Patricia Conrad has never seen so many bald eagles along the lower end of the Cowichan River as it enters the estuary off Vancouver Island.
She said she counted 42 one day last week, with 13 in just one tree.
“One lady I talked to said she saw more than 50 take off at the same time from that area recently.
“I’ve never seen so many in my life and I almost drove off the road when I saw them all at the same time. It was a beautiful sight to see.”
The high number of bald eagles along the Cowichan River and its mouth to the sea is related to the annual late-fall chum and coho runs.
The latest bird count in the estuary conducted by the Cowichan Valley Naturalists Society, which has members conduct a bird count every Wednesday morning during the winter to count water birds and raptors in the area, in late November counted approximately 150 eagles there.
The eagles are expected to remain in the area for about another two weeks before the salmon runs end for the season.
Society member Derrick Marven said the people who do the bird counts only go to specific areas, so there may actually be as many as triple that number, or up to 450 bald eagles, currently in the area.
It has been quite a comeback for the bald eagle, which was on the verge of extinction just 40 years ago due to habitat destruction and degradation, illegal shooting, and the contamination of its food source, largely as a consequence of insecticides.
But Marven said the numbers are down from last year at this time, when up to 250 were counted in the Cowichan River and estuary areas.
“The salmon runs on the Cowichan River are not that good right now for a number of reasons,” he said.
“Many blame seals and sea lions, but it’s more likely the result of over fishing by humans and logging practices. If the salmons numbers continue to deteriorate, we’ll see less eagles coming here. They move great distances to find food sources.”