Photos can be viewed at:
Click on the “Harrison Bald Eagle Tour Dec 2003” album
Mission and Harrison Hot Springs area 60 miles east of Vancouver BC
Small turn out for what would be a great day. Just my daughter Samantha and myself. After a few weeks of West Coast winter, we found ourselves at the start of what would be a very warm Autumn day. The sun was out to warm up the bones, and the previous week's cold wind had been replaced by almost short sleeve temperature...well, almost.
We loaded up the cooler with subs and drinks, and left Mission on a slow pace looking for any thing with 4 legs or feathers. We didn't have to go far, as we only got a mile out of Mission before we noticed waterfowl meandering in an old oxbow of the Fraser River. Hatzic Lake is a short loop of water that is over run with small cabins and trailers used as summer and year round retreats by cityfolk.
This time of year it is fairly quiet on the small lake, and many feathered species were enjoying the solitude. In the centre of the lake several Male Common Mergansers floated sedately, keeping a respective distance from a flock of larger, and crankier, Canada Geese. Close to the shoreline, the birds that first caught my eye angled away from my presence, but with the binoculars I was able to see that they were a group of Western Grebes. Scanning the far side of the shoreline I could make out a Great Blue Heron standing rock still on a semi-submerged log, waiting for a small fish to make the mistake of swimming too close.
Red Winged Blackbirds flitted over it's head but none broke the heron's concentration on the shallow water. Further up the road we pulled over at the side of Nicomen Slough, always a good place for spotting Bald Eagles. And we weren'tdisappointed. Here in this short stretch of shallow water we observed a dozen mature and juvenile Bald Eagles in the old Cottonwood trees lining the banks, and an estimated 40 other Bald Eagles scrounging on the mud banks for those "oh so" delicious carcasses of weeks old salmon.
Mixed in with the eagles were the ever present seagulls, and numerous types of other water fowl. As we were right on the edge of Hwy #7, the smaller ducks do not like all of the traffic noise. In order to view those ducks Samantha and I drove down the highway a couple of miles, then turned off onto a small side road that took us past farmer's fields and along side the slough in a much more isolated section. Here we were rewarded with a treasure trove of feathered friends.
The Bald Eagles were absent from this stretch, as the water is deeper here, with no sand bars for the Eagles to land on. Instead we were kept busy going from the water to our bird book to identify all of the birds gathered here. Male and female Hooded Mergansers with their crested hoods eyed us warily, while large flocks of Mallards swam in tight circles. Across the slough, a half dozen Trumpeter Swans from Alaska claimed a small section of an indent in the shorline. All up and down the slough I saw many types of fowl, so many so, that I said to Samantha that this was the most I have spotted in one area in a long time.
Greater Scaups swan in pairs, Common Mergansers mimicked each other's movements in mating rituals, American Coots stuck together in their small area, and a dozen or so Buffled Head languished in a small flock. Even a few Grebes didn't mind mixing with several American Widgeons. Off on a submerged log a family of six Brandt Cormorants took turns diving into the waters looking for lunch. They must be the bad boys of the neighbourhood, cause most of the ducks gave them a wide berth.
Back on Hwy #7 we ran a few more miles east to the hamlet of Deroche, but before we crossed the bridge over the slough, I took another one of those indescript side roads that paralleled the Fraser River until the road came to the end of the dike, and the road then led through a wooded section onto the wide open banks of the Fraser River.
Here the Fraser is mostly gravel beds washed down from mountains hundreds of miles away. The sediment deposited by the river in this section is said to be over one mile deep! On the far bank we could see two immature Bald Eagles fighting over a prize, while some ducks watched in amusement. Up and down the river trailer sized boats trolled the river hoping for a lucky strike by hungry salmon, or even better, a Sturgeon...those guys grow up to 20 feet long and live over 100 years. But the sturgeon stocks have been hard hit, and most of the time the catch and release program finds only 6 footers.
Back in the Jeep again, with the warm sunshine on our faces, we cruised up Hwy #7 to the Harrison Mills area. This is THE premier area to go Bald Eagle watching in the Fraser Valley.
While Squamish counts more eagles, here they are far more accessible to visitors.
