Time 30 Aug, 2019 01:15 PM
User by james
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The white head is easy to spot in the moss-covered and leafless tree branches. Huge wings are silhouetted against the cloudy sky. Each bend of the river displays another tree dotted with these large raptors. Hundreds of bald eagles migrate south in the winter from Canada and Alaska in search of food to the cold glacier fed waters of the Skagit and Nooksack rivers of Washington State.

They feed on the winter run of chum salmon that arrives from November through January each year. The deep snows and cold temperatures farther north drive the birds to seek the milder climate of the northern reaches of the Pacific Northwest. I experience this natural wonder while running the Skagit river in a jet boat and the Nooksack river on a pontoon boat to see the most famous of birds.

Pushing the boat out to take a picture

The afternoon in Mid-December is cloudy, cool, and threatens rain. The forecast is for a three-hour window of dry conditions as I board the jet boat anchored to the muddy shore of Howard Miller Steelhead Park in Rockport. Wayne of Skagit River Guide Service helps the half a dozen photographers with their long lenses to board and pushed the boat off into the strong current.

Skagit River

The water is clear as we roar up the cold snow-fed river towards Marblemount in the North Cascades National Park. Eagles can be seen in the bare tree branches along the shore. There is an odour of rotting salmon as we slow to view these raptors feeding along the shoreline. After a run of only a couple of miles the large motor shuts down and a small quieter trolling engine is engaged. We float back downstream with the small engine helping to keep us in the current and away from the many snags, root balls and rocks.

Wayne knows this river well and gently puts the boat onto a gravel bar near a common feeding spot. The river deposits the dying salmon and their bodies onto the many gravel bars and the eagles feast on the flesh. Everyone is quiet as we watch a great blue heron wade toward an eagle feasting on a salmon.

The long-legged bird and his white-headed adversary fight over the delectable tiger striped fish. The heron first walks slowly by and when the eagle fails to leave, he turns and extends his long neck and beak screams at the raptor. The eagle with its talons firmly in the flesh of the fish seems unfazed and just stares at his challenger. The heron remains and pecks a morsel or two when the eagle looked away.

We work our way back and forth up river and down to watch the birds in their daily routine. Young eagles are common with their brown feathers just tinged with white. A golden eagle had been seen in the same area just the day before. The cloudy weather keeps the birds near the river. If the sun shines the raptors fly skyward to float on the thermals. I’m lucky, the rain held off till the end of my tour and the birds kept to their roosts till they spotted their next meal. I watch as they launch themselves into the air and extend their huge brown wings.

The adult eagles with their distinctive white heads and tails drop from their perches high in the branches of the nearby trees to swoop down and snag a smaller fish right from the river. The eagle uses his wings to break his descent as he nears the water. He extends his yellow talons and strikes the fish just below the surface. The bird quickly flaps back into the air and flies away to eat his meal on a nearby snag.

Nooksack River

The Nooksack River is a favourite of migrating bald eagles. The spectacular North Fork is the northernmost river in Washington, running milky with snowmelt from the glaciers on Mount Baker and Mount Shuksan in North Cascades National Park. The North fork is joined by the Middle and South forks as it winds through forests and farmlands on its way to Puget Sound, near Bellingham.

The water level of this river changes constantly in the winter and new obstacles, gravel bars, snags, and downed trees are everywhere. There are very few access points for boats and only very shallow draft pontoon boats can float the several miles of scenic river between Maple Falls and the Mosquito Lake Road Bridge.

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Very nice story
Thanks for appreciation
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