The Early Birds

Bald eagle perching on logOn a single day in 1994, volunteer bird watchers tallied nearly 3,770 bald eagles in the skies over Brackendale, British Columbia. Ever since then, this small Canadian town has rejoiced in the title of "bald-eagle capital of the world." Why Brackendale, you might ask? The answer is to be found in the annual spawning of chum salmon, which turns the nearby Squamish River into a floating buffet that North America's iconic raptors find irresistible. Spawning season runs from mid-November to mid-February, and the best way to get close to the eagles swooping in on their prey is to join an "eagle safari," one of the rafting expeditions organized by Canadian Outback Adventures, canadianoutback.com. Led by licensed guides, these trips depart every weekend morning throughout the season at 9.30 a.m., regardless of weather (don't fret about the cold, because you'll be bundled into an insulated and waterproof survival suit). Prices for the two-hour excursion start from $110, and the payoff is breathtaking: flying at speeds of up to 50 kph, with wing spans as wide as 2.4 m, the eagles skim the water and make their kills with astonishing precision before gliding back to the towering treetops or mountains behind. What's more, all this takes place just an hour's drive from Vancouver. Even if you're the kind of stay-a-bed who never gets going before breakfast, it's worth the early start to see the eagles enjoy theirs.