Search for Bald Eagles ‐ Part I ‐ Lower Stave River

a bald eagle - haliaeetus leucocephalus - at the lower stave river in mission british columbia
Bald Eagle
(Haliaeetus leucocephalus)
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   Every Fall there are a considerable amount of Salmon that spawn in the various tributaries of the Fraser River. After spawning, the dead Salmon become great food for Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) and other species. There are many locations I visit every year in order to see the Salmon spawn including the Harrison River, Weaver Creek and the Lower Stave River in Mission, British Columbia. There aren’t usually many Eagles near Weaver Creek, but the Harrison and Stave Rivers are usually pretty good places to look for Eagles indulging in the Salmon feast.

   The photo above illustrates the one situation where adult Bald Eagles don’t seem all that afraid of someone approaching. I guess they know that people can’t climb trees quickly. I have seen a number of Eagles nearby feeding on Salmon on the ground – but as soon as they see you they take off. Those in the trees do not do this, but a bird up in a tree is not always a very interesting photo. This was the best Eagle photo I made on my first trip to the Lower Stave – but not exactly what I was after.

a harbour seal -phoca vitulina - catching salmon in the Lower stave river in mission british columbia
Harbour Seal
(Phoca vitulina)
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   The first time I visited the Lower Stave River this year was in early December. Standing near a swiftly flowing channel below the Dam, there was suddenly a surge of water moving upstream – this confused me initially. I couldn’t think what would be large enough to create it. Suddenly a lot of Salmon started leaping out of the water, a few flopped up onto the bank and this big Harbour Seal (Phoca vitulina) surged out of the water, caught one of the Salmon, and continued up stream with the fish hanging from its mouth. I was so shocked that I failed to do anything but stand there… a video or a few photographs would have been awesome. When I finally came to my senses I did make a photograph of the back of the seals head, but this is all I gathered from the encounter. VERY cool to see though – I never expected a Harbour Seal that far upstream, this far inland. I presume it ventured up the Fraser River and the Salmon were a meal well worth the trip.

Stay tuned for Part II!

Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma)

A wild Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma) stares down from a branch in Mission, British Columbia

northern pygmy-owl - glaucidium gnoma

Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma) (Purchase)

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   On Friday I drove out to the area searching for Bald Eagles to photograph. The Lower Stave River still has a lot of Salmon carcasses (and still some live Salmon) for the Eagles to feed on. There are also a ton of Seagulls, Great Blue Herons, and Ducks of all sorts. I still have not managed to get a “good” Eagle photo – but I am still working on it. There are a ton of Bald Eagles out in the Fraser Valley right now, so I will keep going out there for a while trying to get some of the shots that I have in my head (or totally different ones).

northern pygmy-owl (glaucidium gnoma)
Northern Pygmy-Owl
(Glaucidium gnoma)
-click to enlarge-

   Neither photo here is a Bald Eagle of course. So often I head out seeking a particular subject or photo, only to come home with completely different subjects. This is great, because even if I am not able to photograph the subject I am looking for – coming home with good photos of something else is nice. I think one of the many things I like about photography is you are just never quite sure what you are going to get.

   I had never seen a Northern Pygmy-Owl (Glaucidium gnoma) before but immediately recognized it. A very small Owl species, this guy was probably only 17cm (7 inches) high. Much much smaller in size than the other Owl I photographed recently, a Barred Owl. I really enjoy the glare it is giving, though I have no idea what it was looking at. I made several photos of this owl and I think the first one here is my favourite just because of the facial expression – it looks like it is about to kill something. More apparently in a larger version is the small smear of blood on its chest feathers, indicating this is not necessarily an idle threat.

   This was also one of my first set of photos using my new Canon 1.4x EF Extender II on my Canon EF 70-200mm f/4L IS USM Zoom Lens. This was handheld and I am quite happy with the early results from the combination of these two.

American Pika (Ochotona princeps taylori)

american pika ochotono princeps taylori on talus slope
American Pika
(Ochotona princeps taylori)
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   This is a photograph I made of an American Pika (Ochotona princeps taylori) yesterday on the Chain Lakes Trail in the Mount Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. I walked through the talus next to Bagley lake (4350 feet/1325 meters in elevation) and had not even thought about Pika until I heard the short squeaks of their warning calls. I could then see a few individuals scurrying from their rock perches to safety. This particular Pika came back out to sit on the rock, and I was able to slowly move closer to it to get this photograph. I took many, because you never know when wildlife is going to decide “okay, that is close enough!”. I was reminded of lectures on “Flight Initiation Distance” in University.

Pikas are not quite yet on the endangered species list, though they have come up for consideration recently. The talus slopes they inhabit must be at sufficient elevation to remain cool as the Pikas cannot tolerate warmer temperatures. Trouble is the talus operates a bit like an island, and if the environment becomes undesirable, the Pika can’t easily migrate to another. Climate change has been diminishing the available habitat and this may be one species lost early if the climate change continues. How quickly this may occur is some matter of debate.