The Bald eagles of Squamish

A Canadian adventure to photograph Bald eagles in the snow. 

Before I was a photographer my life was snowboarding, endless back to back winters for eight years and a transparent tan. Among the many friends I made around the world one of my best was Kimmie, we had lived together for a couple of seasons and she now lived in a town called Squamish near Whistler in BC, Canada. Squamish is home to not only breathtaking scenery of mountains and temperate rainforest but also is one of the best places in the world to see bald eagles. During December and January ever year thousands of these large raptors descend upon Squamish for the yearly salmon run.

Squamish is on the sea and as such does not stay cold enough to have snow on the ground all winter. More often than not it rains for weeks on end. The first few days in town were such, rain and no snow. I found the eagles easily enough and each day more and more eagles would gather on the river to feast on the meter-long salmon carcasses that were now floating down the river after spawning.

My buddy Justin sizing up one the Snow Giants higher up in the mountains. Snowboarding was also a big part of the trip and Justin’s company Spline Snowboards makes the best split boards I have ever ridden.

Dead salmon floating back down stream after traveling up to spawn. This happens everyyear and

It is no secret that Squamish is an eagle hot spot and even less of a secret of where to go to most easily see eagles. As much as I did search around for a spot away from people the most popular spot on the river was also the best for photos. The area was called Brackendale and is where I lived many years ago. It’s a nice spot with a fortified dyke wall which overlooks the best eagle feeding area, the only problem was all the other large lens swinging bird nerds who also had the same idea.

 

The first sunny day after the snow storms, across the river is the snow covered beach that the eagles land upon to feed.

 

For the first few days, I got my bearings and tried to toughen my body up against the cold. The beach where the eagles were feeding was very rocky and all though pretty the multi-coloured rocks made for very distracting, busy photos. I needed snow, I needed heavy flakes to fall from the sky and to blend that together with large eagles flying through it all. One week in and I got my wish with heavy snow starting to fall everywhere and it just kept coming for days.

 

The blizzard during which I got this photo of a bald eagle in flight one of my favorite images from the trip.

 

The photography became easier the more it snowed and the worse the weather got the less other photographers came out until the third day of snow when I was the only one left on the river.

Now many people say that a nice day is a good day to take photos but this is a common mistake. People want to see what they have not seen before and this means the worst weather imaginable, storms, blizzards and pounding wind. Weather that normal people would never go out in, the worst weather really does make the best photos.

I knew that no matter what the weather did the eagles would still need to feed as sheltering in a house was not an option for them. As the snow flakes came down hard piling up on my camera lens I tracked every eagle I could aiming to get photographs of the eagles flying through the falling snow. The world became a dot painting of white and blue with the black and white birds melding into the images like something from an oil painting. These were the shots I had come for and there is no greater feeling than knowing I hadn’t stuffed up the trip by not getting the shots I came for.

 

Another of my favorite images from the snow storm, that litle bit of wing tilt and change of direction makes the image even more striking.