be honest and say my natural reaction wasn’t all that positive; a perception of Bill Oddie, Sunday teatime TV shows and dorkily-clad older folks sporting binoculars and sitting quietly clutching an illustrated book of bird species. As crazy as it seems to me now, it just didn’t inspire me.

But two years ago the wonderful winged element of my South African safari changed that completely, meaning I jumped at the chance to spend a day surrounded by thousands of bald eagles in Harrison, BC.

Here’s why that day cemented my desire to be a committed twitcher….

Two years ago I was preparing to go on safari for the first time. I was ready to be wowed by the big cats, elephants and herds of impala that everyone sets out to see, but once in the bush I was surprised to find myself falling in love with the birds I spied from the jeep’s high ‘spotting seats’  –  and in fact I realised that the smaller wildlife is almost more captivating than the show stoppers. I fell especially for the humble female dung beetles, valiantly collecting and rolling piles of dung for their erstwhile lazy partners.

Bird watching, South African Style

Bird watching, South African Style

So with my eyes opened to the enjoyment of making out a small rare bird in a faraway tree, I was ready and willing to try and spot some eagles on my recent trip to British Columbia’s Harrison River. But honestly, I didn’t ‘spot’ a thing.

A wintry scene at Harrison

A wintry scene at Harrison

” ‘So can you guarantee I will see an eagle?’ customers often ask me” and with that my guide Tony simply gestures around at the startling number of eagles which pepper the trees along the riverbank, swoop through the skies above and nest and rest in every branch deep behind the water’s edges, as far as the eye can see and in absolutely every direction your head can physically turn.

A lone eagle

A lone eagle

To say the question is moot is a complete understatement – nothing can prepare you for the moment  you reach this pocket of the Harrison River, known to the expert eagle watchers and sport fishing folks at Harrison Eco Tours, and increasingly to international tourists, as one of the world’s foremost eagle-watching areas.

With this many eagles in a single tree it's easy to see why this is a perfect place to view these birds

With this many eagles in a single tree it’s easy to see why this is a perfect place to view these birds

The reason is that each autumn millions of salmon return to the Harrison River to spawn and the yang to the yin of this natural wonder is the incredible migration of thousands of bald eagles who return annually to the Harrison area to feast on those salmon.

Eagle by water

It’s easy to spot eagles by the water’s edge

To honour this natural cycle the Fraser Valley Bald Eagle Festival was created nearly 20 years ago  –  centered in Harrison Mills, the area of the Harrison River where the water widens offering shallow gravel bars for the returning salmon – it celebrates the fact that you can see up to 10,000 birds feasting at this time, a number that’s almost impossible to imagine.

Harrison River

Harrison River

So, there are some moments in travel that stay with you – I’ll never forget the moment I rounded a street corner and came face to face with the leaning tower of Pisa in real life for the first time and my jaw dropped and my head tilted.

A similar thing happened in Amsterdam when I turned into a small street only to find Kylie Minogue gyrating on a pole on a makeshift stage (granted it was gay pride weekend).

My vantage point for the eagle-spotting

My vantage point for the eagle-spotting

I can now add to that list the moment I was surrounded by thousands of bald eagles on a crisp day on the Harrison River, seeing rare birds made as commonplace as pigeons in Trafalgar Square – it may not be the sort of thing that would have floated my boat at 18, but who wants to be 18 again anyway?

More Info

Eagles At Harrison Hot Springs

Eagles At Harrison Hot Springs

 

Harrison is a 90 minute drive from Vancouver BC and makes an ideal weekend or mid-week break from the city.

For more information about outdoor activities in Harrison including Eagle Watching visit the Tourism Harrison website or check out the list of outdoor activities offered by Harrison Eco Tours which vary seasonally, from kayaking and wildlife viewing to fishing and hiking.

For a taste of the accommodation at Harrison Hot Springs, visit the Harrison Hot Springs Resort website .

 

 

 

 

SavoirThere was a guest of Tourism Harrison


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