We first took a saunter up Morris Valley Road along side the section of the Harrison River called Chehalis Flats. This 2 or 3 mile section of wide open mud flats mixed with low water marsh and small side channels are a bonanza to bird watchers like me!
Here near the back road in the shallow channels were thousands of dead salmon, and the ever present sea gulls were numerous both in their numbers and voices. Over head on low hanging branches a couple of Kingfishers observed the water from their vantage points. Further along in the quieter pools Green Winged Teal and Blue Winged Teal (small puddle ducks) rested among the remnants of an old beaver dam.
Back down the road and onto Hwy #7 we went, this time for only half a mile. We stopped at the Harrison Bridge which spans the Harrison River, and parked by the side of the road. The Chehalis mud flats are just up stream from the bridge and are about half a mile wide, and not quite a mile in length , and from this vantage point we were rewarded with a wonderous view.
From here we could see a myriad of ducks, too numerous to count. But we did count the Bald Eagles...over 100 in this spot alone!! Samantha had been keeping count of all the eagles we had seen throughout the day, and Samantha stated that between the eagles here, the group on Nicomen Slough, and many smaller groups observed along today's route, the tally was over 400 Bald Eagles ! WOW !Not to be out done, large flocks of Mallards, Common Mergansers and Hooded Mergansers vied for their share of space.
Our next stop was at the small historic site of Kilby Beach. This was the site of a small train stop in the early 1900's that grew into the main community in the area. There was even a ferry service that brought farmer's dairy goods from Chilliwack across the river to the train for transportation into the market place of Vancouver.
At the beach we once again were awed by the sheer number and variety of birds. Besides the Kings of the air, (more Bald Eagles), we saw a flock of Trumpeter Swans, large flocks of Buffleheads, Scaups, Mallards, Sea Gulls, American Coots, and even an acrobatic flock of Sandpipers rolling and weaving through the air; first showing their dark upper body, then their white under sides, all meant to confuse an air borne predator.
This was the planned end of the tour, and I again made the comment to Samantha that I have never seen so many birds as we did today. Literallythousands, all in just a few miles worth of driving.
However, we still had some day light left, and as some of you know, I have trouble knowing when to quit,
Slollicum Falls are comprised of 4 steps, each situated in such angles that to see all four you have to walk back and forth on the road to different vantage points. We had a wander around the area looking at the different sections of the falls, checked our time, and then headed back down the FRS towards Harrison Hot Springs. We stopped along the shoreline of Harrison Lake to identify a pair of Common Golden Eye mixing company with a pair of Gadwalls, smaller sized ducks.
Continuing on our return journey, we made stopover at Sasquatch Park. This park consists of two medium sized lakes and 3 popular camp grounds. For me, the delight in the area comes from the history.
This area was the site of one of the large "camp shows" from turn of the century; the road on which we drove into the park is an old railroad bed used when a steam engine called a Shay used to pull rail cars full of logs out of the bush down to Harrison Bay, actually a large opening on the Harrison River.
Occasionally you can spot large stumps with spring board notches where "spring boards" had been placed on the tree trunk so that the loggers could stand a few feet above ground level and swing the axe or bucksaw into a smaller diameter section of the trunk.
It was very picturesque driving along the road, as various types of moss hung off of the tree branches showing their brilliant greens. Deeper into the park we came across Hicks Lake and Deer Lake, quiet now, but echoes of the summer crowd still played across the cool glacier carved lakes.
We opted for the long route home, and headed for the small town of Agassiz, and the long bridge over the Fraser River. We meandered alongside farmer's fields and houses, many with Dutch names on the mail boxes, eventually ending up in the small town of Chilliwack. The same town that a few hours ago we had been directly across the Fraser River from while at Kilby Beach.
Taking a couple of main thorough fares brought us back to the freeway, and a dead head run to Abbotsford, then south once again to cross the Fraser River to Mission, and westwards home to Maple Ridge.
Samantha and I had a GREAT day; the weather was fantastic, the sights we had seen were beautiful, and we got our fill of Bald Eagles and migratory waterfowl which was the purpose of the whole trip.
Every winter I go out several times to watch the Bald Eagles, and each time out they give me a great show. Whether watching a flock in the distance, or having a Bald Eagle in a tree 20 feet above my head stare me down with their fierce golden eyes, I am always in awe.