January 01, 2016

River rafting with the eagles in Brackendale

Every winter, Brackendale hosts one of the largest populations of bald eagles on the planet. Starting in mid-November and continuing through February thousands of eagles gather to feed on salmon that spawn in the glacier-fed waters of the Squamish and Cheakamus rivers.

People come from all over the world to the Squamish area, and specifically to Brackendale, to see the eagles. Most often, people walk along the shore of the river and see a great many of these magnificent birds. Sunwolf offers the unique opportunity to view the eagles from the vantage point of the river itself, and it was one we couldn't pass up.

First things first of course: getting dressed properly. Rain gear, including rubber boots, is essential at this time of year, and it was all part of the rafting package. Jeem posed briefly in his slightly smallish rain gear, only to end up discarding them before the rafting in order to experience the cold and damp on a more personal level. In hindsight, this might have been in error.

Sherry meanwhile, was outfitted in a stylish combination of colours and fabrics, including a wonderfully appropriate orange PFD.

Our guide was the charming and highly knowledgeable Jill-Marie. She loves her work and it shows. Her passion for the ecology and security of the river and its inhabitants was inspirational. Jill-Marie was more fashionably attired than the rest of us, and we were all jealous of course.

After the signing of waivers, getting properly outfitted (except for Jeem), and a comprehensive safety-on-the-river session, eight of us boarded the "raft" and began our float down the river.

It was a cloudy day, dry and cool with an air temperature just above freezing. It wasn't long before we saw eagles, many eagles.

Females are much larger than males, in fact, sometimes up to 20 percent larger. Canadian eagles, especially those from the west coast, are considerably larger than those from the United States, and it has a great deal to with the abundance of food, especially salmon, here in BC.

The wingspan of an adult female cane be two metres from tip to tip. Jeem, the tallest of this day's river rafting group, is 1.82 metres, and that's only if he takes a deep breath.

The juveniles are not as attractive as the adult birds. Think back to your teen-aged years for an appropriate reference point. With age comes natural beauty, in spite of what we think when we are young. It's the same with eagles.

We gently glided down river, with Jill-Marie as captain and guide. Midway through our river journey Jill-Marie poured each of us a cup of hot cocoa which we enjoyed as we quietly contemplated the beauty of this wonderful place.

                                                                            Upon our return to Sunwolf, we warmed up in the lodge with hot chilli, coffee and tea, and talk of eagles and the river. It was a great experience and highly recommended.

Photos by Jeem. Copyright 2015/2016 by Jim Murray.

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