Wintering eagles appear intent on keeping everyone guessing as this year's Brackendale Eagle Count — the 27th annual — draws near.
For the past five years, the number of bald eagles counted has failed to top 1,000, having fallen to a near-record low of 627 in 2011 before recovering slightly to 655 last year. That, after 16 straight years of more than 1,000, topping out at a record 3,769 in 1994.
This year, some 235 were counted in a single, recent Sunday in mid-December at the Eagle Run Dike, but for the past couple of weeks the numbers at that location have been down again — perhaps at least partly in response to the weather. Numbers seem to be higher on sunny days, organizer Thor Froslev said on Friday (Dec. 28).
As for other pre-count indicators, “as a matter of fact it does look better up the Elaho [Valley]. I've had friends come back from there saying there were hundreds,” Froslev said.
In the past, Froslev has speculated that the low numbers for the past few years might have been a result of lower salmon returns brought about by parasites from fish farms being transferred to native salmon — the eagles' primary food source. But he said he's making no predictions for eagle numbers for the count that's set for Sunday (Jan. 6).
“I have no idea; I never predict. I couldn't predict the last five-six years and I'm not going to try now,” he said.
Some 20, two-person teams of volunteer eagle counters will meet on Sunday between 8 and 9 a.m. at the Brackendale Art Gallery. They'll fan out to various locations in the Squamish, Paradise and Elaho valleys, with at least three pairs taking to the water via kayaks and rafts supplied by Sunwolf, Froslev said.
The group will reconvene at the BAG at 3 p.m., when Froslev and his team will tally up the numbers on a big chalkboard.
Froslev said organizers have noticed that in recent years, eagle numbers appear to be higher in mid-December than in early January. There's been some talk about the possibility of moving the count to earlier in the season.
“I don't know how important it is to our data that we do it the same day every year, but maybe the middle of December would be a better counting day,” Froslev said, adding that it's something to consider beginning in 2014.