Bald Eagles Along The Shore Near Comox
Bald Eagles Along The Shore Near Comox
When visiting relatives in Bowser, British Columbia, in early January, we were fortunate to have clear sunny weather for a couple of days in a row. It was one misty morning, however, when we took a drive to nearby Comox in the hopes of seeing some Bald Eagles (Haliaeetus leucocephalus). We were not disappointed.
Using the Island Highway South on the east side of Vancouver Island, we enjoyed wonderful views of the dense woodlands, oceanscapes and mountain peaks along the way. The roadway hugs the shoreline of the Salish Sea and provided numerous sightings of majestic Bald Eagles that make that area their home.
When Bob and I spotted a pair of Bald Eagles perched atop a navigational beacon just offshore, we pulled onto the shoulder of the road and happily began snapping pictures. The leaden grey sky was the first we had seen on our trip to the island and foreshadowed the inclement weather that was about to beset the coastal region of Canada’s most westerly province.
While constant chilly winds washed over us, the Bald Eagles maintained a vigilant stance atop their perch there in the Strait of Georgia, perhaps already with bellies full from their morning hunting expedition.
I had shamefully left my gloves on the car seat so found my fingers becoming increasingly stiff as I wielded the camera. Slowly creeping closer to the shoreline under the cover of a small tree for a better vantage point, I was under no illusion that I was fooling the Eagles. They had Bob and I in their sights from the moment we turned off the ignition.
Bald Eagles are such a frequent sight in the coastal areas of British Columbia that local residents rarely pause to admire their regal beauty. For Bob and I, from Ontario, we marveled each time we laid eyes on one. They are magnificently large birds of prey, sea eagles, that favour habitat in the vicinity of water, be it large rivers, lakes or seacoasts wherever there is a good source of food.
From this vantage point at Goose Spit Park in Comox, Bob and I had a view back across the Salish Sea where it lies between Denman Island and the shoreline that we had driven along. The fog and thin clouds of early morning had been knitting themselves together into a heavy sky the colour of dirty wool, but there was no sense of an impending downpour.
Denman Island sits off the east coast of Vancouver Island in the Strait of Georgia and provides protection from the broader ocean conditions for the Vancouver Island shoreline between Comox and Bowser. The shallow bays, estuaries, and sounds of the area attract considerable numbers of Bald Eagles all year-round because there is an abundant supply of fish to be caught. Another condition that must be met in their chosen habitat is the availability of old-growth trees for nesting.
As Bob and I studied this proud Bald Eagle sitting atop a weathered pier, it centered its concentration on the shadows beneath the surface of the water just waiting for an unsuspecting fish to happen by. The Eagle would use its powerful talons to snatch a fish from the water, but Bald Eagles are just as likely to scavenge carrion, eat garbage or steal the kills of other birds and animals. They are very opportunistic!
As you can see, Bald Eagles are not bald. They came by the name because, when soaring on high, the white-feathered heads gleam in contrast to their chocolate-brown body and wings and thus resemble a bald man’s pate. Mature Bald Eagles have a large beak that is long and hooked. The beak, feet and eyes are bright yellow.
The legs of a Bald Eagle are featherless which is one way to distinguish both mature and Immature Bald Eagles from Golden Eagles that have legs feathered completely to the toes.
Bald Eagles congregate in certain locations during the winter months, between November and February. Unfortunately, we were a couple of weeks too early to witness scores of these dignified birds when they literally perched en masse in the tall trees around Comox. Perhaps they were readying for their flight to Squamish, British Columbia, where approximately 2,000 Bald Eagles gather ahead of the spring salmon run.
By early afternoon, Bob and I were retracing our steps to Bowser but could not resist stopping one more time to look through our binoculars at a distant pair of Immature Bald Eagles, this one obviously a bit older because the head is almost pure white. It is not until an Eagle is 5 years old that they acquire the fully white head, neck, tail and other distinctive white markings.
In this photo, the Bald Eagle on the right displays the overall dark brown plumage of an immature eagle. If we could see its beak, it would be black with a yellow tip. Male and female Bald Eagles are identical in plumage, but the females are always larger than the males.
Bald Eagles at one time were endangered because of over-hunting and the use of pesticides. Efforts to protect them have seen their numbers increase across most of their range, but they are most plentiful in Alaska and Canada. As this Bald Eagle soared off into the sunset, Bob and I were in awe of its broad wingspan. Stretching up to 7.5 feet across, the wings on this Bald Eagle effectively carried it with ease.
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