You may have experienced the excitement of donning rain gear and taking a short drive from Victoria to see the salmon spawning in the fall at Goldstream Provincial Park. Few people are aware that as the annual salmon run winds down, an entirely different migration takes place in November, December and January; bald eagles.
Here are six things you need to know about eagle viewing at Goldstream Provincial Park.
1. How to Identify a Bald Eagle
Bald eagles are easy to identify by their large hooked beak and sharp, intimidating talons that are characteristic of birds of prey.
Mature bald eagles have a white head and tail, with a yellow beak and feet and a brown body. Young, or juvenile bald eagles are completely brown, with a brown beak and white blotches in their feathers.
Image: A mature Bald Eagle in flight.
2. Prime Times for Bald Eagle Viewing
The best time to see bald eagles is when the tide is low, as this is when the most salmon are exposed. Eagles are opportunistic feeders, which means they'll eat whatever meets their dietary needs and is most conveniently available.
If the tide is high and the salmon are covered by water, the bald eagles will wait in surrounding trees and are not as easy to spot. Once the tide goes out, you'll have the best opportunity to see the most bald eagles.
Tip: Check the tide charts for Finlayson Arm to see what the daily low tide time will be.
Image: Mature Bald Eagle.
3. Bald Eagles Don't Have a Great Sense of Smell
Thank goodness for that. If you've ever driven by Goldstream Provincial Park in late November as the salmon are dying, you can't miss the odour of decomposing fish. This might not be the right atmosphere for a fine-dining experience for humans, but bald eagles don't mind one bit! With their small olfactory centres in their brains, the smell doesn't bother them at all.
A poor sense of smell isn't their only "tool of the trade", bald eagles are also well-equipped for hunting with a sharp, hooked beak for ripping meat and sharp talons for grabbing onto prey. They've also got incredibly good eyesight which helps them spot prey from high perches.
Image: Bald Eagle in flight, clutching something in its powerful talons.
4. Eagles are Love Birds
Bald eagles mate for life, meaning they are monogamous with their chosen partner for the duration of their adult lives. When they are old enough to breed (about four or five years old), they often return to the location where they were born to mate and raise their young.
Bald eagle courtship involves a big, elaborate show including swoops, dives and elaborate flight acrobatics. Often two courting bald eagles will free fall in tandem, locked together by their talons, and separate just before reaching the ground.
Image: Eagles perched together.
5. You Can Spy on All Kinds of Wildlife at Goldstream Provincial Park
Bald eagles are not always in the mood to hang out with people and they definitely don't want to share their food. If people get too close, they'll simply fly away and find a less bothersome place to feed.
The RLC Parks team has installed a remote controlled camera out in the estuary so you can zoom right in on our feathered friends for fantastic bald eagle viewing while not putting them off of their food. It's a win-win.
Image: Bald eagles perched high above the estuary.
6. You can Learn a Lot More About Bald Eagles at the Goldstream Nature House
There are always several Park Naturalists on duty at the Goldstream Nature House. They're super knowledgeable about bald eagles and the natural environment at Goldstream Park, and are always willing to chat with you and answer all of your questions. Ask them to loan you a set of binoculars and spotting scopes, or hire a naturalist for a private tour of the area.
Image: Skipper King, Goldstream Provincial Park
Your Eagle Watching Checklist
For the best chance of successful bald eagle watching, you will need:
- Binoculars, and/or a camera with a good zoom function
- Good timing! Make sure to go eagle watching at low tide
- Warm, waterproof clothing. Mother Nature's not on a schedule so you never know how long you'll have to wait to see eagles in action.
- Respect for the eagle's needs.
- To leave your dog at home! If a feeding bald eagle is disturbed, they won't return to the same carcass for at least an hour, which wastes their invaluable energy.
- To visit the Goldstream Nature House! Check out the great displays there and warm up with a cup of organic coffee. Tip: They've also got a great gift store and bookshop.
For more information on bald eagle watching and programs available at Goldstream Provincial Park, get in touch with the RLC Park Services team directly. You can also click here to learn more about wildlife viewing in Victoria.