Bald Eagles Beach Banquet at Anchor Point

A symbol of power and freedom for centuries, bald eagles in velvety plumage enjoy the beach banquet at Anchor Point
A symbol of power and freedom for centuries, bald eagles in velvety plumage enjoy the beach banquet at Anchor Point

Until the last decade, we never paid much attention to eagles.

Then the Vancouver Park Board built a BMX bike park in the small forest in our neighbourhood. And refused to close it to riders during the eagles’ nesting season.

Working with our neighbours Diana and Mike Seear, who are passionate about eagles and long-term volunteers for the Handcock Wildlife Foundation, in 2019 we succeeded in having the provincial government intervene and shut down the bike park until the eagles fledged. (Inconveniencing fewer than a dozen riders a week, JSYK.)

Magellan and I were keen to see eagles in a more natural habitat during our Alaskan photography trip with Backcountry Journeys.

Alaska is the bald eagle’s sanctuary—more than half of the world’s total population of this majestic bird lives here. Estimates indicate that Alaska is home to 70,000 eagles, with British Columbia having the second most, another 20,000. (Here they are, flaring and folding, at Anchor Point.)

That hasn’t always been the case.

Until 1953, Alaska offered a bounty on bald eagles. It’s estimated that for every $2 bounty that was paid for a pair of eagle legs, ten eagles were likely shot. Which equates to the death of more than 1,000,000 eagles over a 20-year period! As Mike says,

When the eagle biologist, David Hancock, performed his first surveys of bald eagle nests over 60 years ago, he found only three active nests in the whole of the Lower Mainland plus a few more in the Gulf islands. South of the border, where the bald eagle faced severe challenges, he could not find a single active nest. The widely predicted extinction of eagles finally produced action. Slowly, DDT bans, protection from hunting and the establishment of endangered wildlife legislation, allowed birds of prey, including eagles, to recover their numbers. Hancock Foundation now maintains records of more than 600 nests throughout the Lower Mainland.

Up in Alaska this year in late June, one night after dinner our small group drove fourteen miles out of Homer to Anchor Point, the most westerly point of the American Highway System.

Nestled at the junction of the Anchor River and its north fork overlooking Cook Inlet, Anchor Point is a favorite spot for local fishermen—and bald eagles.

Fishermen are allowed to clean their catch on the beach at Anchor Point and unlike in Homer, they can leave fish bones, entrails and scraps for the birds. This abundant food source, combined with the area’s natural habitat, make it ideal for bald eagles.

“The setting was so nice, and it wasn’t crowded. Mainly locals were out for an evening stroll with their cameras,” Magellan says. From Anchor Point, you can see three of the seven volcanoes bordering Cook Inlet. Mount Augustine which last erupted in 2006, Mount Redoubt which spewed in 2009, and Mount Iliamna, on which no eruptions have been recorded.

Magellan was especially excited because it was the first time using our new long lens with its two-times teleconverter. “It was remarkable how close we could get without feeling like we were interfering or disturbing the eagles.”

Summer daylight lingers in Alaska, freeing the night from darkness. Entertained by these stately birds, the hours slipped by.

Back in Vancouver, Diana and Mike Mike told us that last season there were 24 active bald eagle nests in Vancouver. Diana says the male eagle in Vanier Park Forest returned a month ago and has picked a mate. But the pair hasn’t settled on where to nest.

Like many Vancouver residents, the eagles are having a hard time with housing.

After the government intervention, the Park Board moved the eagles’ nest in Vanier Park Forest to an artificial platform a few hundred metres away. When the eagles rebuilt in the old cottonwood where their nest had been, the Park Board cut down the tree, saying it was rotting, as many are in this park. Adjacent to the forest, the cranes are reaching skyward for the humungous Sen̓áḵw development—a conglomeration of towers aiming to house more than 10,000 people on a tiny sliver of land, the highest tower soaring like an eagle to 59 storeys.

If we could speak eagle, Magellan and I tell them, “Stay in Alaska. Or find a winter nesting spot somewhere else in BC instead of Vancouver.”

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7 Responses

  1. What amazing birds and photos, thanks! I especially like the photo of the eagle stomping towards the gull.
    We live near the South SK River and have eagles visit our fence posts sometimes. The Canada Geese are still hanging around here, but just a few hardy ones.

    1. What would the eagles have to eat near you? We’ve read that farmers are concerned about them snatching young calves. But experts have refuted that. They say bald eagles can only lift between five and six pounds (2.3- 2.7 kilos) and up to ten pounds (4.5 kilos) if they come at an object with high speed.

      1. Hi Spice
        Bald eagles are not able to lift that much weight especially if they have to carry it up to a nest .
        A male is 7-9 lbs
        and at most can carry about 1.5 lbs
        A female 10-12 lbs and can carry about 2 pounds . If they have a strong wind and some speed perhaps 2.5 lbs. They are scavengers so will often be seen eating a large carcass and people make the mistake of thinking they have caught it.
        When the birds are eating dead fish carcasses at spawning time , they can often drag them quite a long way but not able to lift and fly away with it. Hope this answer helps,

        1. It certainly does, TY so much Diana. Good to hear from someone who knows.

          (I got my info from the Alaskan Dept of Fish and Game, which says: “The wings of an eagle need to support the eight to 12-pound bird as well as whatever the bird is carrying, and best estimates put the lifting power of an eagle at four or five pounds. But it’s not quite that simple.

          Lift is dependent not only on wing size, but on airspeed. The faster a bird (or plane) is flying, the greater the lift potential. An eagle that lands on the beach to grab a fish, and then takes off again, is limited to a smaller load than an eagle that swoops down at 20 or 30 miles an hour and snatches up a fish. That momentum and speed gives the bird the ability to carry more weight.”)

    1. Thanks Margie. It was such a thrill to be able to sit on the beach for a few hours and watch them feast. Every now and then a little skirmish would occur and an eagle would throw back its head and produce its raucous, high-pitched trill to ward off an intruder.

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