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A bald eagle in flight above Brackendale, B.C. December 28, 2006. (John Lehmann/ The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/ The Globe and Mail)
A bald eagle in flight above Brackendale, B.C. December 28, 2006. (John Lehmann/ The Globe and Mail/John Lehmann/ The Globe and Mail)

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Out there: Brackendale Winter Eagle Festival and Count Add to ...

See hundreds of the province’s most majestic raptors in action as they fish for salmon along the Squamish and Cheakamus rivers at the Brackendale Winter Eagle Festival and Count – a favourite winter fest that draws locals and tourists from around the globe.

On the first Sunday of the month, dozens of experienced counters spread out over a 40-kilometre area on foot, on rafts, in kayaks and canoes, and sometimes on skis, to get a sense of how many eagles are in the region – a practice that also helps shed light on the health of the environment.

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“It’s a barometer for what’s happening in the valley,” says Brackendale Art Gallery founder and festival coordinator Thor Froslev, who says the one-day count has been around the 1,000 mark for the past few years, which is lower than in the past. “And if there aren’t too many eagles, we know the salmon numbers are down.”

Although the general public doesn’t help with the actual count, there are plenty of activities for avian-minded visitors, including tours, walks, lectures and live music – among them a Rant ‘n’ Rafe fireside chat with Rafe Mair and a WingDing Dinner and Dance with live music by Canadian folk icon Valdi – happening right through the month.

And after taking in the breathtaking sights and sounds outside, festivalgoers can pop back into the gallery to check out the eagle art exhibition and warm up with comfort food, wine and beer, and chats with colourful locals by the fire.

“People walk in in the morning with smiles on their faces, and then they come back in the afternoon soaking wet and cold, and they are smiling from ear to ear,” says Mr. Froslev, who also helps care for injured birds year-round. “It’s just a gorgeous thing to be out there.”

The Brackendale Winter Eagle Festival and Count runs Sunday, and related activities continue through Jan. 31. Best eagle viewing is in the morning; bring binoculars. The Eagle Aid Station also needs a microscope, a scale for weighing birds, first aid supplies, a computer, a freezer and other small items – donations welcome. For details visit brackendaleartgallery.com.

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