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Making-Tracks

Eagle-eyed viewing is for the birds when you don't have a camera with you

'Shoulda' brought a camera

This tale of competitive eagles is part four of a four-part mini-series called Adventures with Wildlife. You can still read part one about a seal attack in Broughton Archipelago Marine Provincial Park, part two about a close encounter with a humpback whale and part three about a famished grizzly here.

The final tale begins on the drive to Port Hardy on the northern tip of Vancouver Island, where the Sheriff and Constant Companion Carmen planned to take a water taxi over to God's Pocket Marine Provincial Park for a week of kayaking.

The drive was past wildfire damage in the Coastal Mountains, so the Sheriff took a few photos while Constant Companion Carmen drove. When they stopped to refuel, the camera was hidden under the passenger seat for security.

After settling in at the Port Hardy hostel, they went for an evening stroll and were surprised to see several bald eagles perched in the treetops. And then more eagles, both bald and the non-bald juveniles.

"I shoulda brought the camera," said the Sheriff, a phrase he would repeat numerous times during their after-dinner outing and then on their kayak excursion.

As they walked along the waterfront, there seemed to be bald eagles everywhere. Shoulda. As they gazed around in amazement, a mature eagle swooped down over the water, snatched a large fish and landed on a long rocky outcropping offshore. Shoulda.

Two juveniles were also watching from nearby trees and almost as a tag team, they launched into the air, one landing on the rocky outcropping on one side of the successful fisher and one on the other. Shoulda.

One juvenile would approach the fisher eagle, which would turn to fend the other bird off. Then, the second juvenile would approach from the other side, both of them trying to grab the fish while the fisher eagle was distracted. Shoulda.

While this intricate dance was unfolding, a more mature juvenile in an overhanging tree waited for his opportunity. When the fisher eagle darted to one side or the other chasing the interlopers, the fourth eagle in the tree quietly launched, cruised down and grabbed the fish. The original three continued their waltz unaware the object of their attention was already gone. Shoulda.

The fourth eagle headed across the water but perhaps, his ill-gotten gains were too heavy a load. The fish was suddenly dropped and splashed back into its watery home. The fourth eagle, perhaps embarrassed at this unfortunate turn of events, did not return to his roost, but left the immediate area.

Meanwhile, the duelling trio looked around and discovered their mutual loss. The two juveniles recognized a lost cause and took off for greener pastures. The fisher eagle was confounded, walking up and down looking for his prize that he so vigorously defended. Returning to his original landing spot, he pecked at the rocks on this side, that side, absolutely sure it must be somewhere. Too funny. One final shoulda.

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And that memorable tale leads into this week's Secret Okanagan Spot in the SOS series. One of the pair’s favourite outings is to the UBCO and Quail Ridge trails on the west side of the Kelowna campus. The main trailhead is at the end of a dead-end road off Discovery Avenue between the day-care building and Upper Campus Health.

The Pine Trail heads north and connects to Quail Flume Trail which ends at Quail Crescent in Quail Ridge. It was formerly a favourite horseback riding area before the campus was built. Just before reaching the Quail Ridge trailhead, Eagle View Trail leads back south parallel to but downhill from Quail Flume Trail.

Watch for orange flagging tape on your right about 200 metres from the Quail Ridge trailhead. If you line up several pieces of flagging tape on bushes, you will see a huge tree on the far side of a powerline. Two-thirds of the way up the tree is a large bald eagle nest, home to two mature birds and possibly their chicks.

Local residents say the juveniles flap up and down Eagle View Trail as they learn how to fly. If you walk or bike further south on Eagle View Trail, you will see large dead trees on the south edge of a pond where the eagles like to perch, perhaps watching for any coots in the pond. The Kelowna landfill is on the far side.

Pam Laing, birder with the Central Okanagan Naturalists' Club, wrote the following for the Lake Country Museum and Archives:

"In our valley, winter is one of the best times to see bald eagles but did you know that the Kelowna landfill is one of the best places to see them? Every January, members of CONC conduct a survey of the numbers of both eagles and swans with the dump being a prime viewing opportunity for the volunteers who take part. One January, I counted 12 eagles there!"

Bald eagles are, of course, easily recognized even by non-birders, she said.

"With their large size and the distinctive white head and tail, they have an obvious presence both in the skies and perched. Their bodies are over 30” long (three quarters of a metre) but it is the wings that most impress, reaching out like planks in the sky to an impressive six feet six inches (two metres). Eagles soar overhead with their wings almost flat, and when they actively fly their wingbeats are floppy and slow, very like that of a great blue heron."

It takes four to five years for eagles to reach full breeding maturity with the familiar white head and tail. First-year birds are very dark all over, second-year birds are more mottled showing much more white on back, belly and wings, while third-year birds have a dark eyestripe accented by white above and below the eye. The enormous beak gradually changes colour from black to bright yellow as the bird matures. Female eagles are slightly larger than males, she said.

"Bald eagles build large obvious nests of sticks and vegetation, deeply lined with finer materials, and maintain them for many years. Their nest is 'a durable playpen' for the young, which do not all hatch at the same time. It is not uncommon for the youngest to die, and often only one or sometimes two chicks are raised. Bald eagles mate for life, and both tend the nest and feed the young. Their favourite food is fish, especially salmon, often dead or dying, but they also take small mammals or birds, especially water birds such as coots.

"You will often see bald eagles in winter sitting in a lakeside tree watching a raft of American coots, probably picking out which one to attack for lunch! It’s exciting to watch the flurry when the eagle finally makes the attempt."

The South Okanagan SOS is this bench with a panoramic view of Skaha Lake near the KVR Bridge in Okanagan Falls. It's just around the corner from Lions Park, last week's SOS in Okanagan Falls.

This article is written by or on behalf of an outsourced columnist and does not necessarily reflect the views of Castanet.



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About the Author

J.P. Squire arrived in the Okanagan Valley from flatland Chatham, Ont. in the middle of the night in the spring of 1980. Waking up in the Highway 97 motel, he looked across the then-four-lane roadway at Mount Baldy and commented: "Oh my God, there's mountains." Driving into downtown Kelowna, he exclaimed: "Oh my God, there's a lake."

The rest is history. After less than a month in Kelowna, he concluded: "I'm going to live here for a long time." And he did.

Within weeks and months, he was hiking local hillsides, playing rec hockey at Memorial Arena and downhill skiing at Big White Ski Resort. After purchasing a hobby farm in the Glenmore Valley in 1986, he bought the first of many Tennessee Walking Horses. After meeting Constant Companion Carmen in 1999, he bought two touring kayaks and they began exploring Interior lakes and B.C.'s coast.

The outdoor recreation column began with downhill ski coverage every winter as the Ski Sheriff but soon progressed to a year-round column as the Hiking, Biking, Kayaking and Horseback Riding Sheriff.

His extensive list of contacts in Okanagan outdoor recreation clubs, organizations and groups means a constant flow of emails about upcoming events and activities which will be posted on Castanet every Sunday.

You can email the Sheriff at: [email protected].



The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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