For all you bird lovers out there, the 24th annual Brackendale Winter Eagle Festival and count begins this January. Brackendale is a small community just a few minutes north of Squamish on the Sea-to-Sky Highway. If you’ve never been to this festival, it must be added to your list as one of the premier “wildlife go-to” events in British Columbia.
< This area holds the world record for the most bald eagles when volunteers counted nearly 4,000 eagles in a single day back in 1994. Many photographic opportunities can be had from the viewing areas along the Squamish, Cheakamus and Mamquam Rivers. One of the best places to view the eagles from land is the viewpoint on Government Road. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, a wildlife float tour can be taken to see not only the eagles, but bears, coyotes, deer and seals as well. Obviously, if you’re planning on a float trip, you’ll need to make sure your camera is protected with a rain cover or even packed in a hard shell watertight case during travel. The Squamish estuary is an excellent area to enjoy other birds as well. Turkey Vulture, chickadee, warblers and vireos are just but a sample of what can be viewed and photographed. The eagles can be seen from November to February as they follow salmon up the three rivers. The eagles come from all over the Pacific Northwest and can easily be seen feeding and perching along the banks. After a long day of photographing wildlife, stopping in at the sensational Brackendale Art Gallery is a must. You can cozy up to the fireplace and enjoy a hot bowl of soup, coffee or tea while being inspired by world-class art and photography. The gallery hosts several events such as slideshows, lectures, music and video presentations. Knowledgeable staff are always at hand and may just give you a tip on where to see wildlife off the beaten path if you ask nicely. On a personal note, my time at the festival was incredible. I was in awe as I watched 52 eagles perched in a single tree while one swooped over my head and a curious seal bobbed up and down in the water. I would recommend doing some Internet research before you go however. There are so many different events to participate in that you will need some sort of plan to get the most out of your stay. Perhaps it’s not too late to add your name to be an official eagle counter for 2011.