British Columbia: A visit to the World Eagle Capital

In Brackendale, B.C., winter is a time for eagle viewing. A float down the river with Sunwolf...

In Brackendale, B.C., winter is a time for eagle viewing. A float down the river with Sunwolf reveals the magnificent birds are everywhere -- in trees, on the shore, perched on logs, etc. JANE STEVENSON/QMI AGENCY

Jane Stevenson, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:09 AM ET

BRACKENDALE, B.C. -- It's not every day you get to visit the "World Eagle Capital."

But that's what this beautiful small community near Squamish, about an hour north of Vancouver, calls itself as thousands of bald eagles converge between December and March to feed on spawning salmon in the Squamish River.

It's the largest winter gathering of eagles in North America, and visitors can witness it all first hand.

Better yet, you can stay nearby at the rustic Sunwolf resort, where co-owner Jake Freese (originally from England) takes groups on a gentle river float to see the magnificent birds of prey as they rest, fly or eat salmon on the rocky beach.

On the two-hectare Sunwolf grounds, located below the glacier-packed Tantulus Mountains, quaint green cabins -- simply furnished with a single queen-size bed, pull-out couch, gas fireplace, bathroom with shower -- line the confluence of the Cheakamus and Cheekye Rivers. There are picnic tables and walking paths along the water.

A short jaunt away at the registration lodge, Freese, his lovely wife Jess, and their adorable baby Flynn (three months at the time of my visit and worth the price of admission alone), welcome guests with a fire, fresh chilli, muffins, coffee, tea and dessert.

It's important to stay warm during the outing, so before heading out on the rafts (capacity 8-10 people), they suit you up in boots and waterproof overall waders. These go over your own layers -- thermal underwear, wool socks, sweaters, windbreaker.

Our group of eagle-watchers is taken by van to a launch point on the river, where another group sets up a 5-metre yellow raft for our journey.

During the 60-minute float we see a total of 160 bald eagles at rest, in flight, and eating salmon as we slowly drift on the calm river. On this overcast January day, low-hanging clouds float all around us and the forest and mountains in the distance.

It is tranquil and dreamlike. And even though I'm not a bird-watcher, I'd do it again in a second.

After the float, the Freese family hand us off to the good folks at Howe Sound Inn & Brewing Company in downtown Squamish, about 15 minutes away, for a hearty dinner. Before we eat, we get a behind-the-scenes tour of the successful brewing operation, which makes such exotic sounding beverages as Wee Beastie Oak Aged Scotch Ale.

The high-ceilinged, big-windowed restaurant is kept cozy with a fireplace at one end and a bar at the other. We chow down on beet salad, butternut squash gnocchi, lamp chops and bourbon-pumpkin deep-fried cheesecake -- yum and yikes all at the same time!

Once back at Sunwolf, we drift off to sleep in our cabins to the sounds of the river (leave the bathroom window slightly open to hear the water). If you're an early riser, walk a bit among the gorgeous natural surroundings before it's time to check out.

Before leaving the resort, our final stop is Fergie's for a delicious breakfast (or lunch). Diners can sit inside or at picnic tables outdoors on the heated deck, and sample the house-smoked sausage (which comes in flavours such as white wine, fennel and fig) served with eggs, homefries and toast, or Fergie's trademark Eggs Benny.

After all this fine feasting, I'm starting to feel like one of those bald eagles gorging on salmon in the river nearby, except, sadly, I can't fly.

NEED TO KNOW

Air Canada flies to Vancouver from many cities in Canada. See aircanada.com. From there, it's about 75 minutes by car to Sunwolf. If you don't want rent a car, Irie Adventure Tours can take you from Van to Brackendale. See irieadventures.com.

LODGING OR DAY TOURS

For details on Sunwolf's Bald Eagle Viewing Tours and/or staying at the resort, contact sunwolf.net.

TOURISM INFO

For information on other opportunities to see eagles, see tourismsquamish.com and click on the Eagle Viewing link. Tourism British Columbia has a comprehensive website packed with travel ideas. See hellobc.com.


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